How to set up an email campaign for retail results

Today’s email platforms make it so simple, a monkey can send out email! But if you want a campaign that will yield real results, follow the steps we took for a retail client.


email on laptop in cafe



How to Create an Email Campaign

Hi. I’m Angela Cason, Founder of TEMPO Strategic. Welcome to the first episode of “The Score.” The Score is where we dig into case histories on how we orchestrate campaigns for our clients and talk about what we’ve learned, what we’ve noticed, and update you on new stuff as we find it helpful.

At our agency, TEMPO Strategic, we work on technology and making it work in the real world for our clients. And that means that a lot of what we do is experimentation.

So what I want to talk about today is something we just did recently for a client that turned out pretty well. I thought it was a good way to start, with a success. Why not?


Website and eBay Site

We have a client who has a retail store and he also has an eBay shop. He doesn’t sell directly from his website, but he links through to his eBay. It’s partly done that way for him because it’s easier for him to manage. And it also gives him the accessibility of eBay search, which is a bigger market for him to be found in, than just trying to promote his own website against all the other websites like that, it’s a good strategy for a small retailer, actually. Otherwise he’s competing against all the other eBay stores, all the other Amazon stores, other jewelers. It gives him a little bit more of a robust platform to sit on.


How is Email Different as a Medium?

A lot of people kind of think of email as old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy. A daily annoyance. But if you think about it from a user standpoint, we all check our email. We’re on there. It doesn’t get ignored. You know, I can go a couple of days without looking at a social media platform if I’m trying to be good. But I’m never gonna go a couple of days without checking my email. And that’s pretty true of most people.

So, he had a list of a couple of thousand people, their emails, and we thought we’d run a test and see if we could activate some of those people. The other thing that happens if you have, as he does, a proprietary list, if you have something that you’ve generated out of your own customers, you own it and that’s a good thing, and you can use it yourself and you can protect the data.

So, there’s a little more security for your users. And because all of us understand on some level that there are different relationships with different platforms, there’s also a little more trust and intimacy to email. You voluntarily have given it to somebody, so there’s more of a direct relationship there. Someone giving you their email is an act of trust that they are going to let you get in touch with them and you’re also promising on your part as the sender that you’re not going to abuse it.


Should You Buy an Email List?

Related to that, in general, we don’t like to buy lists. Sometimes we’ll do a sponsored email through a publication if we’re trying to get a name out there. If the publication is sending it out in their name those open rates can be pretty good depending on how close the relationship between the publication and the topic of what you are sending. (For example, we send a Writer’s Conference Email through the New Yorkers blast. It was very successful because there is a high interest in writing among the readership.) But going with just straight paid lists are usually not a high yield in terms of quality. You might get some people. And if you have a very generally appealing product, as I usually say, it’s easy to sell Coca-Cola because what I need to know is “Are you thirsty?” And most people are thirsty at some point in their lives.

But other products have a more difficult sell and if you’re in that situation and you want to have a more informed consumer, bought lists can be way too general for you. We’ve used them a couple of times for promotions or contests, and we’ve actually gotten comments back from people that say things like, “I don’t want your stupid emails. I just wanted to win the TV.” So, it’s not very encouraging and usually, the quality is pretty low. Enough said about that. The idea of getting a big email list is that eventually you want to find the quality people in that, but it’s a big net to throw.


How to Test Email for Reaching Customers

Last month, we met with our client and wanted to get an assessment of the marketing platforms we’d been managing for him. He deals in vintage watches, both in his store and online, as I said. So, we’re really trying to drive both businesses. So, we set up a test for a lead-generating email strategy for him. We had been talking about doing it. And the time arrived.


What Comes First in Creating an Email Campaign?

One of the important things that we wanted to talk about was the strategy of what we were going to send people. And this is something you need to think about if you’re creating or thinking of creating an email campaign for your business.

Most people are really busy. They’re dumping everything they can out of their lives that they don’t have to look at. So they need a really good reason to open your email. They need a really strong discount offer, or they need something timely or they need an advantage for having given you their personal information. You have to think about what’s the value to the reader.

And in this case, because he deals with vintage watches, his stock is always changing. And sometimes he gets in really wonderful, valuable watches that people want, that are in high demand in the market. And what we set up because of that was a sort of insider preview strategy.

The promise to the opener is that before we put anything on eBay for the public to bid on, we’re gonna offer this first to our insiders, our customers who have been loyal and given us this information. So they get first chance at the new Rolex that’s out there or the old Rolex that’s out there. And that way, there’s a real reason for them to open. There’s a strong motivation. There’s a strong benefit to them.


How and Why to Validate your Email ListsNever Bounce Logo
So, the first step in doing that once we’d set the strategy that we wanted to test was to get the email list right. And he had several lists that he’d gotten as many retailers do from several sources. He had in-store customers who had given them their email at one time or another because they’d remembered to ask. And sometimes store owners and store staff don’t always remember to ask for that. He had a list of eBay customers, of course, and he also had a PayPal list and a Facebook list.

You probably, if you’re a retailer have something similar from different events you’ve held, so you need to look at the different ways you’ve acquired those names and you need to keep track of it. If you’re starting out and you haven’t done this before, it’s important to remember and keep track of where the name came from – did they walk into the store? Did they tell you online? I’ll talk about that a little more in a minute.

So, what we did was do an analysis of the quality of each of those lists – his PayPal, his eBay, customers who came in the store. We wanted to determine the quality of each of the names.

What that means is, you’ve had this experience, we all go to an event and someone asks for our email and  you scrawl something on the chart, you may give the a fake email, you rush through it, everybody does it. So sometimes when you acquire names, there not really real, or not legible, or misspelled so that’s going to give you problems when you go to send an email en masse because that is going to come back to you as non-deliverable, and that is problem for you as an emailer. And sometimes people just are not comfortable telling you “no, I’d rather not give you my email,” so you never know and you need to check it. Or they have old emails they’ve abandoned, like AOL, or they’ve changed platforms and they’re no longer checking the old one. Anyway, it’s a good idea to verify the quality of the lists that you’re using.

So we needed to validate the lists and scrub out any errors that might trip up our service.

[We used]

In running the validation, we actually lost about half the names in the process. We started with over 2000 and ended up with about 1000. About half were not of quality or were very old. But the ones we had left we were confident in, and we had enough to start.

And this is an important thing to think about because as you go into platforms like MailChimp or Constant Contact, any of the server platforms are going to be judging you very harshly if you spam people.

One of the things that they look at is what is the quality of that name? And they’re fighting against the abuse of email, because that’s their lifeblood. They want to make sure that people are opening their emails, so they’re really watching that for all of their customers.

So, if your names, if you have a list that’s iffy and you send out a lot of names that come back, that are either reported as spam or come back as non-deliverable for one reason or another, you get flagged by the platform and they will cause problems with your account. They may refuse to give you service or it may cause problems with your ability to send out the emails. That’s a right that they reserve.


Why Use an Email Service Platform?

MailChimp Logo

One of the reasons to use a platform is that they are very good at conforming to different delivery systems. And they do comply. And so, you can use them and get through some of the filters that you might otherwise have trouble with. And also if you send massive emails from your personal or business email and you do get tagged as a spammer, you can get into a lot of trouble.

So, they’re adapting you from server to server, from platform to platform automatically and helping you deliver your email to people since people do get them through various platforms, whether they’re using MSN, or whatever.

[For more on ESPs and how they help your emails get through, read Mailchimp’s article here.]

But once we got through the validation test with the client, the list was a little under 2,000, which meant our service on MailChimp was still free, which is great.


How to Develop Creative Strategy for Your Email Campaign

The next thing we did was look at the creative that we were going to need to present over time. Because the number of watches available to us were gonna vary from email to email we needed to consider that in the way that we set up the email template. Sometimes he would have four that he was ready to send out. Sometimes he would have as many as eight. We wanted to create a template that would look nice and elegant and work with a variety of information, but make it quick and simple to vary the emails each time. The point of a template is that it makes the process faster, and as you know, anything that takes too much time doesn’t get done. And you want to be very regular with your emails.

  • We created a template with his name at the top.
  • We put the call-to-action near the top, which was “call us” to make it easy for people.
  • We put a button in.
  • And then, we made it so that we can very readily supply, populate the emails with the photographs and descriptions of product. The client send the pictures and description.

So, that makes the process quick, easy, and the easier and more assessable a process is, the more likely you are to keep doing it. And with email, especially, it’s something you want to be consistent in. If you’re gonna send a weekly email, you want to send a weekly email. If you’re gonna send a monthly email, you want to keep the promise that you’re giving your recipients. So consider how you’re going to create content before you start.

Think about:

  • What kind of content
  • How you’re going to create it
  • Who’s going to create it
  • How long you expect it to take them
  • How it needs to be approved by how many people
  • And how you’re gonna test it as you go along.

Because obviously, some of your results are gonna be better than others. And you want to know “this kind of message really resonated with my in-store customers who signed up, but my online customers didn’t really understand the message at all.” Maybe it’s something local. That’s the reason we alluded earlier to the importance of keeping your lists separate and targeting your message.

But think about the production of your email as part of the cost of getting these out.


office employee thinking with coffeeWhen Should You Send Your Email?

The next thing we wanted to look at was the timing. Timing matters with email. And we wanted to look at doing something midweek. We were basing some of the timing from our highest responses. Some of the information we did get from Instagram was when people were looking on at our store and at our category. And midday, midweek, seems to be a good time for people. Also, Mailchimp offers peak time recommendations for your category of goods. It differs by category, so take a look at that.

So, I told you at the beginning that I was telling a success story, and here’s what happened.  We chose as a first test 12:45 on a Thursday to send the first blast. And at 12:45 we sent out the first email. And at 1:07, the client called to tell us that he had already sold the first watch through the email, which was incredible! It was a great, great result. An old customer he had not heard from in a while called him up and bought the first watch on the list.

This is a great illustration of the power of email to uncover the value of existing customers. You know, you have people who’ve liked you, bought from you before. It’s very easy to get caught up in the prospecting and the thrill of finding new customers, but don’t forget that your existing customers, depending on your business model, your existing customers still have a lot of value in them and may have still have a lot of interest even if they haven’t talked to you in a while.

You want to prioritize and amortize out the trust that you’ve built with them over the years. They know your name. They trust you. They bought from you before. That’s a big relationship hurdle to get over with a new client. You’ve already gotten over it with existing clients if you have their email on your list. So, this is a really good way to utilize all the effort you put into building that trust. But you want to think about what you can come to them with as a value.


How to Test Your Subject Line

I forgot to talk about the fact that we tested subject lines. And there are a couple of subject line testers out there. You want to get the highest grade possible on the subject line.


What Makes a Subject Line Score Well

The things that score well are

  • urgency (order today! Offer expires, etc.)
  • asking a question
  • making it short enough (remember mobile phones don’t show long subject lines)
  • and you want to put a promise in there as quickly as possible.

Think about yourself as your glance down the list of emails subject lines, which ones you automatically delete. Which ones grab you, and use that as a guideline.

I think our first one was “get it first, new watches,” something like that. Sometimes our temptation as writers is to get really creative. And unfortunately, that’s not always the most effective thing. You think, “Oh, I wrote this wonderful clever headline or this wonderful clever pun. Everyone will love it.” But subject lines are not headlines. And so, you do need to do subject line testing. One of the more depressing things about our business is that the brilliant, clever idea doesn’t always win.


Different Open Rates from Different Lists

So, when we looked at the open rates, it varied because we had different list segmentations that we sent this out of. Remember that we had our PayPal list. We had our eBay list and our in-store list. The three we had vetted and decided to send out. So, our open rates varied from 33.7% to 20.9%, which are all very good numbers to start with. And we will be keeping an eye on these open rates as they trend. But we were very encouraged by that. You want to try and be above 26% if you can, as an open rate. That’s a strong number for a campaign.


How to Get More Emails

Our next step with the client is to expand the email list. So, we’re going out through Facebook doing lead generation for that and trying to raise interest in the offers to the insiders because the consistency with which we can keep this going will determine the long-term success of the email campaign. As I said, when you’re engaging in this with a client or a customer, this is a promise you’re making them. This is what you’re gonna give to them and you want to be as consistent as possible over long-term.

So we started a Facebook campaign,introducing the concept inviting people to become insiders, and in the first week we’ve added 60 names to the list. If you’re a huge retailer you’re laughing right now, but if you’re a small retailer, think about 60 names. It’s a really really good start and it’s almost a 10% build from the clean list that we had before. So keep going with it and figure out a strategy for how you’re going to get more email names once you get started.

[Note: If you run a lead-generation campaign on Facebook or other media, you may want to look into an API like, which can collect and import the data into your ESP. Otherwise you’ll have to import manually which increases the chance of errors.]


The Media You Own is the Media They Trust

And the final point I want to make is that there are some real issues going on with social media trust right now. In the news, Facebook especially, of course, and the way that they mishandled personal data has alarmed a lot of people including me. Like I didn’t really need to take that personality test, and now, some stranger has all of my data, and that was really stupid. And that’s not a good way for any of us who use Facebook to feel.

I think there’s a certain amount of distrust and betrayal, and how that’s gonna work out over the time probably because people do love being on the platform more than we worry about our privacy. But as a marketer, you need to be thinking about always what media you own – your website, your email, that is a relationship with customers that you control. When you’re on somebody else’s – Yelp, Facebook – you are not in control so you want to make sure that part of your strategy is to own media and pay attention to it.

So, I hope this was a little bit helpful as a case history to show some of the steps that we took in approaching this as a project. And if you have any questions, we’d be more than happy to discuss it.

Thanks for listening. My name is Angela Cason. I’m the owner of TEMPO Strategic. For more of “The Score” and links from this episode, check out our website at

Music: Innovation Business by Nick Petrov provided by HookSounds

Photos provided by Pexels and Unsplash


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