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How to Create an Email Marketing Strategy

Define your context, objectives, and goals for a strategy that gets results.

A successful email marketing campaign starts with a strategy. This fundamental step provides campaigns with coherence, structure, and definition. It keeps your message on target and helps you accomplish your marketing goals.

To create a winning strategy, you need to know what it entails. Then it’s a matter of following simple steps and constantly evaluating how your strategy can improve.

Strategy versus tactics: What’s the difference?

To explain what a strategy is, it’s helpful to start with what it isn’t: An email marketing strategy is not a random collection of tactics used with the hope of accomplishing a goal. Strategy is more thoughtful than that.

An email marketing strategy is the overarching plan for your campaign. It should include not only your methods, objectives, and analysis, but also what you’re aiming for, why you’re aiming for it, and how you will measure success.

Tactics are part of any good strategy. These are the methods and techniques you’ll use to achieve your goal. But it’s important to establish the purpose behind your strategy first and then align your tactics.

For example, embedding interactive content in your emails is a tactic. It may be part of an overall marketing strategy, perhaps with a goal of increasing subscriber engagement. The tactic of using interactive content is an element of the strategy, but it’s not the strategy itself.

Step 1: Identify the context for your campaigns

Before you create your strategy, it’s wise to consider the internal and external context for your business. These factors will influence the goals you set and the tactics needed to attain them. To explore these contexts, try using the SWOT and PESTLE formulas.

SWOT focuses on the internal context of your business:

-Strengths: Aspects of the business (or its marketing resources) that give it an edge over the competition. This could be something like brilliant design skills or experience in driving sales.

  • Weaknesses: Areas in which your business doesn’t excel. These are the areas that therefore need work or should be avoided. Perhaps you don’t have professional photographs of your products yet, or you still need a logo—these factors can impact your strategy.
  • Opportunities: Trends, resources, or current situations that could benefit this campaign—like a new product launch, recent press coverage, or a loyal subscriber base.
  • Threats: Trends, resources, or current situations which could be detrimental to this campaign. This could be a new competitor or a limited budget and resources.

PESTLE is similar to SWOT, but it focuses on external context of your business:

  • Political: Political issues or developments which may affect this campaign. For example, sensitive political issues like Brexit in the UK can be leveraged for certain campaigns, but should be handled sensitively for others.
  • Economic: The cost of labor and resources are always important to consider, but so are wider economic conditions. For example, people living in more expensive cities may be more interested in pricey goods and services than those who live in more affordable areas. This should be considered when setting and targeting objectives.
  • Social: This covers everything from pop culture to education levels. It’s vital to consider when setting objectives, as it informs the way in which audiences receive and respond to marketing content.
  • Technological: Think about the evolving formats in which emails can be received. For example, emails can now be read out loud by smart devices like Alexa. This should be factored into the content you create for emails.
  • Legal: Not all objectives will be possible based on some surrounding legal environments—like under the GDPR, increasing subscribers through automatic signups is an illegal tactic in the European nations.
  • Environmental: The environmental context is more important than ever in this day and age. An environmentally ethical business should consider the environmental implications of any objective.

Step 2: Define your objectives and goals

With the context of your campaign in mind, you can set objectives and goals. Establishing your ideal end result (and why it matters) will empower you up to create a thoughtful strategy that works.

It’s important to know the difference between goals and objectives, so that you can clearly set both.

  • Goals are the ultimate outcome that you hope to achieve. Goals may include things like improving your return on investment (ROI), increasing subscriber loyalty, or boosting sales.

  • Objectives are milestones that contribute to your goals. Often, objectives are similar to goals, but the purpose of an objective is always to serve a larger goal. For example, your goal may be to increase subscriber engagement, so an objective may be to improve the open rate of your campaigns.

Goals can be reasonably open-ended—like “increase sales”—but it’s a good idea to set specific objectives. The more precise you can make your objectives, the easier it will be to strategize and implement tactics to fulfill them and reach the bigger goal.

You need to know exactly what, how, and when you hope to accomplish each objective. The SMART framework makes this easy.

  • Specific: Objectives need to be completely unambiguous. Not only do specific objectives give your campaign a clear direction, they also ensure that everyone on the team is working towards the same thing. For example, “Increase open-rate by 50% for the monthly newsletter” is clearer than, “Reach more subscribers.”
  • Measurable: Make sure that your objectives are aligned to measurable metrics. For example, “Increased open rate” is a lot easier to measure than the more abstract “Improve the customer experience.” Although the latter is a great goal to keep in mind, it needs to be more specific in terms of how you quantify success. How will you track your progress?
  • Actionable: Make sure your objective involves taking a clear and specific action. For example, increasing the open rate of a particular email campaign is actionable, because you can take steps towards it. What are the tactics you will use to take action?
  • Realistic: There’s something to be said for aiming high, but setting unreasonable objectives leads most often to disappointment, rather than progress. Objectives are meant to push you from step to step as you work towards your goal. Be realistic about what’s possible for your company and industry.
  • Time-bound: Campaigns need a start and end date. So, the steps towards creating that campaign also need start and end dates. Your objectives need to be relatively time-bound. For example, you might aim to gain a certain number of new subscribers in the campaign’s first month, before shifting objectives to increasing clickthrough rate (or whatever is relevant for your overall goal).

When your objectives are well-defined, measurable, and time-bound, you can keep tabs on how your campaign performs and make adjustments to your strategy as needed. This also helps everyone involved in your email marketing work towards a shared goal, because the markers of success are specific and easy to assess. You can also use Mailchimp's email marketing statistics by industry to see how you're doing compared to others.

Step 3: Prepare for what’s next

Identifying your email marketing campaign’s context, goals, and objectives is a great start to crafting a strategy, but it’s just the beginning. Next, you can move on to more in-depth steps:

  • Get to know your audience. Different tactics work for different audiences. 43% of consumers will unsubscribe from your email marketing if the messages are not relevant. It’s vital that you understand the people you target with your campaign and deploy your tactics accordingly.
  • Keep the wider context in mind. Current affairs within your market (and the wider world) can have unexpected impacts upon your campaign. Be prepared to switch up your tactics if something happens to make your campaign irrelevant or insensitive.
  • Measure in real time. You can do a lot of campaign analysis on an ongoing basis. This is important, because it allows you to adjust in real time if certain tactics aren’t working or if certain objectives become irrelevant.
  • Be flexible, but not abstract. As mentioned, it might be necessary to alter aspects of your campaign on an ongoing basis. A solid, well-defined strategy is great, but you do need to leave some room to change. However, a strategy that’s too abstract will confuse both marketers and customers, so make sure that you lay out clearly what you will do, how you will do it, and why.
  • Engage with automation. Marketing automations can do amazing things for email campaigns. A successful campaign requires a huge amount of segmentation, measurement, analysis, behavioral targeting, and so on. Human marketers can only do so much. Using automation will free up your human marketers to work on other pressing tasks.
  • Make the most of your data. Data makes the world of marketing go round. Make sure that you’re using the right data in the right way, and that you’re making the most of your data to draw relevant and timely insights for your strategy.

Read more of Mailchimp's email marketing campaign tips to ensure your success.

A solid strategy is vital to an email campaign that delivers. There’s a lot to creating any marketing strategy, but clearly defined goals and objectives are the foundation for a smart tactical and analytical approach.

Written by Jenna Tiffany for Mailchimp. Jenna is an expert in digital marketing strategies.

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