50 Creative Email Tactics in 50 Minutes

  1. Define your project’s goals and objectives:
    1. Acquisition?
    2. Retention?
    3. Sales?
    4. Announcement?
    5. Promotion?
    6. Branding?
  2. FOCUS. Less is more. Do not try to do too many things.
  3. Program vs. Campaign
    1. Email marketing is a long-term communication
    2. Make sure short-term tactics work with long-term strategic plans
    3. Build an ongoing dialog with customers and prospects
  4. Understand your audience:
    1. Average age?
    2. Male, female, both?
    3. What motivates your audience? The message, the offer, the voice?
  5. Establish benchmarks. Identify elements for testing, learning objectives, and determinants for success
  6. Understand your competition: what are they doing well or poorly? What are they offering customers?
  7. Permission Strategy and Tactics: audit and revise your permission collection process as needed – it’s always easier to obtain permission up front than further down the line
  8. Integrate your email marketing program and campaigns with other elements of the marketing mix for greater ROI. Example: coordinate with your direct mail programs.
  9. Resources: successful email marketing requires dedicated marketing and IT resources. Involve and notify internal teams early in the process, so everyone knows about upcoming mailings. Examples:
    1. Customer service needs to anticipate inquiries
    2. IT needs to anticipate server loads
    3. Sales needs to follow up appropriately
  10. Contingency Planning: determine what the next steps/workflow will be if the campaign is a success or a failure — always have a follow-up email planned for both scenarios. Cover the “black hole” and determine how consumers whose emails bounce back will receive communications.


  1. Review your data collection processes. Audit all customer touch points to make sure that email addresses and other customer data is being collected
  2. Set up a preference center for prospects/customers/members to opt-in to receive email communications from your organization
  3. Collect all data you need now, PLUS any data you anticipate may be helpful in future — information to collect to ensure you are maximizing your email marketing efforts may include:
    1. Full name (as separate fields)
    2. Email address (obviously)
    3. Company/employer
    4. Postal address
    5. Phone
    6. Age/birth date
    7. Gender
    8. Family information (single, married, children yes/no)
    9. Personal interests
    10. Purchase history
    11. Additional demographics and psychographics
  4. Link online and offline data to created more relevant, personalized messaging and integrate with other marketing efforts
  5. Plan for bounces, unsubscribes, and change of address — 20% or more of your email database will “disappear” each year. Match bounces against ECOA databases to reclaim lost addresses.
  6. Scan and scrub your email database for “spamtrap” addresses
  7. Fix hard bounces — sort by alpha domain and fix typo domains – ex. @alo.com
  8. Consider segmenting by demographic data, action-driven data, interaction data, and/or other profile data
  9. Data is valuable: with better data, you can sell ads in your emails at a higher CPM
  10. Suppression: make sure proper suppression lists are employed (i.e. DMA e-MPS for acquisition campaigns)


  1. TEST: subject lines; long copy vs. short copy; modular content; offers; viral; rich media vs. HTML vs. AOL vs. text – you may be surprised about what performs best
  2. Utilize creative formats based on your audience preferences, profiles and domains
    1. Ask users for their preferred format (text v. HTML) — some recipients prefer text over HTML even if they can read HTML
    2. AOL users should receive AOL-formatted creative
    3. Lots of broadband domains in your list? Good opportunity for rich media.
  3. “The Three Second Rule” – don’t forget it
  4. Subject Lines:
    1. Focus on and test your subject lines — easiest item to change and has a huge impact on open rates
    2. Subject lines are not like teaser copy in direct mail
    3. Personalization pulls
    4. Length: generally speaking, keep it short – but TEST!
  5. Copy and Content:
    1. Think “preview window” — generate interest in the top two inches of the email
    2. Content is king – relevant, personalized content drives readership and results
    3. Clean up the clutter — summarized content and a clean approach facilitate scanning
    4. Optimize for two types of readers: those who read bullet points only and those who want details — test your readers’ preferences and then split accordingly
    5. Use headlines that grab!
    6. Try to limit promotional copy to two paragraphs
    7. Voice: base on your audience; conversational works for many, but not necessarily for all
    8. Be sensible, not sensational – do not bury disclaimers
    9. Link Strategy: call to action should be placed above the fold in a prominent manner and also at the bottom, include multiple links to main destination as appropriate
    10. Legal Review: Have your legal team make sure that the correct trademark and copyright information is included to help protect your brand in the electronic world
  6. Creative Design and Production:
    1. Avoid white text on dark backgrounds (sometimes will default settings and delete background, leaving type “invisible” — use images instead)
    2. Steer clear of using style sheets (CSS) and java scripts – many email clients will strip them out
    3. When using Flash, be sure to use a static background image
    4. When using rich media, design four levels of interaction:
      1. Rich media
      2. Static with streaming audio
      3. Static HTML
      4. Text
  7. Layout:
    1. Test and optimize “hot spots”
    2. Generally, the top left quadrant is best placement for logo/branding
    3. Keep email width to 675 pixels maximum
  8. File size:
    1. Keep HTML file sizes to no more than 65K
    2. Flash files to no more than 100K including a pre-loader
    3. B2B marketers typically have more leeway with file sizes due to generally faster Internet connections
  9. Email creative and copy should be consistent with branding and creative elements of other marketing efforts, especially landing pages
  10. Maximize “zero-click commerce” as frequently as possible


  1. Protect your image. Avoid embarrassing mistakes that negatively impact your brand: test your database randomly with sample emails to ensure the correct data is being pulled, send “friendly” test messages to an internal list before full delivery, preview content before sending, verify your creative properly renders across all major email clients, and check all links
  2. Send to small subsets first to test and gauge results, then roll out to larger segments
  3. Value over Schedule send based upon valuable content and not because you’ve defined every other Wednesday as email newsletter day
  4. Seed at the beginning, middle and end of campaign – and across the top 10 domains — to help verify delivery
  5. Retry bounces — many will deliver on a second or third try
  6. Set expiration dates for limited-time offers
  7. Send emails based upon event triggers, thus providing a relevant, timely and beneficial dialog
  8. Timing is everything. Test your targets for optimal frequency, day of week, and time of day – industry averages do not always work
  9. Expand your reach. Consider including “refer-a-friend”/viral marketing functions as often as possible
  10. Unsubscribes are a great opportunity for market research — provide a comment box and ask why person is choosing to unsubscribe


  1. Track and analyze all available information: opens, bounces/undeliverables, clicks, responses, opt-outs
    1. Track and analyze metrics by domain (AOL, MSN, Earthlink, etc.) – often reveals dramatic differences and possible delivery issues
    2. Track all clicks by URL — 80/20 rule: 80% of clicks often come from 20% of the links
    3. Track clicks back to individual email address — observe subscribers’ activity/behavior and optimize for future efforts
    4. Small changes in open rate indicate growing or declining content satisfaction and subject line performance
    5. Track and analyze viral marketing referrals by generation
  2. Track and analyze test cell, segment and overall list results based on different lists, formats, creative options and content
  3. Subject lines
  4. Offers
  5. Copy, long vs. short versions
  6. Design treatments and layouts