The Science of Email Marketing: 10 Characteristics of Successful Business Emails

By July 2nd, 2013. 2 comments

What is the one thing every required for Internet logins, signups, social accounts, commenting, creating a website and many other activities online?

Answer: Email

That’s right. Nearly every online user has an email address. Yet when we browse the mainstream business blogs, e-books, magazines and other media all we hear about are other forms of marketing.

For many, business email programs are still new. There are businesses both large and small still learning how to successfully use an email program to acquire new customers and to increase loyalty from existing customers.

This week we looked at some successful ways to use email marketing in your business so that you can apply them in your business. If you’re looking to improve your business emails here is what you need to do.

Google: Offer Entry Level Services and Products

Email Marketing Tip - Make an offer

Email Marketing Tip 1: Make An Offer

Google’s bread and butter business is advertising and much of its business comes from small and medium size companies. This email went out recently to the company’s email list. Actually, after looking closer it appears the email went to AdWords customers that are likely not spending much in terms of advertising budget at present

This lack of interest in a product is an issue for many businesses. For a business email program there are always people on the subscriber list that are just barely interested in the company’s services.

To reach those people Google offered an entry-level service. Google has apparently made it easier to use the service and they’ve cut back on the details hence the “express” part of AdWords. It’s an enticing offer and combined with the 2 months of free advertising I’m not sure many businesses could pass it up.

Action Item: Segment your list into subscribers that have not yet purchased. Create an offer to entice them to take action. It could be a trial offer. It could be a small sample of the product you provide. The idea is to get people hooked on something so you can turn them from a ‘potential customer’ into a ‘customer’ and then migrate them into your other product/service offerings to increase their lifetime value.

Aweber: Add Visuals to Make Email More Interesting

Email Marketing Tip 2 - Use Visuals

Email Marketing Tip 2: Use Visuals

It’s a little meta to include an email service provider in a blog post about email, but this is a good example and it was the only email to actually include a personal image.

The point here is that in business we interact with people. The reality of the online world is there is little face-to-face contact. Video calling is gaining acceptance, but actually seeing someone’s face while communicating with him or her is still rare.

That’s why it’s impressive that Aweber added a photo of the person sending this message. The email stands out in the inbox and makes it more personal. You get the feeling you can trust this company just by seeing the photo.

Combine the visuals in the email along with a timely offer and Aweber is off and rolling. Also notice the line at the bottom about subscribing if the email had been forwarded to you. That’s a great little way to add new subscribers to the list.

Action Item: You don’t need to have a full-time business email program designer on staff although that would be a great asset, but it is important to add visuals to your emails. Add your photo to the signature in your marketing emails. Add your business logo. Perhaps take photos of something different for each email. These are easy ways to add more interest to your messages and earn attention in the inbox.

AT&T: Limit Email Calls to Action

Email Marketing Tip 3 - Have one clear call to action

Email Marketing Tip 3: Have one clear call to action

When given many choices people struggle with making a decision. Image yourself walking into an ice cream parlor. You want to purchase a small dish of ice cream. You walk in the store and stand in front of the ice cream containers. There are 20, 30 or maybe even 100 different flavors. There are so many options and so many enticing options that you can’t decide. Then you look over to the side and you notice that cherry is the flavor of the day. Decision made. It’s cherry.

Too many options can be a bad thing and that’s why this email from AT&T in the USA is great. There is a single call to action and it’s not even a “buy now” action. The call simply asks subscribers to learn more about the service. That’s a small commitment to get people to click, but once AT&T has that one commitment it becomes easier to get the larger commitment of converting someone that clicks into someone that purchases.

Action Item: Create your next email and limit the call to action. Have one main goal for the email. Perhaps you have a new service you’re offering this year. Write a headline and a sentence to entice interest and then have a call to action asking people to see additional details. You’ll have them on your site and on the path to a purchasing decision.

SEOmoz: Provide a Utility People Crave

Email Marketing Tip 4 - Use emails to provide information your customers crave.

Email Marketing Tip 4: Use emails to provide information your customers crave.

People are busy. It’s the nature of the world today. We don’t have time to do everything. If you think about your typical day you probably have 3-5 things you can actually spend time doing. After work, family, eating and sleeping there isn’t much left for your focus.

That’s why with its email program, SEOmoz does something simple yet important for a business email program – it offers a utility people crave. In this case SEOmoz is collecting the best articles about SEO from the previous few weeks. Subscribers don’t have the time to find all the articles on their own so they appreciate the fact that SEOmoz does the work for them. It’s a service that is simple yet very useful for people.

Action Item: There is always something useful you can do with your email program. You need to give people a reason to subscribe to your business email program. Consider the things you already do that would be useful services for your customers. A grocer could send out holiday recipes to customers saving them time on finding new recipes for the holiday get together events. A plumbing business could send out a checklist to customers so they can do an annual check on all the pipes in the home or office.

Digital Photography School: Automate Email Marketing When Possible

Email Marketing Tip 5 - Automate to save time.

Email Marketing Tip 5: Automate to save time.

Automation is something small businesses need to practice. With your business email program you’ll need to automate where possible otherwise you likely won’t have an email program at all. There is just too much else on the priority list, but the good thing is that email can very easily be automated.

Digital Photography School is a company that uses email automation. Their weekly newsletter likely has an editor, but the contents are quite possibly automated. Email service providers allow businesses the ability to create a template and add in items like the most recent blog posts or social media updates. Anything on the Internet with a feed can usually be included in the email template.

Action Item: For your business email program automate where possible. If you’re adding news updates to your website add the feed to your email to give subscribers the latest headlines. If you have an eCommerce website you might even want to add the three most recent items added to the shop. If you have someone enquiring or in your sales funnel, plan several automated email messages to help them educate themselves on why and how they should buy from you.

WooThemes: Long Form Email Works as a Filter


Email Marketing Tip 6 - Use long form email to make announcements and filter subscribers.

Email Marketing Tip 6: Use long form email to make announcements and filter subscribers.

For a moment think back to the days when people would send physical letters in the mail. People put a lot of thought into a letter. Often these letters would be several pages long and people would take the time to read them.

There is a story about The Wall Street Journal in the USA. For years the media company had a direct mail piece that was a long form letter to potential subscribers. This long letter beat out any other test pieces for decades because the people that would take the time to read such a letter are truly interested in the service.

WooThemes created what today would be considered a long form email. The company is announcing a new service and along with a great visual they have added a letter from the team. Some questions about the service are answered.

Additionally, JCP in the USA recently sent out this letter addressing its stance on the Black Friday shopping day.

Email Marketing Tip 6 - Use long form email to make announcements and filter subscribers.

Email Marketing Tip 6: Use long form email to make announcements and filter subscribers.

Letters and long form emails work to filter out those that are really interested in your service and those that are just browsing. By using long emails you can focus on the people that want your service. It’s a way to filter your list to optimize it.

Action Item: What are the questions your customers have when you’re selling to them in person? These are the questions you need to answer. When you send out an email for a service or product next time think about these questions and provide the answers in the email. The message could get long, but that’s okay. The message will filter the people that are interested in your service and by the time they visit your site they’ll be ready to purchase.

Apple: People Buy For Emotional Reasons

Email Marketing Tip 7 - Use emotion to get response.

Email Marketing Tip 7: Use emotion to get response.

Apple is perhaps one of the most profitable company in the world. The company’s handful of products from the last five years has revolutionized the world of communications, entertainment and information. When Apple does something it makes sense to pay attention including when the company sends out messages for its business email program.

During much of the year you’ll see other companies focusing on discounting and promotion. Apple does things entirely different. The focus remains on the products, but not just on the products.

Apple focuses on the emotion reasons people purchase the products. In this simple, elegant email the focus is on making someone smile or making them speechless. Those are emotions. When we give gifts those are the exact reactions we want to receive. It’s about the feelings each person has when they give and receive a gift.

Action Item: When sending emails promoting your services think about the emotions your customers feel when they purchase from you. Think about how your customers feel after using your products or services. There is more to a product than a simple description. For example, a plumber doesn’t simply unclog a drain or fix leaky pipes. The plumber gives peace of mind and lifts a weight off the shoulders of the homeowner. This emotion can be used in email and any kind of marketing.

LinkedIn: Design Matters More Than Content

Email Marketing Tip 8 - Use design to give a good first impression.

Email Marketing Tip 8: Use design to give a good first impression.

First impressions matter in life and they matter for business email programs. Say you’re clever enough to create a subject line that gets your subscribers into your email. You’ve earned their initial attention, but now there is another challenge.

Once someone opens your email they make a quick decision. They determine if the email is worth their time or they trash it.

It happens in a moment. You have to earn every second with email marketing.

The biggest reason people will pay attention to your email is the design. If you don’t have someone’s interest earned at first they’re going to delete your email.

Basic design is necessary for emails.

In this example we have LinkedIn, the social networking website for business professionals. The company has a weekly newsletter featuring unique content from LinkedIn and other areas around the Web.

This type of email would be really easy to create with a basic template, but LinkedIn went above the basic and created a nice looking template. The email is appealing to the target audience and with a quick glance people will take in the email and likely click on the stories.

Action Item: It pays to have a good design for your email program. If you’re starting out with a basic email such as a newsletter that you send to your subscribers each month you can pay to have a freelance designer create a template. This small investment will get you past the initial judgment of your subscribers.

If you don’t have a designer on staff use sites like Freelance Switch or Dribbble to find someone that can do a small project. It’s good to have a designer at your disposal for a variety of online needs like images for a website or blog, emails, advertisements, etc.

Woolrich: Urgency Creates Action

Email Marketing Tip 9 - Create urgency throughout the year.

Email Marketing Tip 9: Create urgency throughout the year.

Deadlines spur action. It’s one of the oldest lines in negotiations including sales. Talk to any salesperson and they’ll usually set deadlines with proposals and things of that nature. The reason this is done is because the deadline forces the other party to make a decision.

Email works the same way and Woolrich in the USA jumped out ahead of the game this year by causing action before the big Black Friday and Cyber Monday events. It’s pretty clever to tell people to make a purchase before inventory runs out or before the rush starts.

Urgency doesn’t need to happen for the usual things like holidays and such. There are other ways to use email urgency throughout the year.

Action Item: Here is a way for you to create urgency with your business email program. Use your email provider to setup a welcome series. You’ll create the emails in the series just one time. When a new person signs up they’ll get a welcome message. Offer them something with this first email like a 20 Essential Plumbing Tips for Homeowners. It can be a blog post or even an e-book.

Next, make an offer for your service at a discounted rate. The plumber would offer a complete inspection of all pipes in the home for 20% below the normal rate. But the catch is the offer is only good for 5 days. The person needs to respond or call to setup the call. Send one reminder email on the last day. That deadline will create urgency and you’ll earn more new customers. Once you have a new customer they will be likely to be repeat customers.

iStockphoto: Do Something Different to Stand Out

Email Marketing Tip 10 - Do competitive research and do something different.

Email Marketing Tip 10: Do competitive research and do something different.

Finally, we have something different. When you’re doing anything in business it’s necessary to stand out from the competition. Even if you offer the same product or service there is usually something different about you that would make a customer choose you over the alternative.

This year, iStockphoto did something interesting. It’s not a new idea, but it is a refreshing idea and it has nothing to do with direct sales. The company sent out an email around the holidays asking subscribers to make a donation to charity. If the subscribers donate money then iStockphoto will match those contributions up to $50,000. That’s a big chunk of change and it all goes to help those less fortunate.

Action Item: There is still time during the holiday season to give back. You can do exactly what iStockphoto is doing even if it’s for a small amount like $500 or $1,000. You could also do something entirely different to stand out. You could offer an apprenticeship program for a local kid or ask a parent and their kid to join. It could be a sweepstakes for your customers. There are lots of things you can do, but the main focus is to be different.


Business email programs have been around since the beginning of the Internet. In fact, the concept of direct mail didn’t begin with email. Long before we were able to send electronic mail there were physical mail pieces.

Earning the right to enter someone’s private inbox is a great achievement. Take advantage of that by creating emails like the examples above and you’ll have a big win for your business.

The next step is figuring out how to get more subscribers, but that’s another post.

Stay tuned.

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