Marli Mesibov, Mad*Pow

What distinguishes a successful email campaign from a series of emails? A story.

At Mad*Pow, when we talk about user experience we talk about the whole experience. Sometimes the experience is limited to the time a user spends on a web site, but more often the experience begins long before that. It might begin with a phone call, a Google search, a Facebook ad, or an email.

As a result, it’s not uncommon for our content strategy or UX teams to work with marketing teams, analyzing emails or marketing campaigns. And one thing I see time and again is email campaigns that take up a lot of time, and get very poor results.

The reason is simple: you’re doing it wrong.

What is a Campaign?

An email campaign is a series of emails that are used together to help bring a prospect or user from Point A to Point B. Notice first that I said a series of emails. There are plenty of marketing campaigns that involve a single email, and there are emails that can be sent alone, but there is no such thing as a single-email campaign.

The reason for this is that an email campaign tells a story. The purpose of an email campaign is to help the person receiving the emails move along a journey. Each email builds on the one before it. They might see the first email and immediately delete it. The second one might catch their eye, and by the third they are familiar with your name and give you a chance. A well-done email campaign will help the recipient move through the journey in a way that feels personalized to their needs, no matter what point they join in.

How do you Create a Campaign?

While there are many ways to create an email campaign, here are five steps to get you started.

  1. Define your objective. An email campaign needs to have a goal that all these emails are moving towards. For example, are you trying to tell people about your newsletter? Or are you letting customers know that there’s a sale going on if they sign up to become members?
  2. Identify how you’ll measure success. Depending on what your objective is, you may want different KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) to measure whether the email campaign succeeded. If the objective is to tell people about your newsletter, you might measure newsletter views and sign-ups. If you’re letting customers know about a sale, you’ll measure success in purchases or use of a sale code. Some measurements are trickier than others though—perhaps your objective is to build trust. You might choose to measure KPIs in Twitter follows, or site views, or click-thrus from the email to the web site, as those are all indicators that people trust you enough to pay attention to what you’re saying.
  3. Design the ideal journey. This is where you start thinking about the individual emails. If, ideally, someone pays attention to email #1, what will they get out of email #2? How many emails will it take to bring them through the journey, and what story are you going to tell to take them there? Maybe it’s a story about “5 reasons to become a member.” Each email could share one of these reasons. Someone who first notices the email with the subject line “Reason #3” will have reason to click through to a landing page to see what they missed with Reasons #1 and #2.
  4. Segment the recipients. Most email campaign management systems (like Eloqua or Constant Contact) will allow you to track who has opened an email, and send them a different 2nd email based on that segmentation. In other words, if someone didn’t read email #1, then email #2 for them might be a reminder. But if someone did read email #1, they would receive an email #2 that built off information they already read.
  5. Test, test, test. Whenever possible, break your recipients into two groups and send them slightly different emails. For example, send them exactly the same first email, but with different subject lines, and see which one gets more opens.

Best Practices

Many elements of an email campaign come down to learning about your audience, testing, and optimizing. But there are some tried and true best practices to follow.

  • Use actionable, specific subject lines
  • Be personal—use the person’s name in the email, if you can
  • Use a real email address as the sender, rather than
  • Put your main messaging and a call-to-action above the fold
  • Use responsive web design (34 percent of users1 check email only via mobile devices)
  • Use images that reflect the goal of the text
  • Use bullet points or bolded text to call attention to important terms
  • Keep font sizes above 14 pixels, and titles above 22 pixels

An ideal email campaign tells a story. It helps the reader get involved, and starts them on a journey that brings them to you. If you want to engage users, and improve their experiences, start with that first connection.

Marli and her Mad*Pow colleague Jon Mackin have spoken about email campaigns with many clients, and presented on the topic at Litmus Live, the email conference. You can see their presentation on Slideshare, or contact them at and

1. According to a December 2016 Mobile Marketing Statistics article