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6 tips on how to structure a promotional email

how to write promotional emails
The five stages of the marketing funnel (and where email marketing fits in)
Different types of promotional emails
Six tips for crafting a great promotional email
Great promotional email examples
Final thoughts

Email is one of the most effective digital marketing channels to reach potential and existing customers for a few reasons.

  1. Compared to other types of marketing (e.g. social media paid ads or traditional display advertising), marketing emails are low cost.

  2. You can build relationships and trust with potential customers over time and keep existing ones coming back.

  3. You can target specific customer segments through relevant promotions which increases conversions and the overall ROI of your email marketing.

In this article, we’ll cover the five stages of the marketing funnel in relation to your promotional email marketing campaigns, discuss different types of promotional emails and provide a six-step framework for creating promotional emails.

The five stages of the marketing funnel (and where email marketing fits in)

Before making a purchase, large or small, new customers must pass through the first three of five stages of the marketing funnel (also called a customer lifecycle). Sometimes this happens within a moment and the customer makes an impulse purchase. Other times, it happens over a longer period.

In either case, the process can be broken down the same way.

Stage one: Awareness

There are three main types of awareness:s.

  • Problem aware. Your audience has a problem they’ve just become aware of, and your content helps them better understand how to navigate it and fix it.

  • Solution aware. They’re more educated on how to fix their problem, but don’t yet realize your solution is the best answer.

  • Brand aware / Product aware. Your audience knows who you are and that your products can help, but are still considering a pool of competitors.

Your promotion email copy should directly address one of these types of awareness.

If your customers aren’t aware of the problem your product solves, you’ll need to help them identify it. If they are aware of the problem, you’ll need to educate them on either how your product solves it or how your brand solves it better than competitors.

Stage two: Consideration

Once they’re aware of both the problem and solution, the client is open to knowing more about your brand and products. You should focus on highlighting your unique value proposition, or what makes you both better than the competition and the right fit for them. Including the latter will help disqualify potential customers and result in higher intent leads.

Stage three: Conversion

If you’ve successfully guided your customer through awareness and consideration, they should be ready to purchase. A good promotional email must include a very clear call to action (CTA) to help them do this. You might also offer an incentive, such as a discount or coupon.

Stage four: Loyalty

Once you’ve converted potential customers into new customers, you have the opportunity to turn them into loyal customers. There are numerous ways to do this. Your promotional emails could highlight new product launches, repeat purchase discounts or opportunities to upgrade.

Stage five: Advocacy

It takes a special kind of connection to turn even loyal customers into advocates. This is the type of customer who will promote your brand for you among their peers. Your promotional emails could offer incentives to do so.

Many professional email marketers segment their email list according to the stage of the marketing funnel the subscribers are. New subscribers are at stage one or stage two. After receiving several emails, they might reach stage three. After purchase, they will progress to stage four and, hopefully, five. This will help you to decide which type of promotional email to send to which subscribers.

Different types of promotional emails

The end goal of promotional emails is generally conversion. That being said, there are a variety of ways to go about this and experimentation is always encouraged.

Here are some examples of promotional emails.

Offer or discount

This type of email can work at every stage of the marketing funnel. New customers, repeat customers and loyal customers are all responsive to discounts.

Bird Rock Coffee Roasters Offer promotional email

Special occasion promos

These are sales emails that take advantage of special occasions to push the email recipient to action, as seen in this example from Notorious Nooch for Valentine’s Day. Again, this can be effective at every stage of the marketing funnel.

Notorious Nooch Special Occasion promotional email

Limited time offers

This type of email provides a sense of urgency with a promo that’s available for a limited time. This works particularly well at the third stage of the marketing funnel, where a customer is aware of your business and has it under consideration, but needs extra encouragement to convert. Below is an example for a one-day flash sale.

Bose Limited Time Offer promotional email

VIP/membership emails

Appreciation and exclusivity can help to drive customers to make repeat purchases, particularly at stage four of the marketing funnel. The special offer below uses both urgency and exclusivity as motivation.

Platforma VIP/membership promotional email

Nurture emails

These emails are designed to build relationships by providing valuable content. Here, you have plenty of opportunities to either educate, earn trust or entertain. While email lead nurturing might not lead directly to a conversion, these types of emails can be good for those in both the early and the later stages of the marketing funnel.

In the example below, National Mattress Outlet Plus stays on-brand with an email inviting subscribers to read a blog post on tips to get a better night’s sleep.

National Mattress Outlet Plus nurture Promotional Email

Six tips for crafting a great promotional email

Understanding how to write a good promotional email is just as important as knowing when to send one. Let’s explore how to build a promotional email that gets opened and converts.

1. Get to know your target audience and customer base

If your email content doesn’t resonate with your target audience or customers, they simply won’t convert.

If you can, gather and analyze sufficient data to understand what their problems are and how your products can provide solutions to those problems. Writing promotional emails is much easier if you understand your customers’ pain points, what inspires and motivates them and their goals, aspirations and needs.

2. Set an objective and CTA

Each promotional email should have a clear objective and call to action. Starting with your end goal in mind will improve your email content.

Remember that a call to action doesn’t always involve a purchase. You might prompt subscribers to forward the email, visit your website to find out more or fill out a form to set up an initial meeting.

3. Use a simple email structure

Your email format and the structure of an email might be different for each email type, but should always be scannable and easy to read.

A typical email format for promotional emails includes:

  • Preheader text

  • A header

  • A salutation (which can be personalized with the customer’s first name or full name)

  • The main mail message (which should consider the different stages of the sales funnel and customer lifecycle)

  • A CTA button and potentially a sign-off (depending on whether it’s a formal or informal email).

As for the structure of an email, a professional email should also include your company name and contact information.

Remember to break up the body of the email into clear sections. You can use email templates to make email writing easier, or you can follow these tips on email structure:

  • Start with the information you talked about in the subject line or preview text and be sure to deliver on any promises made by the end of the email

  • Use heading styles, bullet points and content hierarchy so that the reader can easily browse through the email

  • Opt for shorter paragraphs and use white space strategically

4. Create a clear, unique and informative subject line

Email subject lines are crucial in every type of email marketing strategy.

Your email subject line is your opportunity to make a first impression and get the recipient’s attention. Including the recipient’s name in the subject line can add a personal touch but shouldn’t be used in place of creating relevant, valuable email content.

Avoid using words like free, sale, extra or any sensationalist type of language as they can trigger spam filters. Excessive punctuation (e.g. more than one question mark or exclamation point) and use of all caps can land you in the spam folder as well.

While not as high stakes as the subject line, well-written preheader text (the part of the email that shows up underneath the subject line in your inbox) can prompt the client to open the email.

5. Test, track and measure the data

The most effective way to ensure the above steps are executed successfully is by thoroughly testing your promotional emails before sending them.

Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook and Hotmail (which are the most popular email service providers) all view emails differently, as do different devices and operating systems. Testing your emails across multiple devices, screen sizes and platforms will help ensure your emails are effective with your entire audience. Additionally, having both an HTML as well as a plain-text version can help with conversions for those in an area with spotty wifi or those who read emails on smartwatches.

It’s also important to proofread your emails and double-check for typos and grammatical errors, which can cheapen your brand and diminish trust from your email subscribers.

After sending, it’s important to track engagement metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Many email marketing automation tools have extensive analytics capabilities (as well as helpful pre-designed templates). Not all data is created equal, so be sure to tease out which metrics contribute to click-through rates and conversions and which ones are simply vanity, keeping context in mind at all times.

If the promo email is not converting well, apply A/B split testing. Try to change the copy or visuals and compare the conversion rates until you see improvement.

6. Continue to optimize and build your automations based on data and customer behavior

Email automation tools can save your business a lot of time, but building effective automations involves trial and effort. Businesses with the most successful promotional emails are continuously refining their processes and segmenting new lists to meet ever-changing customer needs and behavior, so the automation process is never really finished.

Here are some email automations to consider implementing:

  • A post-purchase email containing a simple thank you and contact details for customer service

  • A post-purchase email including a tutorial to help the customer use your product for the first time

  • A new product launch email based on past purchases

  • Abandoned cart or abandoned checkout emails for e-commerce to follow up with website visitors who demonstrated purchase intent

Great promotional email examples

The only way to be sure that a promotional email is successful is to look at the results. With that said, the best promotional emails have certain design techniques in common.

Here are three examples of promotional emails and why they work:


The email layout is clean and the message and CTA are direct and to the point. This makes for easy skimming. When readers look closer, the text is concise and creates a sense of urgency.



This Starbucks welcome email tells subscribers exactly what to expect from opting in. They also provide several options to help improve the customer’s experience by managing their account, getting a Starbucks card or joining their loyalty program. Social media buttons are also clearly indicated.



Clean design, eye-catching and authentic imagery and a distinctive CTA button check all the right boxes for a good promotional email. They also took it a step further by using email copy that prompts readers to imagine what their salads taste like.

Sweetgreen promotional email

Final thoughts

No matter which stage of the marketing funnel or buying journey, promotional emails can be a great way to build relationships and increase sales.

Implementing the techniques we’ve discussed with regard to your promotional email structure, format and content will help ensure you get the most out of this low-cost, high impact marketing channel.

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