How not to fail at email marketing

5 min read
Jon Hansen

The initial concern with the introduction of Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL) in 2014 was that it would all but kill email marketing as a viable tool for businesses to reach their customers.

Turns out, the anticipated demise of email has been “greatly exaggerated.”

At least 83% of Canadian businesses use email to promote themselves.

What's more the average return on investment is $36 for every $1 spent on email marketing. Suffice to say, it's still No. 1 … with two caveats.

The 2 immutable laws of email marketing

Follow these rules and enjoy many years of fruitful email communication.

  1. It has to be relevant.

  2. It can’t be too frequent.

Anyone can send an email to a list of addresses. Getting a positive response is another thing altogether.

1. It has to be relevant

Email Marketing Man with Tablet
Sending emails to people who have no interest in the message will only annoy them.
Photo: Tyler Franta on Unsplash

One of the main reasons for CASL was to curb the random mass mailings that inundated recipients with nonsensical information (aka spam) that was of virtually no interest to anyone but the senders. Having to sift through a pile of unwelcome emails made it difficult for people to access the information they really wanted to read.

Now that the CASL dust has settled, there has been a notable improvement in the quality of email content. Relevancy, as it turns out, has trumped volume as king of brand communication.

One of the best ways to make sure you're sending emails that people on your list will want to open is to segment your email list. By separating your list into smaller groups according to purchase history or demographics (age, location, etc), you can create emails just for that group.

Often. the more tailored your email is, the better the response.

This is why emails with the recipient's first name in the Subject line have markedly better open rates than those without.

Related: Gain more business with a professional email address

2. It can’t be too frequent

Another critical concern/question raised by CASL’s introduction centres on frequency. Specifically how often should you send an email to your contact list? How much is too much?

In this regard, many companies continue to err on the side of caution, sometimes limiting their email marketing efforts to once per month.

Email Marketing Stuffed Mailbox
Email open rates generally fall as frequency rises. People get tired of you.
Photo: Валерия on Unsplash

There is some debate as to the right number of emails to send out on a monthly basis, but there is a consensus that limiting yourself to just one email per month does little to create brand awareness.

While you won’t inundate anyone to the point of annoyance, a single email will likely go unnoticed.

So, what is the right number? According to a recent study, more than one but less than 15 per month.

Finding the sweet spot

The key to finding the right balance regarding frequency is to test within the range of between two and four emails per month. Then let your contact list tell you the right number.

If you see a steady increase in unsubscribes, then you know that either you’re mailing too often or your content isn’t relevant to the reader. Conversely, if you see a positive response to your email frequency, then keep doing what you are doing.

Email marketing nirvana

Now that you understand the importance of both relevance and send frequency, how do you reach the pinnacle of email marketing success?

Here are two good places to start:

Email design 101: how to create a beautiful email

How to write an email that people will read

Remember, a Subject line can either entice the reader to open your email or dismissively click it away into their trash bin.

If you do not want your email to become a metaphor for the famous Thomas Gray quote about how “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air,” then you should spend almost as much time on crafting your Subject line as you do on your content.

Here are a few tips:

Be honest

“Hilarious Cat Video Inside!” is not a good Subject line if your email does not contain a cat video.

Be brief

Limit yourself to 10 words. Nothing bad will happen if your Subject line is 11 words, but in general, shorter is better.

Create a sense of urgency

Using phrases like “only three days left” could boost open rates.

Focus on the first words

When a reader is previewing your email in the inbox, he or she might only see the first few words of the Subject line. Make them count.

The final word on email marketing

The core foundation of an effective email program comes down to three basic principles:

  • Provide relevant content that is of interest to your readers.
  • Manage the frequency of your emails based on their response.
  • Make your Subject lines truthfully compelling.

When all is said and done, like any other form of communication, email marketing has to deliver value to the recipient. Focus on providing relevant news and insight, and the results will speak for themselves.

Editor's note: Want to increase the effectiveness of your emails in one simple step? Follow Kerin John's lead and use business email, matching your domain name. The owner of Black Owned Toronto uses for her business email, rather than something like It makes her look like a total pro.

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