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Back to basics: why and how to use email marketing

Updated: Mar 1

Email marketing is retro. It has been around since the late seventies which may be older than some of our readers. It has become a comms staple and while we may often feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of emails, if you can crack it, it is the gift that keeps giving in 2024. Our founder Melissa Fretwell caught up with fellow female chief Christine Corbin to check in with where we’re at, and why we should still treasure the humble email. 

Email marketing continues to matter because it’s a key nurture channel. Your email list is a way to talk directly to the people who are interested in your brand - it’s a constant, unlike social algorithms. You can (for the most part) guarantee that if you send an email, it will arrive in the intended inbox as expected - a place where you have your customer’s undivided attention. 

You also have full ownership of your email list - again, unlike your social media follower counts. And remember, primary data is gold: nothing beats talking directly to your customers and seeing what resonates - and what doesn’t. This is especially true as cookie functionality is being switched off across the internet.

Also, email marketing does more than just nurture your list - it also contributes hugely to revenue. If done well, email automations can help your brand make sales without hands-on effort. This is especially true for ecommerce brands, but most sectors can benefit from great email automations. 

With all this in mind, let’s cover a few key aspects of email marketing - which platform to choose (and why), best practices on deliverability, plus some tips and inspiration for your future email communications.

If you’re running an ecommerce business, you absolutely need an ecomm-specific email platform so that you have access to all the best selling functionality possible. Here are Christine's personal favourite platforms to consider: 

  • Klaviyo is the current industry standard for a reason. It offers best-in-class reporting, A/B testing and segmentation tools that make it perfect for larger teams, or brands who are really ready to invest in their marketing. The platform is also investing heavily in AI tools which are already quite useful (I personally love their email title suggestions). 

  • Omnisend is a more pared-down platform that’s perfect for email beginners. Plans are less expensive than Klaviyo, and, while you won’t get access to as many advanced tools, the interface is extremely intuitive and easy to use.

  • Drip markets themselves as a “customer-first” marketing platform. Offering grow-as-you-go pricing and tons of automation support, this platform is quickly becoming a competitor in the ecomm marketing space, but do note that it tends to be a little less user-friendly at first versus Klaviyo or Omnisend. 

If you’re not focused on selling physical products, you might be better served by a more generalised email platform. Some decent options:

  • Mailchimp is wildly popular for a reason. With a generous free plan and an extremely easy-to-use interface, you can be up and running in no time. Mailchimp is also investing heavily in the AI space, an exciting development to watch.

  • ActiveCampaign is one of the best-value platforms for large email lists. It’s not the most beginner-friendly, but ActiveCampaign’s segmentation options are highly advanced, with an option to split-test emails up to five different ways. 

  • ConvertKit is ideal for content creators looking to grow their reach. With a robust creator network, ConvertKit is a great alternative for writers looking to leave Substack and add some automations to their content mix.

Gmail (and Yahoo) have released new deliverability requirements as of Feb ‘24 that affect all email marketers, and especially those with large lists (sending 5k+ emails a day). These changes are technical - but they should be at the top of your radar to understand. Here’s why:

  • There’s now a lower tolerance than ever for spam complaints. Make sure to clean your list regularly, and ensure you’re only sending emails to people who have explicitly opted in.

  • One-click unsubscribe is now a must have. Remember - it’s in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for people to exit your list.

  • Your email marketing platform may require you to make some manual changes. While larger platforms like MailChimp and Klaviyo are taking many of the update requirements into their own hands, it’s still up to you to take some steps, like ensuring your sending domain is properly verified.

Let’s move on to some rules for crafting the most engaging emails possible.

Know Your Audience: tailor your message to the recipient's preferences, level of familiarity, and expectations. Consider their position, cultural background, and communication style.

  • Word count: no hard or fast rules here - it all goes back to how well you know your audience and what your email is trying to communicate. 

  • For ecomm emails, I recommend keeping your copy super clear and brief - I like no more than a couple hundred words - and break up long paragraphs into shorter, easily digestible chunks. If you have more information that you need to get across, you can always add a link to the relevant landing page or blog post on your site.

  • As an illustration of why concise copy is so important, here’s heat map data from a UX Study showing how human eyes track across differently formatted web pages’ copy:

Use your Subject Line and Call To Actions (CTAs) wisely: we all scan headlines, so creating a punchy subject line can raise your chances that the email will be opened. 

  • Every email you send should have a clear objective. Maybe you want to alert customers to a limited-time offer, share a new styling guide or announce a collection launch. Your email design should guide the user’s eye to a call to action (CTA) that supports your goal - and drives conversions. You should use design elements like special fonts and bold buttons to help guide your customer’s eye and emphasise the CTA.

  • Your CTA should be clear both above the fold (so that it catches a customer’s eye from the moment they open the email) and should be reiterated further down in the email body, as well - here’s an example of strong CTA-forward design from Starface:

Master your tone: whether polished professional or a slick hipster, creating a consistent tone for your brand and all your communications is a great way to stand out. 

  • This goes for visual branding as well! Visual consistency builds trust, brand awareness - and literally makes your customers like you more. (It’s called the mere exposure effect - look it up!) This means you need to spend time developing - and then using - consistent fonts, colour palettes, and overall vibes for your email marketing, and those vibes should be consistent with your website and social channels, as well. Here’s a gorgeous example of consistency from Arq:

Proof and proof again: our brains tend to work faster than our fingers so there will always be typo’s - sometimes awkward ones! Make sure you’re always building in time to proofread your emails.

  • Accessibility is fundamental: think about how you are formatting your email, the colours you use so anyone can read it. A few quick guidelines:

  • If your email is copy-forward, try and break it up into shorter bullets or paragraphs so that the information is easily digestible. 

  • Add alt text to all images, logos etc so that subscribers using screen readers can understand them.

  • Ensure any videos included have accurate captioning.

  • Be careful using too many emojis as they can be very disruptive for screen readers. 

Try to think of one or two memorable newsletters and why they have staying power. Here are seven that Melissa and Christine love to love:

  • The Red Hand Files: it’s raw and messy and all kinds of beautiful. Match real emotional outpourings with an iconic musician like Nick Cave and you have something quite special. 

  • Starface: an ecomm newsletter that consistently delights me - which is so hard to find! The branding and visuals are always spot on.

  • Lucy and Yak: super visual ecomm emails that take seconds to drink in.

  • Reformation: a masterclass in mixing engaging copy and visuals that really sell the product:

So if you’ve made it to the end of this post, hurrah and congrats! You are now fully equipped to perfect your email marketing plans. If you need a bit of help getting started, get in touch with Christine or follow her newsletter here. And for nearly everything else, drop Melissa a line. You can pick her brains for one thousand, eight hundred seconds, for free just here.

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