The dark art of email marketing

The best chance of making a positive impact


Digital Creative Lead at The Escape.
I am not a marketeer, but have been involved in the design and creation of email campaigns for a good number of years. Detailed below are my observations and tips that can hopefully help in the successful delivery of your future e-campaigns. Comment and feedback always welcome.


Death to the Stock Photo take an impacting, visual approach to their e-mail comms. Succinct messaging and strong imagery.

The frequency and diversity of direct marketing has been evolving since its inception in the late 60's, reaching a crescendo of bombardment via a variety of online and offline deliverables.

Let’s be honest, it takes something special, or rewarding, to attract our attention these days. We are immune to the saturation of marketing that clogs our inbox and/or postbox, deleting and throwing away without paying much attention to the message or content.

Creating a buzz through direct marketing channels is a huge challenge to any business. It is usually perceived as a quick-win, but a marketing strategy requires investment and a clear plan. Generating any user interaction is a big win and those contacts should be treated as golden, the quality of your data should never be underestimated (or taken for granted).

So, how do you get the most from email marketing?
It is, perhaps, the hardest of nuts to crack as it lacks the variety of tactile concepts that can be applied to an offline campaign, but does provide immediate feedback and response. The analytical data attached to any e-campaign is invaluable to planning future communications.

Data is king
Let’s start at the beginning with the key to any successful marketing (offline/online) campaign… Data. The quality of your data is imperative and it takes many dedicated hours/weeks (and even months) to connect, collate and quantify, what is, a truly powerful asset to any business.

I have never favoured purchasing data, it is a costly process and in no way does it guarantee positive results. Your distribution list is your little black book of contacts, it’s personal to your business, along with the relationships you have built. The underlying proviso is that your senders list should know who you are and why they are being targeted by your campaign.

So, how do you attract and interact with potential clients?
By retracting an investment in purchasing data, the cash that has been saved would be better served in facilitating the following ventures:

  • Ensuring your website content is current (and continues to be), clearly defining the business offering, brand ethos and clear differentiators to the competition. Your website is a window into your business. A responsive/mobile framework/execution is imperative as detailed below under ‘Provide a personal touch’.
  • Ensuring your website has a clearly defined page for data capture and sign-up. More detail is explained below under ‘Provide a personal touch’.
  • Generating online/offline marketing campaigns, targeting publications/sites that circulate your target market. This could include a dedicated landing page or full-page advert.
  • Locate and hire stand space at pertinent events. Ensure a method for capturing data is provided, along with an emotive, targeted and, potentially, incentivised takeaway. Make sure you use the event to see how others are promoting their offering.
  • Making use of industry-standard social networks, such as LinkedIn. Ensure you create a professional and complete business page, including clear signposting to your site. All employee profiles should be tagged to your business profile. You could even trial the powerful ‘Ads’ feature.

Provide a personal touch
We all have a preference for a contact method, one that doesn’t grate or, at the very least we don’t find overly intrusive. Your little black book will be no different, they will, for the most part, span offline, voice, email and face-to-face.

To create a true targeted campaign, this information is imperative. Ensuring this feedback is requested at the lead generation phase will only help refine and assist in generating a bulletproof marketing campaign. Couple this data with an insight into the type of information your contacts wish to hear about and you have a priceless combination.

The data set then becomes truly powerful, with segmentation of content targeting users most receptive to the messaging, method and call-to-action (CTA).


A recent study by Campaign Monitor revealed that 50% of emails are opened on a mobile device.


This fact truly emphasises the importance of a responsive execution, both in terms of your own website, but also your email campaign. Providing an experience that doesn’t require a user to work hard for the pertinent information gives you the best possible chance of quantifying a lead. Mobile isn’t a trending requirement any longer, it is a must and needs to be embraced. A responsive delivery presents a consistent experience whether the recipient is sat at their desk, or on the move.

Your data will also provide you with the pre-requisit contact information such as, name, company etc. Use this information to ensure the experiences you create have that personal touch.

It’s all about the subject line
Take a look at your inbox. What do you see when looking at any unopened email? The answer… very little. Generally, the default will be the sender name and subject line. Herein lies the challenge faced by all e-campaigns… How do I make the recipient open my email (and not just delete it)?

The proof is in the research. The ‘2014 UK Email Marketing Benchmark Report’ recorded the following stats:

  • 22.87% open rate (2013 21.47%).
  • 3.26% click-through rate (3.16%).
  • 0.53% unsubscribe rate (0.47%).
  • Certain industries see a greater response than others. For example, Insurance typically sits at the lower end of the scale, with Travel proving far more successful (Campaign Monitor).

So, here lies the case-in-point. Your subject line is the most important component of achieving success, but with restriction and consideration. The real-estate afforded to a subject line is minimal, so there is a lot of information to communicate in such a tight space. Hiring of a specialist e-marketing copywriter, who can tailor content and deliver consistency, would be an astute hire. The insight they can provide would prove invaluable to any company in the infancy of forming an e-marketing stategy (or even why a current strategy isn’t delivering the goods).

Simple, but beautifully crafted e-mail from the guys at UI8

Spam is a word that is synonymous with sending and receiving emails. A great article over at Econsultancy provides an insight into those words to avoid when writing your subject lines. But, your subject line isn’t the be-all-and-end-all answer to avoiding the trap of a junk mailbox, as you will see here in this comprehensive write-up from the guys at MailChimp.

Keep it short-and-sweet
An email isn’t a webpage and should never be considered so. An email is comparable to a roundabout, acting as a central hub that offers the reader with a number of avenues they can travel down to additional locations. The content is purely a signpost and should be digested as such. Quick quantification, coupled with pertinent messaging, will provide the sender with the best possible chance of engagement.

Imagery is a key component in communication, engagement and consistency, but visual assets purely support the textual content and this is where the focus should be placed. Many email clients can block image content, but text generally remains intact. The text-only version of any email campaign development should still be addressed as it provides the sender with their only guaranteed method of ensuring a recipient can read the delivered content. The ability to then view the email content, as intended, in a web browser provides ample back-up.

CTA prompts should be prominent and clear, with contact CTAs offering a variety (email, phone, event, face-to-face…) of interaction methods that are tailored for the recipients preferences. The key point is to ensure any CTA has impact, with the text content replicating the purpose/method of action.

Frequency can be a killer
A major key to a successful e-marketing strategy is to scope a delivery plan. Use a little bit of common sense when doing so… No one likes to be bombarded on a daily/weekly basis (unless they have requested it). Ensure each delivery provides fresh, pertinent and topical content, sometimes a twist is good, as is incentivising and piggy-backing seasonal trends.

Back to the future
The methods for building email content are the only area of our digital world that haven’t moved with the times. Most designs hit a width limit of 600px, to accommodate screen real estate, it’s still a laborious task, with the content assigned cells within a table structure, limited fonts and inline styles. The code isn’t pretty and testing is a chore, with developers constantly having to tweak the structure in order to achieve consistency, ensuring cross-application/client success (or as close as they can possibly get).

Online services, such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor, provide powerful end-to-end solutions for managing, creating and analysing your email campaigns, including cross-application/client testing. There is, of course, a charge, but in the world of e-marketing this is inevitable. Segmentation and A/B testing (sending two variants of the same email/content to determine the more successful approach) are just two of the key components that provide any marketeer with a bedrock of functionality that can be leveraged by combining interrogated data and carefully considered content.

The success of an e-campaign will be determined by a number of variants, sometimes it’s down to a little bit of luck, landing in an inbox at the right time, or it’s down to the fantastic hook and accompanying content, and so on. Don’t be disheartened if your open rates don’t hit your expectations (use the stats from earlier on in this post as reference), nor if a number of recipients opt-out from receiving further communications. The goal, and ultimately success, will always be determined by engagement.

Don’t rest on your laurels… one good campaign presents a strong brand and marketing presence, this isn’t where it stops, it’s where it begins.