Applying Effective Email Marketing to Assist Your Customer’s Journey

Applying Effective Email Marketing to Assist Your Customer’s Journey

Email is neither the first nor the last touch-point between customers and brands. From awareness to decision, email enables your brand to build reputation as a trusted industry leader and showcase the benefits of your product or service. Email helps establish and nurture relationships, build trust and, ultimately, encourage visits to your website that lead to a conversion.

**This is an excerpt from Vertical Measures’ new book The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your BusinessDownload it for FREE, here.


How to create and optimize successful email campaigns

Assuming you’ve segmented your audience into a few lists, planned out several email workflows, and started building your emails. How do you know they will resonate with your targeted audiences? How do you compel them to open your emails in the first place, when there may be dozens or even hundreds of unopened messages in their inboxes already?

One of the best ways to ensure your emails are opened by a targeted audience is to show them that you understand their needs and priorities. Sounds pretty familiar to content marketing, right? Show your audience that you know who they are, what they care about and how they think. Most of the time, people’s response to this notion is, “That sounds creepy.” But they are dead wrong.

There’s a balance between being creepy and being personable and well informed. There’s a way to message your audience in a way that says, “I understand what your problems are, and believe I can help you solve them.” This type of messaging goes beyond personalizing an email with someone’s name.

Utilize the demographic and behavioral data we’ve covered previously to create attention-grabbing emails that cut right to the chase.

As much as we’d like to send the same message to everyone (how easy that would be!), mass marketing simply isn’t effective anymore. You need to find more ways to customize your messages to targeted audiences.

Here’s how:

Create a killer subject line

Emails need to grab the reader’s attention, and that starts with a killer subject line. The subject is one of only a few pieces of information your audience will take into consideration when deciding whether or not to open your email in the first place, along with the sender and preview text. According to Convince & Convert, 35 percent of email recipients open their email based on the subject line alone.

Subject lines should be concise and informative, setting a clear expectation on why a user should click through. This might seem obvious, but unfortunately, it can be difficult. Spend time crafting these all-important one liners. But beware! Clickbait-y titles could cost you in the long run, even if they get some people to open your email initially. Keeping your subject lines straightforward and to the point helps people learn what to expect from you so they stay engaged, rather than immediately clicking unsubscribe because of a manipulative bait-and-switch subject.

Your subject lines should first and foremost address your reader’s concerns. Create  the impression that you can help solve their problem. In addition to questions, you can use CTAs in your subject lines to inspire action, such as “join,” “get,” “explore,” “download,” and other active verbs.

“The most persuasive emails are the embodiment of dozens of small things done right. Both your sender and subject line influence whether an email gets opened. How you craft your subject line – the words you choose (some automatically attract the human eye), the order you place them in, the length of the line – all have major impact.”

– Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer HBT Marketing

Cut the fat

It’s not just your subject lines that need to be clear and concise. The meat of your emails should be lean, too. It’s a delicate balance for most marketers. How can you make an email informative and engaging, but also reduce reading time? The trick is cutting the fat from your copy and focusing on messages that get right to the point, whether its new information you need to share or an action you want the reader to take.

Example of concise, compelling email copy (Source: MarketingProfs)

We love this example from MarketingProfs because the language is direct and conversational – it actually reads like a human wrote it. It uses short paragraphs and formatting to break up the text visually, so it’s easy to scan and digest. We’ve all become seasoned skim-readers. No one wants to read an essay in their inbox these days, so if your email looks like a college thesis, readers will lose interest before they even start reading. Cut the fat!

Strong images are worth a thousand emails

Like any other piece of content, your emails should be visually compelling. Strong imagery plays a very important role in attracting a viewer’s attention when they open your emails and enticing them to click through to a relevant piece of content that can lead them through the customer journey.

Stock imagery sucks. We all know it. As easy as it might be to pick out a random stock photograph of two men shaking hands, it’s an awful choice for your emails. A much more effective strategy is to have imagery that is just as relevant as the body copy.


Create clear calls-to-action

As with any piece of content you create, emails should include a clear CTA for users. The CTA is arguably one of the most important aspects of an email’s performance because it can directly impact click-through.

Let’s get real: The entire reason you’re spending all this time creating personas, segmenting audiences, drafting compelling copy and making awesome imagery is, ultimately, to get people to do something – right? Eventually, you want to get them to a landing page where they can convert into a paying customer. That takes a great CTA.


How do you create a compelling enough CTA that people will click the link and convert? To start, always select one CTA for your emails – not two, not three. One.

Limit the number of places a reader can go from your email. If you offer too many choices or links, readers could easily get confused about what to do next or skip taking any action at all. Narrow the purpose of the email to one primary action you want your readers to take. The design of your CTA matters, too. Whether it’s a graphic button or an embedded link, you want to make sure the CTA is prominent and visually distinct from the rest of the copy. Of course, the whole email design should align with the rest of your branding, down to the voice and tone.

Your CTA should be the clear focus of your email, so make it stand out and draw the reader’s eye. Try to keep CTAs “above the fold” of the message so readers can see them quickly without having to scroll down. Odds are, very few recipients will scroll through your email, especially if the benefit to them isn’t clearly highlighted in the subject line. You should use copy that is clear and action-oriented throughout your emails, but especially in CTAs.

For example:

  • Action-oriented: Download your copy, Read our reviews, Take a stand
  • Urgent: Get the scoop, Claim your limited offer, Shop the sale
  • Friendly: Join us, Share your story, Learn more

“Triggering the Scarcity Principle, the Availability Bias, Social Proof or any of a number of other behavioral science principles can make a huge difference in how persuasive your message is. Will someone feel they’ll miss out if they don’t open the email? Will they feel the sender’s described a situation they can readily call to mind? Will they get the sense that people like them are interested in the message?”

– Nancy Harhut

Another way to optimize your CTAs is to include multiple links or buttons throughout your email that all point to the same landing page. This approach offers your readers more opportunities to click-through when and how they want to.

The human connection

Like every stage in the customer journey, your overarching goal for email campaigns is to build a trusting relationship with your readers that eventually leads to a conversion. Human connection is powerful, and it’s evident when we look at email performance. Email marketing should be a personalized experience – send your emails from an actual person from your staff!

You might also consider including a small picture of the sender with their signature if they’re comfortable with the idea. Even a simple headshot of the person sending the email helps support a more personable approach to email. Set a friendly, approachable tone that reinforces the idea of starting a conversation with a real human, not an emotionless marketing production line.

What if you have multiple senders for your email campaigns? Test them!

See which sender generates the most engagement with your emails. You might assume that sending emails from the CEO of your company is most effective, but what if you’re promoting a specific piece of content and it makes more sense to send an email from the author?

Make emails easily shareable

There’s no shame in hoping your audience might help promote emails for you. In fact, that should be one of your goals! Always encourage your readers to share your content. At this point in your digital marketing journey, that should be a no-brainer. Luckily, a lot of the same basic rules apply for email marketing. By making it easier for email recipients to share your offers, newsletters, announcements and information with their networks, you can expand your reach and broaden the opportunity to generate new leads.

Since you’re sending emails to segments of your existing contact list, you’re not going to generate any new leads from email unless you make it easy to share the content. If your contacts share your content with people who aren’t in your database and they end up converting, you’ve landed some new leads with minimal effort. All you need to do is include social sharing links in all your emails.

Hopefully by now you have a clear understanding of which social networks your audience segments frequent most. Include links for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest or whichever network applies to your audience at the top and bottom of your emails. You can also include an email-forward link, which is another great way to encourage your readers to share your content and help you generate new leads.

Mobile optimization is critical

You might be able to relate to this: Have you ever opened an email on your phone and the formatting was so messed up you could barely read it? The text was either too large or too small, and the images never fit your screen – pretty annoying, right? I’m willing to bet you quickly deleted the email and may not even remember the brand that sent it. Don’t make your readers deal with that same issue when they look at your emails! Optimize your emails so they display nicely across all devices.

Properly designed and optimized emails should adapt to whatever device your readers use. To make it easier, build your emails using responsive templates to ensure your readers have the best experience digesting your email content and taking action.

Don’t get overwhelmed. Today’s email service providers make it easy to create email content that displays properly across devices. And if you follow the rest of the advice in this chapter, you’ll start seeing an increase in your click-through and conversion rates before you know it.

The right to unsubscribe

Plain and simple: It’s illegal not to include an unsubscribe link in your email sends.

But that’s not the only reason why you shouldn’t send emails without an unsubscribe option. Think about it this way: Why would you want to send emails to uninterested recipients?

Let’s pretend that Tennessee Mountain Winery sends out a monthly newsletter to subscribers for their latest deals, wine of the month club, tour openings and other events. You were subscribed a few years ago when you visited Nashville and toured their vineyard for your anniversary. You keep getting emails from Tennessee Mountain Winery without the option to unsubscribe. For months, you’ve sent each and every email directly to your spam or trash folder because you don’t live in Nashville and, quite frankly, you have no intention of ordering cases of their wine. All you wanted from them was single trip to their vineyard. You accomplished that – four years ago – and now it’s unlikely that you’d ever go back, even if you lived in Nashville!


How does it benefit Tennessee Mountain Winery to keep sending emails? At this point, they should see that you haven’t opened or converted from one of their emails in four years. And while it’s a small sample size, they’re actually hurting their email campaign’s performance by sending emails to you. The metrics they should be tracking will be directly affected, because they refuse (or scared) to take me off the email list.

If someone’s not interested in getting your emails, don’t force them to be on your list. Give them an unsubscribe option. Keep your open and click-through rates more accurate and give yourself a better chance to convert engaged segments of your audience. We’re not suggesting that you make the unsubscribe option as prominent as your call-to-action, but don’t hide it, either. This has everything to do with user experience.

Trust us, members of your audience will remember if you keep them hostage in your email list. If they’re looking to unsubscribe from your emails and can’t find that button, they will most likely mark you as spam, which puts your sender reputation at risk and could seriously impact your email campaign performance.

The unsubscribe option doesn’t have to be treated like a defeat, either. One of our favorite unsubscribe tactics is to do it with some personality. You can always try to keep people on your list by providing a fun, enticing or unique option to re-subscribe. This approach can help reduce the likelihood that they’ll leave your list, but every reader has a right to choose for themselves.

Fun re-subscribe email example

Don’t be afraid to cut ties with unengaged contacts

As important as the unsubscribe button is to your users, it’s also a valuable tool for you as a marketer. It’s sort of like getting dumped in high school – it seems like the hardest thing ever, but letting go is the best option in the long run. To preserve your reputation, you need to move on from subscribers who can’t be bothered to click on your CTAs or even open the emails in the first place.

Before letting these contacts go, try to get some closure. Send at least one or two emails with special incentives, offers or information that can act as a reactivation campaign to give them one last chance.

If there’s still no sign of engagement after this re-engagement, it’s time for you to move on and find someone who is more attentive to your emails.

Determining email frequency

Every marketer tries to avoid the spam folder. It’s the pit of doom for creative messaging that you worked so hard to create. Every marketer wants recipients to open their emails and read the content. You spent time crafting that perfect subject line, writing compelling copy and adding relevant imagery, but your content is getting caught by these annoying (albeit vital) spam filters. Why?

According to a recent survey by MarketingSherpa, 91 percent of American respondents actually said they want promotional emails. If someone signed up for your list, they’re interested in your business, products and services or the information you have to offer.

So, if you’re not doing anything shady but still getting flagged as spam, the problem might have less to do with the type of emails you’re sending and more with how often you send. Before you can figure out that all-important sweet spot for email frequency, you must take a careful look at what you’ve been doing so far in the email campaign. If you’re using an email marketing platform, such as MailChimp, Emma, HubSpot or anything else, you should have some analytics tools at your disposal.

To measure past email success and determine the proper email frequency, consider tracking the following metrics:

  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Unsubscribe rate

Almost everything you need to know is hidden in these numbers. Look at your most highly engaged subscribers to find out how often they’re opening emails and when. Use this information to decide how many emails you send each month, and which days your emails perform best.

Generally, we’ve found the best day to send an email is Tuesday, but that may not be true for your specific industry or audience. While sending emails on Tuesdays might give you a good starting place to establish a baseline, effective email is all about targeting your specific audience segments. Depending on each segment, you might see better performance on different days of the week and with different frequency of email.

At the very least, however, you should send one email a month, or your subscribers will forget about you.

If you wait longer than that, this survey suggests, you’ll be rebooting your relationship with them from scratch every time you send a new email.

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Brad Kuenn

Brad Kuenn is the co-author of The Customer Journey: How an Owned Audience Can Transform Your Business and Content Marketing Works. As Marketing Director at Investis Digital, Brad manages internal inbound marketing and acts as senior editor for the website. Brad’s responsible for ensuring that content efficiently reaches established goals, delivers optimum results, and aligns with Vertical Measures values. Follow him @BKuenn +Brad Kuenn