Effective Email Marketing Strategy: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

By: Alicia Chang  | 05/24/2017

On average, every $1 spent on email generates a return of $44. However, miniscule open and click-through rates can be incredibly frustrating for a marketer. How can you make sure that your emails are as effective and efficient as possible?

Last Thursday, Hileman Group’s Marketing Automation team and one lucky intern (me!) went to learn exactly that at the American Marketing Association Northeast Ohio’s Lunch & Learn with Tim Hickle. Hickle has extensive experience increasing open rate, click-through rates, and ROI through email as an author and digital marketer.

After live tweeting the talk, we decided to help you revamp your email campaigns by organizing the top five questions and recommendations to consider for your email marketing strategy:


  1. Who is your audience?

Remember that your audience engages with your material in a different way than you do. You need to understand who they are in order to appropriately offer them value.  Having the largest database is not always the best way to grow your business. Instead, you want the subscribers who will really care and engage with your material. (A.K.A. don’t shout to the world and hope someone hears; directly address the people who matter and have a conversation with them.) 

Source: https://twitter.com/alexkayash/status/865238807834132481

How to optimize your audience:              

  • Clean your lists. Make sure that you have explicit permission to email your recipient!
  • Don’t be afraid to let go of unengaged subscribers. They are not helping you, and you are not helping them.
  • Segment your list so that you have a directly targeted audience. This will also help you identify the right content to serve them. Continued below!


  1. How does your content serve your audience?

Your email is a subscription service. People subscribe to gain value, to learn, and to be more successful. As a promoter, you may want to use this space to hype up your product or service. However, for the majority of your buyer’s journey, what you want to share and what they want to read aren’t overlapping. The last thing you want to do is waste time producing content that your audience ignores. Instead, think like a content provider. If you can send relevant content at the right time and to the right audience, you will increase your engagement by leaps and bounds.

How to elevate your content:

  • Identify your unique value, something that makes your company’s email the most useful and exciting one to receive. This could be a combination of:
    • A person
    • Conducted research
    • Industry perspective
    • Brand positioning
    • Any other distinctive traits that offer value to the receiver
  • Talk to your five best clients and ask them why they picked you. If you want more customers like your ideal clients, they’ll know best!
  • Don’t send an email for the sake of sending an email. If you send too many useless emails, you’ll be the boy who cried wolf, never to be trusted again.


  1. Does your email make it to the inbox?

You would be surprised! Bounce, open, click-through, and response rates can all help you understand how your audience reacts to your content. Stay vigilant, but also understand that these rates are evaluated by not just you, but also email clients. Most email clients now automatically sort important, unimportant, promotional content, and more types of emails. Your goal should be to stay in the primary inbox, right next to the email from Grandma! Emails relegated to the Gmail Promotions tab or Outlook Clutter have shown a decline in open rate by a whopping 20%, so avoid being flagged by becoming a high-value sender through the tips below.

(For some more thoughts about the Promotions tab’s impact and approach, check out this article by Marketo.)  

Tips for becoming a high-value sender:

  • Investigate your bounce, open, and click-through rates to understand where you should focus initial improvement.
  • Review your content. Identify better performing types of content, and focus there!
  • Encourage further interaction, such as favoriting, replies, and forwards.
  • Take steps to personalize emails, so that they are more likely to be intriguing and less likely to be marked as an advertisement. Consider using Marketo tokens to directly address individuals and more (Hileman Group’s Marketo-101 Cheat Sheet).  
  • DON’T FORGET: Email services like Gmail spend time and resources identifying clickbait trends, so that they can automatically sort mail into the Promotions tab, spam, or blacklist! Don’t be the one who ruins your company’s email credibility.


  1.  Do you know how your email looks in the Inbox of your customers or prospects?

If your emails load poorly, in a difficult to read format, they will hurt your company’s brand because opening that email was a waste of time. Rendering on platforms is a tough nut to crack because you need to account for every email client and different devices in the market, but not doing it is simply not an option. When it comes to what your prospects see, also consider the display and format of your email. Be wary of a high image to text ratio, since it is proven to lower click-through rates and increase the likelihood of getting sorted into the Promotions/Clutter tab. Also consider that many email recipients need to download or opt in to view images, so think like your audience and make their experience as friction-free as possible!

Source: https://twitter.com/AMANortheastOH/status/865233037788950530

Clean it up:

  • Design for the lowest possible tech platform, a.k.a. progressive enhancement, where you start low and add to improve for each step up the ladder in device complexity.  
  • Check a test email on multiple email clients and devices (computer, phone, and tablet)!
  • Before adding an image, ask yourself WHY. Make sure your reason isn’t just “Because it looks pretty.”


  1. How does your marketing campaign serve you?

There’s clearly a lot to do to set up your email marketing, between creating content, identifying trends, and enhancing engagement. So the next thing to think about is whether the opportunities discovered are worth your time (blood, sweat, and the occasional tear).

Here are a few reasons that email marketing campaigns have been effective and worthwhile:

  • Start a conversation with your customers and make them feel your brand is their secret confidant.
  • Capitalize on the awareness stage of marketing by building content around questions being asked or pain points by prospects and answers or best practices to those questions. Use an affiliate marketing mindset and focus on relationships and conversations that can be started through email.
  • Develop trust for your company and delight your customers by educating them and helping them become a rock star within their organization.

Which ones apply to you or what other reasons have marketing campaigns been successful for your bottom line and organization?

As an intern, I am constantly learning and looking for new ideas. Hileman Group launched my interest in email marketing through this lunch and learn, but if you have any thoughts to share, please comment! I will read all the feedback that I get. 


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