7 Tips for Better Email Marketing

Email Marketing Tips Charts
(Last Updated On: August 17, 2020)

Remember running to your mailbox as a kid, eager to find an envelope addressed to you? What could it be? A birthday card (I bet there’s cash from grandma!)? A letter from a friend (yes, that was a thing)? Maybe you even got to wave at your mail carrier.

Dog in Mailbox
An unusually cuddly delivery.

So exciting!

When was the last time you felt that way? Now it’s bills, credit card preapprovals, and the occasional coupon flyer. Yes, we could bring joy back into snail mail, but at this point, many would just rather accept it as a necessary annoyance.

Besides, we have a new technology to gratify us now.

Looking Forward to Email?

You’re not delighted by the familiar ding?

There was a time we looked forward to getting email. Seems impossibly long ago. For many, it ended during the dial-up era. Cue throwback connection tone. Needless to say, we do enjoy getting some messages, but there are just so many. 120+ daily isn’t unusual.

Standing Out Amongst The Inbox Flood

Your marketing can be innovative, engaging, and personalized to your target audience. None of that matters if the messages never get opened (or even noticed). So efforts begin before even sending the first campaign.

Email on Phone
If every message icon looks the same, how does yours stand out?

This article will provide 7 tips that make your email strategy more effective. Think of these as “big picture” guidance. They’re the first steps before you even wireframe the first message.

In future articles, we’ll share more specific content to continue your journey. Things like body styling, calls-to-action layout, subject line best practices, and more that, combined, make an enormous difference to your email success.

For now, let’s look at the big picture. To make reading easy, here are the 7 tips to successful email campaigns:

  1. Segment Your Sends
  2. A/B Test Test Test
  3. Make Your Purpose Clear
  4. Don’t Be Afraid to Resend
  5. Mix It Up
  6. Monitor Metrics
  7. Make It Accessible

After all those, we might even have a bonus tip! Shh, don’t spoil the surprise!

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Since you’re already reading about Marketing strategies, this goes right with it. Tired of e-mails getting ignored? We put together 5 tested tips to get your e-mails read.
Get the Cheat Sheet

1. Segment Your Sends

Be selective on who gets your messages. It’s all about trying to match your message with the recipient. This isn’t a national TV commercial; it’s a personalized communique. Narrow your focus based on a range of “big” variables, including:

  • Demographics
  • Prior Email Engagement
  • Geographic Area
  • Borrower Type
  • New, Existing, or Prospective Customer/Member
    • Your messaging to those who don’t yet bank with you should be different and promote specific benefits (or address pains) their current provider doesn’t offer. Show them what they’re missing! And make joining easy.
  • Individual vs. Business Owner
Heart Candies One Off to Side
Make them feel special!

Then, you can dive deep into your data to learn other ways to segment. I happen to know someone who can help. (Disclosure: Anne is just way cool and we get nothing for the referral, except for some goodwill.)

Why Segment?

Short answer? Because when a message is personalized just for the recipient, they’re more likely to open and engage. That translates into better results for your desired task.

More expansive answer: Segmenting emails improves all your messaging metrics. From open rate to click through to taking an action, having it tailored makes a difference.

Plus, beyond better engagement, personalization also ensures it is relevant to the recipient. For example, if you are promoting a special auto loan rate, you only want to inform those who would qualify.

Why? A few reasons. First, it reduces the amount of work for your staff processing unnecessary requests. Second, it lets you select target audiences (say, those with a loan coming to term in the next 6 months).

Third, and this is the most important, it avoids disappointment and negative sentiment from a member if they aren’t eligible.

How would it feel if this scenario happened to you?

New message: “Special Auto Loan Rate: Just For You!” You check it out, then apply. Then you discover you can’t get approved. Not just for that special, but for any loan.

Is that the kind of experience you want? Of course not. Hence, segmenting.

One more financial aside: Some credit unions pay their LOS provider a fee per application. If you’re pushing a high number of ineligible borrowers into that process, you’re just wasting money.

Use Your Data

Use all the data you have at your disposal. Build a 360-degree view of your target audience to deliver personalized, value-added content. This means factoring in demographics, sure, but also on their actual challenges.

This will help you build trust while providing the solutions that match their needs and goals.

Oh, and they’ll be more likely to open your emails.

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2. A/B Test, Test, Test

Scientist Holding Test Tubes

First, what’s A/B testing? Great question. According to MailChimp, A/B tests are split tests. They let you compare two versions to determine which works best. It’s a bit like a mini-science experiment. In our case, the project is email. Where to start?

Subject Line

Let’s start at the very beginning, the very first thing you see. (Did you sing it?) We’ll look to subject lines. Your message can be amazing, but with a boring or non-targeted subject, few will ever see it.

A/B test your subject lines. Get some subject ideas from Hubspot. You’ll want to catch their attention and give a clear reason to open the message, all in just a few words. This is the hardest part of the message.


Look at your Inbox on your preferred email system. Doesn’t matter if it’s on a computer or phone. Most likely, for each message, you see more than just the sender and subject. What is that other text? It’s the description. This is like the meta description on a website.

Try to keep the length a bit shorter, otherwise, it will flow off past what the typical user will see. On my email programs, I get 5-10 words, depending on if I’m using my phone or computer. Use it to add context to your subject. Don’t leave it showing, “To view in your browser, click…”

Remember you can use emoji both here and in your subject lines. Whether or not they make sense depends on the message and the tone you’re aiming to convey. They’re not just for text messages!


Play around with the content of the message. Split between two different images? Try them both! Compose one message with copy that plays up the limited-time available for an offer. Do another that focuses on what they’d gain from taking action now.

Add GIFs. Don’t add GIFs. This is your playground to test.

Continuous Iteration

Emails won’t be smash hits every time. Some will perform better than others. In cases of equally good content and layout, it could have been the timing. Whoops, I’m ahead of myself. We’ll get to that below.

Continue to iterate and experiment. Over time, you’ll discover what connects best with your target audiences. Using this knowledge helps you create a lasting impact on overall email marketing success.

So how do you make this A/B testing happen? Is there a bunch of programming involved? Thankfully, no. Most email providers offer A/B testing as part of their platform. That way, all you have to do is create the messages and the system will send them out automatically.

As the platform sees which performs better, it will prefer sending that variant to more recipients. Automation that saves time and energy is so much fun!

3. Make Your Purpose Clear

Hand Holding Up Camera Lens
Stay focused.

They opened your message! You’re past the hardest part, now what? Make their time and energy worthwhile. What’s the goal of your email? Are you entertaining them? Providing necessary information? Trying to persuade the reader to take an action?

What do you want your recipients to do when they open your email? Make this purpose clear, both with your own team and the reader.

Sometimes, I get newsletter-type messages from organizations sharing all their latest activities. Beyond that, they’ll give a detailed analysis of an issue, their perspective, and…other stuff. I don’t even know what they might be, because I stopped reading it long ago.

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

Be clear in your message. Do it concisely. Clearly explain what you want the recipient to do, and make that action easy, too.

Don’t forget graphics and design! The experts at Canva explain how to create beautiful emails on all devices. Guide viewers to your desired action with buttons, links, or other visual cues.

Disclosure: We use Canva for our resources, including eBooks and Guides.

Most importantly, make sure your message content and design aligns with your mission and the task at hand.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Resend

Letter Glasses and Plant on Table

Hours of work across teams went into creating the “perfect” email. Graphics created. A/B tests run. As a part of your overall marketing, you know that there’s value for your recipients. Yet a few days after the initial send and you’re at a 14% open rate. What now?

Relegate the message to the digital dustbin? Move on and hope for better next time?

Nope. You resend the email.

Really. Of course, this isn’t just copy/pasting the message and sending out again to the same list. That could get you the unsubscribes you fear. And though you might get some additional opens, it’s not the way to go. There’s a strategy, like everything else, to resending.

Do your resend right and you can increase your marketing ROI. Here’s a whole lot of guidance and stats on email resends from our own CRM provider, ActiveCampaign. As one example, they saw over 50% greater clicks by including a follow-up message.

Interested? Great. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t resend it to the exact same audience. Target the people who either didn’t open or click on the first email.
  • Create a new subject line
  • Test out the delay between initial and follow-up sends. A 24-48 hour window is standard, but if the offer isn’t urgent, you can wait a few days (up to a week).
  • You only get one chance beyond your one chance. That means two total messages. Any more, and it’s seen as spam. And no one likes a spammer.

5. Mix it Up

Assorted Vegetables
Mmmm. Salad.

Variety is the spice of life. It’s also how your email marketing will succeed. If your only outreach is a stale monthly newsletter, don’t expect great engagement. On the other hand, if you only send out advertising promos, you’re not on the path to gaining subscribers.

Instead, mix up your email styling with content and form to match the goals:

  • Newsletter
    • Share what’s new that also interests recipients. Present how those things fit the mission. Don’t disappoint me (and your readers) with boring layout and text. Keep it focused on action. Typically, these are monthly.
    • Some great examples from our friends at HubSpot
  • Personalized plain-text
    • If it looks and feels like a direct outreach, you may get better engagement. These are great for personal appeals or “secret” invites to a product, service, or event.
    • See up to 21% higher unique click-to-offer activity. Here’s a few examples of how to make plain-text emails work best.
  • Dedicated single-image, single-CTA message

Those aren’t the only kinds of messages you can send, but they are a good start.

Bottom line: Make sure the email matches the goal (you do have a goal for every campaign, right?). If you’re doing a time-sensitive promotion, the monthly digest with dozens of links isn’t the right medium. Look at the resultant message: Would you click it? Would they?

6. Monitor Your Metrics

Tablet and Paper with Charts

I’m a big fan of data. My industry friends also love data. What you can measure, you can improve. Emails are a great place to get your data analysis muscles toned. You can track everything. To start, look at these metrics and monitor them over time:

  • Open rate
  • Click-Through-Rate (CTR)
  • Clicks-To-Opens (Number of people who clicked on a link only compared to those who opened the message, not the entire list)
  • Deliverability (Keep an eye on sender reputation)
  • Unsubscribes

Ok, so you can see each of these stats, now what? Find out what “good” and “should be improved” values might be! Let’s look back at those metrics with numbers:

Analytics and Colored Pencils

How do your numbers compare? To raise each is a task in all these email marketing tips. And they build upon one another. Once you get deliverability up, more people in your list actually get the message.

Design that must-read subject line and description text, and you’re bumping up that all-important open rate. Then, with great content and strong focus, your CTR and Clicks-To-Opens increase.

And finally, the stuff you wanted to drive account holders to do happens more often! Plus, you’re building a trusting audience, which will be more likely to engage in future campaigns.

7. Make it Accessible

In a time of renewed interest in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), your marketing has a thing or two to learn as well. Yeah, equality matters for email marketing. Here, we’re talking about accessibility. Literally, ensuring your messages can be read by anyone.

People with physical and sensory disabilities have a hard time with technology. Let’s face it, most hardware and software is made for a neurotypical person. That’s science-speak for, “you don’t have any disabilities which make interacting with technology more challenging.”

Here is where I’m a huge fan of Apple’s accessibility practices. They prove you can make even a glass touchscreen accessible.

Disability Is Common

Disability Icons

In fact, 26% of American adults have some sort of disability. Not all of those impact a person’s ability to read your emails, but some do. Vision, dexterity, cognition, and more all can compromise your reach.

Accessibility Is Good For Everyone

And, of course, you’re all about serving everyone as best you can, so designing for accessibility is just part of your strategy. Plus, you may have heard something about those credit union website ADA lawsuits. Your emails count, too.

Accessibility Guidelines

Designing for accessibility won’t halt your email efforts. If you’re using a large provider, their system will handle a lot of the work. For example, they all provide a text-only version and let you add alt-text to images.

Sidenote: Adding alt-text to images isn’t just important for accessibility; it’s also helpful for people who (like me) don’t let their messages load remote content. Thus, images don’t appear unless manually loaded. Having descriptions helps me know what they are or represent.

Use their functionality. Then, research and share other email accessibility guidelines with your team to make sure you’re building emails that are easily understood. (Can I just say how thrilled I am to see they include Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease as a recommendation?)

Mobile Considerations

iPhone Text Samples

This section helps you create email marketing that is accessible for people with a range of disabilities. That’s important. So is making sure your messages load well on mobile. Use the built-in testing features, then send to a bunch of staff phones.

How does the message look? Is your call-to-action visible right when it loads? Can you read text? Do the images work at a smaller physical size? The message might be technically mobile-friendly, but it’s up to you to ensure it actually works.

It’s not like half of your audience will open messages on their phones. Or that they’ll delete the message in under 3 seconds if it doesn’t format right. True facts you can easily be ready to address.

App & Website Matters

Finally, email program. Whether on a phone, tablet, or computer, you have to ensure your messages render the same in Outlook (and OWA) as they do in the Gmail app, the Gmail website, and the Mail app on iPhones.

I can say from experience that an easy way to get me to unsubscribe is to make your messages illegible on my phone, or display funky on my iPad. People use the device of the moment, and your email marketing needs to be just as effective on every one.

Bonus Tip: Respect Privacy & Avoid Spamming

Person Peeking Through White Blinds
“All your data are belong to us” is not the privacy-focused approach.

GDPR: This only affects you if your institution has account holders in the European Union (EU). However, I’m no legal scholar, and there’s a possibility that just having your systems accessed from there makes you in need of compliance.

That could happen in the wild scenario that one of your members/customers is visiting the EU and loads your app.

CAN-SPAM: The legal reason why no one gets spam anymore. What?

There are a series of requirements you must meet, just like other compliance regimes, to ensure your emails aren’t considered spam. Know them. Respect them. Your recipients will like that. I mean, don’t spam. No one likes that. And you can avoid potential fines.

Email Marketing Is Marketing

Email campaigns might seem like an isolated task. They’re not. Like any other marketing effort, email efforts must be integrated with your “big picture” to function best. The easiest way to do this? Make sure the people and teams communicate!

Maybe through email? 🙂 Ok, you’re right. The Slack channel makes more sense.

Use the data at your disposal to make informed decisions. Never be afraid to test. Be intentional in your marketing messaging. Focus on personalization that really makes people feel appreciated. Once you have your “feel”, mix up your content to keep it interesting.

Glasses Focusing Computer Screen

And, of course, never spam.

If you get the right content to the right people at the right time, you’ll…still need to have a good subject line.

Be sure to Subscribe to the Learning Library to keep your own inbox flowing (but not overflowing) with helpful content on a range of topics. From Texting (SMS) to Payment Protection, Efficiency to Checking, we’re here to get you the info you need.

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.