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Small Business Center

7 Email Marketing Tips and Strategies

November 17, 2023

Email remains a powerful tool for reaching and engaging with your audience. However, marketing emails are not as simple as hitting the “send” button. The words you choose in your email content and subject lines can make all the difference in capturing your audience’s attention, generating interest and driving action, said Laura Sheridan, president of marketing and branding consultancy Viva La Brand.

She discussed the importance of words in email marketing and provided valuable tips for writing emails that deliver results:

1. Build your email marketing around the customer.

The key to a successful email marketing strategy hinges on being customer-focused. Before you put a single word down on a page, you have to think about why you are writing it. As Sheridan said: “You want to think about what’s important to your customers and what they care about, and you need to write content that they would deem really valuable.” People connect with a brand when it demonstrates empathy and offers a solution that meets their lifestyle, she added.

2. Write in the perspective of your customer.

Personalization in email marketing extends far beyond merely addressing your audience by their first name. According to Sheridan, it involves establishing a genuine connection with your customers by speaking to them as individuals. She collaborates with clients to create audience personas. “We’ll find a name that’s very common in their client base like Mark,” Sheridan said, “and then I’ll say to them: ‘Would Mark read that? Would Mark say that?’

Your emails also should use your customers’ language, not industry jargon or corporate speak. “A lot of industries have internal jargon that they use on their website or in their emails, and they wonder why no one is responding,” Sheridan said. It turns out, the customers might have no idea what it is you’re saying.

In the case that you have different audiences — say, Millennials looking for sustainable items versus retired individuals looking for a good deal — segment your email list and send different emails. As Sheridan said: “Each of these audiences has different perspectives, needs, information and desires.”

In today’s world, it’s all about niche marketing, she said. “Because we are all now consumers, we are all used to personalized marketing and very specific marketing. We’re used to home pages and websites that speak directly to you. We swiftly delete mass messages.”

3. Spend time thinking about and testing out your subject line.

“Subject lines are really the most important thing,” Sheridan said. “If [your customer] sees a subject line that doesn’t speak to them, they’re not going to open the email, no matter what’s in the email.” Good subject lines, Sheridan said:

  • are specific: “You want to make sure the subject line feels personal to your audience,” Sheridan said. “If it’s general, if [the reader] reads it and thinks: ‘Well, this might apply to me, but maybe it doesn’t,” they’re just going to skip” the whole email.
  • are short: In subject lines, every word counts. “I always say: ‘Pick one word and cut it,’” Sheridan said. You don’t want to have even an extra “a” or “the” in the title, she said, because short subject lines are more eye-catching. And research has shown that shorter subject lines often result in higher open rates.
  • do not include exclamation marks or all caps: Excessive exclamation marks and capitalization are common characteristics of spam emails, Sheridan said. Email filters may flag or divert emails with these features to the spam folder. Additionally, overuse of exclamation marks or all caps can make your email appear unprofessional and overly enthusiastic. It might give the impression that you’re trying too hard to grab attention, which can be a turnoff for recipients.
  • relate to the content in the email. “I’ve seen instances where businesses put out subject lines that don’t relate to the content and then people open it and it’s a really bad experience because [the email] doesn’t align with their expectations,” Sheridan said. This disconnect can result in higher unsubscribe rates, as people become disappointed and feel they can’t rely on the sender.
  • create a sense of urgency: “If you only have a few items left of something, let people know,” Sheridan said. An urgent email title can counteract people’s natural tendency to procrastinate. When recipients feel a sense of urgency, they’re less likely to postpone or forget about the email.

Actionable insight: Test different subject lines on emails with the same content to see which ones resonate most with your audience, Sheridan advised. Keep an eye on open rates and adjust your approach based on the performance of your subject lines.

4. Create engaging first sentences.

Once someone has opened your email, the first sentence or the introduction plays a crucial role in keeping the recipient’s attention. It should connect seamlessly with the subject line so the content flows naturally. If neither of these happens, people will stop reading immediately, she said.

5. Make sure your email boasts clear and concise messaging.

When writing emails, less is often more, Sheridan said. Avoid making your emails longer than necessary, as lengthy content can overwhelm recipients. “That’s why I’m such a proponent of images and bullet points,” she said. Different stylistic devices break up the emails and make them more digestible and engaging. “I have one client who loves to write six heavy paragraphs, and I’m always reminding them that no one is going to read it all,” Sheridan said. The goal of an email, she added, is not to share everything you know but to provide a teaser that sparks curiosity and encourages further action. One way you can measure how much of your emails your customers are reading — and what they’re reading — is to have links on your email to different pages on your website, Sheridan added. That way you can see if people clicked on, for instance, the fourth link.

6. Only send out emails when there’s a reason for them.

The frequency of your email communications should be balanced, Sheridan said. Don’t send emails just for the sake of it. Instead, send them when you have relevant and valuable content to share. “I get nervous about clients who are gung-ho about sending a newsletter every month or every two weeks,” Sheridan said. “That’s a big commitment, and the last thing I would ever agree with is sending something just because you had it on the calendar.” At the same time, if you have a big event or sale coming up, you shouldn’t send just one email and expect people to remember and show up. “There needs to be multiple emails,” Sheridan said. “Would I do three in a week? Absolutely not, but I might do two in a week.” Consider resending valuable content to those who didn’t open your initial email.

7. Always include a call to action.

Every email you send should have a clear and compelling call to action, Sheridan said. Whether it’s encouraging readers to visit your website, make a purchase, sign up for a webinar or contact you for more information, your call to action should be prominent and easily actionable. That’s how customers get involved, Sheridan said.

By Rebecca Meiser

Contributor, Commerce + Communities Today and Small Business Center

Small Business Center

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