Email Marketing Plan

Email Inbox

For every dollar you spend on email marketing, how would you like to receive $119 in return? Email marketers, responding to a recent Benchmark Survey by Marketing Sherpa, claim that's exactly what happened in 2012.

In addition to its cost effectiveness, email is highly customizable and easy to track. Follow these 10 steps to create your email marketing plan.

1. Build an Address List

Collect email addresses at every possible customer touch-point. Methods for obtaining addresses include:

  • Promote a raffle -online or in a brick and mortar location- and ask for email addresses from entrants.
  • Offer a newsletter or a free report to people visiting your website, asking for their email addresses in return.
  • Coordinate with other departments, like sales or customer service call centers, asking colleagues to collect email addresses.

Email address lists can also be leased, but proceed with caution.

  • These addressees have been identified as "responsive to internet marketing." That means the list is broad and non-targeted.
  • Leased addresses can be emailed only one time. To email the person again, she must have opted into your email list, or you must pay to lease the address again.
  • Names on the leased email list may also appear on your opt-out list. You must locate and delete these from your mail file.

Link the address to any information you already have on file about your customer, such as his purchase history. That will allow you to go back later and pull names for personalization and other account information for segmentation.

2. Decide What You Want to Accomplish

In order to define success, you must first know what you want to accomplish. Common email objectives include:

  • Increasing direct sales
  • Driving traffic to a store
  • Collecting consumer feedback
  • Reinforcing other marketing campaigns
  • Building brands

3. Integrate Email into Your Overall Strategy

Smart marketers understand that email marketing does not exist in a vacuum. Every message your customer receives needs to share common branding and tone, contain complementary information, and reflect the basic core values of your company.

Create a spreadsheet containing all your marketing plans for the coming year, including:

  • Scheduled direct mail drops, planned media buys, website promotions, and in-store promotions
  • Ongoing campaigns
  • Event-triggered campaigns

Incorporate your email marketing messages into that framework.

4. Select a Service Provider

Your email service provider is the agency or service platform you use to actually load and send emails to your audience. Popular options include:

  • iContact allows subscribers to send 250 to 15,000 emails per month, with plans starting at $10.
  • Benchmark Email plans start at $9.95 per month for 600 email and go up to 150,000 emails.
  • Constant Contact subscribers may send 500 to 25,000 emails per month, with plans starting at $15. Their services are comparable to the other two, but they have the added capability of assisting with social media campaigns and event planning.

In addition to providing a platform for sending email launches, these service providers offer other valuable services:

  • Email marketers have amassed a substantial body of research and best practices about the channel, and reputable service providers stay up-to-date on the latest research and trends. They offer webinars, case studies and other training resources to their customers.
  • They provide templates and help you to design the type of creative content most likely to get results.
  • Your provider will help you to ensure that your graphics will render appropriately, whether the recipient is opening his messages on a pc, tablet or phone.
  • Email service providers may help you set up testing strategies to determine specifics that work best for your unique needs.
  • They also provide real time tracking and offer assistance with data analysis and suggestions for future launches.

Even with this much assistance at your fingertips, it's still a good idea to inform yourself beyond the bounds of what your agency tells you. Top resources include:

  • The Direct Marketing Association is the preeminent professional association for marketers. They provide insights into data-driven marketing, continuing education seminars, and local and national networking opportunities.
  • Marketing Sherpa provides vast numbers of case studies, actionable research results, and training opportunities. Whatever marketing question you may have, chances are it has been studied and the results have been documented.
  • Forrester conducts in-depth market research and presents their findings in all manner of reports, infographics, tools, and trainings.

Sign up for their newsletters and frequent their websites. Budget permitting, you may want to purchase some of their proprietary reports. Professional marketers far and wide rely on these groups, and they will open your eyes to some of the subtleties of successful email campaigns.

5. Optimize Email Deliverability

One of the best ways to optimize deliverability is to stay legal. Email marketing is governed by the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act of 2003. Some of its key tenets include:

  • Headers, domain names, and subject lines must be accurate and not deceptive.
  • The body of the email must include a valid postal address.
  • You must provide a clear means of allowing email recipients to opt-out of future email messages.
  • If a recipient opts out, you must remove her email address from your list within 10 business days.

Guarding your reputation is another way to optimize deliverability. If you send an email, the internet service provider (ISP) makes a decision about whether to forward it to the recipient's inbox. Each time a recipient sends your email to the junk folder your reputation takes a hit. The damage is permanent and irreparable.

6. Process Your Data

A successful email marketing campaign begins with a clean targeted list. Strip all opt-outs and duplicates, as well as any addresses that were returned as undeliverable three times in a row.

If you have a rich database containing your customer's purchasing history, you can tailor your messages to be highly personalized. If Mary bought six pairs of SmartWool socks last year and your winter's end sale is coming up, your message might be lead off with, "Mary, we're clearing out SmartWool socks. They will be on sale for $3.99, Thursday only!"

7. Plan Ahead for Fulfillment

Staff up! Fulfillment is just another way of saying cover your bases. If your email asks readers to call a phone number, be sure to have people on duty to answer it. If it drives traffic to a website, make sure your server is capable of withstanding the added hits.

8. Launch

Always perform a trial launch before the live launch. Create a list of friends and colleagues who use varying email services and electronic devices. Send your email just to those people, and ask each one to report back to you. Ask them:

  • What time did you receive the email?
  • Do the graphics render properly?
  • Do all the links work?
  • Is the personalization correct?

If there are any problems, delay the live launch, make necessary adjustments, and perform the test again. If everything looks good, pull the trigger at the appointed date and time!

The bulk of your responses will occur within six hours, and will continue to trickle in for the next week.

9. Analyze and Report

Keep track of your marketing metrics. These include:

  • Each segment you sent
  • Quantity
  • Cost per email
  • Click through rates
  • Responses by type

After 30 days, compare the buying behavior of the people who received the email against the buying behavior of those who did not. The statistical difference between the two files will highlight your incremental results over business as usual (BAU).

If you work for a large corporation, this type of reporting may be required. Performing it requires a fairly extensive database reflecting your customer's buying patterns, as well as some statistical training. It can be conducted using "if-then" equations in Excel pivot tables. If your needs are simpler, record your metrics, and focus on ROI and profitability.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Follow this sample (ROI) calculation:

  • You sent 5,000 emails at a cost of $47.
  • The email contained a trackable link that led to a purchase page.
  • Customers made purchases, via that link, totaling $4,022.
  • Subtract the cost of the campaign, $47, from $4,022 for an income of $3,975.
  • Divide $3,975, dollars received, by $47, dollars spent, which equals $84.57.
  • You earned $84.57 for every dollar spent on the campaign.


To calculate profitability:

  • Subtract the cost of the goods sold (including any unreimbursed shipping and overhead charges) from the $3,975, net amount received.
  • The resulting number is your net profit.

10. Create Timelines

Now that your first campaign is complete, look back at key dates and consider how much time each step took. Use that information to create timelines for future email campaigns, and plug those due dates into a calendar.

Congratulations! You have an email marketing plan.

User Experience

Creating a great user experience is the golden rule of email marketing. Think about your own inbox. Which emails to you read? Which do you delete? Which do you respond to? With every email you send, ask yourself whether it's something your audience will be pleased to see.

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Email Marketing Plan