Check out our 2021 Email Marketing Guide that will help you master your email strategy.

4 Factors for a Successful Email Marketing Strategy

Email marketing strategy

With 2020 finally behind us, and with 2021 unwinding ahead, now is the time to reflect, to add, and subtract. The last year taught us to swim in uncharted waters like never before. From the email marketing strategy standpoint, we all learned a lot of lessons.

Let’s sum up the year quickly: The 2020 US elections and covid impact on physical stores caused an increase in advertising costs. On the other hand, cutting down on marketing spend became a necessity for most. Because of this discrepancy, the email channel, with its small investments and high ROI, became even more important in brands’ marketing strategy.

After the pandemic hit, the number of emails increased. To elbow their way through the crowded inboxes, brands had to step up their game. This caused a lot of changes in the way brands communicate with their audiences, shifting the focus to customers and community instead of selling. But even though the methods changed, the very essence of email marketing remained the same: sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

In this blog series, we will help you do just that. We will walk you through email marketing strategy, copy, and design that will help you build a connection with your audience and hit the right spot in 2021.

We’re dedicating the first blog post in the series to email marketing strategy. Here, you’ll learn about the necessity of agility, the perks of using data, high-quality list engagement, and proper A/B testing.

Let’s begin!

The power of strategic thinking

Content is king, we can agree it helps you inform, entertain, educate, or simply sell. But before you start thinking of content, you need to have your email marketing strategy in place. This is where the email channel truly shines, as it offers endless possibilities and opportunities for planning and execution. Below are our top picks to consider when planning your 2021 strategy: agility, segmentation, list health and engagement, and A/B testing.

1. Agility

2020 was so turbulent that there was no way of knowing what the next week might bring – because of this, planning for a month or a quarter became a risky business. Being in the moment was the essential component of any email marketing strategy for brands that wanted to stay relevant. 

Quick and easy solutions

Still, there were many creative solutions for unpredictable problems. Some of them have been used in email marketing for a while but proved their worth during the Covid-19 crisis in particular. That’s right, we’re talking modular blocks in email templates. These are the pre-created blocks of content that can be moved around to create a sense of a brand new email. Bonus points if more than one version of the same block is created. This way, brands have more freedom and alternatives at hand in case they need to quickly shake up the content. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes space for handling new, potentially problematic stuff that can turn up. 

In addition, if you embark on an adventure of planning for, say, a few months in advance, make sure to add a couple of extra campaign ideas on top of the number you plan to send. This way, you have a variety to choose from in the case of shifts in consumer interests or abrupt changes in the industry; in the case of a slow month; in unforeseen circumstances such as a product running out of stock, and similar. And, in case you’re making beautiful emails without season-specific content, you can reuse them for sending a campaign to a new bunch of people or even add them as additional touchpoints to the flows you already have.

Agility is all about responding to changes quickly and easily and there are countless ways to practice it. Stay vigilant, be ready, and monitor the general trends and email performance regularly – this will be your main guide to getting through the intricacies of email marketing. 

2. Segmentation

We all want to receive emails that are relevant, interesting, and well-adjusted to our needs. But how can a brand target us properly if it doesn’t use the necessary data? According to research, 87% of marketers think data is one of their most underutilized assets. It’s time to change this by following data-driven segmentation in your email marketing efforts. This means making use of the data you have and segmenting your list based on subscribers’ habits and behavior. This will help you send relevant, highly personalized emails, at the right time. 

How do you segment your list?

There are many data points you can use to segment your lists, but let’s start with shopping behavior. Here, you can differentiate and tailor your content to prospects, first-time shoppers, repeat customers, lapsed customers, VIPs, seasonal shoppers, discount-only shoppers, etc.

For email behavior, you should segment people based on how recently or frequently they engage with your emails. Sending to an engaged audience is the key to keeping your sending reputation pristine, which in turn allows you to include the less engaged members of your list occasionally without hurting your deliverability. 

For best results, you’ll want to combine the two, as on-site engagement does not equal email engagement.

You’ll also want to hear from your subscribers and tailor your content and frequency based on their feedback. For this, make use of ‘’manage preferences’’ pages and emails and let them choose from a variety of options. 

You can also use information such as age, gender, location, jobs, levels of education, etc. What’s important is that you always look for new ways to fine-tune your approach and stay relevant to your audience.

Email list segmentation stats
Source: SuperOffice

3. List Health and Engagement

In the wake of the holidays, list health proved to be the biggest lesson of 2020: it is a major factor that can make or break a brand’s holiday season. 

Here’s the deal: brands often boast about their huge list, but, in reality, only 20-50% of it is engaged. From all the engaged people, only 10-30% will open the emails. This means that the actual number is quite small and even with the most enticing promotions, the audience is simply not large enough for the expected and desired spike in revenue. To fix this, brands need to work on keeping their list healthy. The best way to do it is to clean it and engage with subscribers regularly. 

Common engagement mistakes

What many brands do is bombard subscribers with emails around an event (signup or purchase), and then go quiet for a long period of time, sometimes even months. If no action is taken during the silent period, these people are never brought back. This is a mistake that leaves a lot of money on the table, and the one responsible for many brands underperforming during the 2020 holiday season. 

If, during these lonely intervals, there are no Re-Engagement or Winback emails or Reorder, Replenishment, and Cross-Sell flows, it is only about 40%-50% of the list that ends up engaged. This is not enough for healthy open and conversion rates. Remember: the more people engage with a brand, the more flows get triggered, as people take more action. Engaging the greatest portion of a list over a period of half a year is necessary.

Engagement tips and tricks

How can you engage more people? Make use of prospect-targeting flows (Welcome and Abandonment). Consider extending the Welcome series with additional touchpoints until the placed order rate drops below the placed order rate you see in campaigns. For such touchpoints, you can duplicate campaigns with great performance and no time-specific content (evergreen campaigns). In addition, you can target people with check-in flows, product review requests, Re-Engagement and Winback emails presenting the best offers of the month, and the Expected Date of Next Order emails.

4. A/B Testing

A/B tests are a great way to determine what works best with your audience and tailor the experience to their needs, according to the results. You’ve probably heard you should be testing all the time, but things are a bit different now. While you can test everything, it takes up valuable resources and does not always bring impactful insights. The focus needs to be removed from excessive, aimless testing you should test only the elements that will bring you conclusive results and move the needle. 

How do you test sensibly?

When planning the test, ask yourself: what is it exactly that I want to know? How will this help me? What exactly will I test? How long will the test run? Which metrics am I going to use to determine the winner? When I get the results, how do I plan to use that info to optimize future efforts? In how many different places can I use this? Is this a widely applicable thing with great potential to influence revenue or engagement? Once you have clear answers to these questions, you are ready to start. 

Places to start

The most common A/B tests are those concerning the time of day, day of the week, and subject lines, as these are quick and easy to organize. In the case that you want to test these, here are some ideas to consider. 

When it comes to subject lines, you can test options such as emoji or no emoji, variable or no variable (first name, product name), punctuation or no punctuation. However, testing the subject line length might give you more actionable insights. If a big portion of your subscribers opens emails on mobile, check if shorter subject lines, adjusted so they fit the smaller screen, affect the metrics you’re looking at. This will also help you realize to which extent you need to optimize your emails for mobile.

When testing the best sending days, bear in mind that sending different types of content on different days is not recommended, as it is a separate testing variable. Sending promotional emails on Fridays and sending content-only emails on Tuesdays and comparing opens and clicks is not apples to apples so make sure you test the same thing on different days. Plus, to get conclusive info, you’ll need to omit the results around major holidays, as the heavy discount promotional emails report significantly better performance and might skew the results.

Testing ”in-email” content

You can get creative and choose new testing variables, as long as you’re testing with purpose. Try testing product feeds in emails: best-sellers vs. personal recommendations; CTA copy: a generic ‘shop now’ vs. a fun, branded version; test whether or not featuring product prices, or even the color and font size affects click-through rates; test the length of your emails. Bear in mind that shorter emails often show better performance because they are properly streamlined in terms of where people need to click, but it is still important that each brand tests this to see what works best for them. 

Testing ‘’in-email’’ content is the area least talked about, as it typically requires more work and doesn’t influence open rates. However, if you’re seeing great open rates, this means that your list is mostly engaged; in this case, testing in-email content is more important than testing, for example, subject lines. Now that click rates are down across industries, testing the content might help you figure out how to improve them. 

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, and that’s how you can get sucked into perpetual, pointless testing. You can get creative once you have a clear understanding of the potential results and how they relate to the entirety of your email program and performance. Of course, it goes without saying that you should apply the knowledge gained through the tests and change your strategy accordingly. If you plan to keep doing the same old stuff, there is no point in testing, to begin with. Don’t test only for the sake of testing!


So, there you have it! The essential factors to help you shape your email marketing strategy in the new year are here. We hope this helped you gain insights and place focus on things that matter to your brand. 

Stay with us! In our next post, we’re dissecting major 2020 copywriting trends that will be carried into 2021.

Want to find out more about how we can help you with segmentation, list health, engagement, and A/B testing? Get in touch and book a call with our email experts!

Marija Pajkovic is the Head of Strategy at Essence of Email, driving 38x email marketing ROI for eCommerce clients. With over five years’ experience in marketing, ranging from content marketing to conversion optimization, Marija is an expert in generating 7-figure annual revenue for online stores.



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