Email is easy to create and cheap to deliver. Because it's so frictionless, email is prone to misuse and overuse producing undesirable effects. It can damage relationships, harm brand reputation, and hurt sales in direct contradiction to company values and business objectives.

Your customers get a lot of email marketing and have a low tolerance for poor content. Once you lose a reader, the person is difficult to recover. A lost reader isn't only someone who unsubscribes from your email list. It's anyone who stops reading your email. When you send a physical letter through the mail, you haven't actually delivered your message if the person throws the unopened envelope in the trash.

Before sending any email, it's important to establish some ground rules for yourself, so your email will get read when it lands in people's inboxes. If you don't, you risk spamming people with low-quality content, prioritizing frequent delivery above value. With every email you send, you must do one of two things or both.

Solve a problem for your readers

Your email has to solve a problem for your readers. This includes new product announcements and special discounts when you genuinely believe your customers will find them useful. You can also use email to teach readers how to get more use out of a product or service they already purchased from you. Email marketing, when done well, solves problems.

Solving a customer problem is not so widely defined to include daily attempts to access customer wallets though 50% off sales that never end. That doesn't solve a customer problem. It creates one in the form of spam. The unending sales create fake scarcity as a reason to send lots of email. They also devalue your product if it's not overpriced in the first place.

Build relationships with your readers

Brands are a lot like people. They have identities, personalities, and values. Customers can develop loyalty to brands. Similarly, they can feel betrayed by them. How you position your brand and whether or not you do (you should) matters.

Email that connects to customers through shared values will build relationships and increase trust. Values-driven email is sent less frequently than traditional email marketing, but it's impactful and important.

Hands together painted as a red heart to represent togetherness.

Content ideas

It can be hard to identify good content for email marketing and solve a customer problem with every email you send. Not every company can be like Amazon, with millions of household items for sale that people use every day. Customers probably use your products and services a lot less frequently. When true, you have fewer reasons to send them email. Still, you might be surprised by how many problems you can solve for your readers.

Relationship-building email is sent less frequently than marketing email, and it doesn't scale. Every company can send the same amount of relationship-building email. Some companies don't send any. That's the wrong idea, especially if your business is small. Small businesses can establish closer relationships with their customers than can their larger counterparts. They have a greater opportunity to create brand loyalty and in doing so, build a customer audience that isn't exclusively motivated by the lowest price.

Email marketing content ideas

How-to guides

Instructional content is a great way to provide value to your readers. Their desire to learn from you isn't contingent on them being in the market to make an immediate purchase. How-to articles and videos are a great way to keep your business in the hearts and minds of your customers. To do so without asking for anything builds reciprocity. Treat people well, and people will treat you well.

When you share instructional content through email, it's not often that you're making your how-to guide part of your email. Instead, you're linking to it, at your website, on YouTube, or somewhere else. For this reason, instructional content is a great way to get people engaging with your brand across multiple channels, allowing you to reach your audience through multiple mediums.

Any business can do this. Take a moving company as an example. People don't relocate a lot, but they do pack and unpack a lot. They move seasonal clothing in and out of boxes. They repeatedly store, use, and store holiday decorations. A moving company could make videos that help people pack and unpack efficiently and make better use of the space they have. The same company could share tips for moving furniture within a home to minimize the chance of damage. In other words, moving expertise can be applied to multiple use cases that people engage with more frequently than moving itself.


Checklists are useful. They provide ordered steps for completing a task without demanding a lot of thought. They translate well from the digital world to the physical world. Depending on the task, a printable checklist can be more useful than an instructional video.

It's not often that people buy generators for their homes. They're rarely used, typically only during extended power outages. They require maintenance though. For example, the gasoline they use can get stale. Your customers might not know a lot about engines, but a checklist will help them assure their generator runs when they need it. It'll have a secondary benefit of improving the reliability of the generators you sell because more people will maintain them. That's good for your brand reputation.

Holidays and seasonal

Holidays account for between 20% and 30% of average retail sales volume. They're a great time to send discounts because your customers can actually benefit from them, even if they're not in the market themselves. They're buying gifts for others. If they're happy with the products and services you provide, your customer might want to gift that same happiness to a friend or family member.

Fracture sells photos printed edge-to-edge on glass. Their emails are attractive and simply worded. At holidays and on special occasions, they notify customers about limited-time sales. Fracture's discounts are scarcely offered, so when customers receive email from Fracture, they read it.

A marketing email from Fracture with a rarely offered discount.

There are more holidays than the holiday season at the end of the year, but use them sparingly. Too-frequent discounts will hurt your brand. Customers will start to see your sale prices as your regular prices. When they do, all your email marketing will find its way to the spam folder because your email will have stopped solving a problem.

Hullo sells heavy pillows filled with buckwheat hulls. Their product may be differentiated from other pillows, but people don't buy pillows every day. Hullo knows this, so they send emails infrequently. When they do send email, they're pretty and offer a sale. Customers read Hullo's email because it's infrequent. It's special.

Email marketing from Hullo shows a rare sale on their pillows.

Make your customers part of your brand

Your customers want the be heard and to feel valued. Thanks to the internet, it's easy to include your customers in your brand experience. Send them an email that encourages them to ask questions. Then, feature their name when you answer it in another email or on another marketing channel, like YouTube or Facebook. Encourage your customers to share pictures of themselves using your product or service, and offer to tag them on Instagram or Twitter.

Let your customers be part of your brand experience. In doing so, they may even become your ambassadors. Again, the theme is; treat your customers well, and they'll reciprocate.


Email your customers to let them know you're providing a free webinar or answering questions. The internet has made everyone a lot more efficient. As a result, businesses engage in less person-to-person dialogue with their customers. Send an email to your customers and offer some in-person time. Let them send their questions in advance, so they know the content will be relevant to them. Break the mold, develop connections, and build your reputation, all while providing value to your customers.

Relationship-building content ideas

Charitable giving

As a business with an audience, you have the power to unite people around a good cause and make the world a better place. Every bit counts and charitable giving is a great reason to email your customers.

If your business donates to a charity, share your story with your customers so they know how you're spending some of the money they give you over the course of your relationship. You can also invite your customers to give with you and offer to match their contributions. You might even donate a percentage of your sales to a charity. Include your customers in the experience, and make a bigger impact in the process.


If you know a customer's birthday, send them a note to say, "Happy Birthday!" You don't need to offer a gift card or coupon. It cheapens the experience. Instead, just extend your well-wishes and thank them for being your customer.


Like birthdays, holidays are great opportunities to send messages of thanks. Don't offer coupon codes or share product information. Be sincere and demonstrate personal gratitude.

Use holidays sparingly. Stick to the major ones. Offer your discounts before a holiday and your gratitude on the holiday.


When you do something that earns praise, share it with your customers. Testimonials are valuable social proof. Your customers may have contributed to the praise you earned. If so, take the chance to thank them and share the credit.

Design fundamentals

Good content is one part of creating email marketing that actually gets read. The other part is good design. You can have the best content in the world, but if your email is hard to read, especially on mobile where most email is read, expect people to designate it to the trash folder.

Make a catchy subject line

Give your email a catchy subject line. In it, try to communicate a brief message that tells your readers why they should open your message. Use emoji to create visual interest. If you're unsure how to open the emoji keyboard on your computer or mobile device, you can use the Get Emoji website to copy and paste them.

Write a smart pre-header

The pre-header is the one or two-line summary you see when you receive an email. In it, you can expand on your subject in a little more detail. The pre-header appears differently on different devices and email clients, so don't get too fancy. Add context to the subject line.

Personalize your message

Personalizing your emails will make your messages warmer and more inviting to your readers. When you know your reader's name, use a greeting like, "Hello Jane," to begin your note.

Your readers will know, you didn't uniquely write each email you sent. That's okay though. Your marketing email will still be more friendly than it would without any personalization.

Design for small screens

Most email marketing is between 600 and 700 pixels wide. This is fine for emails with one-column layouts, but for emails with two-column layouts or a sidebar, it introduces a problem by making the email harder to read on smartphones. Mobile screens generally show emails at 320 pixels wide. Two columns, when shown side-by-side on a small screen, makes for a bad reading experience. Everything is tiny, especially text.

Multi-column email as seen on a smartphone with small text.

Make your marketing email easy to read. You can do this in a couple of ways. The first is the easiest. Simply skip multi-column layouts. Use a single column of content for desktops and smartphones.

A single-column layout as it appears on desktop and mobile.

You may want to use multi-column layouts on desktops to cut-down on email length. You need to make the rows and columns stack one under the other for mobile screens. Most email marketing providers let you do it pretty easily.

A multi-column desktop email next to a single-column mobile email.

Use nice images

Use eye-catching images that communicate meaning in your marketing email. They need to present your products and services in the best possible light. This is as true for your informational and teaching content as it is for your product shots. Help customers picture themselves using your products and services. Help them connect your products and services to their own happiness.

The internet is full of free image resources you can use in your marketing email. Unsplash and Pexels are two of the most popular.

Keep your emails brief

Be conscious of people's time. Remember. People receive a lot of email. Say what you need to say, but do it efficiently. As the length of your email increases, the likelihood that a person will finish reading it decreases. Worse, when someone receives an email they immediately recognize as long and text-heavy, they'll give up before even starting it. They'll move your email to the trash.

Provide a way for customers to reach you

If you have a huge mailing list with tens of thousands of readers, this might not be possible. In an ideal situation, people welcome the opportunity to contact a real person. Give your customers a way to contact you. No-reply emails seem dismissive. When you can avoid them, avoid them. Being small is an advantage here; you can provide a level of service that doesn't scale at big companies.

Imagine your email marketing intends to sell a product or service. Then imagine, after reading your email, your customer wants to buy from you. They have a question though, and by omitting an easy way for the customer to get in touch with you, you've added friction. Don't lose customers to inconvenience.

Make it easy to unsubscribe

Email marketers make it infamously hard for customers to unsubscribe from their emails. They use small text at the bottom of a message, and it's usually no more than a shade different from the background color. Do something different. Your mailing list is not valuable to you for its number of recipients. Its value is in the number of people that actually read your email.

Make it easy for your customers to unsubscribe from your email marketing. If they don't want your email, they don't want your email. When someone unsubscribes, that's feedback you can use to improve the usefulness of your content.

An important goal of every brand is to increase the trust your customers place in your business. The only way to increase trust is to earn it. When a business makes it hard for a customer to unsubscribe from their mailing list, that hurts trust. It seems sneaky. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe as if to say, "You can unsubscribe from our email whenever you want, but it's so good, you'll want to keep receiving it."