If you’re a marketer, you’d know for a fact that email is still the king of all digital marketing channels. And its influence and promising results have only gotten better with time.
Even the numbers agree, as 347.3 billion emails are estimated to be sent and received in 2023 - imagine how crowded your subscriber’s inbox will be.
So, if you want your emails to outperform your competitors, you must develop a winning email marketing strategy before you start rolling out any emails. How, you ask?
Well, Rafael Viana, an expert email marketing strategist, has all the answers to this question. We interviewed him to find out some surefire tips and tricks on how to create an email marketing strategy that succeeds.
Rafael Viana is currently working at Validity as a senior email strategist and has helped numerous clients and businesses in formulating high-converting email marketing strategies. So let’s dive in and find out what tips and insights he has to offer.
1. How important is email marketing in today’s day and time?
We always hear that email is going to die, and it’s the end of email. Every time, every year, we see articles like that.
Email, of course, has sort of lost some space in terms of being a channel for really hard advertising. We used to have a lot of advertising done by emails, we still have, but of course, with social media and all of that, that sort of changes a bit.
The digital marketing space is broad. There are a lot of ways to reach out to prospects, clients or customers, etc. So, email marketing, in a way, it’s still relevant because it sort of ties everything up together.
We know everyone has an email; everyone has an email account. There’s a lot of services, a lot of apps on their phones that require an email address to get them in. So it’s there; it’s like an ID. Everyone has an ID. Although they don’t show it all the time, they have it.
So, I mean, it’s still relevant. A lot of businesses, they recognize that it’s a good channel for low cost in terms of how much we spend and the return on investment on that channel is really good.
So, it’s still relevant to a lot of companies, and you know we are here. I mean, Validity exists for quite some time in order to help companies to continue to use email marketing to get to their clients, to talk to their prospects, etc. So, yeah, that’s what I had.
It’s still relevant; people still have emails. They still check their email addresses, and they still look for relevant things in their inboxes. So they can read, they can interact, and they can go to websites to find out more. And I believe that’s going to continue for quite some time.
We have these competing apps, competing in the sense of attention. People, they lose their time scrolling infinitely through stories and all. But email, people do that too. I’ve seen myself; sometimes I sit down and open my Gmail account, my personal one, and swipe to see all of the emails.
Anything that comes up interesting, I will interact with it. I bet that's still a behavior with a lot of people.
2. Assuming someone’s starting fresh, how should one formulate their email marketing strategy?
So usually, in these situations, it's important to have a plan. Like sit down and plan out what we want to promote in this channel? Because that channel, email marketing, has to be different.
I mean, if you're going to use email marketing to send out anything else that you send out in your social network or where people can find out by themselves on the website, people are not going to see a lot of value in the emails that they're receiving.
So, I always push my clients and ask, “Hey, when you plan this out, try to find out the difference. What will have value in your email marketing that they're not going to find anywhere else in their experience with your brand."
So, for example, we all see that email marketing has promotions, right? So you're going to find a bunch of discounts, especially for retailers. People that sell articles online, they will use email marketing just to promote their discounts, but then they also promote these discounts on their social media and on their website.
So people are not going to see a lot of value. And not to mention, if you continue to just send discounts in an email, people will get tired.
Like, if I want a discount, I just go into my email anytime and just pick one. That's the thing. So I always challenge like, “Hey, find out what will be different? What will set your email apart from everything else?”
From there, after you define that, define how much you are able to spend time creating the content and scheduling these campaigns, and measure them.
So you’ve got to step back and see, how many people do I have? How long does it take to create one email using tools? Depending on how you create your email creatively, you could use tools to gain time.
I always recommend that. So once the content is defined, who to pay is defined, the amount of work is sort of understood, then go more towards the deployment phase.
Like choosing the email service provider that will send your messages, a lot of that is related to cost. Depending on it, the costs, and the features that these platforms offer. So understanding that as well, and especially whether those features align with what you want to do with your email marketing strategy.
Like we have clients that want hyper-personalization, they want dynamic content, but then in the end, they get a very cheap platform that will not allow them to do that. So, yeah, I guess there's a lot of that. It also helps to, before even launching the email program, go out to learn more.
Email marketing is easy to start, but it's also easy to mess up. So if done improperly, for example, when people buy email addresses. Clients believe that this will be the magic for returning investment. But usually, that's not the case. So it's a lot of that.
It's just stepping back and finding out what you are capable of doing, how you want to do it, and learning more, learning a lot because there's a lot that goes into it too.
3. What are the must-have components that one should include in their email marketing strategy?
Alright, I'm a big fan of really good curated email lists. Like the addresses that you have, you have them because you offer something; people saw something with your brand, with your email marketing invitation that they thought, “Hey! I want this.”
And they trust you, right? They want something back in exchange. They are giving you their email address, and they're expecting something good to be said. So, I see that a big ally is when you get people to give them their email addresses.
You also want to confirm if that email address exists. And you also want to confirm if that intention, which is, to be a part of your email list, is true. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm a big fan of double opt-in.
I think that is a must-have for every email program. Because it allows the marketers to have a list of people that are a hundred percent sure they want your email. And that will help, from that moment on, that will set expectations. They would be expecting that brand's message, and they'll be searching for it.
So anything, if they find out like, “Hey, I was expecting this brand’s message, but it's not here, maybe it’s in the spam folder.”
They will go back there, and they'll fish it out. And that will continue improvement in terms of deliverability, in terms of relationship with the brand. So, yeah, I'm a big fan of setting expectations upfront and double opt-in. Anything related to that works really well.
4. What is a pitfall of creating an email marketing strategy that one should avoid?
Well, I mentioned it at the beginning about purchasing lists, right? That is a big pitfall. A lot of marketers usually start an email marketing strategy because they ran into an email list containing a lot of emails.
Like, “Hey, we found out that we have a bunch of people that have purchased with us in the past, but they never reached out to us ever again. Let's email them.”
Maybe that's not a good list. How big is that list? How long have you reached out to them? And what are you going to do after you send your very first message?
You can definitely use that list, but it needs a strategy. It needs a sort of understanding of the risk of standing on that list. So, yeah, that's one of the biggest pitfalls. Usually, marketers want to get that list, get the content and stand it out. But there's more to it.
They need to understand a little bit more, or they're just going to get frustrated because it's not going to get the outcome that they were expecting because of all of that. And at the end, they blame email marketing, and they believe like, “Hey, this doesn't work, email marketing doesn't work”. But it does. It's just a matter of doing it properly.
5. Do you think that the biggest risk that email marketers are prone to is landing in the spam folder or having a bad reputation?
Not really. I mean, that's a big one, of course. Even at Validity, we have a product that helps senders that ran into a list that they don't know much about to validate those addresses and take out the ones that are non existing.
We have this product that helps to do that. So, that could be sort of mitigated, but it's more like annoying people - sending something they don't want and they’re not going to relate.
And not to mention, the marketer themselves; they will spend time, they will spend money. And you know, go through all this trouble of creating a campaign and sending it out and not getting the result. So I think it goes a long way. So just, let's step back, look at that list, look at our strategy and do this in this way.
There are many alternatives, but it's a more strategic way of doing it instead of just getting a list and sending it to me. That's what I mean. So, I guess the pitfall to avoid is sending to a list that you don't know and also adding things like, “Hey, these are some of the things that you need to consider.”
6. Do you think that even the finest of email marketing strategies will fail to perform well if not executed through the right platforms?
Yeah, that's a good one. I was actually talking the other day with another professional, and we were debating about that. Because I mean, definitely the large senders, they send a lot. They send a bunch of things, and they mess up a lot, and they continue. They continue to endure.
I have clients that have done a bunch of really bad things throughout the years, and you know, their deliverability sometimes does pay because of it, and sometimes it doesn't.
What I'm saying is, of course, there are things that they can do that are wrong, that can affect the deliverability, for example, their numbers, their return on investment, etc., the click rates. But they can quickly bounce back.
Complaints, for example, that's an interesting metric that we all here at least from Validity, we like to look at that because it allows senders to understand the perception of real people towards their email strategy.
So when we see that going up, that is when we say, “Okay, maybe this is a bad idea.” But it doesn't usually go up. We don't usually see a lot of things that make it go too high up. So, I guess it's just important to keep on following the best practices that we preach, that we know a lot.
That's the important thing to allow senders to continue to do a good job. But so far, I haven't found anything that messes up entirely that you can't recover from.
7. What are the top 5 tools that you should include in your email marketing strategy?
All right. I'm going to, of course, mention Validity. Validity is where I work. So, I do have to mention it.
And not just because I work here; I mean, I've been in the email space for quite some time. And Return Path (now Validity) used to be very well-known in the industry because of the sender score. So, now, 250ok, which existed as well, a direct competitor, Validity, united those two.
And we have a great deliverability tool, which is Everest. I think it's very important to get visibility and a bunch of other insights related to deliverability and reputation.
The other ones would be Google Postmaster tools and Microsoft SNDs. Those are three tools that give us senders information from those mailbox providers about the deliverability.
One tool that I like is Emojipedia. It's a website where you search for which emoji you want to copy. You copy it and paste it to the subject line. So I think that's a really good tool to have around.
Another one also from Validity is MailCharts. A lot of senders need inspiration. They need to understand the competitive lens space that they are at, and their competitors are at.
So MailCharts, allows them to do that, to get a curation of ideas and journeys that they can also implement on their own email program or they can also explore what their competitors are doing. And also it's free.
MXToolbox as well. I think it's a good tool to diagnose more technical stuff. And as I mentioned I come from the technical side, that’s a tool that I use every now and then. As you can see, they're more towards deliverability, and you know that's what lives close to my heart.
8. How often do you think a company should revise/audit their email marketing strategy?
I was debating that as well with this other colleague of mine. The email marketing strategy is something that, in a way, every sender should revise every day.
When they look at their metrics, they look at what they did or at AB test results. They're revising it every single day, every time they send, at least. But I think a good moment for them to stop and be like, “Hey, let's revisit this whole thing,” is when they see some indicators that are closely related to their email marketing strategy.
Meaning if they're seeing any declining engagement metrics like declining opens, declining clicks, or fewer people signing up on the website, that can mean that their messages are landing more in the spam folder. If they see rising complaint rates as well, that can mean people are not liking the content.
(Another is) high bounce rates, especially for newly acquired email addresses that come into the list. If they bounce too much, maybe there could be an attack, for example. You know, it's very common, actually.
But yeah, I guess it's a good idea to revisit the whole thing if either your metrics are stagnated or if they’re declining, or if something new comes up. It's always a good idea to refresh.
9. Which practice do you prefer: setting a budget before or after formulating an email marketing strategy?
Yeah, that's a hard one but I think before. If you formulate it before, you're going to have your budget, that would also allow you to define what tools you're capable of acquiring to be part of your email strategy.
You know the cost, you will also understand if your budget fits the cost and if they fit together. And if that will work, in terms, if there’s a limitation.
Depending on what budget you have, that will allow you to grow more stuff or not. So that way, you’ll know how far it can go, depending on the size of the budget, that means that you could get a tool that will send emails with more features.
That would also allow you to get additional support. For example, list validation tools or even a deliverability monitor tool like Everest. Instead of defining a small budget or actually defining a plan, in the end, you see how much that will cost, and you find out, “Oh no, we don't have the budget for it.” And you’ve got to scratch things out.
10. Do you think every company should have a dedicated email marketing manager or an agency that solely focuses on email marketing strategy?
Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, of course, both options are great options. You will have someone that will look at email marketing as a thing of its own because email is important.
I don't think it's fair to bundle emails up just like, “Hey, marketing just handles it.” Like, it handles advertising, handles media, all bundled up on the same thing because it's different from advertising.
Because you can't defy, and that's going to show. And you know, you’ve got to send, and people have got to read it, and they’ve got to click on it and therefore interact with it. So, of course, having a dedicated staff to do that is good.
I think an agency gets a leg up on that because hard, dedicated email marketing professionals are hard to find. So definitely getting an agency to help you get where a company needs you to be in terms of email marketing, it's good, it's really good.
But of course, not all companies have the budget for that. So it depends; it's a trade-up. But both options are really good. I think the important takeaway is that person or that agency ideally wants one that does know about email, that knows that email exists on its own thing.
There are things that need to be considered in emails that you usually wouldn't consider for other marketing channels or other advertising channels. So it's more like that, that's my thought.
11. Do you think leveraging reusable or pre-designed email templates is a good idea? Why?
Yeah, for sure. I think it's a great idea. I mean making email messages render properly in all the possible reading environments. It's hard.
I mean, to look good on a cell phone, look good on a desktop app, to look good in a Webmail app, that's hard. And designers or actually front-end engineers, the folks that do HTML and CSS, usually do it for websites.
HTML CSS for email is different; it has more limitations. Gmail stripped out a few things, and Apple iOS mail stripped out others or adds more features. So there are all of these different things that for a proper email to render nicely, requires work. And it's very hard to find really good professionals that will have the knowledge to create a really well-designed email template.
So, of course, using pre-designed email templates, especially if they have been tested throughout all of these environments and screen sizes, do that. You know, it saves time and money.
12. How important is content relevance in boosting email’s engagement? Can you tell us some tactics to make content more relevant?
Content relevance is pretty much what makes people engaged with your message. So it's extremely important. I always push clients to make their content more relevant.
But they’re like, “Hey, how do I do this?” Well, you can start off by not sending the same content to everyone. You know you can't please everyone with the same thing. At the very least, you can segment.
Try to define big buttons, like these folks are men; these folks are women. Even if it sounds very simplistic, at the very least, you can have a different offer depending on the audience. Depending on what you're selling it for, it could go both ways.
You can use location. You can use previous history, previous searches on the website. You can use browser history. All of that to allow you to make your messages more relevant. But I think there's another way to do this, which is using zero-party data.
So you can make content more relevant by asking people about them. Like, hey, do you like this? Do you like that? What would you like to see? What about your purposes with this? And that could be incorporated as part of the sign-up.
That could be incorporated as part of your email strategy, asking people that in email. And sometimes you can even do a small, like, “Hey, respond to a small survey”. And this survey will allow you to understand more about that person.
And plus, they get something that they're likely to use again on your website. That they can make a purchase and get to know your services, etc., so all of that is just useful.
Anything that allows companies or senders to create segments or to learn more about people and their interests in order to allow them to do more relevant content will for sure help boost their email engagement.
13. What’s one email marketing trend to look out for in 2023 in your opinion?
I think for 2023, we'll see more of BIMI, that's the Brand Indicator for Message identification.
Editor’s note: “BIMI is an arising email specification that enables the use of brand-controlled logos within supporting email clients.” — BIMI Group.
I think that we'll see more senders adopting this. Because one, this is something that I have seen this year. Apple iOS 16 launched BIMI as a part of one of the features of Apple Mail.
So for those that have an Apple device with Apple mail, they will see the logo of the sender in their inbox. We have something like that in Gmail, but it sort of works differently. So BIMI is the standard that will allow companies to do that or have control of what they show there.
And with Apple being an ally with this, it's a good thing. It's getting more and more senders to start thinking about using BIMI, which is always a good thing because that also means that they need to get a DMARC record also ready, which means that they need to take care of SPF and DKIM, the authentication that's part of the email.
So again, this all goes back to deliverability. But in a way, BIMI, it’s more to the marketer. It's a way for the marketers to present themselves in the inbox to stand out because their logo is there, and people will have more trust.
They’ll know that it is a message from that brand, and they will interact with it. So, I think that's a good brand-positive trend to look out for in 2023. You know, more and more brands are adopting BIMI as part of their email strategy.
So I guess if people that use Apple devices will start seeing more brand logos in their inboxes when they open, more and more brands will adopt it.
We hope this interview helped you learn some interesting tips and tactics for creating email marketing strategies to boost conversions. Also, don’t forget to try out the upcoming trends, like BIMI, to stay on top of the competition.
P.S. Who would you like us to interview next? Let us know in the comment section below.