Artificial intelligence

Ask the AI: a Q&A with ChatGPT on email marketing

What’s the best marketing channel on the planet? Email, obviously. Well, we would say that*.

But what if we bring in someone – or something – with a less biased opinion? ChatGPT may have an amiable tone but its perspective is clinically impartial. Let’s find out what it has to say about the world of email marketing.

(*actually we’d say that all marketing channels play a role and work best together.)

Setting it up

ChatGPT isn’t known for its brevity. We want short, snappy responses for the sake of this article. The first thing we’ll do is prepare it for the concept and request that the responses are a little less loquacious than normal.

AI examining email marketing

The Q&A

TEF:We’re going to do a Q&A on the topic of marketing. Please keep your answers short. A sentence or two per answer is plenty.

CGPT:Sure, let’s get started! What’s the first question on marketing?

TEF:Which marketing channel has the best return on investment?

CGPT:Email marketing often has the best return on investment due to its low cost and high engagement rates.

TEF:Realistically, what level of return on investment could a company expect from email marketing?

CGPT:Companies can typically expect an ROI of $38 for every $1 spent on email marketing, although this can vary based on industry and execution.

TEF:What are the ingredients of an effective marketing email?

CGPT:An effective marketing email includes a compelling subject line, personalized content, clear and concise messaging, a strong call-to-action, and an attractive design.

TEF:Let’s examine each of these. What makes a compelling subject line?

CGPT:A compelling subject line is short, attention-grabbing, and creates a sense of urgency or curiosity. Personalization and clear value propositions also increase open rates.

TEF:Can you give an example?

CGPT:Sure! An example of a compelling subject line is: “Unlock 20% Off Your Next Purchase – Limited Time Offer!”

TEF:Now, let’s focus on design. What are some important considerations in a responsive email design?

CGPT:Important considerations in responsive email design include ensuring readability on both desktop and mobile devices, using a single-column layout, optimizing images, and incorporating large, tappable buttons for calls-to-action.

TEF:And now personalisation. How can a company gather suitable data in order to personalise emails on an individual level?

CGPT:A company can gather suitable data through customer sign-up forms, purchase history, website behavior tracking, and email engagement metrics. Surveys and preference centers can also provide valuable personalization insights.

TEF:And you mentioned a strong call-to-action. Can you give a couple of examples?

CGPT:Sure! Examples of strong calls-to-action are “Shop Now and Save 20%” and “Sign Up Today for Exclusive Access.”

TEF:Your earlier answers touched on two big topics in email marketing: fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) and accessibility. Let’s look at the latter first. What are some key considerations when creating an accessible email?

CGPT:Key considerations for creating an accessible email include using descriptive alt text for images, ensuring sufficient color contrast, structuring content with clear headings, using legible fonts, and providing text versions for complex graphics. Additionally, emails should be navigable via keyboard for those using screen readers.

TEF:Accessibility is often lacking in marketing emails, even those sent by major companies. Do you agree?

CGPT:Yes, I agree. Despite the importance of accessibility, many marketing emails from major companies still lack features like alt text, proper color contrast, and screen reader compatibility, which can exclude a significant portion of the audience.

TEF:Why do you think this is?

CGPT:This often happens due to a lack of awareness or training on accessibility standards, prioritization of aesthetics over functionality, and tight deadlines that lead to shortcuts in the design process. Additionally, some companies may underestimate the importance of accessibility in reaching a broader audience.

TEF:Let’s now look at FOMO. This is a standard tactic in (email) marketing. But is it ethically sound?

CGPT:FOMO can be ethically sound if used responsibly and truthfully, creating genuine urgency without misleading consumers. However, it becomes unethical if it manipulates emotions excessively or uses false scarcity to pressure people into making purchases.

TEF:What is the best way to measure a marketing email’s performance?

CGPT:The best way to measure a marketing email’s performance is by tracking key metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, bounce rates, and overall ROI. Analyzing these metrics helps determine the email’s effectiveness and areas for improvement.

TEF:And if you had to pick just one metric, which would it be? Take into account both the objective of a marketing email, and what can be measured accurately.

CGPT:If I had to pick just one metric, it would be the conversion rate. This metric directly measures the effectiveness of the email in achieving its goal, whether it’s driving sales, sign-ups, downloads, or any other desired action. A high conversion rate indicates that the email successfully persuaded recipients to take the desired action, making it a crucial indicator of overall email performance.

TEF:Are you aware of any brands that send particularly good marketing emails?

CGPT:Yes, there are several brands known for sending particularly effective marketing emails. Examples include Airbnb, Spotify, Sephora, and Patagonia. These brands often excel in personalization, compelling content, visually appealing designs, and clear calls-to-action, which contribute to their email marketing success.

TEF:Now, let’s look at the future. Where does email marketing go from here?

CGPT:In the future, email marketing is likely to continue evolving with advancements in personalization through AI and machine learning, deeper integration with other marketing channels for omnichannel experiences, increased focus on interactive and dynamic content, and stricter adherence to privacy regulations such as GDPR and CCPA. Additionally, there may be innovations in email design to enhance accessibility and engagement across diverse devices and platforms.

TEF:AI is obviously a hot topic in recent times. How will AI’s role grow in email marketing?

CGPT:AI’s role in email marketing will expand through personalized content generation, optimized send times, and automated segmentation, enhancing campaign efficiency and engagement.

TEF:Personalised content generation is an important one. We already have that in the form of one-to-one product recommendations. But is it conceivable that we’ll reach a stage where AI can write, design, code and send unique emails on an individual level?

CGPT:Yes, it’s conceivable that AI could eventually write, design, code, and send unique emails on an individual level, leveraging vast amounts of data and advanced algorithms to tailor messages precisely to each recipient’s preferences and behaviors.

TEF:So, theoretically human input could at some point become nil and the email marketing process becomes entirely automated?

CGPT:Theoretically, with advanced AI capabilities, the email marketing process could become highly automated, minimizing human input in content creation, design, and even campaign management. However, human oversight and strategic input would likely still be necessary for overall campaign direction, creativity, and ethical considerations.

TEF:Interesting stuff. Email is a medium of contrasts. In some respects old-fashioned, in others at the forefront of technology. Does it have a bright future?

CGPT:Absolutely, email marketing continues to have a bright future due to its adaptability, cost-effectiveness, and ability to deliver personalized, targeted messages. As technology evolves, so too will email marketing’s capabilities, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness in engaging audiences and driving business outcomes.

TEF:Let’s wrap it up. Can you write a single sentence that captures the spirit of email marketing?

CGPT:Email marketing: the timeless art of connecting with audiences through personalized, impactful messages.

Well, that’s pretty positive

ChatGPT’s responses might not be ground-breaking but there are some useful reminders about best practice in there. And if the machine sees such a rosy outlook (sorry) for our medium, that means the people who write about email are optimistic. I’m one of them.

Email Marketing

Email: the big picture

Email is a wonderful marketing medium. Its ROI is legendary. One might go so far as to say that it’s the best marketing channel. They might even be right – but there’s a better way to look at it.

A component of a larger machine

What’s the best meal in a restaurant you’ve ever had? Compliments to the chef! Of course, the (head) chef isn’t alone in the kitchen. There’s a sous chef. And a saucier. In fact, there’s a whole team’s worth of culinary talent.

We can keep zooming out. The waiter who delivered exceptional service, the interior designer who cultivated the perfect ambience, the couriers who delivered fresh ingredients, and the farmers who produced them. Remove any part of the equation and it all falls apart.

Email marketing is also a part of a bigger picture. The most effective marketing campaigns are those in which multiple channels actively work together. But even when this hasn’t been consciously planned, it’s still happening to some degree. An email engager wasn’t always a subscriber. They arrived via your website or social media or by some other non-email means. That raises a question.

Who gets credit?

Attribution in marketing can be seen through tunnel-vision. It’s a little too easy to give exclusive credit to the most recent link in the chain. The truth of attribution is that it’s often more fuzzy than focused.

Even when a clear click-to-conversion can be tracked from a particular email, who’s to say that a series of emails hasn’t influenced that decision? Maybe there wasn’t even anything particularly tempting about that latest email, but it happened to serve as a convenient conduit to your website.

We haven’t even left the scope of email and this is already becoming blurry. There are broader factors to consider, such as your social media activity, or web content, or external influences like third party reviews or good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. A complex series of events leads up to every conversion. The marketing report may assign success to Wednesday’s email, but it’s worth taking a step back and considering the full story.

Clicks aren’t everything

It goes without saying that clicks are one of the key indicators of an email’s performance. After all, the goal of a marketing email is usually to drive traffic to a landing page. A click therefore seems like the email’s final goal, before Team Website takes the baton.

By that theory, all clicks could be considered equal in value. Except they aren’t. An enthusiastic clicker might be disappointed by the content they’re met with online. Is that a weak landing page’s fault, or a misleading email? Most likely some hard-to-measure ratio of the two.

Are conversions therefore the best way to measure an email’s success? Maybe, but not the only one. A non-clicking opener has potential latent value, as does a non-purchasing clicker. As humans we often think in absolutes, but reality is rarely so black and white. Sales may be the most direct way to gauge an email’s performance, but its real contribution to your brand runs deeper.

The depth of design

Design is another aspect of email that is easy to oversimplify. An email’s design isn’t just its layout and colours. It’s the whole shebang. Copy, imagery, links – they’re all intertwined.

Even the subject line isn’t as isolated or single-purpose as it may appear. Its influence extends beyond the initial open, and perhaps beyond the scope of that one email. Words are a big part of your brand’s personality.

Design considerations like responsive layouts and dark mode and accessibility should not be treated as standalone concepts. It’s far better to make an accessible design… than to make a design accessible.

Back to reality

It’s easy to preach. In the real world and the hubbub of business, there isn’t always the luxury of stopping to think about the big picture. It might even come across as an excuse. Hey, this email had a terrible click rate… but at least it raised awareness!

Nonetheless, it’s worth pausing from time to time to consider how everything fits together. There’s a causal chain. Nothing is random. No two things are truly distinct. These concepts aren’t only relevant to email or marketing or business, but to every aspect of our existence.

Email Marketing

Are your emails ethical?

Alcohol makes you attractive! Vaping is cool! Some marketing is obviously unethical.

But most unethical marketing isn’t so cartoonishly blatant. Not only can it be unknown to the customer, but even the marketer may not necessarily be aware that they’re doing anything wrong. So, how do we make sure our emails are morally sound?

Defining unethical

Firstly, let’s agree on what is meant by unethical. Merriam‑Webster defines the word as:

not conforming to a high moral standard

And in turn, moral is defined as:

conforming to a standard of right behavior

So we’re dealing with right and wrong, good and bad. A subjective topic to an extent, and one with blurry boundaries.

With regards specifically to the ethics of marketing, let’s refer to some third party sources. Forbes, Kendrick PR and Brafton are among the top results when searching for the topic. They all agree that misleading information is unethical. Some other factors include the incitement of controversy, marketing without consent, and exploitation of emotions.

Tell the truth

Honesty is a recurring theme in the ethics of marketing. No legitimate marketer would misrepresent a product. Or would they?

You don’t have to make outright false claims about a product to be dishonest about it. It’s not uncommon to employ Photoshop or other trickery to simulate – and likely exaggerate – a product’s properties. That de-ageing cream works wonders… in the digital realm!

Or what about the offer itself? A get‑it‑while‑it‑lasts 24‑hour sale certainly creates a sense of urgency, especially under the ominous presence of a countdown clock ticking down to zero. But if the offer’s surprise extension is pre‑planned, then it is dishonest. A lie is a lie.

Your customer is not a fish

So don’t bait them. A misleading or vague subject line might lure some openers. But ultimately that does customers a disservice. If the big surprise turns out to be a little disappointing, then people rightfully may not be so tempted next time.

It’s respectful to the customer to be transparent in subject lines and message previews. State the offer up-front and let the reader – a human being – make their own decision.

Accept disinterest

Subscribers come and go. But they don’t always close the door when they’re leaving. It’s good practice for various reasons to ultimately remove inactive subscribers from your mailing lists.

Strive to make emails for everyone

Somehow we’re in the mid-2020s and accessibility is still often skimped on or outright ignored in email. Image-heavy emails with insufficient alt tags, a confusing tab order and lack of semantic code are not uncommon.

Worryingly, there is sometimes an attitude based on pre‑conceived notions of the audience’s level of ability. Our readers are young and hip – we don’t need to worry about accessibility! Don’t be that marketer.

Even in a hypothetical and statistically-impossible scenario where 100% of a company’s mailing list is completely able, there’s an important point to remember: an accessible email is a better email for everybody.

Take the bad with the good

Don’t take our word for it… take the word of these glowing customer reviews that we have cherry‑picked! For a more balanced and believable view, a link to Trustpilot along with a live score combines the powers of brand advocacy and honesty. Bad reviews will naturally happen from time to time. Take it as an opportunity to show the world how you put a problem right.

Some fundamental contradictions

I mentioned earlier that the customer is not a fish. And yet this is an industry in which hook is an accepted piece of terminology.

Kendrick PR cites fearmongering as an unethical marketing practice. But marketers swear by FOMO – the fear of missing out.

Similarly, Brafton criticises the triggering of negative emotions as a means of manipulating consumer decisions. What is fear if not negative?

Does it matter?

Honesty may be the best policy, but is it good for business? If relatively minor sins help to bring in the numbers, and customers aren’t even aware of being played, then it could even be perceived that there’s no harm done. Doing the right thing might not always be a sufficient motivator when there’s pressure to hit targets.

But what if a company can earn a reputation for transparency? What if customers become aware of one brand’s honesty in the face of their competitors’ tricks? Maybe that’s hoping for some unrealistic karmic justice, or maybe it’s something worth striving for.

Artificial intelligence

Humanised email marketing in the age of AI

We live in the age of artificial intelligence. Sort of. More accurately, we live in the age of algorithmic content‑generation.

Computer programmes can write copy, draw pictures and generate code in seconds. Again: sort of. The intelligence aspect of AI is very overstated – these programmes have no actual understanding of what they’re doing. Therefore they are blissfully emotionlessly unaware when errors occur in their output. And those errors can be both glaring and numerous.

This of course is a technology in its early stages. With a human at the helm, to guide and refine, it can already be used to great effect. So what happens as the technology develops, and the need for human input becomes less and less?

Marketing by machines

Computer programmes can analyse customer behaviour and serve up unique one‑to‑one content in email marketing. The scale, speed and accuracy far exceeds the capabilities of any human marketing department.

For years this has primarily meant product recommendations. These often take the form of a block of personalised content within an otherwise static email. As we move into a more sophisticated era of content generation, it’s not far‑fetched to imagine entirely computer‑authored emails tailored to each unique customer’s preferences from top to bottom.

Be contactable

Email is – or at least should be – a two-way communication medium. All too often however, companies send marketing emails from no-reply addresses. It’s a closed door, and tells the customer: our message matters, yours does not.

As marketing becomes increasingly robotic, leave that door open instead. Give your customer the reassurance of accessible human help.

Join the conversation

Social media is the perfect medium to humanise your brand. Reply to comments, good or bad. Show a sense of humour. Let the world see that there’s a human presence behind the corporate facade.

Likewise, don’t let negative feedback or complaints go unanswered. Nothing puts me off a company like cookie‑cutter replies to bad reviews on Trustpilot. Turn negative into positive by demonstrating a human solution when things go wrong.

A matter of preference

Machine-learning is powerful. But an algorithm will never know your customer better than they know themselves. That’s why a preference centre remains an excellent starting point for personalised email content.

A tick‑the‑box preference form gives customers an easy way to tell you their interests. The obvious benefit is more relevant email content. The less obvious but equally important benefit is the message it sends about the value you place on human choice.

Turn customer into creator

You can create content for your marketing emails. Machines can create content for your marketing emails. But you know who else can create content? Your subscribers.

Invite your customers to share photos or other content themed around your products. Perhaps tie it to a competition. Incorporate this content into marketing emails and suddenly they have more of a community feel rather than corporate.

Everyone gets a vote

Continuing the topic of subscriber interaction – why not encourage engagement through surveys? A simple click‑to‑vote system can be tied to a database at the back end. And let’s keep that two-way communication in mind – current results can be shown via images generated in real time.

The benefits are numerous. Customers see that their opinions are valued. Surveys serve as an insight into consumer behaviour. And your emails become an engaging, living thing.

Be individual

Authentic human content is going to become increasingly uncommon… and increasingly valued. A unique brand voice will be more important than ever.

But why stop at brand level? A company is made up of individuals. Opinion pieces by team members or guest content by industry experts can give your emails a captivating human touch.

The value of authenticity

Generative AI is a fascinating development of the digital age. Anyone can become artist or author or musician at the push of a button. And yet when that work is devoid of effort and meaning, it becomes a kind of creative candy not worthy of perusal. Does that matter when the purpose is marketing rather than self expression? Does it matter when the desired output is a catchy pop song rather than a heartfelt ballad? What happens when it becomes impossible to discern between the creations of a human and a computer? This is a technology that raises many questions across all aspects of human life.

Bringing the focus back to email marketing – it’s important to keep up‑to‑date with technological developments. But perhaps the best marketing in the coming years will be that makes a real human connection with customers.

Email best practice

Your email marketing accessibility checklist

It’s the 2020s. Your marketing emails need to be accessible. It’s an ethical and legal obligation. Actually, scrap that – it’s simply the right thing to do.

But there are a lot of accessibility considerations, and therefore a lot of things to accidentally overlook. Here’s a handy checklist to keep your emails on track.

Use proper text

Images of text is awful practice and a major barrier to accessibility. Don’t do it – ever.

Use a minimum body copy font size of 16 pixels

That is generally agreed upon to be the smallest acceptable size for body copy. A bit bigger is even better. And it’s worth getting out of old habits of rendering footer content in miniscule lettering. If something is important enough to include in an email, it’s important enough to be readable.

Left-justify paragraphs of text

Centered text is fine for headings and calls‑to‑action. Larger blocks of copy, however, should always sit to the left. It’s easier on the human eye and an easily-implemented accessibility improvement.

Code semantically

HTML is full of descriptive elements like <h1> for primary headings and <footer> for, well, footers. Use them. Alternatively, you may wish to consider their ARIA equivalents.

Describe your tables

Add role="presentation" to every table that makes up your email (unless it is actually a data table of course). The HTML <table> element is repurposed in emails for structure rather than data, so make sure it’s marked as such.

Use responsive code properly

Your email’s content should fit to any screen size. But if you need to resort to cheating – i.e. doubling up blocks of content with separate desktop and mobile sections – then your design needs to be re-evaluated.

Use high contrast colouring

Low contrast can be difficult for a visually‑impaired person. Make sure your text, buttons and images stand out. How do you know if the contrast is sufficient? Try running your view online link through the Web Accessiblity Evaluation Tool.

Use high‑resolution imagery

Low resolution (or actual size) images look blurry on modern high density screens. Make sure all of your images are saved at double the maximum logical resolution at which they’ll appear in your email.

Optimise your images

Big file sizes + email is not a good combo. Mobile users in slow network areas will experience sluggish download times and potential broken images.

Describe images via alt tags

Readers using screen readers won’t know what your images depict unless you describe them. Developmental laziness excludes customers. Take a few seconds to type photograph of this or illustration of that.

Use blank alt tags on decorative images

But don’t waste your reader’s time by tagging images as decorative curve or suchlike. It’s just fluff.

And keep decorative images to a minimum

The more complex your design, the more section‑hopping a screen reader needs to perform. Not to mention the greater the chance of your email breaking. Web is the place for fancy. Email works best with a little more restraint.

Prepare for non‑animated animated GIFs

Outlook doesn’t like GIFs. It’ll only show the first frame. If something essential sits later in your animation, not everyone will see it.

Go easy on the GIFs

TV shows are announced with a warning when strobe effects or other flashing colours are coming up. You don’t have the luxury of forewarning people in email, so keep your animated GIFs gentle.

Use PNG images with transparency

Logos, icons and other non‑rectangular images can be unexpectedly left sitting in blocks of colour on dark mode. Use PNGs with transparency instead to let them blend naturally.

Don’t put critical content in background images

Because background images in email have a flaky history. Use them for cosmetic purposes only, and make sure your email still looks good if it falls back to a flat colour.

Maintain a consistent layout

It’s fairly popular in email to have alternating left/right layouts for images and text from story to story. Because it… looks cool? But from a screen reader’s perspective, the layout is confusingly inconsistent. A uniform design is much easier to navigate. Oh, and don’t be tempted to mess with the page’s tab index sequence instead!

Use plenty of white space

Too many things crammed together is visually distracting. Space items apart and give your design room to breathe.

Don’t cluster links

Text links or other small elements should never be close to each other. It’s confusingly fractured, and a finger pressing a touchscreen is liable to hit the wrong one.

Big buttons

Your major links should be presented as large, easy‑to‑press buttons. That keeps them both visually and functionally prominent. For maximum accessibility, make sure they are clickable all over and not just the text in the middle.

Design and code for dark mode

Oh, and on that topic – make sure your email is explicitly coded for dark mode. That means a carefully selected alternative colour palette and possibly substitute images in places that make sense.

Write concise copy

Rambling passages of text are not well‑suited to marketing emails (great for blogs though!). Tell people the essentials and let them click through to a website if they’re interested in the full story.

Don’t use cryptic subject lines or preheaders

Open-bait subjects don’t do anyone any favours. Respect your customer’s time by letting them know in advance if a message is worth opening.

Use descriptive calls‑to‑action

Ambiguous and mixed links are common in email. Often a feature’s image links to a different place than its button. You may know what goes where, but your customer does not.

Don’t overlink

Linking every square inch of your mailing to a landing page is frustrating for the end user. Only link calls-to-action or images that make logical sense. Paragraphs of text do not warrant links!

Keep your code under 100KB

Or your email will be clipped in Gmail.

Always include a view online link

Your email may be rendering perfectly in all of your tests, but that’s not the point. Your user may prefer or need to view it in a browser for personal reasons.

Don’t send from a no-reply address

Email is a communication tool. Don’t send the wrong message by making it a one-way street.

Send relevant content

Segmentation and targeting isn’t the most obvious aspect of accessibility, but it is one nonetheless. Presenting people only with relevant information helps to ensure that your mailings feel inclusive.

Test, test, test

Testing deserves a checklist all of its own. Broadly speaking, the following accessibility aspects of your email need to be checked for every send:

  • Visual check: the most obvious one. Your email needs to look presentable on as many devices and email applications as possible. A bank of real devices and/or previewing service like Litmus is a must.
  • Screen reader check: knowing how your email sounds is often overlooked. Look out for phrases like “2X points”. That may make sense when read, but when spoken it’ll sound like “two x” than “two times”.
  • Dark mode check: if you check light mode only, you’re only getting half the picture. Always take the time to check your email in forced dark mode environments like Outlook, and in controlled dark mode environments like iPhone Apple Mail.
  • Images-off check: your email needs to remain perfectly understandable even if images fail to load – which can happen for various reasons.

Is that everything?

Probably not. Accessibility is not black and white – it’s a scale. But the good news is that you don’t need to produce the perfect accessible email overnight or indeed ever. Every step towards more accessible emails is a victory in itself.

Email Marketing

How to win with email in Q4: two Black Friday strategy musts

With the upcoming festive season on the horizon, it’s prudent to gear up for the anticipated surge in activities. Let’s delve into two pivotal strategies that will serve as the cornerstone for your success during this critical quarter.

1. Prepare the inbox providers for increased email volumes: strategic IP-warming

Imagine your email deliverability as a cultivated relationship. You wouldn’t barge in without letting someone know, would you? Similarly, your emails require gradual notifications to the inbox providers. To guarantee smooth email delivery during the bustling festive period, consider implementing IP-warming strategies. This entails incrementally escalating your email sending volume and frequency from late August through September.

Think of this IP warming as an initial rapport‑building exercise with inbox providers. By establishing a consistent and trustworthy sending pattern, you cultivate the provider’s confidence in your emails. This practice also serves as a reminder to recipients who might have lapsed in engagement. The proactive approach not only ensures delivery but also reinstates your brand presence.

2. Align with algorithm expectations: maintaining consistent patterns

Email algorithms function like an intricate choreography. They’re attuned to your regular steps, but sudden changes can lead to a misstep. During the festive season, it’s customary to elevate your email frequency. However, abrupt fluctuations in sending volume or recipient interactions can trigger algorithmic scepticism, potentially affecting your deliverability.

To foster a harmonious dance with these algorithms, gradually escalate your sending volume in alignment with your plans for the festive season. This measured progression affords the algorithms the time to recalibrate and assimilate your new rhythm, ensuring your emails secure their intended place in the inbox.

Bonus strategy: trigger optimization and collaborative efforts

Triggers play a strategic role in guiding subscribers down the funnel to conversion and increased lifetime value. Update your triggers and if at all possible implement any triggers missing from your armoury (use an agency if you are time or resource constrained). In particular triggers related to browser behavior and the purchase funnel ‑ user experience is paramount during the Black Friday and Christmas season when the most revenue is at stake. Agencies bring a wealth of expertise and insights, streamlining the process of trigger optimization. For further insights and actionable guidance, explore these pertinent articles:

In conclusion, meticulous planning and strategic implementation are integral to maximising the potential of the Black Friday and Christmas season for email marketing endeavours. By prioritising these effective strategies, you’re poised for a rewarding holiday campaign!

Email Marketing

The importance of a good email marketing brief

You want to send an email campaign to your customers. The marketing department has everything planned out, more or less, so that only leaves the production stage. No problem – just send a few notes over to the email devs. They’ll know what do do. Now, await a test email in your inbox, ripe for approval.

But you don’t receive the test. Instead you’re bombarded with a series of questions from the production team. Cue a lengthy to‑and‑fro sequence of messages. Looks like the devs didn’t know specifically what was required all.

So, what went wrong? There was a critical missing ingredient: a clear brief.

Detail pays off

When passing work to other teams, a structured brief is the best form of communication. Without it, holes appear – leading to confusion, guesswork, questions… and potential mistakes. The bottom line is time and money.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to save time by throwing together a quick brief. That way the other team can begin their contribution sooner and you get to tick a task off your to-do list. In reality this hasty approach will only serve to add more time for all parties in the long run. That’s not good for anyone’s stress level!

Some email brief pointers

Include as much information as possible

Layout, images, colouring, links, copy, tracking, subject line, preheader, dynamic content, audience – there’s a lot to cover for even a single email. What may seem obvious to one department, may be a mystery to another – particularly when external agencies are involved.

The design itself is part of the brief

It’s possible that you’ll be sending a design file such as a PSD to the dev team. While that will cover many aspects of the build, it must be supported by a comprehensive brief. How should the content stack on mobile? Which segments are to see which features?

Keep irrelevant information out

While it’s important to include all necessary information, it’s best to do so concisely. It’s unlikely that the developers will need to know why something is being marketed a particular way.


An often-overlooked aspect of briefs is the internal timeline. When do you want initial tests? How long is to be allowed for review and feedback. On what day must everything be signed off and set up? Setting a timeline for the project helps other teams prioritise their work and you can plan your other activities in accordance to the project schedule.


Your jargon may not be someone else’s! Plain English is in everyone’s interests. Alternatively, it may be helpful to include a glossary of terms in your documentation.


Ideally a brief should only be supplied in its entirety. But this is the real world. Some assets might not be ready on time, particularly in the retail industry. Maybe an image is still with retouching department, or the new product you want to advertise arrived later than expected and a photoshoot still needs to take place. In these kind of situations a descriptive placeholder can make all the difference. Flag pending content to the other teams and answer those confused questions before they can even crop up.


A good brief takes effort. But that effort doesn’t need to entail reinventing the wheel for every new job. By creating a brief template, you ensure consistency both in information and where to find it. Familiarity will soon follow and everyone will know where to find what.

Sign-off on creative assets

Layout, images and copy should be ideally signed off before anything is sent to the production team to be built. Something that may seem like a quick edit could in reality take far longer. Maybe that additional comma needs to be added across multiple versions of an email. And then there’s the re-upload, re-testing and re-approval process. It’s always worth aiming to finalise creative decisions before the coding stage.


Once the email is built and you have the tests, you might have some amendments. Perhaps a link on the website has changed, or one of the products in the email has gone out of stock. It is important that when sending feedback that the information clear and to-the-point. For example: this is the new product URL, or swap product X with product Y. The feedback should be treated as a mini brief and follow the points above.

A simple email brief example

Simple email brief example

Final words on how to write an email brief

Writing an effective email brief isn’t always a quick or easy task. But going the extra mile at that stage, will save everyone a lot of time in the future and get you the desired end product. I guess you could say let’s not be brief.

Email Marketing

The six steps of email personalisation

Do you seek the holy grail of email personalisation? Or as it’s known by its other name: one‑to‑one content.

As technologies have become more sophisticated, so too have customer expectations. But to reach the point of true personalisation is a journey with several steps.

1. Say my name

Let’s start with the bargain basement of personalisation. Greeting your customer by name in a subject line has been measured to increase open rates by more than 25%.

Just don’t mess that name up. "Hi, Adrian" is good. But "Hi, ADRIAN", "Hi, adrian", or "Hi, Young" looks bad. Yes, it would be me the customer who had made a mistake with your form in the first place. But the onus falls upon you to validate and fix your data.

2. Preferential treatment

At The Email Factory, we swear by preference centres. What better way to embark on an email journey with a new subscriber than by letting them pick and choose what to receive?

A preference centre gives your customer the choice of content or product types. But why stop there? Grant your customer further control over their inbox by including frequency and timing options.

3. Divide and convert

Whether your mailing list weighs in at a few hundred or a few hundred thousand, it is comprised of individuals. Not everyone is interested in the same content. So why send everyone the same email?

Segmentation is an essential part of email marketing. Divide up your lists into categories and keep your subscribers engaged with relevant content.

4. On your best behaviour

Personalisation isn’t all about what your customer likes but also what they are doing. And none of your customers are doing exactly the same thing at the same time. There are those that have newly discovered your brand. Some have just treated themself to a shiny new product. Others haven’t engaged with you for a while. Your task is to communicate with each of them based on their current actions.

Behaviour‑based emails let you react automatically to your customer’s activity (or lack thereof). When someone signs up, a welcome series is launched. If your customer has recently purchased a product, that can trigger an invitation to review it. For those who haven’t interacted for a while, a re‑engagement programme can rekindle their interest.

5. Where in the world

Your customer’s location matters. Maybe there’s an in‑store event or other locally relevant content to share. You might even want to send automatically-tailored content based on the local weather. Those hooded jackets sound a lot more useful when it’s pouring outside.

Location doesn’t only determine what to send but also when to send. Send time optimisation ensures that your subscribers receive your emails at a time of day that is personally convenient.

6. Welcome to the machine

As humans, we can only do so much. Luckily that "much" includes the development of ever‑more‑sophisticated machine learning software. As email marketers, we can harness that technology and take personlisation to another level.

Product recommendations are the obvious showcase, for now. Why guess at what your customer might like to buy when you can learn patterns from their previous purchasing and browsing activities?

While the current capablities of generative AI have been over‑hyped, its future potential is hard to grasp. Every aspect of your email, from copy to imagery to layout to timing to colouring, could all be generated on an individual basis.

True email personalisation

Your customer is a human and an individual. But they are likely one of many thousands. To talk to them one‑to-one ironically requires a fundamentally impersonal means of machine‑based automation. The concept of chummy person‑to‑person communication is an illusion.

But what really matters is relevance. Present your subscribers with the content that matters to them and the results will speak for themselves.

Email Marketing

Preparing for the Impact of iOS 17: The Era of Link Tracking Protection

In the wake of the iOS 15 update, marketers and agencies like The Email Factory faced a stern test of their resilience and adaptability, navigating through the challenges with creativity and determination. As we embraced the shifting landscape and focused on personalised engagement, we discovered new ways to thrive amidst the changes.

However, just as we thought the storm was successfully weathered, here we go again!

With the impending release of iOS 17, Apple is once again set to disrupt the email marketing world, this time with the introduction of link tracking protection. As we take time to analyse the potential impact, it’s time for us to gear up and prepare for yet another round of adjustments to our strategies and practices. So, let’s dive in and explore what lies ahead with iOS 17’s link tracking protection.

Apple’s continuous efforts to prioritise user privacy have led to the introduction of new features, and this time, link tracking protection takes center stage. As industry experts analyse the implications of this update, it becomes evident that email marketers must prepare for a shift in their strategies to navigate the evolving digital terrain.

iOS 17’s Link Tracking Protection:

The key feature of iOS 17 that is set to disrupt traditional email marketing practices is link tracking protection. This security measure aims to shield users from the intrusive tracking of their online activities via hyperlinks in emails. As a result, marketers will face challenges in tracking user engagement, and it’s crucial to understand the implications for future campaign planning.

Implications for Email Marketers:

While the link tracking protection in iOS 17 may pose challenges for email marketers, it’s important to remember that this is not the end of email tracking altogether. Most Email Service Providers (ESPs) use unique links for each and every link in an email, including the unsubscribe link. So, there are still ways to track user interactions to some extent.

However, email marketers should be prepared for potential limitations in data insights related to user behavior. Traditional link tracking methods, such as analysing click-through rates and conversion metrics, may become less effective or even obsolete. As a result, measuring the success of email campaigns could become more complex.

The impact on personalisation efforts should also be taken into account. Access to certain data necessary for creating tailored content may be limited due to link tracking protection. This may make it challenging to understand user preferences and deliver relevant messages, potentially leading to a decline in engagement and conversion rates.

Evolving Strategies and Collaboration:

To adapt to the changing landscape, email marketers will need to devise new strategies that focus on alternative metrics for assessing campaign performance. Traditional methods, like open rates and click-through rates, may no longer provide a complete picture. The emphasis may shift towards engagement-based metrics and user actions that do not rely on link tracking.

Collaboration with Email Service Providers will be vital as iOS 17 rolls out. Marketers should work closely with their ESPs to understand how this update impacts their tracking capabilities. Exploring alternative methods for analysing user interactions and collaborating on potential workarounds will be essential to continue delivering effective email campaigns.


As iOS 17’s link tracking protection looms on the horizon, email marketers must prepare for a paradigm shift in their strategies. While some challenges may arise, there are still ways to track user interactions to some extent. Most ESP’s unique links and UTM parameters will still work in this iteration of iOS17 but it’s surely only a matter of time before an iOS works out how to stop those too. Staying agile, informed, and open to alternative metrics will help navigate the challenges posed by iOS 17 and continue to deliver impactful and relevant email campaigns. Ultimately, the successful adaptation to iOS 17’s link tracking protection will be a testament to the industry’s ability to evolve with changing technology and prioritise user privacy.

Email Marketing

Planning and implementing your email marketing strategy

Email marketing strategy

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should! It’s an old adage and one many email marketers would do well to consider before embarking on their email marketing strategy.

If we start from what is possible the prospect of drawing up an email marketing strategy, budget, resource and timelines is daunting. I like to start from the other end, not what is possible but what does the business need. It sounds simple and the oft flippant response is more sales but that doesn’t always hold true. So start with a blank canvas and decide your business’s short, medium and long term goals. They may all turn out to be the same – sales, sales and more sales.

If that’s the case your email marketing strategy is a fairly simple one. Build product led emails and send them to everyone on your list as often as you can. Automate basket and browse abandonment, cross sell in sales notifications and dispatch notices. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But in truth this approach, even if your end goal is more sales, tends to be a short term solution. Data apathy, data churn, price marginalisation, stock management, all tend to make this approach, in isolation, one that’s unsustainable long term.

Email drives sales

So what to do, as in truth the ultimate goal of any marketing comes down to sales. We dress it up as brand awareness, customer retention, brand engagement, social media presence – but ultimately all marketing has one goal and that’s to drive long term revenues. So, if we accept that we need to plan our email marketing to fulfil long term revenue targets. This is done using a combination of sales and value-added content which engages the customer as well as sells to them. In essence you need to become the trusted source in the inbox. This has its challenges because marketers have an irrational fear of being seen as spammers. In his book, “Fear and Self-Loathing in Email Marketing”, Dela Quist says: “It is time, for legitimate email marketers – who bend over backwards not to be seen as spammers – to stop feeling so guilty about something they don’t even do”. It really is okay to send an email a day, or even two if you have something new and interesting to say.

In order to understand how best to use email we first need to look at how the long term goal is achieved.

List growth

New customer acquisition, grow the number of people you can realistically sell your products and services to. The more people on your list who look like the other people on your list the better.

Buildfires email list growth blog

List retention

This is like the silver bullet. Grow your list using customer acquisition tools and reduce the churn in your database. Increase the time someone stays a customer then the return on your initial CPA becomes exponential.


Automate touchpoints to deliver relevant and timely content. Keep your user engaged, recognise special life events and deliver new purchase user guides/vlogs/updates.

display block email automation workflow
Example email automation workflow

Loyalty and incentive programs

Make your user feel special, make them part of your inner circle.

Targeted communications

Segmentation in the data based on generic product offerings. Utilising the one-to-one marketing tools available to you to customise your one-to-many emails.

One too many sales emails

Don’t be frightened of emailing everyone in your base every time you have something to say. The idea of one-to-one marketing is in truth not achievable because you’re just not sure what I want next. It’s okay to assume I want something I looked at, just don’t assume I don’t want something else as well or instead.

Next, we will look at how we utilise the strategies outlined above to maximise our customer relationship and ultimately drive higher, long term revenues.

Let’s take a look at how you go about implementing some of the ideas mentioned. It’s time to flesh out the opportunities afforded by the medium of email marketing.

List growth

How do you go about growing your list? You can do this in many different ways, each one having their own level of effectiveness. The standard tools available are:

Newsletter sign-ups:

Have a clear and obvious way of letting people sign up for emails, hiding your newsletter sign up at the bottom of the contact page is almost apologetic. You’ve paid for the eyeballs, now try and capture them. Place the sign up somewhere obvious. Also, look at using downstream popups to incentivise sign up.

White paper downloads:

Put your valuable content behind a simple sign up to access a download page. In old fashioned sales you’re always taught to get a name for a name. No difference here, you have valuable content, the price of which is an email address.


Run competitions on your site, and in your existing email encourage people to sign up to be entered. If possible, give away experiential prizes rather than material ones. People are much more likely to enter a money can’t buy competition.


Incentivise your base to refer people like them to sign up for the newsletter or sales emails. Remember, people know people like them, if they enjoy your emails so will some of their friends.

display block email capture form
Example sign-up page

Point of purchase:

Be it on or offline, when someone makes a purchase it is the perfect time to ask permission to market to them via email. Make sure your staff do this routinely if on the phone or face to face in store. Make sure your site has a very obvious sign up tick box available when checking out. If at all possible also advertise text to email gateways in store and incentivise those.

Rented lists:

As long as you manage your expectations, renting lists can still be an effective way of building your database.

List retention

List retention for me is the silver bullet, if you can reduce your churn while at the same time growing your list you should be looking at exponential growth in revenues. Email on Acid believe in a “70/20/10” rule for brand emails. This means 70% of emails should be educational demos, tips, storytelling or advisory information. 20% should “centre on content from thought leaders, creating a feeling across your list that your brand is giving them exclusive access to content” and the remaining 10% should be product-focused. This rule is said to establish valuable relationships with your customers making them feel important, which they are! The more important they feel, the more engaged with the brand they will be.


Take some of the workload away and automate as many of your emails as possible. There are many tools available to help you collect site side data, send an API call to your email platform and subsequently trigger a timely email reminder. These types of communication tend to have the greatest open and click rates and the highest ROI.

The sort of things you can try are…


Welcome programs work best when they come as a series of emails which lead the recipient down various paths of action dependent on whether they open and click a particular email or take a specific site side action.

display block workflow
display block workflow

Basket abandonment:

Someone has put a product in their basket on your site but not completed the purchase in a timely fashion. Post that data to your email automation tool, most of those on the market (ours included) can handle this easily. This data will then populate a predefined template and trigger an email to the recipient encouraging them to complete their purchase. Fresh Relevance in their Rip Curl case study show in excess of 10% of those customers receiving a basket abandonment email go back to purchase the item.

Basket abandonment statistics
basket abandonment uplift from Fresh Relevance

Browse abandonment:

Almost identical to Basket Abandonment, Browse Abandonment happens when you implement business rules such as “identified email address has viewed a product 3+ times without going further, trigger this template with this personalisation in it”. These type of emails are seen to generate in excess of 3% increase in sales.

Event led:

Birthdays, anniversaries, insurance renewals, these type of emails just sit there in the background and trigger daily depending on when someone matches the criteria. This is a simple but effective way of increasing your brand loyalty and triggering clicks back to your site. In their birthday email, Audit Experian said birthday emails out perform promotional emails in nearly all KPIs

Birthday email campaigns audit
Experian Birthday Emails Campaign Audit KPI’s

Cross Sell:

Not only should you cross sell in your order confirmation emails but also dispatch notifications, delivery confirmation and in truth, any other order point of contact. Forrester Research found a 10% increase in AOV on purchases where a recommendation was clicked on.

I am just scratching the surface of what’s possible with automation, essentially, if you can whiteboard the process we can implement an automation program that will sit in the background and increase your revenues from email.

Loyalty and Incentive programs:

This is just an extension of the Nectar, Clubcard, MyWaitrose (other loyalty cards are available) card you have in your wallet but in an online format. Richer Sounds do this very well at point of sign up. You’re encouraged to be a VIP and you’re told what you’ll get by becoming one. It helps with both list growth and list retention.

Targeted communications:

Your email platform will almost certainly have the functionality to segment based on any data held within your database. You can then send targeted communications to people based on the products they’ve previously bought, those they’ve browsed, those that compliment previously purchased products, the list is almost endless. You can do many different targeted emails or if you can code using the dynamic tags, or outsource that bit to an agency like us, you can build one email that dynamically inserts the relevant targeted element based on the data. It is also possible to use some of the personalisation tools out there to scrape in particular offers from your website in real time and drop them into the dynamic personalised section of the email.

The takeaway

The possibilities and the opportunities afforded to you by utilising the tools available and the skills of a professional email marketing company can have a material effect on your bottom line. It is no coincidence that the companies who have fared better in the current pandemic are the ones whose online presence and email marketing programs are constantly pushing the boundaries, whereas the ones that have struggled were slower to embrace the opportunities afforded them by the technologies available.