Email marketing 101: how to create a campaign

Time to read: 5 minutes


For small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) looking to scale and grow, email marketing can be one of the most important tools in their toolboxes. When done well, it’s a cost-effective, scalable way to reach and nurture new leads, along with engaging existing customers and adding value to their experiences. 

It’s not just about scale and cost efficiencies, though – 80% of customers say the experience an organisation provides is as important as its products, which means SMBs need to find ways to tailor customer experiences at every stage of the journey. Not only is email marketing an important part of that, but it can provide an easier entry point if your business is starting to dip its toe into personalisation. 

To help you get started, here’s a handy primer on how to create email marketing campaigns.

What is email marketing and why should you be using it?

Email marketing is the use of email to promote your organisation’s products or services and to build relationships with your customer base. It can include anything from a straightforward sales message for a new product, to a way of keeping your customers engaged and loyal to your brand, even when they’re not at a purchasing stage.

It’s efficient and, executed well, can be extremely effective. Indeed, at $42 back for every dollar spent, email marketing still offers the highest ROI of all marketing channels. And more and more businesses are discovering its potential, with the latest Salesforce research showing an 11% growth rate in marketers using email since 2018.

One of the most valuable aspects of an email marketing campaign is the data it provides. Opens, click-throughs and unsubscribes along with information about what time customers engaged and across which devices, are all rich material to help build a 360 degree view of your customer and calculate your ROI. Better yet, using products like Pardot, this data can be directed into sales teams’ workflows, helping ensure a personalised, seamless experience even after the customer moves into a different part of the sales funnel.

Email marketing might be the stalwart senior of the marketing world, but, by innovating and adapting it to today’s customer needs, it’s anything but old fashioned. 

How to create a winning email marketing campaign

Creating an email marketing campaign that will get results is partly an art, partly a science – a balance of must-have elements, customer knowledge, strategy, timing and content that sings. Here are some key steps to getting it right.

1. Establish your email marketing objectives – and think of the customer

First, what is your business goal? Is your email marketing campaign about converting sales, building relationships through engaging content, following up on previous messaging, eliciting more customer information, encouraging click throughs to a landing page or website? Be clear about your email marketing objectives but don’t forget the customer - why should they open this campaign? What’s in it for them? To be successful, your goal must align with your customer needs. 

Lead magnets can be an effective way to collect contact information to build out your database and begin the customer journey. They offer an incentive for the customer to subscribe or give their contact details – it could be a free white paper, a how-to guide, an ebook or access to a webinar. Whatever it is, it has to matter enough to the customer that they’ll hand over their details to get it.

2. Email retargeting best practices: start with segmenting

The latest State of the Connected Customer report shows that 52% of customers expect offers to always be personalised. To meet this demand for tailored engagement, email campaigns must be sent at the right time to the right audience. Building your customer database is critical to achieving this, but so is proper segmentation.  ‘Segmenting’ your customer base essentially means identifying different types of customers and grouping them according to factors like demographic, buying stage or product interest. 

Take the example of The Wine Group, a leading producer of wine in Australia, who used data segmentation to improve email open rates, contributing to a 20-30% increase in online sales. General Manager Daniel De Salvo has explained that this is a much better approach than the bygone era of cold-calling customers without strong insights into what they like or dislike. It also means the business is better at predicting when customers are more likely to buy and can reach out proactively. 

This sort of personalisation starts with building a healthy customer database and creating different messages for the different segments within those databases. Better yet, personalisation will help you grow your database, since customers are more likely to unsubscribe if they feel they’re receiving information that’s not relevant.

3. Use technology to integrate and amplify your email campaigns

The crises of the past eighteen months have seen the number of customers inhabiting the digital space increase dramatically, with our latest research revealing that 68% of customers say they’re online more often than not. Furthermore, 88% of customers expect companies to accelerate their digital initiatives in the wake of COVID-19.

Email marketing should play an important role then, in reaching customers in that digital space, and North Collective is just one example of how innovative digital technologies can supercharge your email marketing campaigns. 

AI-powered email marketing platforms, for instance, can work together with other digital systems to help you automate, segment, personalise, schedule, test and analyse your campaigns. With the right tools, filtering personas becomes the work of seconds and you can create responsive campaigns that resonate across any device. 

Here, a customer relationship management (CRM) solution will be critical, by integrating data from across the organisation, including sales and service. This gives your email platform even more customer data to work with. Think real-time alerts about prospect activity or the option to suppress messaging to a customer who has an open service case. 

4. Lean on templates and always aim for engaging content

Depending on your platform, you shouldn’t need to build a new email campaign every single time. Most platforms will offer templates or allow you to save a favourite format as your go-to starting point. This means you can simply update elements like your subject line, body text, imagery and CTAs or links. 

That doesn’t mean your email campaign needs to be cookie cutter, though. In fact, to reach customers who are receiving plenty of other marketing communications from other businesses, you’ll need to find ways to stand out even after you’ve carefully segmented your audiences. 

Much of this comes down to reaching out with the right message at the right time. But it’s important to keep the email itself concise and easy-to-read. Your subject line – the first thing a user will see of your email – needs to stand out and offer the most relevant information first. Remember that being too pushy or hard-selling can turn off users, but might also activate spam filters. Here are a few subject line inclusions that can trigger a filter: 

  • Words in all caps or lots of exclamation points
  • An unnecessary sense of urgency, such as ‘buy now,’ ‘limited time’ or ‘act fast’
  • Other hard-selling language like ‘once in a lifetime’ or ‘incredible deal’
  • Unnecessary mentions of ‘money’ or ‘cash’
  • Anything related to medications or health treatments, particularly ‘miracle cures’ which are a popular spam target

5. A strong CTA: help customers take next steps

When creating each email campaign, you’ll want to include a strong call to action (CTA) – that is, what you want your reader to do after opening the email. Just as a sales person would never end a pitch without a call to action, so too does your email campaign need a strong CTA button to get your customers moving along to the next part of their journey. 

While it’s true that an unopened email or an unsubscribe request still provides you with valuable data, a high click-through rate on your campaign’s CTA is a stat to brighten any marketer’s day. This number represents the percentage of readers who aren’t just opening your message but are also taking the next step, whether it be opening a landing page, visiting a blog or filling out a form. 

Again, personalisation is key here. The CTA doesn’t need to be complicated (‘Shop now’ or Learn more’ are tried and tested favourites) but it should be the natural progression of the rest of a campaign that has addressed their specific needs, piqued their particular interests and offered something meaningful enough that a click-through is worth it to them.

6. A smart schedule: how often should you send newsletters and campaigns?

As to how often you should send an email newsletter or campaign, choose quality over quantity. Think about your own response to a barrage of emails from the same organisation – how many does it take in a fortnight before you click the ‘unsubscribe’ button? 

But, since we’re all different, there’s an even more vital consideration: personalisation. With the right email marketing platform you can create automated messages that respond to triggers in the customer’s behaviour or journey. For example, instead of sending a client a generic email about gym membership deals, send them one that acknowledges their renewal date is imminent and they might want to consider some new options. 

How users respond to your email campaigns can inform the frequency of those campaigns, too. You might choose to send more regular emails to a user who consistently opens them and clicks through. Conversely, you can limit the send frequency for users who haven’t opened the last few messages.

7. Be transparent about data use to build trust

Salesforce’s latest State of the Connected Customer research shows that trust is more important than ever to customers and that it’s harder for organisations to earn. Even with the implementation of European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and other privacy legislation, 86% of consumers want more transparency about how their information is used and 61% feel they’ve lost control over their personal information. 

Data is critical to building great email marketing campaigns, so approach every campaign with the goal of earning trust. For example, if you asked for an opt in once a year ago, it’s time to ask again. Make sure your privacy policy is easy to find on your website and easy to understand. Columns of fine print might technically provide transparency, but what do they really mean to your customer? 

Show the customer you are treating their data with respect and using it to deliver value. And, of course, make it easy for customers to adjust their email preferences or even unsubscribe if they want to – no one wants to lose a subscriber, but making it hard to opt out of communications can destroy trust and even put you on the wrong side of regulations.

To that end, try to get familiar with the Spam Act and privacy laws which govern email marketing in Australia. There’s no quicker way to lose customers (and in some cases face a hefty fine) than with a dose of regulation-breaching spam emails. Keep in mind that your marketing communications may fall under other countries’ regulations if your customers are opening them outside of Australia.

If this sounds like a lot of work, remember that automation and CRM solutions can simplify things and minimise the risk of oversight. Like many other heavily regulated industries, real estate requires certain types of consent before agents can start talking to potential buyers. To navigate this issue at scale, small business Tall Poppy Real Estate integrated their website with Salesforce so they could capture more information when customers requested appraisals.

“We're also able to capture a customer’s consent,” said Tall Poppy’s Chief Operating Officer Michael Cummins. “What this means within the real estate industry is we have consent to be talking to them not just about their property but about other properties they may be interested in as well.”

8. Don’t forget to measure and test

Testing will be one of your final steps and don’t be tempted to skip it. Choose an email marketing platform that allows you to test performance so you can see what works and what doesn’t. 

There are a few key measurements to watch: 

  • Open rate, perhaps the most straightforward number for understanding whether recipients are interested in your email. But it’s not the full picture – for instance, some inboxes will report accidentally selecting the email as an ‘open’ – so you’ll need to combine it with other metrics of success. 

  • Click-through rate, as discussed in our section on CTAs, indicates whether your audience is actually clicking on links in your email and taking next steps. 

  • List growth rate, which tells you how quickly your contact database is growing.

  • Bounce rate, the number of emails that couldn’t be delivered. Soft bounces mean the email couldn’t reach the recipient for temporary reasons, while hard bounces mean it couldn’t be delivered for permanent reasons. If you’re getting lots of hard bounces, it might be a sign that your list needs to be refreshed. 

  • Unsubscribes, a number that you definitely don’t want to see increase. If you’re seeing a high number of unsubscribes, or it seems to be growing over time, it’s a flashing-red warning sign that you need to recalibrate your campaign and look at factors like segmentation, relevance or send frequency.

  • Overall ROI, since ultimately the goal is to get customers to convert and make a purchase. As we touched on with The Wine Group, it’s helpful to combine metrics like increased open rates with increased online sales. This ensures you’re connecting campaigns to tangible outcomes. Just remember that email marketing can be used for lead nurturing and engaging with existing customers, so there might not always be a clearcut path from one eDM to an immediate purchase.

Depending on your platform, you may have the option to use A/B testing. For example, you can test two different subject lines against one another to understand which language or content is more likely to resonate with certain segments. 

In short, the more you understand about your campaigns’ performance, the more you can fine-tune your messaging and the more successful your campaigns will be.

Lastly, a 360-view of your customer will be critical for creating personalised journeys, putting a CRM solution at the heart of most effective email marketing campaigns.

Find out more about CRM and how to get started in the CRM Handbook.

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