How to develop an email marketing strategy

It’s no secret that email marketing can get confusing really quickly. Maybe it’s because you’ve got dozens of products to promote, diverse audiences to reach, a vast array of stories to tell, or a raft of spam filters to navigate. For these reasons, many brand managers just do the basics – send out a range of random emails, at random intervals, to random groups and hope that something sticks.

But what if you had an email marketing process that helped you plan, design, and write your email campaigns, so you could feel confident you were following best practice guidelines; a process that ensured every campaign you created was scalable and repeatable so that you didn’t have to reinvent, rewrite, redesign every campaign from scratch.

In this blog, I’ll share with you the 5-step process we use when developing email marketing strategies. Whether you’re selling bikes, belts or blankets, these strategies will save you hours of time and deliver you an exponential rate of return on your financial investment.

Here’s a summary of what the blog covers.

For the purposes of this blog, I’ll use a case study to showcase how it works:

Company: ABC Shoes

Product: Vegan shoes

Target Market: Men, women, children

Channel: Online and in-store

Let's get started.

Step 1: Identify what you sell

This sounds obvious - after all, how can you write an email if you don’t know what you’re selling. But so many email campaigns go wrong because they try to do too much in one email, and not enough in a series of emails. In other words, get clear about what you’re selling and then plot out over a sequence of emails how you’ll sell each one of those products. Don’t try to sell the entire range in one email. It’s too much to cover, too broad, and the reader gets confused.

(Yes, you can sell multiple items in one email, and communicate multiple stories, but if you’re just starting out on your email marketing journey, keep it simple, choose one product that you’d like to sell and start with that.)

Once you know what you want to sell, the next step becomes a lot easier.

How do you choose the right product or service to sell?

Again, keep it simple. Choose a product that you know meets one or more of the following criteria. This will of course depend on your corporate marketing objectives but here’s a few ideas to consider. You can choose a product:

  • the customers already love
  • has a high profit margin
  • has a unique niche in the sector
  • you want (or need) to get rid of
  • that matches the season you’re in (summer, winter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day etc)
  • that you can sell for a ridiculously competitive price

Only you can decide what that product is. Don’t deliberate too long on this. Just choose something, anything, so you can get on with the other steps in developing your email marketing strategy.

Step 2: Identify your target market 

Now you know what you’re selling, you need to know who you’re going to sell it to.  Some companies start with this question first and then work out what they’re going to sell to them.  Either approach is fine.

Our client, ABC Shoes sell vegan, handmade, high-quality, long-lasting shoes. They have a wide target audience – men, women and children. In other words, they sell to everyone. So where do they start? Wisely, they’ve chosen to run with a product that is one of their best-selling items; a summer sandal called ‘Misha’. Now they know this, the target audience is easy to identify.

We did a deep dive into creating a Customer Avatar for this product and came up with this profile:

Target market for the Misha shoe:

Persona name:  Cassie

Gender: Female

Age: 35

Annual income: $150k.

Job: CEO for a not-for-profit organisation

Relationship:  Living with her partner

Children: Two. Sarah (8), Tom (6)

Location: Lives in Newtown, NSW and has a large mortgage

Key needs:  Product must be comfortable (she walks to work in them), look good (she needs to project a professional appearance), be socially conscious (she works for an animal rights organisation), be affordable (she has a big mortgage).

Values: a strong social conscience, environmentally aware, volunteers for a women’s shelter organisation. 

Getting clarity on your target market (or avatar, persona or segment) is the key to success as it enables you to write your copy with nuance and really get engagement. Can you see how much easier it will be to write for ‘Cassie’ rather than a ‘socially-aware woman aged 25-34’?   

Step 3: Identify what stage of the buying process they are at

Now we know what we’re selling and who to, we can get more granular as to what kind of email campaign they should receive. This is where the Email Marketing Funnel comes into play. What the heck is a Funnel? It’s simple to understand. Think of a funnel you’d use to pour oil into a bottle. Wide at the top, narrow at the base. Here’s what the Email Marketing Funnel looks like:


The three main stages of the funnel are:

  1. Acquire
  2. Nurture
  3. Retain
1. Acquire (Top of the funnel)

When we attract or acquire new prospects to our business, we make some assumptions. Firstly, we assume they don’t know much about us and secondly, that we need to get in touch with them quickly, and impress them, or they will just forget about us.

At this point, they are at the top of the funnel and if we do our marketing correctly, we can get a lot of people – all sorts of people – coming through the top of the funnel. To account for this diverse group of people coming in, try to create an offer that’s likely to appeal to a broad range of people, like ‘15% off first purchase’ of ‘free shipping’.

Once they have signed up to an offer or some sort, we need to welcome them and give them a great first impression.  That’s where the ‘Welcome’ sequence comes in.  It’s called the ‘Welcome’ Sequence for obvious reasons – you’re welcoming them to your business, and fulfilling on the offer you promised them.

2. Nurture (Middle of the funnel)

Once the prospect has bought something from us, we will then send them a series of “Nurture” emails to keep them informed and engaged about the status of their purchase. ‘Post-purchase regret’ often kicks in just after people press ‘buy’ so we want to make sure we keep them feeling happy and positive about their purchase.

3. Retain (Bottom of the funnel)

Once they’ve received their purchase, we will then send them a sequence of “Retain” emails to keep them loyal.  

What other kinds of sequences are there?

There are lots of different types of sequences, and each has a specific purpose. (By the way, sequences are also known as ‘campaigns’ or ‘flows’). 

Here’s a snapshot of the range of other common sequences:

  • Post purchase
  • Cross sell
  • Abandon shopping cart
  • Welcome back

Step 4: Identify the questions your target market has about the product 

Once you know what stage of the buying journey they are at, (or in what part of the funnel they are in), you’ll then know what kinds of questions they’ll have about the product.

Take Cassie for example. She is new to the ABC Shoe company and will have a range of queries, questions and concerns about the product. She’ll need to get answers to those questions before she can continue on her purchase journey.

She'll probably ask:

  1. What is the refund policy?
  2. How long will it take to ship?
  3. What is the shipping fee?
  4. What is the shoe made from?
  5. What sizes does they come in?
  6. What colours do they come in?
  7. Where is it made?
  8. What is the provenance of the shoe?
  9. Who designed it?
  10. Who is a likely competitor?
  11. What is the point of difference from the competitor?
  12. What are the features of the product that make it different?

How can these questions help us create email content?

You now have a ‘menu’ of content to work with, which will help you write your email content. Cassie has over 12 questions she wants answered, so obviously, that’s a lot to cover in one email so you won’t even attempt to cover that all in one go. What you need to do is work out what Cassie’s overarching needs or concerns are first, and answer, them.

It stands to reason that if you know Cassie has these questions about the product, and you can answer those questions, Cassie is much more likely to buy from you. The main reason why people don’t buy is because they have unanswered questions. If we can pre-empt what those questions are, and answer them proficiently, we will convert our visitors into customers. 

Order matters

The order you deal with those questions is important too. For example, if Cassie doesn’t know early on in her purchase journey, ‘what the shoe is made out of’, or ‘what the returns policy is’, there is no way she is going to care about the colours or the sizing. So we need to cover off those ‘higher order’ questions before we cover off the less important questions.

Step 5: Prepare your ‘Welcome’ sequence emailers

The question you’re probably asking is, ‘What should we cover in the first email?’

The answer? It depends on how they came into the funnel. For example, if they came into the funnel via a pop-up that offered ‘15% off their first purchase’, then you need to ensure the email delivers on that promise.  If they came into the funnel via a ‘download the checklist’ then the email would need to cover that off.

ABC Shoes Welcome Sequence:

How many emails should ABC Shoes have in their Welcome sequence? Short answer? You can have as many as you like, or need. It could be two, ten or twenty. It just depends on how quickly you can convert your prospect.

ABC Shoes has the following in their ‘Welcome’ sequence:

Emailer 1: Deliver on the ‘pop-up’ promise:

If you promised ‘15% off the first purchase’, then the first email needs to deliver on that promise and give them the coupon code for them to receive that discount. You can include other content to cover off those early-stage ‘trust’ concerns eg shipping fees, returns policy, customer reviews etc.

Emailer 2: Deal with the # 1 overarching query, question or worry:

For Cassie, buying vegan friendly products that meet her ethical framework is paramount. Therefore emailer # 2 in the sequence could deal with the following issues:

  • what is sandal made of?
  • where was it made?
  • who made it?
  • what is the carbon footprint?
  • what is the price?

Emailer 3: Deal with the # 2 overarching query, question or worry:

Once Cassie knows the products meets her highest needs eg vegan, ethical and affordable, her other concerns will need addressing. The next email could therefore deal with concerns such as:

  • how many colours does it come in?
  • what are the size ranges?
  • Is there a size charts available to ensure she gets the right size?

Emailer 4: Deal with the # 3 overarching query, question or worry:

At this point, Cassie has a good overview of what the product is, who made it and what she needs. She is keen to buy, wants the best price, so at this point, she knows enough to start comparing the product with others. She’ll do some long-tail searching eg blue vegan sandals, size 10, Australian made, and see what comes up. To counter any competitors who might be in the consideration basket, she’ll want to see:

  • customer testimonials and reviews that detail how wonderful the product is
  • proof of how long the shoes last for
  • demonstration of the craftsmanship that went into making the product
  • guarantees or warranties

Emailer 5: Deal with the # 4 overarching query, question or worry:

By now Cassie is getting closer to buying and she needs a compelling story to ensure she chooses this company and not another. To eliminate the competitors, this emailer could:

  • tell the story behind the company or the founders
  • detail the charities the company supports
  • outline how their profits will be used to further other communities

Emailer 6: Deal with the # 5 overarching query, question or worry:

Cassie is getting even closer to buying. She knows she wants to buy this sandal from this company but she’s busy with work, distracted by other higher-level matters (like her family), she doesn’t need the sandal right now and has put the purchase on the back burner. At this point, she needs a compelling offer to get her over the line to buy it now from this company, so she needs to receive a:

  • ‘free shipping’ offer
  • ‘buy one get one free’ offer
  • discount on the next purchase
  • extended warranty or guarantee
  • a gift with purchase eg a free shoe polish kit, a pair of socks etc.

(It goes without saying that if Cassie buys at any stage of this purchase journey, this “Welcome” sequence will stop and the ‘Nurture” sequence will begin.)

Emailers 7, 8, 9, 10 etc.

All these emailers could repeat or restate the offers that have already been created. For example, they could:

  • aggregate some of the existing content (answer a range of queries and showcase the product range)
  • restate some of the offers that had been made available (eg reoffer the discount coupons, the shipping offer etc),
  • add an expiry date to compel the reader into action.

What’s a “Nurture” Sequence? 

Once Cassie has purchased the sandal, she will start to receive the “Nurture” series of emails. This sequence of emails keeps Cassie engaged, educated and informed of what’s happening to her purchase. It may start with a series of transactional emails outlining where her order is at eg.

  • Your purchase has now been processed
  • Your purchase is on its way
  • Your purchase will arrive in 2 days’ time etc.

Once Cassie receives the purchase, it will trigger a new series of emails that fall under the “Nurture” sequence eg.

  • How to get the most from your sandals
  • How to care for your sandals
  • What to wear with your sandals etc. 

What’s a “Retain” Sequence?

Once Cassie has received the sandal, she will start to receive the “Retain” series of emails. This sequence of emails helps Cassie buy more shoes, cross sell relevant products (bags, wallets etc). 

5 tips for how to structure your emails:

1. Mobile first

Design the email to be read on a mobile phone first and then convert it for desktop. 70% of ecommerce purchases are made via mobile so it makes sense to design your emailers for mobile first. 

2. Less is more

It’s tempting to showcase lots of products in the one email. Our tip? Don’t. A leading email marketing company conducted an experiment that resulted in some interesting insights. They wanted to test the following concept:

Hypothesis: Should we promote one product or multiple products in an email?

In this experiment, they tested an email design that promoted 1 hair colour product (brown) versus an email design that promoted 3 hair colour products (brown, blonde, black). 

The results were interesting. 

The emailer that promoted 1 product outperformed the latter by 30%. 

When they asked why this happened, they discovered that showing 1 product helped the reader believe that there were many more products on offer than just this one.

When they showed 3 products, the reader believed that was ALL we had to offer and assumed that there was nothing else. For examples, the red-headed women assumed that because the 3 colours did not match her needs, there was no point investigating any further.

Interesting, hey?

3. Drive traffic to the one landing page

Ideally, all the buttons in each email will lead to the same landing page.  

4. Test everything

I was at a dinner a few weeks ago and the talk turned to wine.  0ne guest mentioned he had subscribed to a well-known wine e-tailer and said that he now received two emails every day from them. ‘How did that make you feel?’, I asked ‘I unsubscribed,’ he said. That’s exactly what you don’t want readers to do. 

So how many emails should you send? It all depends on how engaged they are with your content.

We can’t guide you on how many to send but what we would say is check your data, watch to see what happens with each email and look at the data over a period of time to ensure you are measuring the factors that matter. Do an A/B split test. Send one group a sequence of emails over 3 weeks and see the response. Send those same emails over a 10-week period and see the response. Did sending 10 emails a week work better than sending 3 emails for 3 weeks? Maybe fewer worked better.

5. Invest your time and money at the top of the funnel

We often get asked, ‘if we have a limited budget for email marketing, where should we spend it? On getting people into the Funnel, or converting prospects as they move their way down the funnel? Our answer? The former.

We know that the more people you can get into the funnel, the more likely you are to convert them into a regular customer. It makes sense.

If you have 100 people on your email list, if you get a 10% conversion, you get 1 sale. If you have 10,000 people on the list, and you get a 1% conversion, you get 1000 sales. So, if you have to spend your time and energy on marketing, spend it on getting people into the top of the funnel.

Why you should focus on acquiring new customers

Once a prospect becomes a customer, they’re more likely to become a repeat customer as they now know, like and trust you (assuming their first purchase from you met their satisfaction). Whilst it takes work and effort to get existing customers to buy from you again, it is fair to say that they don’t need to be sold on trusting you, and that is the biggest factor when converting prospects into paying customers. Your effort will deliver a bigger result or gain.

When do you start to focus on the lower levels of the funnel?  

You should start refocussing your energies and efforts on the lower levels of the funnel when you can see that the results you are getting with those at the top end of the funnel are plateauing.

In conclusion:

Creating an email marketing strategy will help you streamline the process of promoting your products and take the heavy lifting out of making email work for you. If you set aside a bit of time for planning at the start, you’ll find the process will work more effectively.

In essence, your top tasks are:

Step 1: Identify what you sell

Step 2: Identify your target market

Step 3: Identify what stage of the buying process they are at

Step 4: Identify the questions your target market has about the product

Step 5: Prepare your ‘Welcome’ sequence emailers

Emailer 1: Deliver on the pop-up promise

Emailers 2 - 10: Deal with the # 1 overarching query, question or worries (based on the questions your target market have).

Once you’ve completed that sequence, and they’ve purchased, you’ll move them to the ‘Nurture’ and then the ‘Retain’ sequence.

Keep it simple when getting started, choose one product to focus on, design it for mobile, write great copy and test, test, test.

If you’d like a hand in developing your email strategy, download our Ultimate Email Checklist