How to send customer emails worth opening

Ryan Phelan · January 25, 2016 · Short URL:

Note to startups! If you want to win clients over, read this!


Every year, I go through my inbox and unsubscribe from all the emails I don’t read anymore. And I’m an email marketer.

Most of us end up subscribing to emails in the first place because we want a coupon or special deal, but eventually the resultant emails become too numerous, too boring, or just plain irrelevant. More and more people are getting frustrated with spam, even to the point where Gmail’s inbox separates sales messages from personal messages.

In the interest of addressing a problem that desperately needs mending, here are the three things every start-up needs to do in 2016 to send emails worth opening.

1. Be personal

I once received an email saying, “We women deserve a day off at the spa.” I am a man.

This is not a one-time accident, but rather exemplary of an industry-wide failure to properly target customers. All too often, companies don’t know anything about who they’re emailing, whether they’ve ever made a purchase, how much they’ve bought, or whether they’re even a man or a woman.

If you don’t take into consideration personal details about who you’re emailing—for example, whether they’re a new or old customer—then you’re doing damage to the brand. Every time someone unsubscribes from your emails, that’s one more person that doesn’t care to look at your brand on a daily basis. Add enough of these people up, and your brand becomes irrelevant.

There are two steps to solving this problem.

First of all, if you don’t know who you’re emailing, then don’t assume anything.

Second, figure it out! This year, I expect more start-ups will dedicate resources to better understanding their customers. Through data mining (analytics), customer surveys, additional testing and the like, young companies will start answering the most important questions about their customers: Who are they? What do they value? What motivates them? What frustrates them?

Armed with this information, start-ups can work toward sending messages that match up with their customers' needs and desires and watch their business grow as a result.

2. Offer value

As I wrote above, one of the main reasons our customers sign up for emails in the first place is because they’ve been specifically enticed by something. Be it a special one-day discount or a promotional giveaway, there is often something so irresistible being offered that they can’t help signing up.

The problem arises when companies think “mission accomplished,” and proceed to spam the customer.

In order to keep unsubscribes down (at a bare minimum) and to actually delight the customer (the ultimate goal), we must continually offer value—in the same way that we offered value to get the customer signing up in the first place.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to share coupons or promote contests with every email we send. It means that our emails themselves must contain value. In addition to being personally relevant, our messages should be catchy, entertaining, informative, and worth opening.

In short, we should be sharing value or insights that our customers can only get by opening our emails.

3. Stand out

Thanks to a rich bounty of ever-evolving sites and services offering new kinds of streaming and revolutionary applications, you can bet the Web at the end of 2016 won’t look identical to what it looks like today. As for email? It’s still just one person sending a package of HTML to another person.

While it would be great for companies to have access to more interactive technologies like Flash videos and GIFs, whining about it won’t help. We must be creative within the limitations in order to stand out from the crowd and win the interest of our customers.

Next time, before you hit “send,” ask yourself: would you want to receive this email?

It’s the golden rule of email marketing: If you think of yourself not as the marketer but as one of your customers, then you will see what is good (and what isn’t) about your emails. Even better: imagine you were showing the email to your mother. Would she understand it? Would she be happy to receive it? If not, then you’ve missed the target.

In 2016, we need to get more creative, focus on improving the email experience, and delight our customers. That’s all that matters.


Ryan Phelan brings over 15 years of online marketing experience to Adestra as the Vice President, Marketing Insights.  Over the years, Ryan has worked for some of the leading companies in the space, been a nationally recognized thought leader, writer and distinguished speaker on subjects relating to digital marketing and how to drive effective strategies through email marketing, social and mobile. Ryan was recognized as one of the top 30 digital strategists in 2013 by OMI.  He is heavily involved in industry organizations currently serving as the Chair of the Email Experience Council (email arm of the Direct Marketing Association) Member Steering Board and is a member of the ESPC.


Twitter: @ryanpphelan



Image source: Smartguydesign

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