Ten Steps for Developing an Effective E-mail Strategy, Part 5

Hello! We’re almost there. If you’ve been following along, reading and implementing the ideas in parts one, two, three, and four, you’re less than three weeks away from a formal e-mail strategy.

Even if you’re just joining now, it’s not too late. Just start with the first in the series (trust me, it’s easier that way) and work at your own pace. If you can tackle an item a week, you’ll be at the finish line in just 10 weeks.

Once again, here are the 10 steps required to develop an effective e-mail strategy:

  1. Identify qualitative goals.
  2. Analyze the current situation.
  3. Complete a competitive analysis.
  4. Define the target audience.
  5. Determine which types of e-mail meet your needs.
  6. Develop a content strategy and a frequency and send schedule.
  7. Design the e-mail template.
  8. Create quantitative goals.
  9. Compile budget and ROI (define) projections.
  10. Evaluate results and tweak the strategy accordingly.

These come from the strategy section of my new book; the publisher’s offering this chapter free of charge, if you want more detail about the process. Also in the chapter is a case-study-like example, so you can see how it’s done.

We’ve already covered items one through six in detail. Today, we’ll cover items seven and eight: design the e-mail templates and create quantitative goals.

Design the E-mail Template

Templates are an important part of any e-mail program. They save money, as they allow you to use the same basic structure each time you send. They also force you to develop an organized, coherent, logical content strategy. If your content isn’t predictable enough to fit into a template, then your content strategy probably isn’t where it needs to be.

The best templates are flexible. They permit some constants and some wildcards. If you feel you’re constantly battling the template to make your content look the way it should, the problem lies in the template, not the content.

No matter what type of content you send, your template should follow e-mail standards and best practices. Below are some key ones.

The e-mail must look like it’s related to your Web site. The same logo is good; incorporating the same colors, fonts, and layouts is better.

Pay special attention to the top portion of the message, which appears in the recipient’s preview pane. This area must engage readers and pull them in. At a minimum, it should include:

  • Your logo
  • Your company or brand name in text (not as an image)
  • A benefit-oriented headline or title (not the same copy as the subject line)

Though your e-mail templates should look similar to your Web site, it needn’t have the same header (with the information above with a top navigation bar). Often, site headers are very tall. An e-mail newsletter header shouldn’t be taller than 1 inch; you want more than just the header to be visible in the preview pane, which is usually 2 to 4 inches tall.

If you send an e-mail newsletter, you want a personalized salutation (“Dear Jeanne”) as well as the beginnings of an introductory paragraph and the top of your table of contents to appear here as well. Sound like a lot? It is. Dividing the body into two or three columns helps fit it all in and aid readability (shorter lines are easier to skim).

Be sure the preview pane makes sense to the reader even if images are blocked. Alt tags under the images aren’t enough.

Keep the message to three printed pages or less. More than that and readers will be tempted to print the message to read offline, negating the value of the links.

Speaking of which, include links only where they advance business goals. A link to “learn more” or “buy” in a promotional e-mail is good; links to view bios of company officers are probably unnecessary. If it’s a long message, include more than one call to action, spaced out at different places in the copy.

Columns are one of the biggest benefits of designing in an HTML format. Use them. They aid readability (as the lines are shorter) and provide more options for organizing content.

I could spend this entire column (heck, I could do another multipart series) about good e-mail creative. But I’ll stop here. There’s a lot of good information online and in books about designing for e-mail. Be up on the latest before you begin work on your templates.

Create Quantitative Goals

In part one, we developed qualitative goals for our e-mail program. Those are a good place to start when it’s time to develop quantitative goals. Using that list as a starting point, here are some examples of quantitative goals:

  • Sell my products.
    • $100,000 in revenue per month
    • 100 sales per month

  • Deliver qualified leads for my services: 200 leads per month, with 50 percent of these turning into sales within three months.
  • Entice people to register for my events: 50 registrations per event
  • Drive repeat traffic to my Web site: 1.5 average site visits per visitor each month.
  • Generate revenue via advertising: $100,000 in ad revenue per month.
  • Build my reputation as an expert in my field:
    • Five press inquiries/interviews a month
    • Two speaking engagements per month
  • Keep my company top of mind with prospects: Five percent brand awareness in primary markets.

After these business-related, bottom-line goals are in place, develop some assumptions that will become your means-to-an-end goals. I like to base assumptions on industry benchmarks.

To make $100,000 (actually, a little more) in monthly revenue from sending 800,000 e-mail messages per month, we’ll shoot to hit the following means-to-an-end goals:

Metric Value Actual
Quantity sent per month 800,000 800,000
Bounces 4.0% 32,000
Assumed delivered 96.0% 768,000
Open rate 30.0% 230,400
Click-through rate 4.8% 36,864
Click-to-conversion rate/total sales 1.9% 700
Average sale/total revenue $150 $105,062

Adjust the assumptions and means-to-an-end goals as you learn more about the e-mail list’s actual performance.

That’s a quick thumbnail on how to design e-mail templates and create your quantitative goals. Work on them over the next two weeks, and let me know if you have questions.

Next, we’ll cover the final two steps: compile budget and ROI projections, and evaluate results and tweak strategy accordingly.

Until next time,


Meet Jeanne at the ClickZ Specifics: E-mail Marketing seminar on May 14 in San Francisco.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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