9 fundamentals of a successful email marketing campaign

From catchy subject lines to a simple call to action, these tactics should guide your actions.


Though it seems every day a new social media tool surfaces, email is still one of the most effective methods of communication for most Americans.

People receive dozens of emails daily from organizations offering coupons, news updates, or calls to action. So, how do you make sure your organization’s emails stand out among the crowd? Below are several practices—including lessons learned—that we follow to ensure successful email marketing campaigns for our clients.

1. Have a catchy subject line. If you’re sending an email, your first goal is for the recipient to open it. The subject line is just as crucial—if not more so—than the body of the email, because it is the first thing people read. Create a catchy subject line that informs the reader of what the email will entail. Don’t be misleading with your subject line—it will only undermine your credibility.

2. Know your audience. Your audience should set the tone for your emails. Being able to relate to your readers is crucial. For example, if you are targeting everyday customers or constituents, you can keep your emails conversational, friendly, and informal. For elected officials or community leaders, the tone should be more formal. Keep your message consistent, but adapt it for the audience and situation at hand.

3. Keep it simple. People are busy. They will only spend a few seconds—if you’re lucky—reading your email. Keep the email concise. Avoid using jargon, asking for too much, or conveying too much information in one alert. Have someone unfamiliar with the issue review the email to be sure it is easy to understand.

4. Be innovative. Attention spans are short these days, especially with the ever-growing distractions of smartphones, social media apps, and real-time news updates. Use videos, photos, and infographics to ensure the email is visually appealing, to simplify your message, and to break up the text.

5. Visually emphasize your primary messages. Boldface, underline, or change the color of the text to draw the reader’s eye to key messages or calls to action. Prioritize your messages, and list crucial points at the beginning of the email.

6. Include a call to action. Often your goal is to engage your supporters and to ensure they feel a strong connection and loyalty to your brand, organization, or campaign. Include a call to action, even if the action is as simple as sharing the information. Make it easy and convenient for the reader to take action.

7. Timing is of the essence. Keep a steady stream of information into your readers’ inbox, but maintain a balance between informing and spamming. Be sure each email is timely and relevant. Do not irritate your readers by sending unnecessary emails. They will let you know by clicking the unsubscribe button.

8. Make sure each email plays into the organization’s comprehensive strategy. Echo the email message or call to action in your media, online, social media, and other communications vehicles to ensure broad reach to your various audiences.

9. Don’t ignore the replies. People will write back to your emails. Respond in a timely manner to continue the conversation and build a relationship between the reader and your organization. Your response can be short and sweet, but don’t neglect to send one.

These basic principles created the foundation for our client’s (the Smoke-Free Texas coalition) email campaign that won the 2012 PR Daily Award for best email marketing campaign. In the span of six months, we sent more that 100 email alerts to our supporters to recruit, educate, and engage them in the effort to pass a smoke-free workplace law in Texas.

The email campaign resulted in more than 8,000 contacts to lawmakers. Given the fast-paced and ever-changing nature of the legislative session, we often drafted our alerts in a matter of minutes, but we always made sure to follow these fundamental principles to ensure a successful campaign.

Amber Rice is account associate and Emily Songy is account supervisor at Noble Strategic Partners, a full-service public affairs and communications firm in Austin, Texas.

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