Email Marketing Pyramid

Email Marketing Pyramid

Taking an email marketing program from good to great involves multiple steps. The pinnacle of success involves delivering a relevant, timely message to an appropriate and expecting audience, all the while keeping costs and time spent to a minimum.

As you build out or look to improve your email marketing operations, certain steps should be prioritized as you advance to others. The diagram below segments all these elements into a pyramid. These unique operations and email components are utilized by the most sophisticated and successful email marketing teams and organizations.

If you are just starting your program, you will want to ensure the elements at the bottom of the pyramid are present. Over time, as you gather more data about email recipients, become more familiar with your email marketing process, and aim to provide ultimate relevance to each email recipient and subscriber, you can work your way up the pyramid.

Email Marketing Pyramid


The following provides a brief explanation of each level with notes on benefits and required resources to get there.

The Baseline Level

Technically, you would not really be able to even send a commercial email marketing message without most of the elements on the baseline level. I’m no attorney, but CAN SPAM laws require a mailing address and unsubscribe link in every email message. The two other pieces on the baseline level, preheader and preference center link, are really just as crucial as a compelling subject line and “from” name.

Preheader – A short snippet of text that precedes all the other content in the email. This text should summarize the email content and give the recipient a reason to read on. The preheader text acts as a second (or bonus) subject line in most email clients as it is visible to the recipient in the inbox. Sometimes, the preheader will also include a link to view the email as a web page.

Mailing Address – US law requires a valid mailing address be included. You’ll want to include this in the email footer with the other legal, copyright, etc. details.

Preference Center – Unless you have all the information about the recipient that you need to make more informed decisions about what to send them and what they would like to receive in the future, include a preference center link. These resources are standard with most email service providers and provide a means for the visitor to give you additional contact and interest data.

Unsubscribe – Always include an unsubscribe link. I typically place mine up at the top of emails I send for clients to make it easy to opt out if a recipient no longer wishes to receive email. While unsubscribes are not optimal, they are preferred over SPAM complaints.

The Content/Creative Level

This level may seem obvious and elementary, but it will likely determine email marketing success or failure. It cannot be understated how important it is to deliver a relevant and easy-to-digest email message. No one has enough time to do the things they love, let alone read your email. Your job is to make it abundantly obvious why your brand’s email message is relevant and what its recipient should do next.

Device Agnostic Design – White space. Proper balance between text and graphics. ALT tag usage on images. All these components can be comprised in an effective email design layout. Above all, ensure that your email looks beautiful on every potential screen. Use tools like Litmus to test design before sending, and check out this responsive email case study.

Relevant Content – This one is simple. If you have even the tiniest inkling that the recipient would not want or care about the message you have to deliver, don’t deliver it. Utilize list segmentation to make messages as pertinent as possible to individual subscribers.

Call to Action – Each marketing message delivered to a customer or prospect should have a clear call to action. Whether that action is to click, call, buy, learn more, download, or perform a triple lindy, just make it clear. Use buttons and other links that stand out from the rest of your content.

The Testing Level

Not sure what subject line will work best? Let’s find out. Wondering which offer will entice recipients? Wonder no more. Confused about whether the call to action button should be green or orange? Don’t be.

I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell anyone: no one really knows what creative campaign element is going to work best. Argue all you want about subject lines, “from” names, delivery times, and design layouts. Only the recipient’s behavior will indicate you the best creative option.

For that reason, testing procedures should be used in each and every message you deliver. Every touch point with a customer or prospect via email presents an opportunity to learn more about your customer base and that individual. Don’t waste that chance. Test often, and implement findings always. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “he who knows best knows how little he knows.” Take advantage of A/B split testing of subject lines, “from names”, email template layouts, colors, fonts, offers, calls to action, and so on.

Thomas Jefferson on Testing

The Automation Level

After you have graduated to providing relevant content and improving metrics with testing, you may consider incorporating automated messages into your email marketing mix. Automation can come in many forms from simple “thanks for subscribing” messages to more sophisticated “you might also like” purchase recommendations.

Most email service providers offer some automation capabilities. Ultimately, your ability to deliver timely automated messages depends upon customer behavior and the data you have been able to attain. Sample triggered messages and automated tracks include:

  • Happy birthday messages
  • Cart abandonment emails
  • Requests to review a purchase
  • Subscription renewal updates
  • An educational series for lead generation
  • Preemptive account expiration notices
  • New customer welcome tracks
  • Reactivation and win-back emails
  • Event reminders
  • Weather-based email offers (see below)

weather triggered email

The Dynamic Level

At the apex of the Email Pyramid is dynamic content. Every email marketer’s dream is to make her messages as relevant as possible to each individual on the list. However, this can be difficult and inefficient. Dynamic content requires coordination between customer data and email delivery systems.

Email programs that include dynamic elements typically consist of templates with holes for relevant content. Each of those holes is filled with a message, image, or offer that is unique to the individual recipient. Learn more about dynamic email marketing in practice.

No matter where your program is currently positioned on the pyramid, there are likely opportunities to advance to a new level or strengthen specific elements. Certain nuances of the top three levels in particular can always be modified and fortified further.

Download and share the pyramid with your friends and colleagues.