Email Marketing Edicts: Five Rules to Help Appreciate the Most Underappreciated of Marketing Mediums


Last month, I wrote about how email marketing didn’t have to be boring, so this time round I figured I’d pick up where I left off and talk about some of the rules we need to follow as we take advantage of this most effective and sometimes underappreciated of channels. Email is a unique opportunity to connect directly with your consumers, but to get the most out of it your strategy needs to be nailed on. With that in mind, here are my five new rules of email marketing:

1. Respect your Subscriber

The most important rule there is. Disrespect your users and you’ve shot yourself in the foot right away. The whole point of your email marketing program is to get your message, whatever that may be, in front of your users in a way that resonates with them. Annoy them and you compromise that goal. Disrespect them, whether by ignoring their direct wishes or failing to listen to the underlying behavioral messages, and you jeopardize your entire program. It’s about trust and permission. Work within the boundaries you laid out at the onset of the relationship and you’ll give yourself the best chance to win. Whatever you do do not abuse that all important trust.

2. Focus on Relevance

You invest a lot of money in your ESP, right? And you spend time and money, whether in-house or with an agency, to build and produce your emails? So no matter how big or small your lists you owe it to yourself and your audience to get the most out of your ESP and to make your campaigns as effective as possible. The better and more relevant your end product, the better the experience for your subscribers, and the better for everyone involved. Are you using dynamic lists, for instance? Are you segmenting your users based on their behavior, region or preferences? Is what you’re sending relevant? Increase the relevance of your communications and your conversion and response rates will increase in parallel. This should be a no-brainer: it’s the contextual thinking that built Google.

3. It’s a chess game: Think three moves ahead

Rather than thinking of them as individual pieces, it’s better to think of each of your mailings as individual parts of the greater whole. This week’s mailing is all very well, but what are you doing next week? What about next month? How will what you’re doing today impact future efforts? Does each piece of communication exist in a vacuum, or are they part of a greater whole? Strategize, then execute. It’s all too common to be so focused on the here and now that you forget about the big picture. A useful exercise is to print out your last three months worth of emails, and tape them in chronological order on the wall. What story do they tell? Take a minute this month to think about the flow of your campaign, and whether each piece helps tie things together for your subscribers.

4. Always Solicit User Feedback

Email is one of the most direct forms of marketing there is: how often are you given a direct link to a group of people that want to hear from you? And think about taking it one step further: email can and should be a two way street. I don’t care how many people you’re sending to, you need provide an easy way for users to talk directly back to you. Your list is basically a permanent focus group, so you may as well take advantage of it. These people know your brand, they know why they signed up, know how you’ve communicated with them in the past. In many cases they’ll have had more exposure to the brand than you or members of your team have, so who could be better placed to tell you what they want from you? Take advantage of the opportunity that’s right in front of your nose: ask them what they think.

5. Analyze, Test & Analyze Again

I can’t stress this enough: analyze the numbers, the secret of your success is therein. Everything you need to know about the effectiveness of your campaigns comes down to your analytics. Are your emails generating sales? Building brand loyalty? Deploy email and web analytics successfully, and you turn that data into information. Understand your key metrics and how they relate to your business goals from the very beginning, then measure your performance against them.

Test everything you can to refine and optimize your campaigns. Send people what they want to receive, and you’ll see your conversion and response rates increase. Send them the same old generic blurb, and you’re basically leaving it to chance.


  1. I’m not sure if you are ranking these five rules in order of importance, and you have really hit the nail on the head, but I think that number three on your list is a little more profound than you gave it credit for. It is rare for a subscriber to actively wait and check for an email from an organization. More likely they will read it as they check more high priority emails. However, if next weeks email is an extension of the previous weeks, and like you said tells a story, the chance of getting the subscriber to check their email just for your news letter or whatever it may be, will hopefully increase. It makes me excited to think about! Good tip.

  2. One group that I believe does this well, is a local political group. Regardless of political belief, has a great news letter and is worth a look for that alone.


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