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Email marketing: 4 strategies for better results

By Marianna Zvaigzne - Reading time: 7 minutes

(If you came here via email – welcome, you’ll soon learn how we made that happen!)

On average, a person receives about 90 work emails a day. A popular statistic that’s circling the web is 122, but that’s actually the number of emails sent and received. Yep, in the internet world, you don’t get what you give. You get more than you want.

And those are just the emails that matter. That doesn’t account for the Promotions and Social tabs in your Gmail account, and Spam is not even worth mentioning.

That’s why writing good, clickable marketing emails is so ridiculously, notoriously challenging. We’re trained to hate spam, we frown at blatant clickbait, we ignore all we find irrelevant. Every promo email opened is a pat on the copywriter’s back.

So, what can you do to nail your next email marketing campaigns? Read this blog post, for starters

We’re going to be looking at the four pillars of creating successful email marketing campaigns:

  1. Segmentation
  2. Subject lines
  3. Clickable copy
  4. A/B testing

And we’re not making this up, this is tried & tested stuff that we implement when creating our own email marketing campaigns – you’ll see it yourself in the examples to come. So let’s get straight to it.

1. Segmentation

As explained in a marketing statistics master post by Hubspot, more than 80% of companies these days use at least basic email segmentation. Why? Because it’s estimated that 58% of revenue comes from segmented emails.

What’s segmentation, again? It’s when you target a particular group of people from your email list based on certain criteria such as demographics and website/email activity/inactivity. Smart targeting = increased relevance = better results.

Research done at Mailchimp, one of the world’s top email marketing services, shows that email segmentation has “an overwhelmingly positive impact on your subscribers.” It improves your open and click rates, and decreases abuse and unsubscribe rates.

What’s more, according to Hubspot, 78% of consumers unsubscribe from emails because a brand has been a tad overzealous in their email marketing strategy. Conclusion: speak to your customers, don’t spam them.

Customers getting spam

Actual footage from a customer’s inbox

The Printful Example

With our email list steadily growing, at one point it was clear that blasting a single product launch email to all our Printfulers just didn’t cut it. The open rate of one of the last unsegmented launch emails was 13,8% and the click rate – an unimpressive 0,3%.

And then we started segmenting.

Once you get a hang of segmentation, choosing segments comes naturally. For our bucket hat launch campaign, we split our list into two groups, users with hats in their stores and users without, and adjusted the subject lines and email headings accordingly:

Users with hats
Subject line: Say YES to the bucket hat trend 👌
Heading:
users-with-hats2

Users without hats
Subject line: Embrace the bucket hat trend 🔥
Heading:
users-without-hats

See the difference? The copy for the users with hats presents the bucket hat as a novelty to try out, but the copy for the other segment invites them to choose the bucket hat as a start their hat-making days. And the results?

Users with hats: open rate 28,0%, click rate 2,2%
Users without hats: open rate 14,4%, click rate 0,6%
Average: open rate: 21,2%, click rate: 1,4%

When you compare our segmented email with the unsegmented one, you can see the open rate’s up by 7,4% and the click rate – 1,1%. Not bad, considering the averages for the ecommerce industry – open: 16,6%, click: 2,7%.
open-rate-3

And it’s not only about the numbers: we’re not just looking at the % and giving each other high fives, we’re checking if our message is getting across to our customers. It’s a win-win for sure: they get more personalized, relevant content, and we get more accurate feedback.

2. Subject lines

Your email subject line has to stand out from the rest. 

But, you know, in a good way

You’re going to do that by appealing to your customers’ emotions. In a rather superb blog on writing subject lines, Coschedule named the four emotions that get your customers clicking: urgency, curiosity, excitement, joy.

Let’s face it, we often look, click, and buy because of a quick, unnoticeable trigger. So pick your trigger and wrap it in some wording. Whatever you do:

  • Keep it short – nothing’s worse than a tl;dr subject line. Go for segment-focused keywords and simple phrasing  
  • Use emojis sparingly – a context-appropriate emoji can do wonders, but if there’s no need for it, stick to good old text
  • Write numbers with digits – they attract attention and save space
  • Use the imperative (we’ll get to that later) –  the subject line is essentially a call-to-action button in your inbox, so get your customers to act
  • Say it clearly – shady behavior will get you labeled as a scam or spam
  • Be careful with humor – if there’s a chance your joke will fall flat, don’t risk it

The Printful Example

Let’s look at a couple of successful subject lines we’ve used for our blog promo emails. Both of these have an open rate of 30%:

1. The blog: How to make an extra $29K per year with your side project: the story of District of Clothing
The subject line: emoji How to earn $29K/year with your side project
The formula: Emoji + Digit + Keyword ($29K/year, side project) + Curiosity

2. The blog: Who’s who of apparel brands you can find on Printful
The subject line: Who’s who of apparel brands you can find on Printful
The formula: Clarity + Keyword (apparel brands, Printful) + Curiosity

As you can tell, successful subject lines can take many shapes and forms. The winning formula is pretty hard to predict or summarize. Remember that subject lines are context-sensitive, and well-targeted emails work really well with straight-forward subject lines:

The topic: iPhone cases have updated covers
The subject line: Updated iPhone 7 and 7 Plus cases

There’s no emotion, no formula here, we just wanted to inform our iPhone customers in the most efficient way, so the email’s 32,1% open rate isn’t surprising.

3. Clickable copy

OK, so the customer’s opened your email.

Now what?

If a person has clicked the call-to-action button in your email (make sure you have one!), that means you’ve done either of the following:

  • Hit the nail on the head with the targeting and sent your customer a relevant email
  • Slightly missed the mark with your targeting, but your copy was persuasive enough to get your customers to click anyway

Which one should you go for, then? A mix of both. Make the copy of your email both informative and captivating:

  • Construct your text around keywords that concisely reflect the message of your email Depending on the formatting of the email, you can even put them in bold
  • Speak in your brand voice. Are you formal? Casual? Punny? Sarcastic?
  • Choose the right tone for the message. If the purpose of your email is to clear up confusion or fix a mistake, go easy on the puns and jokes
  • Don’t get wordy – scrolling is for blogs. Keep the sentences and paragraphs short

A note on grammar

Often you’ll find people talking about how you should use power words and action verbs in your copy. Instead of making incomplete lists of vague expressions and examples, let’s put this in time-honored grammar terms:

  • Decide when to use the active voice or the passive. This plays with the focus of the sentence. In the active voice, the focus is on the doer. In the passive, the focus is on the action.

For persuasive, customer-oriented copy, active voice is preferred – make the sentences about the doer: Here’s what you can do (active) vs. Here’s what can be done (passive).

  • Speaking of you’s, sprinkle in second person pronouns (you, your, yours) to address your audience more directly and help them relate to your text: Click here to order a shirt vs. Click here to order your shirt.
  • Use your verbs in the imperative, the grammatical mood for giving commands and requests. Call-to-action buttons like Read more, Click here, Sign up, Subscribe to my channel are all examples.

    Spot the difference: My latest designs are available here vs. Follow the link to check out my latest designs.  

The Printful Example

And now for a couple Printful emails that didn’t quite hit that 30% open rate, but that click rate, though!

1. The blog: 21 inspiring quotes to help you kick butt in ecommerce
The subject line: emoji2 21 quotes to help you kick butt in ecommerce
The click rate: 7,1%
The copy:

screenshot_7
2. The blog: 20 quick 15-min tasks to benefit and grow your store

The subject line: 20 quick tasks to help your store grow
The click rate: 8,1%
The copy:

screenshot_8

Take a look at the copy in the two emails. You’ll notice they’re short, relatable, reader-oriented and with just enough bait to get the customer hooked to click the button. That’s another thing – don’t give too much away, you need that click.

4. A/B Testing

Setting up marketing campaigns takes a lot of work. Thankfully there are tools to help you get faster results. For emails (and more), a must-do is A/B testing (split testing), when you compare two versions of an email to see which performs better.

On Mailchimp, this process is automated. You set up an A/B test, enter the specifics you want to test, and define the size of the test group from your email segment. Mailchimp performs the test and automatically sends the winner to the rest of the segment, and you can analyze the results afterwards.

So, what to test? Depends on what metric you’re interested in. If it’s open rates, test the subject line. If it’s the click rate – you’ll want to test the copy or the CTA button.

Here are some examples of what you can test with subject lines:

  • Length
  • Symbols: digits, emojis, punctuation marks, etc.  
  • Sentence types: questions vs. statements
  • Emotions: urgency vs. joy
  • Tone: straightforward vs. humorous

And what to test with copy:

  • Headings: length, structure, tone, etc.
  • Body: reader-oriented vs. passive
  • Images: size, color, content (abstract illustration vs. action shot), etc.

But don’t experiment with too much at the same time. If your email variants are so different to the point of being two entirely separate emails, you’ll get confusing results and it’ll be hard to figure out what lies behind the winning combination.

And as always, data is useless if you don’t analyze it. Make a spreadsheet of your experiments, write down what works, what doesn’t, and build on it.

Final thoughts

Writing successful marketing emails is a bit Goldilocks-esque. Some of your work will be rather tepid, other attempts will be a bit over the top. However, the promise of getting it just right is there, you just have to keep trying, testing, and analyzing.

It’s always a good idea to think about your target audience when writing content, but let your instincts help you along the way.

Pay attention to your inbox folders when you check your emails. Which ones do you open and why? Which ones annoy you and, again, why? The answer to these whys might be the key to your next great email.

Cheers,
The Printful Team
(Just kidding)

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  1. Dereck Gligorijevic

    I love these grammar tips, Marianna! 🙂
    I believe knowing when to use active and when the passive tone and also using imperative can really boost your email marketing campaign forward.

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