The online space has opened up creative avenues marketers could only have dreamt about.

While you’re thinking up the latest bells and whistles to make your emails stand out, consider a few simple steps that should form the building blocks of any successful campaign.

Quick wins can be gained from analysing the time you send your communications; finessing the sender address and subject line; and, most importantly, testing your messages. 

1. “Test! Test! Test!” should be a mantra for all email marketers

Ensuring you hit your audience with relevant, personalised and timely messaging is crucial. Think of it like a driving test. All the theory in the world, the hours spent memorising the Highway Code, won’t help you when you’re out on the road.

The only way to pass that test is to practice.

In order to hone the effectiveness of email, delve into all the precious data you collect on the people you’re trying to reach, to provoke them into action.

Take insights from people’s preferences and purchase history (if available), and experiment with length and tone of subject lines, and different types of content.

Consider HTML, the length of copy, size and colour of images, embedded links and video. Even the choice of vocabulary and use of punctuation are important elements in avoiding the spam trap (don’t over exaggerate by using too many exclamation marks!!!!).

Continuous testing and data analysis will enable you to tweak your strategy for communication and additionally provide greater insight into your consumer segments and how they respond to your communications.

As a result, you can begin to segment your audience in more detail and refine and personalise the types of content you send them. It’s important to use the data to understand the likes and dislikes of individuals to boost brand advocacy.

Compare the results of your email tests 

For example, subject line length, type of offer or call to action included, or response to keywords used, with metrics for your website, SEO and PPC, mobile engagement and offline activities, and you will begin to see trends.

Which targets were receptive? Which didn’t respond? Is the offer right? An in-depth analysis of campaign responses enables you to improve effectiveness and optimise the return on investment.

This information can then be used to strengthen knowledge of the target audience, influencing future communication strategies and marketing plans.

Testing means making the most of data to devise and send your campaigns, and the virtuous circle will be completed by response data that underpins improved email marketing the next time out.

Amazingly, we’re beginning to see marketing plans change every quarter and in some instances every 30 days! All the more reason to “test, test, test” to see how your audience is engaging with your brand and to ensure you keep ahead of the pack.

2. Time of day

People engage with brands in many different ways, so there isn’t always a “one size fits all” approach to timing. It’s important that you review the data in detail to find the optimum time to target people.

Don’t just look at how many people opened your emails, look at who opened them and when.

As a rule of thumb, many marketers send emails between 7am and 10:30am, targeting subscribers as they wake up in the morning or when they reach the office.

Another popular distribution time is noon, to engage people during lunch breaks, or early evening when users typically jump back online to purchase the goods they have been researching in the office.

To be honest, these times have collectively shown good results for most brands, but to really ensure you reach your targets at the right time, look at your response data and the time stamp on your opens (also compare this to the ‘delivered’ time to analyse the gap between send and open, you may be surprised to see some of your emails being opened 3 to 4 days later).

Finally, you can cross-reference the email address and offer code to understand how effective your email communication was in driving revenue.

An example of good practice was the activity of an online retailer which used an innovative tactic to work out the ideal time to send emails to individual users.

Their theory was that if users were available to sign up to an email list at a certain time, they would be more receptive to receiving an email at the same time on subsequent days.

The company’s campaigns resulted in 20% uplift in click-through, approximately 65% increase in conversion and average revenue per recipient boosted by almost 200%.

On the flip side to ‘push’ email campaigns are customer-initiated interactions. Responding to these with immediate and relevant messages and offers, again implemented through the use of existing data, can greatly enhance the relationship and strengthen loyalty.

3. From and subject lines

These are two very important elements. The first thing a subscriber will do is scan the ‘from’ address to ensure the email is being delivered by a reputable source (i.e. a brand they recognise) then they perform a final pass on the subject line.

Subjects need to be punchy and enticing, short and simple (try to keep it to less than 50 characters). It is important to ensure that you include some type of personalisation and the organisation’s name.

Try to keep the WIFM (What’s In It For Me?) front of mind, as people generally respond well to “Offer”, “Sale”, “Attention” and “Invitation”.

Not all communications are about sending offers, so if this is the case make sure there is a value exchange and that the intent of the email is clearly stated, e.g. “Company Name Newsletter: December 2012” or “Company Name Newsletter: Important Information”.

Ultimately, a combination of context and content is vital to drive successful email communications.