Email marketing guide: Step 2 Set your goals and build a quality list for email marketing

You probably know that interaction with email campaigns is measured through open and click-through rates. While it’s meaningful to review email response in this way, if this is all you measure, you’re missing the bigger picture of the value of email to your company and its customers.

The rich metrics in email are great. However, there is a distinction to be made between business metrics and email marketing performance and diagnostic metrics. Click rates may help you to understand how well you are doing with offer, content and targeting. Complaint 2 rates are important to deliverability management, but neither is a business metric. They are numbers useful to gain insight and manage activity only.

Define current value of your email marketing to customers

To assess how valuable email is to customers it’s best to measure the quality of their engagement – how engaged are they? How engaged do they need to be?

Q. How well do we measure engagement of our subscribers?

A review of campaign open, click-through and conversion rates is a natural place to start to improve engagement. Trends in overall response rates are a good starting point, but a capable email marketing system will give you more insight. For a more detailed analysis, you should review:

Checklist – measuring engagement with email marketing

  • Click to open rates (CTOR) – these will enable you to see how engaging your creative and offer is.
  • Open and click-through rates by segment – engagement will vary by segment depend- ing upon the targeting and relevance of your content or offers, so be sure to assess this.
  • Open and click-through rates based on delivery time time of day and day of the week or time in a month may make a difference so review to gain insight as to when to send.
  • Unsubscribe rate – check that particular messages or offers aren’t causing peaks in unsubscribe rates.
  • Complaint rate – as with unsubscribe, do particular messages cause a high number of complaints?
  • Engagement at different points in the customer lifecycle – it is natural that engage- ment will decline through time and some subscribers will become inactive. So you need to work to engage visitors through time, for example starting with a welcome series or, when necessary, emails geared towards reactivation.
  • Engagement with different types of offer and message – different types of promotion or message will also vary in popularity, so you need a way of tagging offer-type to analyse what is effective. Some email marketers tag specific types of links in different positions
  • Hurdle rates of engagement over a longer period – this assesses engagement over a six- or nine-month period to set goals to review how active your subscribers are mea- sured through open, click or purchase
Strategy Recommendation 4 Measure longer-term engagement through hurdle rates
To analyse longer-term engagement, you can use the type of analysis shown in the table below, which shows a diagnostic for longer-term engagement with email marketing.

This analysis often shows that over half of your audience is not engaged, so this gives you a hurdle rate to benchmark your engagement efforts against.

These types of hurdle rates should be used to set goals for list quality and engagement, and can also be broken down by subscriber segment or offer type.

Define value of email marketing activity to your company

Q. How well do we measure value generated from our email marketing?

In the previous section we looked at value to the customer. But what about company value? To assess this we need to know about the marketing outcomes generated and the influence on sales.

So we suggest you set these as primary goals for your email marketing and how to track them. You can look at the efficiency starting at emails sent, which shows you overall campaign effectiveness. And can focus on activity after the click to help you assess the efficiency of your web conversion.

Checklist – measuring value generated from email marketing

  • Size of contactable email database.
  • Size of contactable database as percentage of total customer database.
  • Growth of contactable database per month.
  • Outcomes (goals) per 1000 emails sent.
  • Revenue (profit) per 1000 emails sent.
  • When looking at outcomes and revenue per email sent, dividing by 1000 (or per 100) will normalise value and make it easier to interpret, but it’s not essential.
  • Total revenue from the email channel per month.
  • Revenue per email contactable customer per month.
  • Outcomes (goals) from email marketing per website visit from email.
  • Revenue (profit) from email marketing per website visit from email.

This will be tracked through your analytics package. To implement tracking you will need to tag your emails as described in Step 7. This will allow you to monitor check whether you have achieved these goals.

Best Practice Tip 7 Use a conversion funnel model to set goals for your email marketing

Through creating a simple conversion model for your email campaign you can set realistic goals for your email marketing. You can also set realistic expectations among colleagues since the multi-step response means that response may not be as much as they expect.

A conversion model/easy to use calculator is available for members.

Success refers to achieving the objectives set – does the campaign deliver the required outcomes? The success of direct response campaigns is often talked about in terms of click-throughs – the number of recipients who follow a link from the email through to the organisation’s website. But what really matters are results in terms of your original objectives – the number of recipients that click through and then take the follow-up action on the site such as purchasing a product, agreeing to attend an event, receiving a visit from a sales rep or entering a competition.

Where you have very specific marketing objectives consider how you can measure against these too. For example, increase the number of subscribers who have provided preference information, or the average number of different product categories each customer buys.

Growing your list

Q. Do we have a structured process for growing our email list?

If you don’t have a plan to grow your email list then new subscribers will still opt-in, but not as fast as you would like since you will be missing opportunities from different touchpoints.

Lucky Voice set out to dramatically increase the size of their database and almost doubled it in 12 months. They did this by planning and using many different growth strategies across a variety of channels.

This pie chart shows the percentage of new addresses acquired by a variety of sources used.

percentage of new addresses acquired

A simple baseline for list growth is the number and percentage of current customers for which you have email addresses. You can then set targets for this metric and devise techniques to increase this figure. When devising these techniques don’t only think quantity, but also think quality. What procedures can you use to maximise the number of valid email addresses? Just one character wrong and the email address is no good to anyone, since you cannot reach the subscriber via a faulty email address. A further aspect of quality is opt-in. Just because you have obtained an email address from the customer doesn’t necessarily mean it is opt-in and you have permission to use it.

It is only opt-in if the customer has proactively agreed, and expects to receive email communications. Perhaps there are ranges of email communications available to the customer such as different e-newsletters or email alerts. Which have they agreed to receive or is there the expectation that they will receive all of them?

Control your email list acquisition costs

Q. Did we define an allowable cost of email address acquisition to help control the costs of list-building?

If you are using different channels and acquisition strategies for list growth then ensure you track the source of where permission was given. Use this to calculate the cost of acquiring an email address and to check the performance of the email addresses. Whilst one source might deliver email addresses at half the cost, if the performance of those addresses is only a third as good it’s actually a more expensive acquisition source. Tracking source is also useful should you ever be challenged by someone as to where you obtained permission to email them.

Strategy Recommendation 5 Set an allowable cost of email acquisition
It is useful to have an allowable cost of email address acquisition which is a target figure for addresses from new prospects since it can help control spend on media such as paid search. Examples include a B2B software company who places an allowable cost of email acquisition of £0.40 per email and a recruitment company who placed an allowable cost of email address (as part of a job application) at £0.70.

Define objectives for email list building and list quality

Setting SMART objectives for your list can help grow the list faster, giving more opportunities to generate sales.

Q. Have SMART objectives for our email list been set?

Checklist – email list size and quality

  • List size. Aim to increase the size of your list over a particular time period, e.g. add 5,000 subscribers to an e-newsletter in a year.
  • Email address coverage. Aim to increase coverage of email addresses in your customer base – you may have 15 percent of customers opted into an e-newsletter, but you want to increase this to 35 percent over the next year.
  • Email address quality – Aim to increase the proportion of valid or active email addresses on your list (i.e. those that don’t bounce back or the percentage of customers who are ‘email active’ i.e. they open or click through on emails within a defined period).
  • Email permission level. Although you may have collected email addresses, you may not have explicit permission to use them, which is required by law in many countries. Also, have you got permission to send the full range of e-communications, or just some, e.g. alerts and e-newsletters? Aim to increase the (average) permission levels.
  • List value – Aim to increase the value generated in total or per 1000 list members in terms of sales/leads in a time period.
  • Targeting quality – Increase proportion of subscribers qualified for your products who you have collected profiling information about.
  • Data quality – Increasing the proportion of specific, valuable, up to date and accurate pro- file fields held about individuals. The next section describes a range of offline and online techniques to increase email address capture and make sure that the accuracy is a high as possible.

Review touchpoints to improve email marketing

Q. Have all touchpoints for collecting and updating email addresses been reviewed?

It is important to have a structured approach to collecting and maintaining customer data. A good way for marketers to review all the possible methods of capturing email addresses is to brainstorm alternative methods for capturing email addresses. Opportunities for capture are:

  • Digital channels, websites, social channels, mobile apps, blogs, SMS.
  • Offline, events, in-store, customer service, all paper responses.
  • Existing customers.
  • New customers.

Best Practice Tip 8 Use a range of customer touchpoints to grow your list
Both online and offline contact moments are an opportunity for gaining new permission email addresses and adding valuable profile data to your current recipients.

Besides looking at new touchpoints and strategies, also review existing data collection processes. Very often the processes in place were created some time back and have not been optimised. Lucky Voice improved their online collection process and provided an incentive; this doubled the number of addresses acquired.

The chart below offers a good starting point for a company to review all the possible methods of capturing email addresses and other profile information. Some examples are shown.

Online – Offline touch points

Here, we will consider online and offline opportunities for email capture separately. Many of these apply equally to potential and existing customers.

Here are eight online methods to help build a house list:

1. Direct from website – permanent incentives to capture leads should be one
of the main aims of a web presence, particularly for a B2B organisation. Design, structure and content should be devised to maximise conversion to sign-up. Be clear on benefits and where possible, give instant tangible benefits of subscribing. Keep the amount of data required to sign up low. Place the sign-up call to action across every page of the site in prominent locations. If very strong incentives to sign up are given use real-time verification of email addresses and/or double opt- in to gain the incentive.

2. Web response from offline communications. Here an offer is publicised offline and respondents are referred to a website to sign up (e.g. Dell offered a monthly notebook prize draw or offline ads (such as the former Chocollect promotion from Mars which was featured in TV ads).

3. Social networks. Social media can be a good place to start a conversation or rela- tionship but email can help monetise it. Make capturing email subscribers a part of your social media strategy.

4. Renting an email list from a third party – Recipients who click through to a landing page are encouraged to opt-in to your house-list.

5. Placing an ad in a third-party e-newsletter. This has the same aims as renting an email list, but may be more cost effective and can often be tightly targeted.

6. Using a third-party site, sometimes referred to as an ‘acquisition’ centre to provide offers with a view to sign-up (for example MyOffers).

7. Campaigns with social sharing or viral elements where a friend, colleague or follow- er is referred can also increase the size of the house list. Before further communications are sent, permission marketing and data protection law require you to get the referred person to opt-in himself so be sure to bring that option to their attention.

8. Any other forms of online traffic-building not mentioned above. Examples include online banner ads or Pay Per Click text search engine ads.

Offline opportunities for data capture encompass the full range of offline customer touchpoints. Here are eight to consider:

1. Any form of paper registration or order form. But be sure to check the wording on your form such that an opt-in to all forms of future communications is achieved.

2. Visit from sales representatives. Can be used for opt-in either on paper or through subscribing online.

3. A phone contact at a call centre. For example a bank could ask customers whether they have an email address during or at the end of a routine phone enquiry.

4. Telemarketing. This can be specifically to capture email addresses, but is more cost- effective if it is part of a telemarketing campaign.

5. Point-of-sale. Collect email addresses at the store in a retail context. This can be at the cash register.

6. Trade show or conference. For example from a prize draw collecting business cards (but take care to collect a proper opt-in).

7. Paper response to a direct mail offer. Traditional direct response.

8. Phone response to direct mail or ad. Again traditional direct response.

When email addresses are captured offline, a common problem is the level of errors in the addressed – this can often reach a double figure percentage. So plan to control this – staff should be trained in the importance of getting the email address correct and how to check for invalid address formats. Some call centres have even incentivised staff according to the number of valid email addresses they collect.

When collecting addresses on paper, often small practical steps can make the difference such as allowing sufficient space for the email address and asking for it to be written in CAPS.9

Techniques for list maintenance

Q. Are our options for list maintenance reviewed?

As with maintaining any customer database, maintaining a list can be a major headache. For

email or mobile-related lists the headache can be more intense since:

1. With permission-based email, the customer can opt-out or unsubscribe at any time.

2. Email addresses tend to change more frequently than postal addresses.

3. Subscribers often hold multiple email addresses, often to counter spam and inbox overload.

If your e-newsletter or email campaigns are good quality, then the unsubscribe rate shouldn’t be too much of a problem. A good rate for unsubscribes for a house list is 0.5% or below per broadcast .

All the ways of collecting email addresses online and offline that were mentioned in the previous section can also be used to keep email addresses fresh, since the most recent email address can be collected. This particularly applies to the offline methods where employees talk directly to customers and prospects. Since it is annoying to be constantly asked ‘is your email contact address still correct?’ it is best if this is only asked when an address becomes inactive as described in the section below.

It is advised to encourage self-service updating of the subscriber data through an online profile or permission centre.

Collecting the email address should be an in-built part of the sales process. Whenever a prospect or customer has to fill in a form this is an opportunity for gaining email addresses Direct mail promotions also gives this opportunity

Coming up Step 3 Defining your email marketing proposition

Email marketing guide : Steps 1 Prioritise your email marketing efforts with the CRITICAL factors

A review of the CRITICAL success factors for email marketing is a useful starting point in your journey to improved email marketing.

Let’s first review the eight CRITICAL success factors. Along the way, we’ll look at some examples of good practice to learn from. Each of the factors will be covered in more detail later in this guide.


Q. Is our email marketing two-way – are we engaging visitors in a dialogue or just pushing content? 

Email works well when it’s part of a wider dialogue encouraging user participation and engaging them with a brand. It’s easy to treat email marketing as a substitute for direct marketing. But it works best when it encourages interactions, for example through:

  • Polls or surveys (for an e-newsletter).
  • Reviews and ratings on products (for an e-retailer).
  • Competitions which are announced in several emails.
  • Sharing of what’s hot on (your) social channels like Facebook and Twitter.

Here’s an example from the Crate & Barrel asking for reviews after product purchase.


Q. Is our email marketing targeted? Are we segmenting sufficiently?

It will be no surprise to direct marketers that response rates for emails will be higher if they are targeted to the interests of individual recipients. In the section on targeting (Step 4) we’ll review six options for targeting which cover both traditional targeting options and methods to deliver contextual emails through what your marketing colleagues are calling ‘Sense and Respond communications’.Customer profile characteristics (demographics and customer set preferences).

  1. Customer profile characteristics (demographics and customer set preferences).
  2. Customer lifecycle groups. Most commonly grouped in categories like new subscribers or prospects, active customers and lapsed or no longer engaging in email.
  3. Customer behaviour in response and purchase (observed and predicted). This is the most powerful method, though also requires more technology to deliver it.
  4. Customer multi-channel behaviour (channel preference)
  5. Customer value (current and future).
  6. Customer personas. Personas provide a helpful way to simultaneously target on multiple dimensions. More complex methods in this area such as psychographics were created to control channel costs in direct mail and aren’t used in email marketing.

What is it? Sense and respond communications
Delivering timely, relevant communications to customers as part of a contact strategy through monitoring and following up automatically based on specific interactions with a company’s website, emails and staff.

The next diagram gives an example of how ‘Sense and Respond’ email marketing can work. It may not be necessary to follow up on all. Which do you think is most valuable here? We suggest Option C: ‘Click Don’t Respond’ because these respondents may just need a little push to convert, either through a follow-up email (series) or phone call if they are a high-value customer.

Diagram of Email Marketing Flow

Relevance also relates to the email list quality – you can only target if you have collected sufficient information to profile the individual and really understand their characteristics and interests. This becomes a catch 22 situation. Asking for information up front reduces the number of customers who will sign up. In many cases, it is best practice to ask for limited profile information and then learns over time. In the critical early stages, there is little data for targeting and behavior-based data becomes easier to collect than getting further data from customers.

Incentive (or offer)

Q. Are our incentives or content offers effective? Is our email engaging?

This is the WIIFM factor or ‘What’s In It For Me’ for the recipient. What benefit does the recipient gain from staying subscribed, reading the email, participating or clicking on the links?

Although the offer can be entirely based on the product features or other (emotional) benefits for promotional emails, there is a range of product or launch offers we can use in emails which are often in the ’Free’, ‘Win’, ‘Save’ or ‘New’ category. In this example, personalization is used to highlight the deals with the most relevant shown at the top in ‘Hero’ position.

This is the WIIFM factor or ‘What’s In It For Me’

For an e-newsletter, content is a big part of the subscriber benefit which we’ll review in the section on developing your email proposition. Is the quality of content or offer consistent through time?

Best Practice Tip 4 Highlight your incentives through formatting Highlight your incentives in headlines, image text and call to action to make the benefit for the recipient as clear as possible.


Q. Are we sending our emails at the right time?

Timing refers to when the email is sent and received; the time of day, a day of the week, point in the month and even time of year. It is usually thought that B2B emails are best sent so that the recipient receives them during the working day or midweek. All of us have a full inbox to work through first thing in the morning, often containing a mix of personal emails and newsletters/promotions.

The theoretical best time to send is when the recipient is active in their inbox and your email pops in at the top. The massive move to reading emails on mobile devices has changed habits and timing. Increasing numbers of subscribers check their emails somewhere between waking up, having breakfast and arriving at work and later into the evening. Your message determines whether that makes it a good time to send. Whilst your new shoe styles may get attention before breakfast it’s not the right context for further action and immediate purchasing.

However, only testing can show the proper for sure – some email marketers get good results on Friday, when office workers are winding down for the weekend. The truth of the matter
is there are no generic perfect times to send. What works for one brand may not work for another. It’s also a fallacy to think that timing is always critical, within a few hours of a particular time may make no difference. This situation is likely to be driven further by the use of email on mobile devices. With email being an always on 24/7 channel for many, the number of times per day the inbox is checked is on the increase.

Test the timing that works best for your audience by assessing success against your marketing objective for your emails at different times of the day and week. Some email service providers now also offer a feature that lets you adjust send time per recipient on the basis of their previous open times. At a minimum assess success against click rates. Read our posts on timing for more ideas

Timing also means more than the best time to get seen in the inbox, such as:

  • Timing to external factors. Some brands notice increased offer take-up just after pay day.
  • Timing in the context of user interactions – the sense and response approach mentioned already.
  • Timing according to product need and lifecycle, for replenishment-based products around the point when the product or service is needed again

This is looking at email as part of your integrated marketing communications rather than just the aspect of technical integration of systems. As always clarity in cross-channel marketing communication strategy should precede consideration of technical integration. How does email integrate with social media, websites, direct mail, telesales, offline adverts and so on are all important to getting your message across.
Questions to ask include:

  • Are the creative and copy consistent with my brand?
  • Does the message reinforce other communications?
  • Does the timing of the email campaign fit with offline communications?
  • Do we encourage interactions in other channels, such as social?

For example, you can follow up telesales with emailed information. Or if sending direct mail, you can combine it with an email pre and or post direct mail send. Tests have shown increasing the number of touchpoints increases conversion.

Remember, too, that email channel integration means considering use of all other channels and touchpoints for gaining new permission subscribers.

Creative and copy

Q. Are our creative and copy engaging enough?

The overall design of the email including layout, use of color, images, and copy.

Best Practice Tip 5 Make your offer clear up-front
Avoid the direct mail approach of ‘saving the best to last’. Email is an impulsive medium where visitors will scan it quickly, so if the recipient likes your offer from the subject line and the opening paragraph, then they should be able to click through straightaway. So in general, emails should always have a call to action and link in the first three or four lines and then repeat the call to action throughout the message three or four times, such as in the middle of the message and at the close.

Here’s an example of an offer repeated in the subject line, Headline image and call to action – which stimulates a clear offer and a good click-through rate.

Email copy resulting a good click-through rate

Key creative issues to consider which we will explore later in this guide are:

  • How is the email structured? Is the layout commonly used appropriate and effective for this type of email?
  • Where are the calls to action? What are the best positions for calls to action and how can click-throughs be encouraged?
  • How is the email branded? How should email campaigns and newsletters support the established brand and when should brand variants be used?
  • Is the tone of voice right for the email? Tone of voice and message should be in the context of the subscriber and their current relationship. A highly engaged subscriber who doesn’t need much encouragement will be fine with a strong and simple buy now message, whereas a new subscriber might need more trust and relationship building before going with a hard sell.

Attributes (of the email)

Q. Is the header content engaging?

The attributes of the email header which can all determine campaign success include the subject line, name and address, timing and format. Of these, subject line, from address and format are most important in influencing response.

  • From name and address – most email clients display the friendly display from name rather than from email address, so readers see ‘Your Company News’ rather than news@ Readers start evaluating an email based on from name. Email from the boss or spouse? It’s going to be read regardless of the subject line.
  • Subject line – if the email has passed the test of being someone the reader wants to hear from then the subject is used to evaluate the next action. We’ll look at more tips on subject lines later, but for now, here’s one – shorter can often work best.
  • Format – technically emails should contain HTML and plain text versions, known as MIME encoded. When both versions are sent in a multi-part format less than one percent of people will see the plain text version. There is no advantage with sending only a plain text version. Plain text is not the same as an HTML format that contains just formatted text (i.e. no heavy graphics). Formatted HTML text can work well is a creative design choice, while still being able to add some mark-up like highlighting hyperlinks and calls to action.
  • Renderability – your creative and email won’t be effective if it isn’t easy to read in the inbox. This needs to take into account making an email easy to read and action on different devices like desktop, smartphone and tablet.

Deliverability may be impacted by copy and creative, for example through the use of negative words like ‘Free’, though sender reputation is more critical than content. So email marketers can use the word ‘Free’ without delivery being effected if the sender reputation is sufficiently 1 high. See the section on deliverability for more on this topic.

Landing page (or microsite)

Q. Do we send readers to the right pages after the click?

There may be a temptation when experimenting with an email to encourage click-through to a web page that is already part of the site, such as the home page or a product page. However, you can get a much better result from a landing page focused on achieving action and tailored to continue a consistent experience that started in the email. ‘Landing page’ is the term given for the page(s) reached after the recipient clicks on a link in the email. Typically, with a B2B email, on click-through, the recipient will be presented with an online form to profile or learn more about them. Designing the page so that the form is easy to complete and reassuring about how their personal data will be used can affect the overall success of the campaign.

Best Practice Tip 6 Integrate copy, creative and offer in email and landing page : If the offer or creative on the landing page isn’t consistent with the email then this can negatively impact conversion.

The conversion rate on the landing page can make a dramatic difference to the success of an email campaign. Testing and improving landing pages therefore pays dividends, yet this is often overlooked in favour of the email creative.

In the example below, you see a mail (left) and landing page offer by La Redoute. The customer buying journey is integrated, encouraging shop by size in the email, and further browsing and search/selection options on the landing page. The transition from offer to the website is guided through recognizable red imagery and repeating the offer on the landing page.

Coming up Step 2 : Set your goals and build a quality list for email marketing

Email marketing guide : 7 Steps to Success Guide

Guide to Improve your email marketing
The photo was taken from Getty images

This post covered email strategy topics like segmentation options and communications strategy as well as practical advice on how to improve your creative and subject lines I will introduce the concept of permission marketing and show how it can be applied to using email for gaining new customers and communicating with existing customers.

7 STEPS Complete guide :