A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 12 – email marketing

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 11 – SEO

Well, we said we’d cover email and mobile marketing this week, but then we decided these areas were so important that we decided to cover them one at a time, starting with email marketing!

To illustrate how ingrained email marketing is in our daily lives, in the time it took to get this far writing the article I received five emails from different companies marketing their product or service to me. The cynical will now say “ah, but do you have time to read them and will you bother?”

“…email marketing isn’t dead yet and people still want to read up on subjects they are interested in…”

Actually, I might if they grab my attention – email marketing isn’t dead yet and people still want to read up on subjects they are interested in, they still want to see offers and they still want to interact with your brand or product if it hits their “sweet spot”. In fact, the old adage is that email marketing will save money on print due to the delivery efficiencies and in some industries it has become one of the most effective marketing channels. But, as with any marketing channel, if you go in with wrong approach it could end up costing you a lot of money for very little return.

For example, I’ve been asked before to design a snazzy JPEG picture for attaching to an email and sending out as part of a marketing campaign – you can probably imagine the barrage of words my account manager got back! Email is no different to numerous other marketing channels in one simple respect – always think about the end user, how they interact with email and what is likely to get their attention. As a first step, it is critical to consider the fact that everyone uses different email clients such as Outlook, Apple mail, Gmail, Hotmail, Thunderbird, Yahoo! mail and some companies are even still using Lotus notes!

The moral is that your shiny designed-to-win-awards email may work in Gmail perfectly, but could appear broken in Outlook, so be careful to keep the design minimal and if you want to add videos or shiny objects ask the user to click-thru to your site or microsite. As an aside, spam filters are getting increasingly twitchy about marketing emails and they tend to frown on attachments, links and even certain words, like “sale”!

“The moral is that your shiny designed-to-win-awards email may work in Gmail perfectly, but could appear broken in Outlook…”

So here are my top 13 tips (lucky for some?) for making your marketing emails effective:

1. Above all, be relevant and always keep it in line with what your user has signed up to.

2. Keep it short – if it’s too long people may lose interest and say “I’ll get back to that”, but they never do!

3. Put a teaser on each section you write if you have multiple articles or products, which helps to encourage people to click through for more.

4. Subject lines can be critical, so beta test by sending two versions with different subject lines to a small portion of your database to work out which one is more effective, then use that as the final version for everyone else.

5. Try keeping it to once a month, more frequent and you run the risk of being ignored as spam.

6. Think about what metrics you wish to get back. The obvious ones are delivery rates, open rates and click-throughs but you need to ensure in advance you can measure them.

7. Test out the best day or time of the week to send – historically this has often proven to be Wednesday or Thursday as people are back in the swing of things with work but have time to think about other things.

8. Add in links to your social media sites, or even include recent posts or Tweets.

9. Be very careful with the subject line as spam filters really focus on this, so avoid words like free, cheap or easy!

10. Always include a link at the top saying “ if you cannot see this email, click here” and host a version on your site just in case.

11. Try testing the mail within your company first to see how it’s received, before emailing customers.

12. Design your email to be nice and simple, don’t over complicate design

13. Finally, test, improve, test, improve and repeat!

In terms of emailing systems, there are now so many cheap of the shelf solutions out there that you need to really think twice when your IT department says it can be managed internally. Remember – good external companies have experience in making sure your emails reach their desired audience and are known as “clean” senders by the major anti-spam filters.

“Try testing the mail within your company first to see how it’s received, before emailing customers.”

The following companies represent just a few that offer good value –for-money and offer good solutions, but there are many more out there, all these mail solutions carry opt in and unsubscribe tools as part of their template which helps with data protection laws:




As always, add your thoughts or questions below, or get in touch through Twitter if you want any more info and tips!

Read part 13 – “mobile marketing” here

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 14 years, providing digital thought leadership to some of the biggest brands globally, also contributing to some of the best-selling books on digital, having been part of the start-up team at Amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been working in Healthcare winning over 30 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal is currently working at Life-Healthcare and can be found Tweeting here @sickonthenet and contacted on LinkedIn here.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

What email marketing campaigns do you admire?