Nov 18, 2022
Startup Growth
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 min read

Lean Startup Email Marketing

More than 300 billion emails are sent daily.

300 billion emails for a global population of over 7 billion humans.

If you haven’t already considered email marketing for your new startup, then you need to start now. One of the most positive aspects about email marketing is that it doesn’t require hiring a large and expensive communications team to design and implement an effective email strategy.

So how do we do it?

How a lean email stack looks

To start with, an email marketing stack needs to be built before we will be able to send out emails in an efficient manner. This may sound daunting, but early on there aren’t too many tools that must be set up. 

To get started, you simply need to hook the email sign-ups you’re receiving to an email marketing platform. The most likely places where emails are ingested early on, include:

  • Google Sheet
  • Customer Data Platform (CDP)
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

If emails are being ingested into a Google Sheet, Zapier can easily connect those emails to your email marketing platform. CDPs (i.e., Segment) have the plug-and-play ability to send emails to hundreds of integrations. CRMs (i.e., Hubspot) will typically have email marketing integrated into the platform, which makes it lightning fast to get started.

Key email types to consider

Now that the email stack is set up, it’s time to start thinking about the content of the emails which prospective or current customers will receive. While not an exhaustive list, the list below includes some key themes: 

  • Informational
  • Social proof
  • Feel-good
  • Discounts

For startups who have long flows, the informational field of emails are a great way to push users through the funnel. While I was employed at Postmates on their fleet (driver) acquisition team, we had emails dedicated to each step of the funnel that prospective drivers were stuck on. This ranged from uploading a valid drivers’ license, to consenting to a background check. We focused our attention on the steps in the funnel which had the largest drop-off and tested different ways of alleviating any concerns with various messaging styles.

Social proof is a perfect example of a message which can dramatically help improve a customer’s willingness to purchase. Imagine being on the fence of purchasing a skin care product, and then receiving a series of three emails showcasing testimonials and success stories, with different types of people having success with the product. You would probably be much less skeptical and willing to try it for yourself. 

While not necessary when trying to convert new customers, the feel-good segment can help increase retention, by validating a customer’s use. A great example of this segment in action, is with the grocery delivery startup Instacart, and their clever use of a time-savings counter after ordering groceries.

Image courtesy of Instacart.

To no one’s surprise, discounts are a huge way to win, retain, and even win-back customers. It’s the ultimate trifecta. These discounts should be tested methodically, to fully understand propensity by messaging and discount amount. During my time at Uber, the amount of testing that we did would likely make everyone’s heads spin, but it was necessary to move the conversion rate needle as much as possible. 

Segmenting is gold

Ensuring that emails are sent to the right user segments, is perhaps even more important than the type of messaging being sent. To continue with the Uber example, below are the types of lapsed user segments we would reach:

  • No rider activity 7+ days
  • No rider activity 30+ days
  • No rider activity since COVID 
  • Opened app but no ride

There were hundreds of other user segments being tested, but this helps showcase the level of granularity we employed. 

While this might feel extreme for a startup, it should help get the creative juices flowing on how to segment users for your own unique product or service. If you need additional guidance on segmentation – recency, frequency, and monetary (RFM) is a great model to consider. The three questions to answer with this model are:

  1. Recency: how recently did a user purchase?
  2. Frequency: how often does that user purchase?
  3. Monetary: how much does that user spend?
The goal is to move users to the top-right quadrant. Image courtesy of Jonathan Martinez

Determining success 

There are three key metrics to consider for email marketing success: click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate (CVR), and unsubscribe rates. It’s tempting to build the perfect email marketing machine from the start, but I’d take an imperfect campaign that’s deployed earlier. 

Launch and iterate. That’s the name of the game with email marketing.  

As your email marketing progresses, you can start to get craftier with segments and begin to measure incremental lift, regression, and various other data points. 

One last thought: in the time it took for you to read this, you’ll have probably received a few additional emails. There’s a reason for that – companies know they work. You can make it work too. 

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