How to develop an effective email marketing strategy from email list acquisition through retention
Email revolutionized modern communication, and it’s still growing. The number of worldwide email users amounted to 4.1B in 2021 and is expected to grow to 4.6B users in 2025, according to Statista.
What does that mean for retailers, exactly? Is email marketing a magic wand solution for growing sales? It can be—but capitalizing on email marketing takes a solid strategy that will pave the way toward long-term email channel success.
“Sure, you can shoot from the hip with email marketing and it might work for the first three months or maybe even the first year. But, it probably won’t work much longer than that,” says Kelly Stymiest, partner at Homestead Studio.
“The brands that truly win at email marketing are the ones that send with true intention, keep up with the email trends, and have a full email strategy built out. If you understand email and the strategy that surrounds it, you might just find the unlock to take your account to new levels.”
Let’s make yours one of those brands with a full email marketing strategy built out.
Table of contents:
- What is an email marketing strategy?
- Why is an email marketing strategy important?
- How do you develop an email marketing strategy?
- What are the top 7 email marketing strategies and tactics?
What is an email marketing strategy?
An email marketing strategy is a blueprint that helps businesses identify their target audience, their preferences, and the most effective email marketing messages to achieve their desired marketing goals.
As part of an overall marketing strategy, a solid email marketing strategy includes a data-driven plan, methods to reach and connect with your target audience, and analysis of results for future optimization.
Why is an email marketing strategy important?
Email is a powerhouse channel for marketers, and having the right strategy in place can bring in significant revenue.
But this isn’t a channel for the novice. There is stiff competition in the market. Here are the top 5 reasons you need a strong email marketing strategy ASAP.
1. Daily email volume is on the rise
According to Statista, roughly 319B emails were sent and received each day in 2021. This figure is expected to increase to over 376B daily emails by 2025 as businesses scramble to win over inbox competition.
2. Email marketing is effective
Despite the disruptions in society and marketing over the past couple of years, email remains a mainstay for marketers. Data from Validity and Demand Metric shows that for 39% of marketers, email effectiveness held steady in 2020, and 30% of marketers reported a slight improvement.
3. You don’t have to deal with murky social media algorithms
Showing your message on social media depends on the mercy of social media algorithms, and frequent changes often mean marketers reach a smaller percentage of their audience. With email marketing, you have more control over your email list, and it’s near guaranteed––your email deliverability withstanding––that every recipient will, at the very least, receive your email.
“Email marketing is the best way to build long-term relationships with customers, and convert leads into customers. That’s because it’s much easier to reliably reach subscribers in the inbox. Just take social media for comparison,” says Liz Willits, founder of Content Phenom.
“While social media is a powerful way to build an audience and reach new people, it’s difficult to dependably reach every follower, because the algorithm may not show new posts to everyone. This isn’t a problem with email.”
4. Email helps with customer retention
Unlike other channels, which are mainly focused on customer acquisition, email marketing is a great tool for both acquisition and retention. Thanks to lead nurture and email marketing automation, businesses can set up flows to constantly re-engage customers and turn them into brand advocates.
5. Email marketing has a high ROI
According to Statista, the average email marketing return on investment (ROI) for ecommerce brands is $45 per $1 spent.
How do you develop an email marketing strategy?
Before you enjoy the fruits of email marketing, you have to roll up your sleeves and lay the groundwork.
For Structured Agency, a solid email marketing strategy is a 4-step process: core, scale, list segmentation, and optimization. The time frame between each stage is 2-3 months, and there are pre-purchase and post-purchase flows for each stage.
The essence of this email flow roadmap is:
- Set up core email automation for pre-purchase (welcome series, pop-ups, abandoned checkout, browse abandonment, and abandoned cart) and post-purchase (thank-you email and post purchase onboarding), as well as transactional emails (order confirmations).
- Scale by adding new emails for different stages of the journey.
- Segment your lists and send separate pre-purchase and post-purchase email flows to your audience, depending on their purchase history.
- Optimize email subject lines, preview text, your call-to-action (CTAs), landing pages, promotional emails, timing, and creative for increased conversion rates.
It’s a crawl, walk, run approach that enables your business to start small, test, optimize, and learn along the way.
“You should think about your email marketing strategy no differently than any other marketing strategy—whether that’s content, growth, or product marketing. Without a strategy, you have no idea what your goals are, and you’ll find yourself ‘throwing things at a wall, hoping they’ll stick,” says Sara Du, co-founder and CEO of Alloy.
“Email marketing isn’t just about messaging your customers whenever you want. It’s about thoughtful, intentional, value-packed messages that reach customers at the right time. Coming up with a well-thought-out strategy is how you deliver that.”
The question is: what’s right for your business, and where do you start? To help you develop a successful email strategy, we created a list of 10 essential steps. Let’s dive in.
1. Conduct an audit
The first step of putting together an email marketing strategy is a thorough discovery audit. During this stage, you need to learn everything about your product, market, and customer. To influence your audience, you have to understand their thought process, challenges, and pain points.
This phase is crucial to creating a successful strategy. By reflecting on your business before diving in, you’ll be able to spot new opportunities and make informed email marketing decisions.
Here are some things to look for as you dive into this audit:
- Email marketing benchmarks: How well do your emails stack up against industry averages?
- Email templates and design: Use tools like the Klaviyo Showcase, Klaviyo’s template library, Really Good Emails, or MailCharts to see how other brands in your industry build out their emails, what they look like, the templates they use, and more. Are there themes? Does anything spark ideas on how you can improve?
- Customer-first marketing: Have you talked to your customers recently? Do you have a good handle on your target market, who they are, what they like, and more? If you’re still at this starting point, use Klaviyo’s customer-first marketing guide to get started.
- Ecommerce customer funnel and buyer journey: Build clear brand narratives for each stage of your funnel so you and your team can easily give purpose to every message and touchpoint a customer has. You’ll find an easy-to-use template below:
2. Set goals
What is the main goal for your business today? Do you want more leads, fewer cart abandonments, increased lifetime value, or more subscriptions?
Your goals determine the actions you should take. For example, if you notice a lot of cart abandonments, you should set up a cart abandonment email automation to recover some of the lost sales, or audit your existing flow to see if there are optimizations to be made.
3. Choose the right tools
An email marketing platform—sometimes referred to as an email marketing service or email service provider (ESP), or as a customer relationship management software (CRM)—is a tool used to create and send emails to a specified list of email addresses.
Most of today’s email marketing tools have built-in features that allow you to use templates, create email marketing campaigns, automation flows, segments, lists, and more.
Not sure which tool is right for you? Check out the 10 best email services and marketing platforms of 2022.
4. Define your audience
There is truth in the saying, “If you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one.”
The more precisely you define your target audience based on demographic, geographic, psychographic, and behavioral segmentation, the better results you can expect from your email marketing efforts.
“Think about what kind of information you need to personalize your emails. That’s what you should be asking customers for. Skin concerns, pregnancy stages, shoe sizes, exercise goals—you get the idea. Get personal with customers,” suggests Carson McComas, CEO of FuelMade.
5. Build a list
Being a regular guest in someone’s inbox gives businesses countless opportunities, but the truth is that getting that green light can be a headache for marketers.
Collecting email addresses with sign-up forms, offering incentives to customers in exchange for their email addresses, and writing enticing email copy are just a few ideas that can help you get more email subscribers and scale your email channel.
6. Map each stage of the customer journey
Different stages of the customer journey require different email approaches. Dissecting each stage and defining what types of emails you should send and when will give you a clear picture of the overall email experience.
To go a step further, you can create different email flows for different segments.
“Once you have systems for collecting that data in place (quizzes, pop-ups with checkboxes, etc.), focus on creating emails with tailored content based on each type of customer and their unique needs,” McComas suggests. “This includes welcome flows and email newsletter campaigns with relevant product recommendations, education, and other dynamic content.”
7. Determine the format and frequency
Crafting the perfect email is part science, part art. Businesses can choose different formats, fonts, colors, and text sizes. In most cases, email design is another way to stand out and convey the message in a memorable way.
Copy and design are crucial for successful implementation, so you’ll want to follow some basic best practices. High-quality email design not only helps you stand out in a crowded inbox, but also holds the reader’s attention, conveys your message, and entices customers to see what’s behind the CTA button.
Another thing to take into account is email frequency. Frequency can significantly impact your engagement rates, so plan wisely.
8. Test different elements
Every email marketing campaign offers plenty of opportunities for testing. From subject lines, content, length, and visuals, to CTA buttons, style, design, and personalization, brands can mix and match email marketing elements and see what works best for their target audience.
You can use split testing, multi-variate testing and more to understand how different elements alter your consumer’s behavior.
9. Optimize your strategy
Email marketing is a fluid process. It involves a lot of experiments and learning as you go.
This is why it’s important to track results, analyze performance, and optimize along the way.
The learnings from your testing will show potential red flags and if there’s room for improvement. Your email marketing strategy should constantly evolve based on the results.
10. Monitor performance
To make data-driven decisions, you need to monitor email performance. Businesses mostly focus on metrics such as click-through rates (CTRs), email open rates, and unsubscribe rates.
Besides these top-of-mind metrics, brands should keep an eye on email deliverability, sending reputation, and list hygiene. All these elements are crucial for email marketing success.
Your job here is to see what works and what doesn’t, and make improvements in your email marketing strategy based on those results.
What are the top 7 email marketing strategies and tactics?
Sounds good in theory, right? Now it’s time for action. The good news is that you can take a page from a successful company’s email marketing playbook and apply those best practices to achieve your goals.
“Email marketing can be a beast to tackle,” says Joanne Coffey, assistant manager of retention marketing at Jones Road Beauty. “The easiest way to think about starting an email marketing strategy is putting yourself in the shoes of your customer. Everything else will fall into place.”
Let’s look at the top 7 email marketing strategies and how to put them into action.
1. Send personalized emails
Personalization brings vast benefits to businesses: 91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands that recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations.
Data from Adobe shows that 9 in 10 marketers see outcome improvements from personalization, including improvements in customer loyalty (53%), revenue (49%), and retention (43%).
According to a report from Ascend2 and its research partners, about 6 in 10 marketers say email is the digital channel seeing the most impact from personalization.
“Brands need to spend more time collecting zero-party data and using it to intelligently segment customers into specific lists,” says McComas. “Your owned marketing channels are one of your most powerful assets, but at this point in the industry, every brand out there is using email as well.”
“You have to think about how you can stand out. Getting smarter about how you gather meaningful data and organize it is the best way to win. And don’t just let your data sit on the shelf once you have it—find ways to actually use it to give customers a personalized, memorable experience.”
When Wellness brand Nuun noticed that a certain group of athletes typically buy only their endurance products, the team began sending that group of customers strictly endurance-related content.
The results were mind-blowing: a 950% increase in website traffic from emails and an 820% increase in revenue generated from email marketing YOY.
2. Use segmentation to send relevant messages
A one-size-fits-all approach can derail your email marketing efforts. If you don’t take into consideration specifics such as demographics, location, interests, the industry someone works in, or the products they like, you can completely miss the messaging.
Most marketers say they’re using 2-10 segmentations for email campaigns, according to research from Simon Data and ClickZ.
But when it comes to segmentation, the two biggest pain points are gathering data and integrating all data sources with the email service providers. Data shows that only a little more than half (52%) of marketers say their current email service provider integrates with all their customer data sources.
Collecting Customer-First Data™ can seem challenging, but setting up pop-up forms is one of the easiest ways to get information and build a robust customer profile.
“Segmentation should be at the heart of your campaign strategy, especially now with the iOS 15 update and the more recent Gmail deliverability issues. Without proper segmentation, your deliverability can crash, and it’s a long road to get back to a healthy place if that happens,” Stymiest says.
“Segment your audience based on engagement, past purchase history, interests, and more. Not everyone on your list needs to receive every email (hello, deliverability issues!), so I always recommend speaking to your customers with high intent, and that all comes down to segmentation.”
Tomlinson’s Feed, a pet store in Austin, Texas, uses pop-up forms to segment customers based on whether they are a dog or a cat person. Based on this information, they can target customers with personalized email messages.
3. Optimize copy, design, subject lines, and CTA buttons
Assembling different email components such as copy, visuals, subject lines, colors, and animations can convey your brand’s unique personality. Companies with strong brand personalities use email design as one more tool for building recognition among their customer base.
Besides this, brands use email design to engage recipients with interactive elements, mix images, illustrations, and GIFs to focus on the main CTA or urge customers to make a purchase.
Latico Leathers is a family-run, handcrafted leather goods boutique that mixes and matches different email design elements to entice customers. During the spring season, they sent out emails with different subject lines to promote seasonal sales, new products, and colors.
Besides this, Latico Leathers plays with design by experimenting with different visuals and CTA buttons, which helps them understand what works better. Another interesting best practice you can learn from Latico is using product reviews in your email design to encourage customers to make the purchase.
Pro tip: Keep in mind that you are designing emails for different inboxes. Almost half of marketers are thinking about dark mode when designing emails. To ensure your emails are optimized for both dark and light modes, follow some best practices such as using transparent backgrounds, optimizing your logo and social media icons, and using text rather than images.
4. Prioritize mobile-friendly design
In other words, adopting a mobile-first email design and ensuring emails are responsive is a must.
Tools like Klaviyo allow you to toggle between desktop and mobile preview and see how your email looks on different devices.
The popular skincare brand Drunk Elephant often uses short subject lines and emojis to fit the screen and stand out in the inbox. The email design is optimized for mobile, usually with a pop of color that aligns with their brand identity.
5. Re-engage subscribers with win-back emails
One of the biggest hurdles for marketers is keeping customers engaged. According to Statista, 45% of marketers name maintaining an engaged list a top challenge.
As you grow your list, it’s normal to have inactive subscribers, but emailing your entire list without segmenting inactive subscribers can hurt your deliverability.
Does that mean you should just remove inactive subscribers from your list? Definitely not.
“One key segment we always create at Homestead is a sunset segment. This segment is connected to our sunset flow, which aims to weed out inactive, unengaged customers who have no intent to buy,” says Stymiest.
“If customers don’t engage with that flow, we suppress their profile. The sunset flow is one that gets overlooked often, but it’s so important for deliverability––and can also keep your Klaviyo bill down!”
Instead of ignoring potential customers and missing out on sales, you should set up a re-engagement campaign for inactive subscribers with win-back emails.
Skincare brand Tula encourages customers to come back and make a purchase by offering a 15% discount. With an appealing subject line that hints at exclusivity (“We never do this, but we miss you”) and highlighting favorite customer products, each with a customer review, Tula makes its win-back email hard to resist.
“Customer retention is a lot easier (and cheaper!) than customer acquisition. So, find ways to turn your first-time customers into regular customers,” suggests Samar Owais, email conversion strategist. “My favorite email automation for turning first-time customers into regular ones is a replenishment, subscription (subscribe and save), or a bundle offer. You increase average order value and retain customers long-term. It’s a win-win.”
Pro tip: When creating a win-back email, include a limited-time offer to urge customers to make a purchase soon. And don’t send only one email. With two or more win-back emails using time delays in between, you can increase the odds that the recipient will open and engage with the email.
6. Rely on email automation to boost customer satisfaction
It’s almost impossible to manually schedule and send emails to your customers—especially as your list keeps getting bigger. Enter: email automation.
Email marketing is the most commonly automated channel, named by 65% percent of respondents to a June 2021 survey carried out among marketers, according to Statista. Leading ecommerce brands are using email automations to build better relationships with their customers, sell more products, and grow revenue.
If you’re on a quest to create the best customer experience, automated emails should become your best friend.
From welcome emails, post-purchase follow-ups, and order notifications to up-sell, cross-sell, and milestone emails, automations can help you establish regular customer communication and achieve your email marketing goals.
The Boston-based fashion brand Ministry of Supply is on a mission to create a new category of apparel—“workleisure.” The brand uses welcome email automation to give new subscribers a discount and encourage them to make their first purchase.
Maison Miru, the timeless jewelry brand, used a browse abandonment flow to plug a leaky sales funnel. To attract new customers, Maison Miru had been offering a pair of earrings for just the cost of shipping. But they noticed that not many subscribers went back to complete the purchase of free earrings. Using an automated flow that nudged people after a couple of hours to come back and receive their reward, they generated a 2% revenue boost.
Another headache for online retailers that email automations can solve is cart abandonment. According to Baymard, the average online shopping cart abandonment rate is almost 70%. By creating an abandoned cart email automations, brands can re-engage shoppers who add products to their online cart but leave without purchasing.
Peel, an iPhone/Android case brand, uses abandoned cart email automation to remind shoppers about the products in their cart and entice them to complete their purchases.
“If you use automations correctly, your brand can generate consistent revenue,” says Coffey. “Flow filters and trigger filters are underutilized because brands don’t want to exclude customers from receiving their messages, but setting these up are essential to ensure you’re not over-sending to your customers. I’d rather have 100 customers receive a relevant message catered to them than 500 people receive a message that isn’t.”
“In our automations, we use hide/show blocks––another underutilized Klaviyo feature. We’re able to provide education based on which products a customer has left behind in their cart. We can educate the customer on how to apply our products based on their skin type from our quiz, for instance. We’re also able to include a free shipping bar for the customers who have over $85 in their cart. The possibilities are endless.”
Pro tip: If you want to enhance the customer experience—at scale, email automation is your best bet. Welcome emails, browse abandonment automation, abandoned cart emails, thank-you emails, educational emails, product reviews, and replenishment automations are just some of the ideas you can test to curate relevant and timely customer experiences.
7. Use the power of A/B testing
A/B testing can help you improve your email marketing efforts incrementally. The possibilities are endless—you can test things like subject lines, discounts, and email content. You can even figure out whether plain-text emails perform better than image-heavy HTML emails.
Once you get used to testing, you can consider an “always-on” testing strategy to see what works best for your email subscribers.
111SKIN, a luxury skincare brand based in London, changed the featured image in its first welcome email, which resulted in the brand doubling its AOV. Adding a picture of co-founder Dr. Yannis at the top helped 111SKIN show there’s science behind the product and boost customer confidence.
Pro tip: A/B testing is a powerful way to increase the value of your email marketing efforts. But make sure to test one variable at a time. For instance, if you edit the color of the CTA and also the text on it and see a spike in form submit rates, you won’t know if the spike was due to the change in color or the copy on the CTA. By testing one variable at a time, you can be sure you know what your audience responds to the most.
Set up a successful email marketing strategy to boost customer satisfaction
Email marketing remains one of the best ways to forge a strong customer relationship and create loyalty. But to make the most of your email channel, you need to develop a robust, data-driven strategy.
“There’s a lot of value to unlock via email,” says McComas. “But without an intentional and consistent strategy in place, you’re only accessing maybe 20% of your brand’s potential on this channel.”
Email marketing services can be the ace up your sleeve and help you create an enjoyable end-to-end customer experience. The best part: email automations can do all the heavy lifting and improve your email marketing efficiency.
Ready to step up your email marketing game? Find out the top 10 email marketing automations to set up right now.