It’s time to build that first email marketing campaign. Wow. It can be overwhelming! Where do you even start when there is so much to be done?! We’re here to help you break down this first big task into manageable steps—16 of them, in fact, which might sound like a lot of steps, but we believe in baby steps.

We aren’t talking about the steps that need to happen prior to this one, however, like choosing your email marketing platform and getting that all set up and running, or building your in-house email list or segmenting. No, for the purposes of this post, we’re assuming you’re already on board with a vendor like Maropost and now you’re ready to put that platform into play with a list already in place.

Now about this post—it’s important that you do these steps in order. It’s kind of like a board game that only lets you move forward when you’ve completed the necessary task. Have you ever played Monopoly and been stuck in jail for the required three turns because you couldn’t roll doubles to get out? Yeah, it’s like that. Follow these steps chronologically for best results. Skip a step or two here at your own peril—and then you can also probably forget about passing Go and collecting $200!

And another thing about this post: This is all work and strategizing that you do before you actually have an email campaign ready to deploy. So read through the steps, do the background work, and prepare yourself to build not any ol’ campaign but a successful one.

1. Understand what we mean by “email marketing campaign”

First off, know what it is meant by “campaign,” because it’s more than a one-time message. defines campaign as a “systemic course of aggressive activities for some specific purpose.” Granted, we aren’t encouraging you to be an aggressive email marketer, but we do want to emphasize the “systemic” part of this definition. You’re doing a series of emails, and the more strategic and well thought out the series, the better the execution and therefore results will be.

2. Know your goal

Next, know your goal with this email marketing campaign. This is key! Without knowing your goal, you’ll be ineffective in all your other efforts, from your list to your content to your design to your metrics. Your goal can be any number of things, from selling (duh) to brand awareness to re-engaging inactive subscribers. You can have a goal to collect more information about people on your list, to encourage social sharing, or to simply stay top-of-mind. Or it can be something else altogether. The goal itself is less important than having that goal.

3. Define success

Once you know the goal, figure out what success will look like. Which metrics will you use to measure your results? Make sure your metrics are in line with your goal! If your goal is to sell stuff, then conversions are an obvious metric. But what if your goal is simply staying top-of-mind? How will you measure that less tangible result? Focus on step 3 before you move on!

4. Know your audience

Now to know your audience, and by that we don’t mean know which email list you’re sending to. We mean know them as in know why they subscribed to your emails or bought from you, what they care about, their pain points and the problems they are trying to solve.

5. Determine what your audience wants

Once you’ve gotten into the mind of your audience, figure out what will make them want to open your emails and engage with them. Ask yourself, “Why should they care?” Ideally thinking through step 4 will prevent you from sending buy-buy-buy emails that are all about you you you. Instead, you should be able to develop a customer-centric email marketing campaign that will resonate with your audience because it’s relevant to them and their needs.

6. Figure out your content

At this point, you don’t need to reach out to your copywriter to get him or her starting on first drafts, but you do need to know what the overall messaging will be for each email—yes, each email. Sending an email marketing campaign means sending more than one email, and those emails need to work together. If your campaign involves five emails, you don’t want five totally different messages! That only makes for an inconsistent experience on the part of the recipient. Instead, think of the emails as sequential and keep them in some way connected to one another so that when a new email arrives in a recipient’s inbox, it has a familiarity to it.

7. Decide on your call-to-action for each email message

As part of your content, you’ll want to determine your call to action (or CTA) as well, keeping in mind your goal for this email marketing campaign (see step 2 above).

8. Plan your campaign’s number and cadence

The savvy marketer will be using automated email for any email marketing campaigns, so you’ll want to carefully think through how many emails to include in your campaign as well as when they should arrive. Some emails might be delivered based on a period of time. For example, the third email in the campaign might be sent one week after the second one. Other emails might be triggered based on the recipient’s behavior. Think all of this through and have a plan and a schedule.

9. Ensure your campaign will be compliant

Before we get too carried away with the rest of the steps and start creating an actual email marketing campaign, let’s talk about something ever so boring yet ever so critical: compliance. These days, Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL) is the one to adhere to because it’s much stricter than the American CAN Spam. If you’re not sure what compliance looks like, your email marketing vendor should be able to help you make sure everything you’re doing (or planning on doing) is on the up and up.

10. Write the content for each email in the campaign

You want to treat your “campaign” as a whole package, not a bunch of pieces. In our experience, writing the content for each all at the same time ensures a consistency and even a kind of cadence in the messages that make up your email marketing campaign.

11. Agonize over your subject lines

Yes, we said agonize. Think that’s an overstatement? What if we told you 35% of recipients decide whether or not to open an email based on the subject line alone? For far too many marketers, subject lines are written at the last minute without much thought at all. But when over one-third of people are going to make their “to open or not to open” decision based on your subject lines, don’t you think they deserve a little more time than a last minute? Subject lines are also a great element to test as you get started with email marketing campaigns (see step 15).

12. Determine what happens when someone converts

OK, picture this: You send one and then two emails, and someone does what you want (your goal, remember) and let’s say that person likes your offer and buys from your website. What if they get the next three emails in the campaign encouraging them to act when they’ve already acted? How well will those next three emails go over? It’s like dealing with a two-year-old who keeps asking “why” even after you’ve answered the question three times. You need a plan for those people who take some kind of action.

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13. Design your campaign

Although you probably don’t want your entire email marketing campaign to look exactly the same, strive for a consistent look and feel between the different messages in the campaign. That way you’re building familiarity in the inbox, and if recipients are liking what they’re seeing there, they will start to watch for your emails. Make those emails easy to identify!

14. Check the rendering of your campaign

You’re getting closer! You’ve got your goal, you know your audience, and you’ve written and designed each email in your campaign. Now you need to see how these emails look in real life. Check the rendering not only in different email clients but on mobile devices as well. (Your email marketing platform should offer tools for this purpose.)

15. Plan your testing

Yes, testing. With every email you send, it’s a good idea to be testing, even in your first email marketing campaign. That said, we want you to keep it simple! Just plan on some basic A/B testing of something like your subject line or the image used. Testing always helps you to improve, and getting into the habit of testing while building your first email marketing campaign will only benefit you and your email marketing in the long run.

16. Know how you will track the results

You want to pay attention to what’s happening for a couple of reasons. First off, remember those metrics you thought about in step 3? Well, you want to track results so you can check those metrics and see whether or not your campaign is performing as it should. This is on an email-by-email basis but also the campaign as a whole as it progresses. Secondly, you want to track results so you can react if necessary. What if two emails into your campaign you experience a spike in unsubscribes or spam reports? You’ll want to know why—and fix any issues—before email three goes out, right?


You did it! You reached the end of the 16 steps to build your first email marketing campaign! Now you are at the point where you can actually write, layout, test and send your emails because you’ve done all of the preparation ahead of time. And yes, every campaign you do will require this kind of background work first but it will get easier and go faster with each campaign as you learn what works and what doesn’t. Pretty soon, you’ll be passing Go on a regular basis with no time lost in jail!

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