How to get started with email marketing: 13 ideas to implement right now

If you’re anything like the marketers we know, you won’t let anything stand between you and your genius ideas. But once you've established your strategy and you're ready to execute The Big Plan, how can you make sure that email marketing efforts support it?

You’ve sent emails before, sure—everyone knows you’re great at sending thoughtful notes and event invites, but what makes for a strategic marketing email campaign?

Before you worry that learning the ins and outs of email marketing is another barrier to releasing your newfound brilliance into the world, think again. We’re here to provide you with 15 ideas you can implement right now, and a few pieces of inspiration you can keep with you for later.

Start with strategy

First things first: This isn’t a throw-a-noodle-on-the-wall-and-hope-it-sticks situation. While you’re not going to have everything figured out when you send your first email, the one essential you need to start with is a strategy. 

Whether this word is intimidating to you or you’re excited by the challenge, your initial plan can be as simple or detailed as you like, as long as it intentionally answers these questions: 

  • Why am I sending emails?
  • Who am I sending them to?
  • What is the value my emails will communicate? 
  • What are my email marketing goals? 

The most important part

There are many key elements to a successful email campaign vying for the role of most important, but when we stack up all of the advice and tools we’ve used over the years, there’s a clear winner every time: Relationships. Email marketing is about building, securing, and maintaining relationships

It seems simple enough, but there’s something about two screens—the one you use to type and the one your customer uses to read—that can really bury this idea beneath all the others. 

However, if you keep relationship-building at the core of your email marketing strategy, we’ll bet it will turn out to be the true difference maker. But don’t just think about this at the beginning of your strategy and then toss it aside. Incorporate relationships into every step of the process.

We’ll show you how:

1. Map a customer’s journey before they begin it. 

It’s kind of like being in charge of a 5K race—you wouldn’t just set a herd of runners free to roam the city on race day without a clear plan for where they're going. You’d map the course yourself, make sure it’s clean and clear, mark it with signs to follow, and plan water stops along the way. 

Similarly, you need to be more-than-familiar with the path you’re asking others to take, one that begins with an introduction to your brand, leads to a conversion, and continues to promote retention and brand loyalty.

This builds the relationship because it builds trust and understanding between you and your reader. You understand the decisions they’re faced with, and they trust you because you guide them through those decisions with experience and knowledge before they even know to ask. 

2. Pinpoint your brand’s value.

Call it an elevator pitch, a five-second spiel, or whatever else you’d like, but being able to concisely communicate what sets your brand apart is the key to inbox success. By coming up with a short thesis of who your company is and the value it provides, you’ll be able to send strategic and intentional emails every time. 

This builds the relationship because you can respond to a customer’s needs with your brand as a solution. 

3. Connect the dots with copy.

Once you’ve mapped the customer journey and have pinpointed your brand’s value, you can then connect the two with appropriate and helpful messaging. 

Establishing your brand voice means crafting the tone and language that will best encourage a customer on the buyer’s journey and help them arrive at your hoped-for destination. 

Before you write the copy word-for-word, imagine the persona of your target market. Who is he/she? What are they doing when they read this email? What value could your brand add to the problems they’re facing? 

This builds the relationship because it reinforces the ideas a customer already has about your brand. 

For example, BoxFox does a great job of imagining specific scenarios a customer may want to send a gift to a friend and suggests their curated boxes as a solution:

4. Make opting-in fun.

One of the biggest mistakes email marketers can make is to assume customers will automatically opt-in to their subscriber list.

While this would be a marketing dream come true, you have to work a little harder to drive an opt-in, especially when a customer is probably already receiving hundreds—if not thousands—of emails that go unread per day. 

Get creative with your opt-in form, communicate what to expect on the email list, and provide an incentive for providing their email address. (Discount codes or special offers are our go-to here!)

When done correctly, this builds the relationship by reminding the customer that you want to stay in touch with them and continue to provide value in the future. We also consider this step the defining moment of your email marketing relationship—if they subscribe, you’re in it for the long haul. 

For example, Nisolo creates segments for women and men to cater to individual fashion tastes:

5. Collect the right data.

Don’t limit your opt-in form to name and email address. Think of the possibilities for content and relationship-building if you knew even more about what your reader likes or doesn’t like!

Collecting data on a subscriber form can look any way you’d like it to, from asking for a customer’s birthday to their favorite sports team. This is your opportunity to gather useful information and use it to customize your content later, so make sure you put it to work. 

This maintains the relationship by continuing to remain relevant in the eyes of your customer.

6. Set expectations.

The easiest way to lose a customer’s trust is to not meet their expectations.

Through email, this can get a little tricky, because you’re not always sure what they are hoping for. (What if they’re expecting a daily message but you only show up in their inbox once a week? What if they are hoping for recipes and you’re sending book reviews?)

The best way to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations is to be the one setting them. This maintains the relationship by making sure you and your customer are always on the same page. It also leaves room for you to surprise and delight them beyond their expectations.

7. Send a welcome email.

While we’re on the note of setting expectations, there’s no better time to do so than in a welcome email.

 In your message, introduce your new subscriber to your brand, let them know the type of content you’ll be sending them, and include something that will make them glad they subscribed, like exclusive content or a discount code. 

This maintains the relationship by including positive reinforcement to your customer’s decision to subscribe and letting them know you’re glad to have them around. See how Nisolo continues their efforts by welcoming new subscribers:

8. Use stories. 

The best way to go from robot-behind-screen to living, breathing person is through story. Share who you are, what you do, and why you do it. When readers know the reason and the person behind the emails they receive, they’ll feel both more interested and invested in what you have to say. 

This maintains the relationship by creating empathy and connection between you and your audience. 

9. Make it beautiful.

Good design turns an email into an experience, which is exactly what you’d choose for your readers.

The possibilities are endless, but have you considered spending a little more time on creating an interactive gif? Incorporating awe-inspiring photography? Turning your content into an easy-to-read infographic? Trust us: the investment will be well worth it. 

This maintains the relationship by signaling to your readers that you have good taste and care about what ends up in their mailbox.

10. Refer back to the customer journey.

This step is kind of like relationship maintenance—making sure you’re meeting your targets and your customers are having the type of experience you intended to create. 

Are the decisions they’re making different than they were before? Are they interacting with the content like you thought they would? Are you addressing their felt needs?

This maintains the relationship by checking in on it and seeing what you could improve, rather than assuming everything is perfect. 

11. Personalize content.

Personalized content is the real “wow” factor of email content. Remember how you collected information about your subscribers in step #5? Just when they’ve rushed through the form and forgotten about it, you get to surprise them by how well you know them, just like a good friend does. Include their name, interest, or purchase history to show them you care. 

This maintains the relationship by making your customer feel individually cared for. 

12. Make automation your best friend.

So you’re using segmentation, you’re creating personalized content, and you know exactly where your customers are at each part of the journey. Now, automation is a tool to make your life easier and scale your existing efforts. By using your segments to automate email departures, you’ll ensure your readers will be excited about its arrival. 

This maintains the relationship by continuing to meet your customers wherever they are. 

13. Look at the data.

What are your subscribers opening? What could they live without? Continuing to keep an eye on email analytics and metrics, and being open to retargeting subscribers who aren’t engaging, is the best way to continue to grow in your email marketing efforts. 

This maintains the relationship by showing your customers you’re dedicated to them long-term. 

Wrap up

As you can see, the best thing to do, no matter which tip you choose to apply first, is to think about your subscribers every step of the way. By keeping their best interest at the top of your mind and continuing to listen to them, you’ll be an email marketing success story in no time. Happy sending!

About the Author

Kaitlin Wernet

Kaitlin Wernet is a content specialist on Emma's marketing team. When she's not restraining herself from using too many exclamation points or grabbing one more La Croix from the office kitchen, she can be found working on her first book or planning her next big travel adventure.

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