Every business has to start marketing somewhere, and that often means turning to email. There are plenty of signposts to guide your organization on its email marketing journey, but there are a few standards that every organization ought to look for in particular, especially when they're just starting out.

This article will guide you through the ins and outs of what to prepare for in your email marketing campaign.

1. Figure out what you're sending

All email programs need a purpose, and not all of them are marketing-related. Transactional emails, for example, are necessary for account creation, receipts, order status, and password management.

Take the time to figure out what you're aiming to accomplish with your email program—from whom you're sending the email to, to what lists they ought to be on, to how you can manage growing lists, and more—before you send the first email.

2. Go with an ESP—or in-house

You have two options when starting an email marketing program: Go in-house or partner with an email service provider (ESP). In-house gives you more control, but ESPs offer better deliverability, outsourced infrastructure, advanced management tools, scalability, and a whole lot more you'll need in your marketing journey. If you chose the ESP route, make sure your partner provides an API you can integrate with your app or website.

3. Rev your marketing engines

OK, you've made a decision about the ESP or in-house question, and now all you have to do is start sending those emails, right? Almost. You'll need to consider a few things before sending emails en masse.

First, understand what constitutes spam and how it's regulated (if you're unfamiliar, read up on the CAN-SPAM act).

Second, make sure you have opt-in and unsubscribe options readily available for any users who'd like to either opt in or opt out of your emails.

Finally, when launching emails from a new IP address, use a "warm up" approach—the process of gradually increasing the volume of mail sent. Doing so helps you establish a reputation with Internet service providers (ISPs) as a legitimate sender and provides your organization with the opportunity to evaluate, and adjust, email campaigns as they unfold.

4. Use permission-based marketing tactics

All email marketing programs need to operate from a permissions-based platform. That means you send emails only to those who say they want emails from you. This is more than a suggestion. Foregoing permission-based marketing and blasting emails to purchased lists means you could, potentially, be labeled as a spammer. And that is bad for you and your brand.

Your first effort in any email program should be build a permission-based list and system. Doing so is good for keeping your subscribers engaged and ensuring long-term growth and healthy communications with your recipients. Typically, this process includes opt-in and opt-out pages, welcoming emails, email preference pages, and, of course, good content for readers.

Every email marketing program is going to be different. So, do your research (will your recipients appreciate the opportunity to adjust email cadence, for example?) and stick to best-practices.

And remember: no purchased lists, ever.

5. Segment your lists for personalization

Your company will be sending emails to a diverse market, which means sending emails to diverse audiences with differing tastes and appreciations. That makes it hard to write one engaging catch-all email that encapsulates what everyone needs. So... don't.

Reduce your reliance on a one-size-fits-all email by segmenting you subscriber list. Segmented lists can help you tailor your messages to defined bits of your audience—based on age, gender, region, interests, and more. The result is relevant messages with a personalized touch.

And, thankfully, segmentation doesn't have to be difficult. Many email service providers today offer segmentation capabilities right in their tools, which can help you to expedite the email-drafting process for different audience segments.

6. Don't leave out your call to action

Each message you send should contain a call to action (CTA)—even if it's a simple "post to Twitter or Facebook." Good CTAs are more difficult than many assume. Identifying the right messaging and approach can be difficult. It's requires A/B testing and experimentation in copy placement, content, design, and more.

Still, effective copy is typically short, simple, and asks the recipient to participate in the overall purpose of the message. For example, if your organization were to send an email asking unresponsive subscribers to adjust their email cadence (and it should), it could use a CTA like "Adjust Here," "Time My Deals," or—more bluntly—"Adjust My Email Preferences" in text or in a button.

The point is, your recipients ought to be offered something they can do—rather than being told something without being given any opportunity to engage at all.

* * *

Getting an email program up and running is tough under any circumstance. But you can take steps to stack the email marketing deck in your favor. By plotting out the course of your program, including how to manage it, you'll be well on your way to better communications and happier customers.

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image of Scott Heimes

Scott Heimes is CMO at email-delivery service SendGrid, where he is responsible for SendGrid’s brand strategy, driving demand for its solutions, and leading global marketing operations.

LinkedIn: Scott Heimes

Twitter: @ScottHeimes