Email marketing and lead generation
What you need to know to manage a lead generation
email campaign from start to finish.
Table of Contents
Have a strategy on purpose……………………………………………………………………3
Making a list (and checking it twice)…………………………………………………………..3
Get the creative juices flowing………………………………………………………………...4
The devil is in the details……………………………………………………………………….6
Just push play…………………………………………………………………………………...7
Measure the treasure…………………………………………………………………………...8
Part 1: Have a strategy on purpose
Before you worry about anything else related to an email campaign – the creative, copy, list, or offer –
you absolutely need a strategy. That might sound obvious, but it‟s often the hardest component of the
entire campaign. As we dive into creating an email marketing campaign, first‟s things first: develop a
Strategy can be a big, scary word – but it doesn‟t have to be. Simply break it down to the following three
Purpose: Why are you sending the email or emails? Do you need to communicate an important
announcement? Are you promoting a huge sale? Are you trying to get more leads for your sales team?
There are a million reasons why you might want to send an email, but be clear why you want to send this
specific email and write it down – even if there is more than one purpose. As the development of the
campaign progresses, you can refine it - and once the campaign concludes, you‟ll know if you were
Target: Once you know the purpose of your email, you can
determine who will receive the email – otherwise known as your
target. Depending on the purpose (there‟s that word again!) of
your email, this could vary from your existing customers, a
specific industry, job title, or other demographic, or even
subscribers of your newsletter. Remember, the more targeted
the better. And just because you have a million people you could
potentially target doesn‟t mean they should all get an email.
Knowing exactly who you‟re sending to will also help you when it
comes time to develop copy and creative.
Action: After a clear purpose and target, the call to action is the final piece of your strategy. In other
words, what will your email ask of your target? It could be to click through to your site to make a
purchase, reply to the email, speak with the sales manager, or download a whitepaper. Again, there isn‟t
a single right answer for what the action should be – it could be multiple things. Just make sure you‟re
asking recipients to take a specific step that aligns with your purpose.
Part 2: Making a list (and checking it twice)
After defining your targets when creating a strategy for your email campaign, the next step is to set up a
list that addresses those targets. There are two main ways to create an email list: build your own or rent a
Building your own email list
If you have one (and you should), this should be your first source. These are your customers – people
who already do business with you, or at least people who have expressed an interest in hearing from you.
These folks are much more likely to respond to your email, or at the very least, understand why you‟re
sending them a message. You also know how you sourced the names, and may have demographic
information or a transaction history to draw on. Take advantage of it.
Your goal should be to continually and organically build your „house‟ list. Think of all the various touch
points you might have with a customer or a lead, and then leverage those interactions by encouraging
them to subscribe to your email list.
Some examples of great touch points include:
After a user conducts a transaction on your site
Through content such as whitepapers or webinars
In prominent spots throughout your website (especially on your homepage)
During sales or customer service calls
The goal is to make it easy for someone to raise their hand and say "I want to hear from you.” If they‟re
raising their hand now, chances are they‟ll be receptive to your campaign which benefits you in the long
run. Remember, your email list needn‟t consist only of paying customers. In many cases, your list will
likely have a significant number of potential customers (leads), too!
While building your own list is a great idea, there are some drawbacks. You‟ll want to stay on top of legal
compliance and CAN-SPAM regulations, as well as regularly clean your list to rid it of email addresses no
longer in use. And, of course, there‟s always the potential for over-use if you‟re not careful. None of these
potential drawbacks should discourage you from growing an in-house list, however.
Renting an email list
Even if you have a large house list, you might be interested in renting third party email lists for your email
campaign. It‟s a big business – and many companies find great success with it. You‟ve probably heard of
companies like Hoovers and InfoUSA who specialize in renting email lists, and a simple Google search
will yield many, many more. Typically, these companies allow you to select exactly who you want to target
– maybe doctors in California, purchasing managers in companies with fewer than 50 employees, or
people who have purchased a home within the last year.
Cost-wise, renting an email list can be very affordable, which is why many companies, large or small, do
so. Like banner advertising, pricing is generally set on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis. A typical CPM
for an email list might be $300 but it can vary quite a bit. In particular, the more targeted and specialized
you want to go, the more you can expect to pay.
Renting an email list can be a great way to quickly build or supplement your target list. But be careful!
There are many ways renting suspect lists can get you in trouble aside from the fact that there‟s an
inherent lower response rate compared to your own email list. Always make sure the list broker you deal
with is reputable and can walk you through how the names were sourced. And of course, both you and
your broker need to comply with CAN-SPAM laws. And remember, you don‟t own these names until they
become a customer, so it‟s going to be a little harder to develop an ongoing relationship.
BuyerZone has put together an informative Buyer‟s Guide that covers everything you need to know about
working with a list broker (for email or direct mail). If you‟d like to get a better sense for pricing, submit a
free quote request and BuyerZone will connect you with a few list brokers who can provide you with
customized price quotes.
However you choose to build your list – and it doesn‟t need to be exclusively one or the other – you‟re
now in great shape to start thinking about the creative component of your campaign.
Part 3: Get the creative juices flowing
Even with an ironclad strategy and a hyper-targeted list, if your email creative isn‟t up to snuff, results
could be lackluster. So email design is important to say the least.
First, let‟s get the big misconception out of the way. Your email should look good – but it doesn‟t need to
be flashy and over the top design-wise. Madison Avenue this is not.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when designing a good-looking and effective email:
HTML versus text: You have a choice when it comes to the format in which you send an email – HTML
or plain text. There are pros and cons to both – but most commercial email you receive these days is in
HTML format because it offers much more flexibility than plain text and increases response rates (more
than 30% according to email marketing firm Constant Contact). With HTML emails, you can track open
rate and also control much more of the design including images, fonts, colors, links and the general
layout. A plain text email, while simple, does not allow you to track open rate and affords zero flexibility
when it comes to design, since it‟s…well, plain text. But there are merits to both. We‟d recommend HTML,
but if you have a specific need for a plain text look (say a simple communication from your CEO to top
customers), you can code an HTML email to look like a plain text email, but reap the HTML benefits such
as measuring open rate.
Images in moderation: If you‟re using plain text, images won‟t matter since you can‟t have any. Did that
make you change your mind? Kidding aside, images in HTML email can truly make an email pop. Not
only will a customer or a lead see your company logo, but product images or other graphics can stand out
and help augment your copy. But images can also wreck an email, especially if you‟re not cognizant of
the balance between images and text. See below for a perfect illustration of this (which, incidentally, I
received while writing this):
Notice anything wrong with this picture? Since many email clients don‟t automatically download images
(including GMail, in this case), a user can literally see nothing - not the message nor the offer if you‟re not
careful. To combat this, make sure you have a mix of images and text in your emails so a user can still
understand from the text what you‟re trying to convey even if the images don‟t download automatically. Of
course, once I downloaded the images, the design of the aforementioned email was great. But that‟s not
the point, since many users would likely have ignored or even deleted the message at first glance.
Rendering: The example above brings me to a third key area to focus on: rendering. Rendering is a
fancy term for how your email looks when opened by various email clients. It would be great if all email
clients were the same, but sadly, they‟re far from it. Each handles emails differently, so there are some
things you can do that should keep you safe across clients. While I won‟t go into detail here, there‟s a ton
of information about this online, including this primer.
Aside from designing with this in mind, it‟s also incredibly important to test your emails. Many email
service providers provide nifty tools to let you view how your email renders in many popular email clients
like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail. Take advantage of this if you‟re not already doing so. If you don‟t have
access to this, there are sites that offer the service for free or inexpensively. Or, test it yourself by creating
email accounts at all the major clients and send test emails to those accounts so you can see for yourself.
There are many ways to do this – just make sure you‟re doing it!
Copy: Regardless of whether you choose to send an HTML or text email, you‟re going to need to craft
marketing copy to convey your message (which supports your strategy). The length and tone of your copy
can obviously vary dramatically based on the purpose of the email, but there are some things you should
always keep in mind:
- Be compelling but brief: remember, an email is generally just a tease. Based on your defined call
to action, you want the user to do something – so share just enough to get them to take the
action, but not enough to distract, confuse or overwhelm them.
- Be relevant: strong copy can be made stronger with subtle ways of connecting with the user. Do
you know their industry? Mention it. Do you know when the last time they made a purchase was?
Bring it up. Use data to your advantage, and personalize whenever possible. But don‟t go
overboard, there‟s a fine line between introducing relevant information and sharing data on the
user just because you can.
- Be obvious: if you have a great offer, it should be easy for the user to see it in your email. If
you‟re pitching the benefits of your service to a lead, those benefits should stand out. Catch
where I‟m going with this? You don‟t have much time to make an impression with anyone these
days, let alone via email. So don‟t make people think harder then they need to.
There‟s a lot to consider when designing and creating an email. It‟s not only about fancy images and witty
subject lines. It‟s about a reasoned approach – both in terms of design and message. That‟s not to say
your email shouldn‟t look good – it should. But being mindful of readability and usability as well will only
make the impact of your campaign stronger.
Part 4: The devil is in the details
It‟s almost time to press send, but before you do – here are some other details to consider. Believe it or
not, it could make or break your campaign.
Timing: Consider closely when you want to send your email. That means both the day of the week and
the time of day. It can often make a big difference depending on your message and your target. The old
adage used to say that Tuesdays were best, preferably early in the morning before folks get consumed by
meetings or anything else. But that doesn‟t seem to be the case anymore. I‟ve seen studies indicating
every day of the week is best. The lesson is no single day or time is better than another. All that matters
is what‟s the best time for your recipients. And you won‟t know unless you test it.
Location: Depending on your business, your recipients may not all be located in the same time zone (if
they are, then skip ahead!). Consider the geographic locations of your list and if it warrants it, schedule
your email campaigns with this in mind.
Pacing: The larger your list, the more important it is to properly pace your email. What I mean by this is
that while many email applications could send a million emails in a few seconds, doing so will immediately
raise flags with email providers and likely lead to deliverability issues. To combat this, take advantage of
the sophisticated email tools available today which allow you to establish a send rate (say 50,000 per
hour) to help combat any deliverability issues. Alternatively, a simple way to do this is to literally split your
list into chucks and mail at different times throughout the day.
Deliverability: If you aren‟t in tune with deliverability yet – you will be. Getting your email delivered to
your recipients‟ email inbox (and not their spam folder) is becoming increasingly difficult. A campaign
could underperform, not because of your message or your list, but because no one saw your email. To
combat this issue, you need to know how you‟re doing. Companies like
Return Path offer detailed tracking with visibility into your delivery
performance for all major email providers (like GMail and Yahoo). Your
email service provider likely uses similar tools to track your campaigns as
well. As always, you can test this quickly and for free by sending test
emails to accounts at various email providers and checking performance
yourself. And be sure to check your Sender Score periodically, which
gives you quick insight into how you‟re doing. It‟s an issue that‟s not going
away – and one you should be on top of.
Testing: You should always be testing – and not just your copy or your target. Sending your campaign on
a Thursday afternoon might work well for you now, but will it always? It‟s unlikely. Might your open rate
increase by mixing up your subject line? It could make all the difference in the world. But if you don‟t try
anything, you‟ll never know. So go ahead and test.
Part 5: Just push play
It‟s time to send your email. But how do you go about doing so? It‟s a bit more complicated than sending
an email to a colleague or a loved one. Since your list most likely includes hundreds or thousands of
names (or more), you shouldn‟t just BCC everyone using your corporate email account with Outlook, or
worse, use your personal Gmail address. For one, it‟s unprofessional and two, your individual email
account is not designed for bulk commercial emailing. Not to mention the fact that you‟d have very little
insight – if any – into how your email performs.
The good news is that sending commercial email has come a long way. If you‟re not building your own
software to send email messages (and let‟s face it, who is?), a smart way to go is to turn outside your
company and use an email service provider.
There are simply tons of providers out there to handle the needs and budgets of small businesses to
Fortune 500 companies. These solutions – often web-based – handle all the basics of email sending that
you‟ll ever need and help to make sure you‟re following all the rules. For those who need more robust
solutions, these providers can accommodate that as well.
Here are a few resources we‟ve found to help evaluate email service providers:
Forrester‟s assessment of email marketing service providers (courtesy of YesMail and Forrester)
Top Ten Reviews
Email software is also an option – check out our Buyer‟s Guide to learn more and see if it‟s a fit for your
business. If you use a CRM or marketing automation solution, these too can be used to send your email
blasts. Take the time to investigate the option that works best for you. Even if you don‟t want to spend a
lot of money, with a little research, you can send professional emails without breaking the bank. If you
want to connect with a handful of vendors, consider submitting a free quote request.
Part 6: Measure the treasure
We‟ve come full circle, covering everything related to conceptualizing, creating, designing and executing
an email campaign. The last aspect might just be the most important: measuring how you did. Once you
press send, the fun doesn‟t stop. In reality – it‟s only just beginning. All your learning is derived from the
metrics – and with email, it‟s pretty easy to see how you did.
While every business is different and some metrics/results are more important to you than others, here
are the key stats you should be tracking and interpreting:
Open rate: an indication of the number of people who open and/or view your email. It‟s calculated simply
by dividing the number of people who opened the email (most often tracked by an invisible, 1x1 pixel that
when downloaded by a user, registers an „open‟) into the number of emails sent. While it can be
controversial, it remains one of the most common metrics in email nonetheless.
Wondering what an average open rate should be for your industry? Check out this interesting data.
Click-thru-rate (CTR): a measure of how many people are clicking on links in your email. Sometimes,
people are interested in the number of raw clicks (“our email campaign generated 500 total clicks to our
website”), but more often than not, you should be more interested in the click-thru-rate; that is, the
percentage of people clicking your links (calculate it by dividing the number of raw clicks into the number
of emails delivered). The higher your CTR, the more likely it is your campaign is achieving your goals -
which may or may not be the case even if you have a high open rate.
Conversion rate: Conversion rate is the ratio of users who complete
your desired outcome (fill out a form, make a purchase, download your
whitepaper, etc.) into the number of emails delivered. You can also
divide into the number of opens or number of clicks depending on how
you want to measure it. As always, the higher the conversion rate, the
better your campaign is likely doing. And while you may have a high
open rate and CTR, if you‟re conversion/action rate is low, your
campaign is probably not going to yield the success you‟re hoping for.
Unsubscribe rate: Believe it or not, there is going to be a portion of
your email list that‟s not only uninterested in your content or offer, but
never wants to hear from you again. Don‟t take it personally – it‟s part of
being in business these days. On the positive side, you‟ll get rid of the people who don‟t want to hear from
you, so your metrics might improve overall. But a high unsubscribe rate is certainly not something to aim
for. A significant amount of people opting out of your email means you have problems – so take it as an
indication that improvements in your content, your offer, or how you source the list in the first place are
And so now you should have a basic foundation for creating, designing, executing and assessing a lead
generation email campaign. Good luck!
Q2 2010 Email Trends and Benchmarks
Valuable email metrics for lead generation