This article is based on Aidan’s brilliant interview on Go-to-Market Radio. Pop on your headphones and check it out in its full glory here! Since this was published, Aidan has taken a new role at ResMed.

With so many shiny new marketing channels available to us – from TikTok to chatbots – it’s easy to overlook the power of a well-crafted email.

However, email marketing remains a critical channel. It continues delivering results, especially for D2C (direct-to-consumer) brands like mine with longer sales cycles.

I'll admit I used to dismiss email marketing, pushing it off to anyone on my team who was willing to pick it up. But lately, I’ve completely shifted my perspective. The data shows that email boasts one of the highest conversion rates across platforms. 

It’s essential for an eCommerce company like Paintru, which sells custom paintings – a novel product that requires a lot of customer education. Email is a great channel for nurturing leads by answering questions and sharing inspiration for projects. Without this inspiration, customers may not know what kind of artwork they can commission. 

Because we have such a long buying cycle, we have to have all those brand touchpoints to drive home what we can do. That’s what makes email such an effective channel for us. 

Ultimately, email marketing remains a reliable old workhorse, continually delivering results. So, let’s dive into some tips and best practices to help you make the most of your email marketing.

How to write emails that people want to read

You can spend ages writing the world’s most compelling email copy, but if no one reads it, your efforts are wasted. So, here are five steps to craft emails that your customers won’t be able to resist opening.

Step one: Grab readers’ attention with a great subject line

With overloaded inboxes, getting recipients to open emails is the first hurdle. That’s where a strong subject line comes in. It’s just a tiny bit of text, but it can make or break your open rates. Poor subject lines doom emails, unopened, to the trash folder. My team laughs at me sometimes because I spend a lot of time on my subject lines, but we have a pretty good email open rate, so it's worthwhile.

I take a conversational, upbeat tone in subject lines and emails, aligning with our brand voice across all channels. Just last Thursday, I sent an email sharing customer reviews from the holidays. It had a subject line covered in stars – playful but still on-brand for us as an art company.

Step two: Perfect your preview text

The preview text is another amazing spot where you can tell people what the meat of that email is going to be. If we have a promotion going on, I typically use that preview text to ensure people know that there's a 15% off code inside – people see that right away.

Step three: Craft compelling content

When it comes to the content and format of emails, things can get tricky. Branded emails packed with pictures are super engaging, but some email providers block images. Since we spotlight visual artistry at Paintru, I gladly take that risk – I want to immerse readers in our creative world. 

Of course, emails can’t consist purely of pictures – there needs to be some content in there, too. As well as a big headline, I have text within the email, which has higher deliverability than having text as part of an image. I do all this with a simple drag-and-drop editor.

The format I use ties into the intent and the purpose of our email program. I want to create something beautiful that people want to read. And if people aren't interested in seeing art, then they're welcome to unsubscribe – that ultimately strengthens our email list moving forward.

Step four: Personalize prudently

I send out a mix of branded marketing emails and some plain text direct outreach from our three founders. In those emails, I’ll use the customer’s name. We have about a 40% open rate on plain text emails, but it's really important not to abuse that; if we start sending plain text emails every week, the uniqueness factor will be lost. 

In those direct outreach emails, which only go to a super small segment, I address customers by their first names; in the branded marketing emails, I don’t. People are smart – they know that a marketing email is being broadcast to everyone, so it feels a little disingenuous to use their first names. 

Step five: Time your emails with care

Understanding email-sending cadences also boosts open rates. Through testing, I've discovered the best response timing is 7:45-8:45 AM during the morning email sweep and again around noon when people check their personal accounts during their lunch breaks. I avoid sending them in the evening just because the likelihood of that email getting buried by other emails before the next morning is pretty high.

Driving click-throughs with segmented CTAs

Getting readers to click matters more than having them simply open or read emails. So, I carefully place calls-to-action (CTAs) for maximum response. I make sure at least one CTA appears above the email fold on desktop, roughly equivalent to one scroll down for mobile. 

With product highlight images, links would distract viewers from zooming in and checking out the details, so I don't connect those. But other images get linked since people often click pictures expecting to land on the site.

Also, keep in mind that people tend to skim-read emails. When I’m putting together a long email, I include three or more CTAs to catch skimmers at different points. I also tailor CTAs through segmentation,”, distinguishing purchasers from non-purchasers. Further segments like VIP/loyalty customers and abandoned carts allow me to better match messages to motivations.

For people who haven’t yet made a purchase, I use CTAs like “Create your masterpiece,” “Get started on your first project,” or ” Upload your photo and match with an artist.” For repeat customers, I might say something along the lines of “Start your next masterpiece” or “ Get inspired for your next piece of artwork.” 

I want to make sure we're hitting our customers with the right message, and that's why email segmentation is so important.

Speaking of segmentation…

There are a lot of great email platforms out there that can help you make sure you’re sending the right emails to the right customers. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort. 

We developed a complex series of automations with segments like drifting customers, lost customers, VIPs, big spenders, and various purchase timing buckets. For instance, I avoid hitting people who just ordered with promotions. I'm not going to send someone a promotion if they just ordered a week ago – that's not a good customer experience.

We use HubSpot. There's a tool on there to only send to your engaged contacts, which is really handy, but with some emails, I uncheck that box. I want to give those unengaged customers another opportunity to engage with us. 

Meanwhile, for emails sharing project inspiration or just something beautiful, I'll only send them to our engaged customers. That's a great way to boost our email credibility.

Key email marketing metrics

When it comes to measuring the success of your email marketing efforts, open and click-through rates are important barometers. 

However, other metrics matter too. If I have a huge unsubscribe rate on certain emails, I have to step back and assess what type of content was included. Clearly, a large segment of people were not interested, so that needs to be taken into account moving forward. It’s vital to learn from those kinds of failures. 

I also pay close attention to the performance of our welcome email series.                 

HubSpot has a feature that lets you set goals for your emails. In our case, if someone purchases, that goal is achieved, and they no longer need to receive welcome emails. I look at the percentage of goals met in each of those emails. 

For example, I threw in an email a couple of months ago that I thought was great, but it hasn’t resulted in any purchases. I’m accepting that this email isn’t as effective as other ones, so I need to replace it with something else. You have to put data over ego sometimes. 

Top tips to nail your email marketing

Let’s wrap up with some tactical tips to boost your email open, click-through, and conversion rates.

👁️ Get into the minds of your customers: Get to know your subscribers and pay attention what makes them tick. Emails that intrigue and enrich stick around while generic blasts get deleted.

💎 Polish your content: Taking an extra five to ten minutes to quality check your email will save you so much heartache and stress. A tool like Grammarly will help you weed out typos, but not broken links, so make sure you check those too.

👍 Get feedback: Make sure your entire team is signed up for your emails; they should be looking at them every single time. I welcome feedback from all my team members. If they don't love an email, they don't think the subject lines are great, or they think it could have been presented better, that open feedback is invaluable.

I also encourage all my friends to sign up for our emails too. Because we're D2C, anyone in my network could be a potential customer. So, I'm forcing all my friends to sign up for our emails and let us know what they think. 

👀 Seek inspiration: I get a lot of inspiration from other brands. Even if they're not relevant to my business, there's a wealth of knowledge just sitting in my promotions tab, so I look at my email inbox with my marketing hat on every single day. 

As an example, Grammarly sends about two emails a week with some really great language tips. If there's a platform improvement or a new feature, they send out an email. People don't know what's new unless you tell them, and email is an effective way to do that.