How to optimize your next email campaign

email illustration

Email is the cornerstone of many organizations’ marketing programs. Here’s how community banks can create engaging emails that customers will want to open, read and respond to.

By Bridget McCrea

Email is big business. Every day, roughly 4 billion people worldwide use it to communicate, according to Statista. Organizations using email marketing report good results from those efforts: 59% of respondents said email is their biggest source of marketing return on investment (ROI) in a 2018 Emma, Inc. survey.

For community banks, email isn’t just a way to connect with current customers but also a way to engage new ones. “Given its ubiquity and how it can be personalized, email serves as a primary channel for customer communication,” says Rob Birgfeld, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at ICBA. “Especially in this virtual era, email is becoming the most direct, immediate and efficient means to communicate with members.”

Unlike direct mail or traditional advertising, email is economical, often costing no more than the time spent to develop and send the messages. And it is often more effective than other low-cost options like social media. “A post on Facebook will reach about 7% of your audience on that platform,” Birgfeld says, “while email’s reach is at least 20%.”

Planning and preparation

For best results, Sarah Carroll, marketing director of $8.2 billion-asset Live Oak Bank in Wilmington, N.C., says email campaigns should be developed and distributed on a predetermined schedule.

Come up with an editorial calendar that factors in email best practices and includes initial ideas about the emails you’ll be sending over the coming month or quarter.

Whatever email frequency you choose, make sure all recipients have opted in to receive communications and that you aren’t breaking Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act rules. “You can’t just buy a list and blast everyone on it with a message,” Carroll says. “Plus, when you get a group of recipients who have given you permission to send them content, you’re going to get higher conversion and success rates.”

6 tactics for a great email campaign

1. Set your objectives in advance. Instead of just sending out random emails, consider your bank’s overall objectives first. Do you want to share relevant content with existing customers? Do you want to nurture the business leads that are already in your pipeline? Are you trying to generate new leads? Answering these questions can help you formulate the most effective campaign for your audience.

2. Develop a two-pronged approach. CW Warwick, vice president of consumer marketing and program design at Austin, Texas-based Kasasa, says banks should incorporate email into their overall marketing mixes in two different buckets. The first focus should be on bringing in new accountholders, while the second should support the institution’s overall lifecycle marketing program. Use the latter to maintain relationships, improve engagement with existing customers and “have ongoing, relevant conversations that drive profitability,” she says.

3. Get personal. Consumers are bombarded by unsolicited emails, which is why using a personalized subject line in your emails will boost your open rates. “Consumers expect businesses sending them communications to prove that those organizations know who they are,” says Warwick, adding that personalization can be as simple as always using the recipient’s first name in the subject line, pre-header or salutation. It can also involve demonstrating knowledge of the recipient’s needs or interests. “Serving up relevant content proves that you know your audience,” she adds.

4. Use variable tags. To ensure high levels of personalization in its customer emails, Live Oak Bank uses variable tags offered by platforms like Pardot and MailChimp. These tags allow it to insert the recipient’s first and/or last name. “This is a simple way to personalize, versus using the standard ‘Hello!’ salutation,” Carroll says. She tells banks to double-check formatting and run a few test emails before sending, since a missing field or blank space can affect the final product.

5. Make it mobile-friendly. Nearly half of all email is opened and read on mobile devices, so test the mobile experience when developing your campaign. Use succinct messaging, hit the most important points first, include a clear call to action and keep large images or videos to a minimum. Be sure to send test messages on a few different devices and tweak as needed to ensure a good experience across all of them.

6. Check the frequency. Live Oak Bank uses a staggered approach to email frequency. For longer sales cycles, the bank sends messages every 15 to 30 days. For shorter sales cycles, that’s cut down to weekly or even daily intervals. “With financial services, we know customers might need a pause in between, but then we always reinvigorate with another message within a couple of weeks,” Carroll says. As a rule of thumb, Warwick says sales-oriented emails should be sent out no more than one or two times a month, while informational content can be sent more frequently.

The anatomy of an email

What goes into an email that works for your community bank


email header example

Email header example

1. From: Gain trust by including the name of the organization or person sending the email.

2. Subject line: In other words, what’s it all about? Keep it short, snappy and active.

3. Preheader: Visible only in the reader’s inbox, this snippet is another chance to grab their attention.


email body example

Email body example

Once they open your email, keep their attention with these best practices:

Use personalization. Include the person’s name in the greeting if possible.

Use pictures judiciously. Too many will result in a cluttered look.

Keep writing concise. Cater to short attention spans.

Include a call to action. What is the reader’s next step?

Choose a responsive design. Responsive design is when the email adjusts to the size of the screen the person is reading it on.


email footer example

Email footer example

1. Contact details: Make it easy for them to get in touch. Include your phone number, website and email at a minimum.

2. Reminder: Reduce confusion by reminding them why they’re receiving your email.

3. Unsubscribe/update links: Make this process easy—leave people with a good impression of your brand.

Bridget McCrea is a writer in Florida.