Email marketing strategy and tips for successful campaigns

With Mailchimp’s flexible email marketing templates and intuitive designer, it's easy to send emails that really click.

hand reaching into box

What is email marketing, and where did it begin?

The first email, sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971 or 1978 depending on your source, marked the beginning of the modern communication era. The message was nothing special, a series of numbers and letters that looked more like a password than a message, but its significance was profound.

The email was sent from one computer to another, traveling through a network of machines not unlike the internet we know today. Tomlinson also introduced the "@" symbol in email addresses to the world.

Gary Thuerk, a Marketing Manager at Digital Equipment Corp, sent the first commercial email years later, where the message reached a list of email addresses. And voila, email marketing was born. There were only a few hundred people on the list, but that was enough for Thuerk to claim the mantle, "Father of Spam."

Today, we're inundated with email marketing campaigns, and yes, some of it still feels spammy, but there's no denying the impact a well-crafted message can have on your customers—not to mention CRM and lead nurturing.

Email marketing helps you connect with your audience to promote your brand and increase sales. You can do a lot of things with emails, like sell products, share some news, improve your cart abandonment rate or tell a story.

With Mailchimp’s campaign builder, it’s easy to find the right templates for any message—whether you’re welcoming new subscribers, notifying customers of a sale, or wishing someone a happy birthday.

Nick Sapia, chief digital officer of Alps & Meter

“The biggest benefit of Mailchimp's email builder is that it's easy to use. From quickly loading in our color palette and our brand font, we can make emails look and feel like an extension of our website very easily.”

Nick Sapia, chief digital officer of Alps & Meters Learn how he uses Mailchimp to send emails that match his brand

Does email marketing work?

When you want to communicate something about your brand or sell your stuff, email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to do so.

In fact, a 2015 study by the DMA found that for every $1 spent, email has an average $38 return on investment (ROI). When shoppers are ready to buy something, they often look for emails from their favorite stores.

Still, people receive more and more email all the time, and it can be challenging to stand out in full inboxes. That’s why Mailchimp gives you the tools you need to shine (plus, we’ve got a lot of tried and true tips on sending outstanding emails) and develop effective email marketing campaigns.

How do I get an email list?

You’ll see the highest ROI when you build and maintain an engaged subscriber list, made up of people who want to receive your messages (and who opted in on purpose). Although building a clean list can take more work at the outset of your email marketing strategy, Mailchimp lists have built-in tools to help you along the way.

There are lots of ways to find people who’ll look forward to getting your emails, but we’ve rounded up a few that work best.

To create an email list:

  • Create a signup form on your website. When people come to your website for the first time and like what they see, they’ll want a way to stay in-the-know about your brand. Create a form for newsletter signups and install a pop-up to collect customer data from your visitors.
  • Use a good old-fashioned signup sheet. Whether it’s at your brick and mortar store, or an event that you’re hosting or attending, when you’re surrounded by people who are into what you do, provide a place for them to sign up and learn more.
  • Drive signups through social media. If you don’t have a substantial email list (or you’d just like to see it grow), but you’ve got an engaged social media following, tap into that resource. Share your signup form on your social channels.

To add more subscribers to an existing list:

  • Host a contest or offer a discount. We’re big fans of giving people an incentive to sign up for your email list—and we know that contests work. Try offering a prize for some lucky new subscriber or a discount code for a first purchase.
  • Make your emails easy to share.When you create beautiful, compelling emails, with a lot of valuable information people will want to share them. Mailchimp gives you features (like share buttons and social media post builders) that let the word about your emails spread quickly.
  • Build a landing page through Mailchimp. Landing pages offer one more way to grow your email list. Using your best imagery and content, landing pages give people a clear call to action and drive email signups way, way up.

Can I buy an email list?

No. You should not buy an email list (and if you’re using Mailchimp, you can’t use an email list you purchased).

Purchased lists are ineffective, and they impact everyone else who uses Mailchimp, too. If you send emails to a list of people whose contact info you bought, many of the emails will get identified as spam and you'll also get high unsubscribe rates. Some spam filters will flag a email campaign if anyone with the same IP has sent spam in the past. When you use Mailchimp, your email is delivered through our servers, so if one person sends spam, it could prevent other users’ emails from reaching inboxes. But by forbidding Mailchimp users from using purchased lists, we increase deliverability for everyone.

  • That’s why we work vigilantly to keep our sending reputation intact, and it’s important that all users abide by our Terms of Use, which enforce anti-spam laws. There are 3 primary rules you should follow to comply with our Terms of Use.

  • Don’t use third-party lists. This includes purchased or rented mailing lists, and lists scraped from third-party sources, including public websites.

  • Get permission. Everyone on your list should have opted in to receive emails from you, and their permission should be express and verifiable. If you use one of our signup form options, we track this permission for you.

  • Include an unsubscribe link. Federal anti-spam laws require you to give people a way to unsubscribe from your list in every campaign you send. We require you to use our unsubscribe link.

I'm ready for email marketing, but which platform should I use?

Whether you’re starting your first email marketing campaign or you’re a seasoned email pro, Mailchimp has the tools and support you need. With a wide array of features that do everything from marketing automation to tracking tools to optimizing your emails through split testing, we’ve got you covered from start to finish.

OK, but how much does it cost?

When you create a Mailchimp account, you have the option to select a Free or paid plan. This option allows you to experiment with our user-friendly tools and figure out how to best use our all-in-one Marketing Platform. So if you’re just getting off the ground, you can learn to market smarter so you can grow faster. You can remain on the Free plan as long as you have 2,000 or fewer contacts in your audience.

As your audience continues to grow, our pricing plans also scale alongside your needs, for advance business needs we are also offering a Premium Plan.

Plus, we empower you with lots of good recommendations (and fun email marketing tips!) about how to act on data from your contacts so you can send emails that people actually read. We will help you to create successful email marketing campaigns.

I'm new to email marketing, and I might need a little help.

We’re here when you need us. During your first 30 days with Mailchimp, we offer access to 24/7 world-class support for free so that you get the most out of your account.

If you’d like to keep in touch with our support team through online chat or email, upgrade to our Essentials plan starting at $9.99 a month. Whether you’re hitting a roadblock with an email you’re writing or want more information about how something works, help is available around the clock. And when you’re ready to take your email marketing to the next level, we have plans for that, too.

Even if you don’t upgrade to a paid account, you can always check out our step by step tutorials and in-depth information about how our features work (as well as tips and troubleshooting guides).

Email Marketing Field Guide

Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote your business, whether your goal is to build your brand or sell more stuff. Our field marketing guide provides effective email marketing strategies and anything else you need to know to make the most of this platform. Learn how to create an email marketing plan, design effective emails all along your sales funnel, test them and improve your deliverability rates. Then discover the power of marketing automation and how to measure the success of your emails.

Email Design Guide

Presentation is everything, or so they say. With this old adage in mind, we’ve compiled our best tips for anyone who wants to send emails that subscribers click into a handy email design guide. We cover each facet of design: content, templates, identity, color, images, layout, fonts, and calls to action. Design is as much science as it is art, and we take the guesswork out of what can seem like the most challenging part of sending good emails.

Email Design Reference

If you want to code your own emails, you have the freedom to do so. But this is an advanced skill that requires a good bit of technical know-how. Here’s what you need to take the coding leap—whether you’re just getting started, wondering about the basics of HTML emails, or looking for a guide to coding them. We’ve also rounded up a few more resources you might need as you become a certifiable email pro. If you're considering another platform, check out our comparison guide before you make any decisions.

Can I test my emails?

Of course you can! With A/B testing tools, like those offered by Mailchimp, you can do split testing and test as many as three variations for campaigns.

You can also test subject lines, content, from names, and send times. You can test your reach too; that's how many people get your emails. Always optimize your emails for better results.

How to test your emails?

First, choose the factor that defines success for you. It could be clicks, opens, or money earned. We’ll collect the results, and show you the winner. And you can automate it too. Just tell Mailchimp to automatically send out the winning campaign. It's really pretty easy.

Email marketing tips to get you started

1. Create an email marketing plan.

To make the planning part easier, we’ve highlighted some best practices you’ll want to consider when devising a strategy for your email marketing.

Define your audience

No matter what you sell, you need to have a clear idea of who your audience is in order to effectively communicate with them. Mailchimp lets you dig a little deeper to segment users within your audience so you can send them personalized and targeted emails that help increase engagement, build trustful relationships and generate greater ROI.

Signup sources

Some of the most valuable data your signup form has to offer is how and where subscribers sign up for your list. If you’re an e-commerce business with your store connected to Mailchimp, knowing where your customers joined your list can give you a better idea of how to communicate with them and where you might want to focus your marketing efforts going forward.

Segments and groups

Once you’ve identified smaller collections of people within your larger audience, you’ll be able to create groups and segments to send more relevant and personalized emails to your recipients—and the more relevant the campaign, the better the results. There are times when you’ll want to send to your entire list, but by segmenting users and taking advantage of Mailchimp’s segmentation tools can significantly increase the click-through rates and e-commerce orders your campaigns generate.

Decide what to write

Now that you know who you’re writing to, it’s time to think about your content. What do you want to say to your audience? What is your content marketing strategy? You’ll want to send emails with purpose, that really speak to your subscribers, so always keep in mind what they signed up for.

Establish your sending frequency and goals

There’s nothing set in stone about how often you should email your customers, but if you send too often, your subscribers are likely to tune out what you have to say or unsubscribe altogether. Some users that run a blog or news website might choose to send daily updates to their subscribers, while other users only send twice a month so subscribers stay excited about their emails. Choose to send your email campaign at your own pace, and check the unsubscribe rates and the click through rates to adjust the frequency if needed.

Make a schedule

One way to make sure you’re staying on track is to create a content calendar to schedule your campaigns, blog posts, social media posts, and more.

Your email marketing schedule will depend on your industry, the types of content you send (content marketing strategy), and your sending frequency.

2. Design your emails

Design tips

When designing email campaigns, focus on your message and keep your design straightforward. We suggest laying out all the elements for your campaign in a hierarchy, putting your most important information or the main takeaway toward the top so people can quickly scan your email if they’re short on time.

Code your own templates

Looking to have more control over your email design? You have the option to code your own HTML template and import it to Mailchimp.

3. Test your emails

Test in different email clients and ISPs

All email clients are created differently, which means that the campaign you designed in Mailchimp might look slightly different in your subscribers’ inboxes. Be sure to check the emails on mobile devices as well as they can look different in responsive designs.

Send test emails to friends and coworkers

If you have any friends or coworkers who can check your email for typos and give you some feedback on the layout, you can send them a test email so they can preview the campaign directly in their inbox.

Find the best version with A/B Testing campaigns

Not sure which subject line will get the most opens and clicks? Think there might be a certain time of day your customers are most likely to make a purchase through your campaign? Running an A/B test lets you experiment with different versions of your emails to see how the changes you make impact your results.

4. What you can do with marketing automation

Unlike regular campaigns, an automation is a targeted email or series of emails that you can set and forget. From a welcome email series to follow up emails after a purchase to rewarding your customers with a special incentive, automation helps you streamline your communications with customers so you have more time to focus on creating content and increasing return on investment (ROI). Plus, you can design, send, and track order notifications to update customers on purchases they made from your store.

5. Measure your performance

The data collected in your Mailchimp reports will help you refine your marketing strategy going forward.

Opens and clicks

These are the most obvious statistics for measuring campaign engagement, as they indicate how well your subject lines and campaign content resonates with a particular list. But it’s important to consider how your open and click through rates compare to other companies in your industry—otherwise you’re looking at your statistics in a vacuum.

E-commerce data

If you’ve connected your store to Mailchimp and turned on e-commerce link tracking for your campaigns, you can view purchase data for your subscribers in campaign reports, subscriber profiles, and on the account dashboard.

Website traffic

The campaigns you send can help you direct more traffic to your website or online store. And there are a few integrations you can sync with Mailchimp so you can track any trends in website traffic or e-commerce activity after you send a campaign.