14 Steps to the Ultimate E-Commerce Email Marketing Campaign

Every e-commerce business sends promotional emails nowadays. Yup, you’re not alone out there anymore. Back in the days, sending an email newsletter was perceived as a cool novelty. Those days are long gone: consumers are now used to them the same way they are used to traditional direct mail.

We’ve covered many aspects of a successful promotional e-commerce email campaign by now: when is the best time to send promotional emails, how to grow your email lists, what are the e-commerce email marketing trends in 2014, and more.

But what about the email structure and content? While we’ve touched upon this subject in a couple of other posts, we haven’t really covered it completely. Well, until now.

We’ve gone through the process of crafting promotional email campaigns many times ourselves. There are many things to keep in mind, but we’ve structured them in 14 points that you can always turn back to while crafting a new email campaign. Our guide starts with what kind of sender name to use, how many products to include, what kind of content people prefer to see and much more.

Let’s jump right into it.

1. Use a trustworthy sender name

Your sender name. It’s the first thing people see when your email lands in their inboxes. Don’t be to inventive here: use the name that represents your brand in the best way – the name people remember you for.

We’ve seen a trend of companies trying to use a personal name in combination with their brand name (in order to make it seem more personal). It’s usually not the best way to go about it, because people can’t relate to or recognize the person sending them email. Our rule of thumb is: if your brand doesn’t feature a strong personal brand name like Martha Stewart, it’s better to go with your usual brand name. Moreover, your customers aren’t stupid. They know a promotional mail when they see it, so making it seem personal simply seems fake.

Who is Michael? What happens when he leaves the company?

Who is Michael? What happens when he leaves the company?

Read more about the sender name:

2. Don’t scare people away with your “From” email address

It’s pretty simple – make the From email something inviting and avoid the “used-to-be-standard” no-reply@yourcompany.com email address. If people want to email you with comments or have a customer support related question, they should be able to mail you. That’s what email is all about.

OK, you mail me, but shouldn't mail back?

OK, you mail me. But I shouldn’t mail you back?

In this day and age when brands send tons of impersonal emails, it has become surreal that a big brand would actually respond to a direct email. But why not? I would be delighted as a customer! Even if I was complaining about something, a swift reply from a brand representative would make me feel better about my issue immediately. Sometimes customers just want to be heard – there are great lessons to be learnt about this from Zapposs’ success story. I believe it’s one of the easiest ways to turn disgruntled customers into loyal brand advocates.

More resources about the “From” email address:

3. Craft a meaningful preheader text

Preheader text is not the most talked about part of email campaigns. But it’s getting more and more important. Preheader text it’s those few characters of text that you see after the subject line in all modern email clients. It’s especially evident in the mobile context where the screen real estate is small and every character counts.

Most often, email clients take the first few words at the top of your email and display them as preheader text. So if you are not aware of the fact, you might end up displaying some non-related gibberish, which is unfortunately quite usually the case in my inbox.

See the gibberish text after the subject line? Fail!

See the gibberish text after the subject line? You don’t want to repeat the same mistake.

Best way to think about it is to treat it is an extension of the subject line or a secondary title of the email. It’s yet another opportunity for you to convince your busy customers to give your email their precious time. Sum up your email or promotion and it should serve you well.

And what if you want to use some custom defined text as your preheader text? You can use this nice tip from Campaign Monitor’s library of tricks that enables you to specify preheader text and then hide it in the context of your “real” email content. We are using this method ourselves at Mojn and it works well.

More about preheader text:

4. Write compelling subject lines

Subject line is a part of promotional emails that most directly affects your open rates. So you should spend considerable amount of time thinking about it, writing several subject lines for each campaign and, of course, testing them.

The best recipe for effective subject lines is to use common sense. For example:

  • Don’t have the whole subject line in upper case
  • Subject line should summarize the main selling point of your email content
  • Include some sense of urgency aka give your customers a reason to open the email immediately
  • Try to be visually different
  • Embed your brand copy style
  • Only promise what you can deliver on
funny_gag_unsubscribe

Some of the most effective subject lines we’ve seen lately:

  • Because it’s you… take $50 off! TODAY ONLY!
  • [Breaking News] Grab Your Free Guide to Pinterest’s Brand New Business Accounts
  • Our biggest sale probably ever: $50 Off All Sale Items!
  • MMM…Fried Chicken (I know, sounds weird, but fits great to the whole Thrillist brand image)
  • Extended for a day! Get Free shipping through Friday.

I would strongly advise you to put a lot of emphasis on A/B testing here. Especially if you have a lot of email subscribers; getting people to open your emails is crucial and subsequently greatly impacts your bottom line.

A/B testing of subject lines is actually not that hard: prepare 5 subject lines for each one of your email campaigns and send them out to a statistically significant fraction of your email subscribers 10 minutes before your scheduled optimal sending time. Then simply use the best performing subject line for the rest of your email subscribers. Most modern ESPs have this functionality built-in already, so there really are no excuses not to do it anymore.

Learn more about writing compelling subject lines:

5. Make the content as simple as possible

Most email marketers try to put as much content as possible in their email campaigns. It’s kind of natural, isn’t it? We all want to appeal to the widest possible audience – so why not present 10 different offers to our customers and they can choose what appeals to them? Right?

Reality, from consumer perception, is a tiny bit different. Opening emails filled with 10 offers that each tries to cater to a slightly different audience is annoying – to say the least. Why do marketers do it if it’s widely know that too much choice results in indecision and lower sales?

A small portion of the very long email I received from Zalando.

A small portion of a very long email I received from Zalando. Who likes this kind of emails?

Well, if we look at our post about personalization from last week, the answer is obvious. It’s not that marketers are lazy; research shows that they lack technology to support their personalization efforts. And on the other hand, 75% of consumers like it when brands personalise messaging and offers so it’s pretty obvious that the state of personalization technologies currently in use by most marketers is not aligned with consumer expectations.

Speaking of legacy technology and lack of effective personalized targeting: I normally don’t like to do direct plugs on this blog, but I need to mention our product here (Mojn Performance Email Targeting). In short: Mojn PET helps email marketers include image offers in their emails that are personalized based on your subscribers’ previous activity in your e-shop. Thus, it makes it very easy for every marketer to send out emails that are both simple and very personal at the same time. Enough of the plug, you can see and read more about it here.

Read more about why simplicity trumps complexity:

6. Include a single, obvious call-to-action

This one goes hand in hand with my previous point of making your email campaigns as simple as possible. But calls-to-action are such vital parts of each email campaign that it’s worth emphasising it again: you should have a singular primary call-to-action. Probably the single most useful advice I can give you here is to make it visually distinct from the rest of the content and use an actionable copy like “Buy it now”, “Get the offer now” and so on.

Example from our latest newsletter. Hope the call-to-action is obvious enough.

Example from our latest newsletter. The stats show that the call-to-action is obvious.

Read more about effective calls-to-action:

7. Consumers love deals… use them wisely

In this day and age, most consumers are “on a hunt” for good offers. Some stats show that consumers prefer offers even if these result in less privacy. Think about it… Aren’t we all way more willing to open an email from our favourite e-shop if there is a clear promise of a discount offer? We already know the shop, we have bought something from them before and now they are notifying us that they are offering something at a discounted price. Awesome – it doesn’t get much better than that, does it?

No need to believe my word, the stats speak for themselves: in the 2012 Blue Kangaroo Study, 7 out of 10 people said they made use of a coupon or discount from a marketing email in the prior week.

More stats about why consumers love deals:

8. If you can… make it fun

Who isn’t tired of all the boring, clearly promotional email campaigns? I for sure am. But humour is hard. It takes time. It takes creative energy. But most of all, it takes guts. Yet, if a humour-filled email campaign is executed well, it not only brings you more clicks, but it makes your brand and future promotions more memorable.

Your humour style has to, of course, match your brand. Some brands, like Eat24 or MailChimp, already have great sense of humour embedded in their DNA. Great for them. That said, you can almost always come up with a witty way to sparkle up your email campaigns, even if it’s just a thematic tweak to your logo every now and then or a funky gif image. The day you stop pursuing humour is the day your emails become one of those hundred other boring, product filled emails we all so much like… to unsubscribe from. Please, don’t let this happen to your email marketing efforts.

funny

Read more on creative uses of humour in email marketing:

9. Create a sense of urgency

We shouldn’t fool ourselves anymore – there are literally tens of promotional emails hitting inboxes of your customers every single day. Yup, tough job getting their attention nowadays. Naturally, it’s becoming imperative for email marketers to stand out from the crowd so you need to make sure to grab customers’ attention as soon as your email arrives to their inboxes.

There is no better way to make people act swiftly than to offer them a time based offer. It can be a discount, free-shipping… whatever your core audience perceives as valuable. Mention it in the subject line and then keep reiterating the promise all the way to the landing page.

When I look back at my inbox and observe promotional emails I’ve opened lately, I see a clear pattern: most of the emails I’ve read are from the brands I trust and that contain a promise of a great, time-based deal in their subject line.

Create sense of urgency ... it always gets me.

Create a sense of urgency … it works on me.

Unfortunately, it’s very unlikely that you can sustainably pull this trick in every single email promotion – your customers would grow use to it and wouldn’t consider it something special anymore. That said, use it every now and then and you should bear great results!

Read more on why sense of urgency works in email marketing:

10. Double check your templates for mobile compatibility

As I’ve written before in our overlook of e-commerce email marketing trends of 2014, mobile opens have now surpassed 50% of all email opens. Every e-commerce marketer is now responsible for making her email templates mobile compatible, which most often goes hand in hand with our previous points on making email content simple and less cluttered. Why is that? Well, the simpler the content is, the easier it is to display and implement it for mobile viewing.

What are the most obvious symptoms of non-mobile optimized emails? Text that is hard to read, too small calls-to-action that have to be zoomed in to click, a ton of small images, etc. Having a very simple email with one big image, a little bit of text and a big centred call-to-action is usually the winning combination for mobile.

Nicely done mobile optimized email by Urban Outfitters.

Nicely done mobile optimized email by Urban Outfitters.

Another important point that it’s becoming more and more crucial: subject lines are important on desktop, but are invaluable on mobile. Modern mobile email clients make it extremely easy for people to archive emails they are not interested in based simply on subject lines (via notification drop downs). While this is great from the usability standpoint it can severely harm your open and click rates if you don’t put a lot of attention to your subject lines. As I’ve said above: testing several subject lines is pretty straightforward nowadays and should become a regular part of your email marketing workflow.

Read more on how to build mobile compatible email templates:

11. Images disabled? Make sure your email still makes sense

Yes, images are awesome and we all use them in our email newsletters to make them more attractive. But a small portion of your subscribers won’t see images in your email. Why? A lot of email clients disable images from unknown senders by default for security reasons. So what can we do about it?

The most important thing to keep in mind is to always set the HTML ALT attributes for your images. ALT attribute is the text that is being shown in case your images can’t be displayed. For images that are being used as calls-to-action (your fancy designed buttons for example), make sure that you come up with an actionable ALT text. This way, people can understand where the link is leading them even if the images are blocked.

The most important ALT texts are either missing or unreadable.

The most important ALT texts are either missing or unreadable. Tesco should know better.

Read more on how to optimize the ALT text attribute:

12. Dare to exclude social sharing buttons

A few years ago, social sharing buttons were all the rage. We all put them everywhere. The hype around big social platforms made us believe that that’s where we’ll all be making big bucks. In the recent years, this has turned out to be somewhat of a wishful thinking as some of the social giants (Facebook, YouTube, etc.) have started turning their backs toward brands. I’ve written about this trojan horse behaviour before.

In my opinion, including social sharing buttons in your email campaigns nowadays erodes your brand (you basically advertise the social media companies), distracts your email readers and offers them more ways to click away from your main call-to-action. Moreover, it has become somewhat pointless as people are now used to seeing them in promotional emails and simply ignore them. So why waste the precious email real estate then?

Jawbone is awesome. But are these buttons necessary?

Jawbone is awesome. But are these social sharing buttons necessary?

By the way: if you believe you are still getting a great return on those buttons and want to test it out, simply make the social links trackable through a service like bit.ly. Then leave the buttons in for a few more campaigns and analyze the results afterwards.

13. Don’t treat your email footer as garbage collection

Ahh… The footer.

The most dreaded part of email design. The reason is simple: email footers don’t give you a lot of room for creativity. In most countries you are legally obliged to insert your real company name, address and, of course, an unsubscribe link. Yes, a bit annoying, but necessary. That said, this doesn’t mean you should fill your footer with more unnecessary images and links.

So what can you do to stand out from your competition? Well, I personally dislike seeing very long and “fat” footers where it’s obvious that the marketing department just wanted to include every little thing they couldn’t stuff into the rest of the email. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should do it” rule applies very well here.

Below is an example of one such “fat” email footer. Who cares enough to read all that and not simply ignore it?

This is a sample footer

This is a sample footer

Here are some of the items I would expect to see in a good e-commerce email footer:

  • The necessary legal parts: the name, the company address and the unsubscribe link.
  • A sentence explaining how you got your customer’s email: this is not a very usual part of the emails I receive in my inbox, but I believe it’s a great way of showing respect to your customers.
  • A phone number and a customer support email address: sometimes people have questions. Make it easy for them to reach you and you’ll be heavily rewarded. Whenever in doubt about this one, think of Zappos and their amazing customer support successes.
  • Your company logo: instead of placing all possible social media logos in your footer, use this opportunity to reaffirm your own brand.

14. Streamline your emails with product landing pages

In the end, what we care the most is how much revenue we make through our email marketing efforts. So by now we’ve covered what type of subject lines and email content performs the best. But in order for your email efforts to not go to waste, your main calls-to-action have to link through to well designed product landing pages.

Since this article is mainly aimed at e-commerce marketers this shouldn’t be a problem for you (your landing pages are, I hope, already product based). That said, if you have technology resources to do it, I would consider producing a “light version” of your product pages that you can turn on at will. To give you an example: let’s say you are heavily promoting a new TV set in your newest email promotion. Then, I would turn on a light, less cluttered product page for that specific TV. The landing page should continue the narrative and aesthetics from the email: lead with the same story, copy and offer. Repeat the call-to-action and make it easy for your customers to put the TV in their shopping cart and exclude some of the otherwise normal parts of your page that might distract a customer willing to buy that specific item.

It really comes down to simplicity: put as few roadblocks as possible in front of your customers and always try to streamline the cross-channel experience (in this case transition from email to your website). Your conversion rates (and the boss) will be grateful for it.

Read more on how to optimize your e-commerce landing pages:

Takeaway

Email marketers have a tough job nowadays. Competition is fierce, consumers are tired of boring email promotions and mobile email reading attention span is shorter than ever. Don’t make it harder for yourself by simply copying what others are doing and playing the no-risk game of including tons of products in your email marketing campaigns.

We’ve seen the best results coming from marketing efforts that are clearly differentiated, personalized for each customer and most of all, simple. While this might be very hard to achieve manually or by using legacy technology, modern tools like Mojn are here to help digital marketers delight customers and stand out from the rest of the boring, impersonal campaigns.

 

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