3 Tips to Strengthen Your Promotions Using Email Marketing


3 Tips to Strengthen Your Promotions Using Email Marketing

Whether it’s through Swell or on your own, many of our merchants use email marketing to communicate promotions, discounts, and special offers to their customers.  And why not?  Although email marketing isn’t the newest or most innovative solution around today, that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective for either e-commerce or brick-and-mortar businesses.

In fact, a 2014 study rated email marketing as the #1 online marketing channel for ROI (return on investment).  That’s ahead of stalwarts like SEO, paid search (e.g. Google ads), social media, and even mobile marketing!


What’s more, companies that participated in the study attribute 23% of their sales to email marketing.  Clearly, email marketing plays a hugely important role in most companies' online marketing strategies.

One of the reasons that email marketing is so effective compared to some of the other tools highlighted in the study is because it doesn't just help you find new customers.  Instead, email marketing can also help build customer loyalty as well.  By emailing your subscribers with promotions, upcoming events, news, and the like, customers are much more likely to remember your business when they decide it's time for their next purchase.

That being said, not all emails are created equal!  A number of factors influence not just how many customers open your emails, but whether they effectively encourage customers to take the actions you'd like them to - visiting your store, buying from your site, reading about a new event or product, etc. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the techniques that businesses in all different types of industries (and in all different types of channels) can use to make their promotion-oriented emails as effective as possible.

Tip #1:  Use language that creates “urgency”.

Take a look at the following two email headlines.  Which one makes you feel more compelled to click?


If it were me, I probably still would have been more likely to click the second one – I personally much prefer shopping for candy to shopping for clothes!  Tastes aside though, I’d be surprised if most of you didn’t choose the first option.

But what makes that first option so much more compelling than the second one?

The first email subject creates a "sense of urgency" in our minds, whereas the second one does not (sorry, Groupon).  Take one more look.  It's the "limited time only!" phrase in particular that does it.

In just a few short words, this email subject is telling me a lot.  Not only does it make me feel special by telling me that the deal has been selected specifically for me, but it also tells me that I need to take action to avoid missing out on the opportunity.  In other words, it's telling me that out of all of the other emails in my inbox, this is the one that I should prioritize doing something about.  That's pretty compelling compared to the second email.

Except in cases where a promotion is running without a specific end date (a referral program, for example), it’s always a good idea to use urgency-based language.  You'll typically find that more of your emails will get opened, and more of your customers will therefore participate in your promotion than if you had used more generic language.  Holiday sales - which I'm sure many of you are thinking about given that it's early November - are of course a perfect example of a way to create urgency!

When crafting emails to tell your customers about the promotion, try subject lines with phrases such as “Limited time offer:” or “Savings won’t last long!”  Then, in the body of your email, make sure you specify when a customer needs to take advantage of a promotion by.

We provide email templates to our merchants which incorporate just this type of language.  For example, here’s what the template for one of our “spend-based” (spend $x, get $y) campaign emails looks like:

bp 24 email marketing template preview

Notice the “act now” in the subject line and the reminder to take advantage by a specific date in the last line of the email.  These lines help our merchants earn higher-than-average email open rates, which in turns leads to more repeat purchases.

There are a number of compelling tactics you can use to create urgency, only some of which we're able to cover in this blog post.  If you're interested in learning more, here's another helpful post that goes into additional detail!

Tip #2:  Send reminders!

Sending reminders may seem like a no-brainer, but many companies conduct rigorous testing to get their reminder emails just right.  The challenge is in finding a balance between sending enough reminders to get as many of your customers to act as possible, while at the same time not sending too many that you clog your customers' inboxes and irritate them.  When done right though, reminders can dramatically increase participation in your promotions!

So what's "best practice" when it comes to reminder emails?

For a promotion or event with a specific end date, we’ve found that the right number of emails is between two and three, spaced no closer together than 1 – 2 weeks.  Try sending them right at the beginning of the promotion, about a week before the scheduled end date, and one right in the middle for promotions that last longer than one month.

Here’s the email cadence for one of Swell’s “Punch Card” campaigns:



For promotions that don’t have a definitive end date, the strategy changes slightly.  In these cases, it's important not only to send periodic (generally not very frequent) reminders to your existing customers, but also to tell your new customers (those that have purchased for the first time since you launched the promotion) about the deal – this is an incredibly effective way to turn those first-time buyers into loyal customers.

To minimize the time and effort involved in sending those new customer emails, we recommend sending one batch each month.  In other words, at the beginning or end of each month, just pull a list of all of your new customers, and send them an email telling them about the ongoing promotion.  For your existing customers, we would recommend every 2 – 3 months or so depending on your business.

Tip #3:  Send different emails to different types of customers.

Dividing your customers up based on certain characteristics is typically known as “segmentation”.  Large companies spend millions of dollars on segmentation, as learning about who your customers are, how they like to be sold to, and what they value when selecting a product is a critical first step when it comes to driving most other marketing activities.  Segments are usually based on some combination of geography, demographics, age, gender, and other defining characteristics.

Don’t worry though – you don’t need a multi-million dollar marketing budget to create some basic customer segments!  Here are just a couple that we’d recommend you try based just on purchase activity, but we would encourage you to think about others that might work for your business as well:

  1. Reward your most loyal customers. Let’s say that you’re running a “Refer-A-Friend” promotion, and you want to encourage as many referrals as possible.  Your best bet is to start with your most loyal customers!

 Here’s how it would work:  using your Swell account (or whichever system you use to track purchase activity), pinpoint your loyal customers.  How you define a “loyal customer” is highly dependent on your business, but it’s usually a good bet to sort by either revenue or number of purchases.  In the example below, I found all of the customers who have spent at least $100 with my (fictional) business:



After that, design an email just for that particular group to tell them about the promotion.  Let them know that as one of your most valued customers, you would greatly appreciate their help in telling their friends and family members about your business – and that in return, you’d be willing to offer the reward amount as a “thank you” for their continued support.

  1. Reactivate “lapsed” customers. While quite the opposite of targeting your most loyal customers, designing emails specifically for customers who haven’t purchased from you in a while can also be incredibly effective.

 The first step is to define what a “lapsed” customer is to your business.  For some companies, this might be as a little as a couple of months since the last purchase, while for others 6 – 12 months would be a better indication that a customer is due for another purchase.

If you’re using Swell, simply sort by the “Last Purchase” column in the “Customers” tab:

bp 24 customer dashboard columns

Then, pick all of the customers who haven’t purchased since the date you’ve chosen – those are your lapsed customers.

Again, it then becomes important to design the promotional email based on the segment you’ve chosen.  In this case, rather than thanking them for being such a loyal customer, try lines such as “We’ve missed you!” or “We noticed it’s been a while!”  to personalize the message.

Coupled with a promotion such as a "spend-based" campaign, your email will help reactivate customers that were on their way to becoming lost for good.

Wrapping up:  Make sure to experiment!

If there’s one thing that you take away from this post, it’s that you should feel comfortable experimenting...at least when it comes to email marketing, that is!  Because each business is different, it will take some time to find the exact mix of language, timing, and customer segments that are right for you.

Remember that when experimenting, it’s important to follow three simple steps:

  1. Measure (this could be number of purchases, email open rates, email click rates, etc.)
  2. Change one thing (this could be the amount of time you wait before sending another reminder email, the language you use to create urgency, how you define a “loyal” or “lapsed” customer, etc.)
  3. Measure again.

If your change yielded better results than the first time around, chances are it worked!  At that point, you’re ready to start the experimentation process all over again.


Email marketing continues to be an effective way to tell your customers about your promotions (and to communicate with them more broadly as well).  Using the straightforward practices covered in this post, we hope you’ll be able to take your promotional communication to the next level – you’ll be able to look forward to higher participation rates, more loyal customers, and more revenue as a result!

Josh Enzer

Josh Enzer

Co-Founder and CEO at Swell


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