Email Marketing Part V: Back to basics

Effective marketing emails are those with the best flow. Yes, we wrote those words before in Part I a few months ago, but they are so important that we’re coming full circle back to them here in our final installment on the topic. Everything about a marketing email comes down to that final moment, when your target either moves on with their life or takes the plunge and follows through on your pitch. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking for a donation, trying to make a product sale or pitching a political ideal; there is a point for every email in which the viewer either converts, or walks away. Statistically, email marketing is highly effective, but on an individual basis most emails are utter failures. Even a relatively successful campaign might produce a 30-40 percent open rate and a 15 percent click through rate. While this might look pretty good to those of you who have sent a lot of campaigns in your time, if you look at what these numbers tell us about what didn’t happen, things aren’t quite so rosy. For this same hypothetical campaign, 60-70 percent of the emails were never even opened, and barely half of those that were produced any result. Essentially, 85% of your emails fell on deaf ears. For the average campaign, with a click through rate of less than 2 percent, things are much worse.

A gate too many

To figure out why this happens and, hopefully, work towards more effective emails, it helps to look at the workflow of a marketing email. We’ve been over the details of each of these “gates” in earlier articles, but a quick summation is sometimes necessary to fully digest a lesson.

1.      Open

All emails begin their useful life as a line of text in someone’s inbox. From here, three things can happen. First, your viewer might never notice the email, leaving it unopened into perpetuity. Second, your viewer might notice the message, but decide (in an amazingly short period of time) that it’s not worth their time to open it right now. Third, they might open the email. The determining factors (or at least the only ones over which you have any impact) are the subject line and sender fields of your email. Get these right and the viewer proceeds to the next gate; drop the ball here and you’re dead before you start.

2.      Consume

If you’re lucky, meaning you convince your target to open your email, the next step to focus on is the content of your email. If it’s not perfect (or close to it) you’ll lose the reader somewhere in the first line or two and be forced to watch them click back to the inbox and move on with their life. Email body content should be compelling and should have an active flow. Like a bestselling novel, the material should naturally lead from one word to the next until the reader finally lands on your call to action. If at any point they don’t feel genuinely compelled to read the next word, you’ve failed.  And remember, don’t rely on images to communicate your message.  Only Apple Mail, iPhone/iPad, and Gmail will display images by default.  Granted, that could be a big percentage of your subscribers, but you may still be missing a large chunk that only sees white space with outlines.

3.      Act

Finally, after at least two compelling opportunities to avoid your call to action, a reader will eventually come to the moment of truth; will they act on your message? This decision is based on multiple things that you can’t possibly know; such as the temperature outside, their blood sugar level, or the impulses of their children who decide to start fighting right at the critical moment. One thing is certain, if you don’t have a compelling call to action and, perhaps more to the point, one that’s easy to act upon, you might as well not bother to send the email at all. It’s shocking how many emails (and full blown business websites for that matter), don’t have any call to action at all. Don’t let yours be one of them.

It takes all kinds

There are all kinds of marketing emails. Research shows us that where one word (like free) can kill one campaign, the same word can make another a raging success. You have to do what works for you. Two basic building blocks are necessary in order to understand what works for your particular campaign– data and an understanding of the flow of marketing emails. Often, the most effective emails are the ones sent out by the experts (ACLU action announcements are a great example). While you might not like their political perspectives (and on those grounds might find their emails nothing but obnoxious), it’s hard to deny their effectiveness as a tool for rallying supporters to action (incidentally, email marketers from all political walks of life rely on the same basic tactics).  

A winning formulae

Action alerts follow a simple formulae: lead with a subject that shocks, follow up with a heart breaking (or dignity insulting, or rage inducing, etc.) opening paragraph, followed by a chance to take action (a link to donate for example), followed by more gut wrenching details about the terrible situation, followed by another chance to take the same action, followed by still another paragraph of terrible detail, followed by a call to action that shames you for not having clicked one of the earlier links (hey, they’re losing you at this point anyway, right?). Every word is active; the message compelling.

There are of course all manner of variations to this theme, but essentially readers are dragged (even kicking and screaming if necessary) all the way from their inbox to the destination landing page. The process is compelling, only takes a few seconds to move through; and every single word in the message, from the header to the footer, is carefully designed to make you put one foot in front of the other in pursuit of their end objective.

It works

The same basic strategy will work just as well for selling a product as it does for selling an idea. You’ll probably want to tune the language in such a way that it promotes a different type of emotional response (probably something positive or feel good), but the steps are the same. Effective marketing emails are like an engaging dance; they flow seamlessly from subject line to action without any catches. Ultimately, this is the only way you’ll ever move any appreciable number of people through all those “gates” and get a result out of them.


Kjeld Lindsted Kjeld Lindsted
Content Architecture, Copywriting, and Editing
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