First step of email: Identify

The goal of the first step is to help you identify the goals that you’ll assign to the email channel and get to you answer the three big questions.

It’s true that email returns a very high ROI, but only when done right. Make a mistake in even one of the steps and you can count on getting a new best friend down the line:

The crystal ball.

So let’s answer the first question.

What are you looking to accomplish with email marketing?

“Well, more sales/engagement, of course!” 

Well, that was easy.

Or, was it?

What if you have a portal and a slew of products on it? Which one takes the precedent?

It’s easy to focus when you have only one goal, but it’s rarely the case.

Let’s look at three examples:

Example 1 – Job site

Goal 1 – Create more job applications and drive more traffic in general.

Goal 2 – Drive users to fill up their profiles and engage with the different sections that you provide.

Goal 3 – Nurture leads to turn them into clients that will purchase job ads on the website.

Goal 4 – Share brand awareness to boost brand trust and recognition.

Example 2 – Travel portal

Goal 1 – Generate sales for various aspects of the service: air tickets, accommodation, and car rentals.

Goal 2 – Boost engagement on the travel social network.

Goal 3 – Nurture potential leads in attempts to bring them on as a service provider on their website.

Goal 4 – Support the affiliate program with hottest deals and most recent marketing techniques they can use.

Example 3 – Insurance broker

Goal 1 – Lead the prospect pre-sales education program, preparing them for a free consultation session.

Goal 2 – Nurture the current customers with cross-selling attempts to increase the customer lifetime value.

Goal 3 – Share insights and tutorials connected with the particular insurance product in efforts to support the brand value and recognition.

You get the picture.

Depending on your company size and aspirations, you might want to add more.

But don’t.

Keep it simple.

Your goals don’t matter a whole lot anyway. More on this later.

How important is email marketing to your business?

Everybody can have goals. But how ready are they to bite the bullet and actually commit to it?

It all depends on how important is or can the email channel be to your business.

Let me explain.

Running a proper email program is expensive: it requires software, hardware, knowledge and people to maintain it. If email isn’t one of the crucial things for your business model, but would rather be “nice to have”, then I suggest you better not do it. There are many other channels and they do wonders as well.

At this point, you might think “Yeah, but aren’t there like hundreds of ESPs that will offer their software as a service”?

There are. But the same way the cloud isn’t anything other than someone else’s computer, these ESPs have people, hardware and software.

And they count it all in the price. Which is slowly, but steadily increasing. If you look at the prices of some of the strongest players in the world, each and every one of them has increased their prices recently. And it’s very probably they’ll keep doing so because it’s a trend we’re seeing everywhere in digital marketing.

No matter how hard we’d like it, the email industry cannot be simplified through a super-duper SaaS that will storm the market. It’s impossible because the “email marketing” part of the email industry is just a tiny piece of it.

On the big scene, there are giants fighting for billions of users, and email is just one way of getting people to use your services. The likes of Google, Microsoft, Oath, Apple and others are throwing everything they can to create the best possible user experience and get the users into their environment.

Your tiny little email program will ruthlessly be kicked out if it hurts that vision of clean and secure user experience.

People will partially blame Gmail for clicking on that phishing message that tricked them into giving some of their details.

Or start having bad feelings about Yahoo for not being able to filter out the Spam from their inboxes.

Going with a simple SaaS solution might be great for you, but this is what I like to call “mailchimping” your way through email marketing. It refers to looking for the easiest solution and just blindly rolling with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love MailChimp.

I’m thankful to them for spreading awareness about email marketing and pretty much always being on the side of privacy and decency.

Unfortunately, many people learned about email exclusively by using MailChimp and similar services. As a result, their glossary of terms looks like this:

lists, segments, auto-responders and the SEND button.

“Yeah, I know that there are some SPAM rules out there and all that, but I’m using the XY service and I don’t really care about it. I just wanna get that email out and increase my [margin/engagement/signups]…”


“Right, but this ESP I’m using has really good deliverability and my emails always go into the inbox. I don’t think I should be focusing on something that I’m no expert in. ”

How do you know your ESP has good deliverability?

How many email addresses have you sent a test email to? A hundred? A thousand?

Do you use a seed list to determine your inbox placement rate?

And what will happen when your ESP loses that edge or when they kick you out because you had a slightly higher bounce rate?

That happened far too many times to a lot of companies.

I’m not saying don’t use an ESP, just understand what you’re using. It’s your money, your business and your growth at stake. Read on, because we’ll talk about this in the lessons to come.


Now, when we know what we want to do with email, let’s see what we are working with.

The second question that we need to answer is:

What’s the Value Proposition of your email channel?

I like to keep it simple and answer this straightforward question that prospects ask themselves (consciously or subconsciously):

Why should I read this email now and not do anything else with my time?

This question actually hides three small questions inside:

  • Who are you and what do you want?
  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why now?

Answering all of them for each one of your emails is a surefire way to success in email marketing.

Remember how I mentioned that your goals aren’t that important anyway?

If they don’t happen to answer these questions positively, you might as well dream of being a Peter Pan.

Many companies don’t have this installed in their daily operations at all. Most of them just go about their KPIs and never think more than 2 seconds about the user.

Often times when I ask people about the value proposition of their email channel, the usual answer sounds something like: “Well, they left us their email address, so we send them all those emails. Everybody does it anyway…” 

Or something far worse like: “We blast them with emails to boost our sales and engagement.”

Please don’t blast anyone with anything! 

Email is the most personal place on the Internet and many countries have taken this very seriously. Spamming is still legal in the U.S., but Europe, Canada and many other countries have very strict laws against this.

If you’re in the U.S., know this: fewer and fewer people unsubscribe nowadays.

More and more people just keep enduring until they break and report your email as Spam. And this is one of the main reasons for troubles in the email domain.

Define user personas

It’s very important to know who’s on the other side of your emails. If you don’t, you might be sending completely irrelevant messages. Unless you have a very specific product that’s used by a very narrow pocket of people, you need to define user personas.

Here are the questions you need to answer about them:

Who are your users, anyway?

Define a few avatars and assign attributes to them. Name them.

Some even suggest you go as far as adding stock images to them, but I find that very creepy 🙂

Write a little about who they are and where they come from. Then, try to answer the following questions:

What are they trying to achieve? What’s their ideal end result?

Pertaining to your product or service, what is their ideal goal.

If you’re running a fitness-related product, their ideal goal is to either lose weight or build muscle. It could be something along the lines of “being lean” (whatever that actually meant), but you get the picture.

Describe where they are now and where they’d like to be. You will be the facilitator of that travel.

Here’s an example of a table I use sometimes:


You’ll probably want to customize it based on your particular product and the pain point you’re trying to solve, but the first row is something you shouldn’t change.

It’s the BEFORE and AFTER comparison.

It’s the end of their journey that you know in advance, like looking through a crystal ball.

What are the roadblocks they have in achieving that ideal end result?

You need to be aware of this simply because you want to press this pain point from time to time.

Finding a job isn’t easy.

You’re not dumb, you know how to get fit, it’s just hard.

Doing X is hard because of Y.

You get the point. Just don’t overstress it.

What can you do to get them one step closer to that result?

This is where your product or service comes in.

You are the facilitator of their journey from BEFORE to AFTER.

Doing X is hard because of Y. But we have the Z which makes it much easier for you.

What do they fear, feel, see and say?

At this point, you might want to get creative.

You’ve probably heard about the empathy map. If you haven’t don’t worry, here it is:


It’s used to better familiarize yourself with your persona and hone in on those key phrases and words that trigger in their mind a “familiarity click” which removes the built-in gatekeepers.

They start seeing you as one of them, from their tribe.

By doing so, they start trusting you more.

That’s it for the first step. Hope it was useful.

Perhaps read it again.