Marketing Bootcamp

8 Ingredients of an Off-the-Charts Email Marketing Campaign

I don't like articles titled ‘X awesome ways to do Y’ that promise the secret ingredient of the most delicious dish you’ll ever have. This article is not claiming any of that. I'm totally against the concept of a magic concoction.

Just like most things in business, email marketing doesn’t follow a mathematical formula. Nobody can look at your product, and tell you a list of steps to create a successful campaign. It requires a lot of patience, optimization, testing and analysis to come to a stage where you can understand what works for your product and what doesn’t.

Related: 7 Tips to Make Your Email Marketing More Mobile-Friendly

After doing hundreds of campaigns (and failing miserably many times), we learned some useful lessons. The day we focused on all points mentioned below and tested everything, things changed. For the past few campaigns, we have consistently had open rates in the 27 percent to 30 percent range (250 percent more than industry average) and click rates in the 8 percent to 10 percent range (700 percent more than industry average).

Here are the components that you’ll find in all successful campaigns. Make sure you get all of them right as a single weak link can break the chain and hurt the performance of your campaign.

1. A clear objective. A wise man once said, “If you don't know what you want, you end up with a lot you don't.” Have a clear objective that you want to achieve before committing yourself to a new email marketing campaign.

Your goals may vary from creating awareness about your new product launch to selling your product online, but you need to define it at the very outset. This goal will then serve as the framework of your email campaign, defining everything from design, to content to measurement of its success or failure.

2. An interesting subject line. Your customer’s inbox is filled with mails. According to a survey conducted by Chadwick Martin Bailey (CMB) and Constant Contact in March 2012, 47 percent of people say that they decide what to open and what to skip based on the subject line of the mails.

Work extra hard to get this right. Remember that there’s no right or wrong answer in digital marketing. You have to test everything to see what works and what doesn’t. Get into your subscribers’ shoes and come up with few subject lines to place your bet on.

3. A well thought headline and body content. First, give yourself a pat on the back when you arrive at this level. You have managed to break through the clutter and have your subscriber’s attention. (Trust me, it is a big deal!) Now it’s time to tell her what is in it for her.

The headline of your email is the first thing to grab her attention. It should be in sync with your subject line and connect what you said in your subject line with the rest of your mail. It has to reassure the subscriber that she is in the right place. Consistency is the key here. Any break in the flow will hurt your conversion rates.

The body content, on the other hand, is like the trailer of a movie. Your goal is to make the trailer so appealing that they come and watch your movie (in this case, your landing page). Balance and brevity are the keys here. Do not write a saga but only enough that the reader understands what you want to convey. Emphasize the benefits to the reader, not how many awesome features you have. Remember, your reader only wants to know  what's in it for her.

4. Appealing design. Ok, you may have come up with some awesome designs for your mail but take it from us, none of your subscribers will ever (and I repeat ever) come back saying ‘Wow, it looked fabulous!’

Your mail is not intended to win a design award. Your goal is very strictly defined in conversion terms. This doesn't mean be boring and dull but to design your email to bring out the core message clearly and help readers skim through it, even if they do not want to go through the entire content. Keep it simple, relevant and focused.

Remember, "perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." Each element in your mail, from an icon to a color, has to have a purpose.

Related: The Ultimate Email Marketing Strategy for a Small Business in 7 Steps

5. A compelling call to action. The ultimate purpose of your email is to convince a reader to click on the ‘call to action (CTA)’ button that takes them to a page on your website or a dedicated landing page. The goal is clear but there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. Results can vary drastically by just a simple change of color, size, text-font or text copy of CTA buttons.

We learned studying data from our past campaigns what design works for our CTAs but we needed to test for various button texts to find out which one better compels a reader to click. Instead of using clinched CTA texts like ‘Submit’ and ‘Learn More’, we experimented with more action-oriented phrases like ‘Show Me The New Features - Live’, ‘Explore All Features Now’ and ‘Yes! I want to see how you did it.’

Being creative worked for us. Do not shy away from trying various options. Measure the performance to determine what works best for you.

6. A dedicated landing page. Congratulations for crossing the second hurdle in your email campaign and persuading your reader to click on your CTA button. Now that she is on your landing page, impress her. In some cases, landing your reader to an existing page on your site works but, in most cases, it's better to have a dedicated landing page.

A dedicated landing page helps you fine-tune the content so that the flow is unbroken. Doing this on an existing website page is more difficult.

7. The right time to send. When to send your email is another important ingredient to a successful email campaign. Weekends and Mondays are a bad idea. Even on weekdays, you mail’s open rate varies depending on the time you are launching your campaign. We analyzed our past campaigns to find out what works for our customer base and set up tests with minor variations to reach to the best time and day.

8. Testing, testing, testing. This is the single most important thing that will ensure that every time you launch an email campaign you raise the bar. Let’s say you have a mailing list of 20,000 subscribers. Split this group into a 1:4 ratio. Perform all your tests on a test group of 4,000 subscribers and then send out the winning mail to remaining 16,000. (Note: The result needs to be statistically significant to support a well-informed decision.)

You need to test and measure your performance at every point to come to the best version of your mail. Don’t restrict yourself to varying just one parameter at a time. You can tweak more than one parameter if you do it intelligently. Vary the subject line, headline, CTA and content in a controlled way for small groups of recipients so you can maximize the options available to you.

Test everything. In this modern world of digital marketing, it’s a mistake to rely on your gut when you can test your assumptions so accurately.

Special thanks to Shilpi Choudhury and Nishith Sharma for helping me improve this article.

Related: Are You Getting Email Marketing Right? Use These 4 Metrics to Find Out.