February 20, 2024

Email Marketing: Train your team with these principles, dangers, content, and artificial intelligence


“A practically ancient media in the grand scheme of digital communications, email is still adored by marketers.”

I read that quote in The Wall Street Journal recently (article by Katie Deighton). The word ‘ancient’ really struck me. It made me feel like a member of a time-worn tribe of scribes sharing sacred texts.

To me, email still feels like a fairly fresh tactic. Perhaps because it was ‘new’ in my lifetime? It made me realize that for an entire generation of marketers now entering the workforce, email marketing may feel downright retrograde.

So to help you train those new hires, and really for anyone who wants to build or improve their email marketing skills and performance, in this article we bring you email marketing principles to follow, dangers to avoid, and content to help you with key tactics.

Unlike a traditional overview article we might publish, this article adds the latest-cutting edge technological advancement (AI) to that ‘ancient’ practice. Read on to get ideas (and a free tool) for improving your email marketing…and passing on this hallowed legacy to the next generation of marketers.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

This article was distributed through the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

If you’re looking to train a new team member in email marketing, or improve your skills, this article can help.

Normally I’d just be sharing content to help you teach email marketing or improve your email marketing. But thanks to artificial intelligence, I can also offer you a tool that can do it with you – the new Copywriter expert assistant in MECLABS AI. It’s totally free to use, you don’t even have to register (yet).

Creative Sample #1: Expert assistant selection dropdown menu in MECLABS AI

Creative Sample #1: Expert assistant selection dropdown menu in MECLABS AI

Notice I said that AI can do it ‘with’ you, not ‘for’ you. I’m a writer, I choose my words very deliberately.

I think a mistake some marketers have made is to outsource their brain to AI. Artificial intelligence is your assistant – like R2D2 for Luke Skywalker – but you should still be flying the ship. I like how Flint McGlaughlin explains it in the below video: escape the “vending machine mentality.”

And if you want to get your brain in the game even more and improve your email marketing knowledge or train someone on your team, here are some key email principles to follow, email dangers to avoid, and further reading to help you with important email marketing skills.

Email principles

  1. Customer-First Approach: Focus on understanding and addressing the needs and interests of the email recipient with the value proposition in your messaging.
  1. Clarity and Simplicity: Clarity over cleverness. Ensure your emails are easy to understand and direct in their messaging.
  1. Focus on Useful Information: Emails that provide pragmatic, useful information tend to be more successful. This includes announcements of new products/services, transactional notifications, and event invitations.
  1. Customer Engagement and Brand Affinity: Use unconventional approaches and storytelling to build brand affinity and strengthen connections with prospects. This involves shifting the focus from the product to the customer's perspective
  2. Testing and Optimization: Regularly test different elements of your email campaigns (subject lines, content, layout, call-to-action) to understand what resonates best with your audience.
  1. Write Human, Relevant Content, Helped By Segmentation and Personalization: Your email content must be relevant and engaging. Personalize content based on customer behavior, purchase history, and where they are in the sales pipeline. This approach can prevent issues like spam marking and unsubscribing due to irrelevant content. Segment your email list based on various criteria (like past purchases, engagement level, demographics) and personalize emails to make them more relevant. Segmentation based on long-term behaviors can enhance the relevance of your emails. This allows you to group customers with similar behaviors and preferences, leading to more targeted and effective communication.
  2. Compelling and Relevant Subject Lines: Your subject line is your first (and sometimes only) chance to grab attention. Make it compelling and relevant to the content of the email.
  3. Mobile Optimization: Ensure your emails are mobile-friendly.
  4. Get The Click With A Clear Call-to-Action (CTA), Don’t Sell In Your Email: Your email should have a clear, concise, and compelling CTA, guiding recipients on what to do next. This then takes them to a landing page, where you can do your selling.
  5. Consistent Branding and Voice, Integrated Across Channels: Ensure that your emails reflect your brand's voice and aesthetic consistently, building trust and recognition. To maximize the impact of your email marketing, integrate it with other channels like social media, blogs, and display ads.
  6. Value-Driven Content: Provide content that offers real value to the recipient, whether it's informative, entertaining, or promotional. The content of the email itself should have a value proposition (process-level value prop) for why people would want to engage with it.
  7. Respect Privacy and Compliance: Adhere to email marketing laws and regulations like GDPR and the CAN-SPAM Act, respecting user privacy and consent.
  1. Optimize Send Times: Timing can significantly impact email effectiveness. Consider factors like peak deliverability times and device usage to find optimal times for your audience.

Email dangers

  1. Ignoring User Consent: Not obtaining explicit consent for email marketing can lead to legal issues and damage your brand reputation. We have always advocated for building an opt-in list, not just buying lists and spamming people. Ensure that subscribers have knowingly opted into your email list so emails aren’t marked as spam.
  2. Overloading with Content: Too much information can overwhelm the reader. Keep your emails focused and concise with the goal of getting a click to a landing page (where you can sell) instead of selling in the email.
  1. Neglecting Testing and Data Analysis: Failing to test and analyze campaign data can lead to ineffective strategies and missed opportunities for improvement.
  2. Ignoring Mobile Optimization: Not optimizing for mobile can lead to poor user experiences, as a significant portion of emails are read on mobile devices.
  1. Spammy Practices: Overuse of sales language, too many emails, or misleading subject lines can lead to high unsubscribe rates and being marked as spam.
  2. Lack of Personalization and Relevance: Generic, one-size-fits-all emails are less effective and can lead to disengagement.
  3. Ignoring Email List Hygiene: Not regularly cleaning your email list can result in low engagement rates and harm your sender reputation.
  4. Neglecting the Email Design: Poor visual design or a confusing layout can detract from the message and lead to lower engagement…if you have a design. However, sometimes the most effective emails are plain text messages, and take more of a customer service tone.
  1. Inconsistent Frequency: Sending emails too frequently can annoy subscribers, while sending them too infrequently can make them forget about your brand.
  2. Failure to Align with Overall Marketing Strategy: Email marketing should be part of a broader, cohesive marketing strategy, not an isolated effort.
  1. Neglecting Customer Preferences: Failing to offer an easy unsubscribe option or not respecting customer preferences in terms of email frequency and content can lead to higher spam-marking rates.
  1. Overreliance on Discounts and Promotions: While promotions can yield immediate results, overuse can lead to a cycle of dependency, reducing the long-term effectiveness of your email campaigns​.
  1. Ignoring the Human Element: Remember that at the core of effective email marketing is a connection with your audience. Emails should reflect a genuine, human touch rather than just following a formulaic approach.

Case studies and how-to articles about email marketing

MarketingSherpa has been reporting on email marketing for 25 years. So while some of the exact features mentioned in the below content may have changed, there is still much you can learn from the strategy and approach.

General email (to help with overall context)

  1. The Most Popular Email Marketing Articles From MarketingSherpa’s 20 Years of Publishing
  2. Email Marketing 2016: Nine case studies that show how marketers challenged “best practices” in key driver email campaigns
  3. Email Marketing: 4 quick case studies to help you get higher open rates and more online sales

Crafting compelling subject lines

  1. Email Checklists (Open Value Force and Open Cost Force checklists)
  2. Email Subject Lines: 9 tactics to grab attention and boost open rates (part of this free email marketing reports bundle)
  3. Subject Lines Tested: How to write subject lines that double your clickthrough rate

Crafting persuasive content

  1. Email Checklists (Click Cost Value and Click Cost Force checklists)
  2. Are letter-style emails still effective?
  3. Email Marketing: What I’ve learned from writing almost 1,000 emails for MarketingSherpa
  4. Sales Funnel Copy: Five questions to help you create powerful message levers (this isn’t about email specifically, but could have some good context for writing email copy or an email series)
  5. Email Marketing: How to engage with your current prospects and drive more traffic to your site
  6. Understanding Customer Experience: 3 quick marketing case studies (including test results)
  7. Interactive Email: 6 tactics to leverage the influence of social reinforcement

Optimizing for mobile

  1. Mobile Email Marketing Optimization: Tips for beginner and advanced marketers from four experts
  2. Mobile Micro Course (more about landing pages than email per se, but the goal of an email should be to drive people to a landing page)
  3. Mobile Marketing: Optimizing the evolving landscape of mobile email marketing

Segmentation and personalization strategies

  1. 10 tactics to personalize your message for better results (part of this free email marketing reports bundle)
  2. Marketing Data: 5 mini case studies where marketers turned information into insight (mini case study #2)
  3. Email Segmentation: Finish Line's automation initiative lifts email revenue 50% (step #3 and step #6)

A/B testing

  1. A/B Testing 101: How to get real results from optimization (old but clear)
  2. Marketing 101: What is an A/B split test?
  3. A/B Testing: How to improve already effective marketing (get ideas from this community participation test we did for Email Summit)

The mechanics of email (might help for context)

  1. Email Marketing Chart: How to improve deliverability
  2. Email Marketing: Avoid the pitfalls of a direct-mail mindset
  3. Email Marketing: Segmentation and list cleansing campaign results in 500% increase in clickthrough

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