Modern Email Marketing Best Practices for Retail & D2C Brands

By Rachel Lambert


With a rise in popularity of emerging digital channels and soaring numbers of social commerce strategies, many marketing teams are leaning into traditional marketing channels like email to make a more significant impact on their customer bases. 

Over the past few years, shifts in consumer behaviors and preferences have significantly impacted the strategies marketing teams must leverage to ensure success for their brands. With a rise in popularity of emerging digital channels and soaring numbers of social commerce strategies, a majority of savvy marketing professionals are looking to traditional marketing channels like email to make a more significant impact on their customer bases and increase their ROI.
Despite the ever-growing consumer call for transparency in marketing and the changes in data privacy like the iOS 15 update significantly disrupting traditional email marketing strategies, agile teams know that email is one of most impactful ways to reach and engage with customers. The key to a successful modern email strategy is staying ahead of trends and implementing current best practices to ensure marketing methodologies are both meeting consumer needs and resonating with your audiences in ways they haven’t before.
Working with a variety of clients across a number of industries, Theorem’s experts are able to formulate a holistic view of the emerging email marketing trends that modern brands are leveraging to increase customer engagement, deepen customer loyalty, and help to scale lifetime value of their customer. Here are four modern email best practices proven to yield success for retail and direct-to-consumer brands. 

Optimize Onboarding

First impressions count whether in person or virtual and they can make or break customer relationships. To ensure first-time customers become lifetime customers, brands must optimize their email onboarding experience. For new customers, that means tailoring messages to the individual consumer based on their buying behavior and the contextual data surrounding it. Modern personalization strategies involve more than just adding a customer’s first name to the email greeting or subject line. They also call for looking at a customer’s journey, lifecycle, and behavior holistically and tailoring your messaging around that specific consumer’s preferences every step of the way.

According to a survey by Ascend2, 65 percent of US marketing professionals reported that more personalization was the best approach for improving the effectiveness of email programs.

What does a modern customer onboarding experience entail?

The onboarding experience includes an email series that welcomes new customers after they make a purchase, often encouraging the customer to sign up for the brand’s loyalty program or including discounts for future purchases in hopes of turning that first-time customer into a repeat customer. Although all onboarding emails should lead with a friendly tone, they should also convey a sense of urgency to engage customers while your brand is still fresh on their mind.
In addition to the utilization of loyalty programs and discounts, storytelling is one messaging format that our retail email marketing experts have found to be highly successful. Rather than simply telling a singular generic brand story, keep the customer’s interest at heart by telling a story that will feel more personal to them based on their browsing or buying behavior. 
Let’s say, for example, a customer browsed your site and stumbled on a pair of snazzy sneakers and a matching workout set, but only ended up buying the workout set. As part of your welcome series, you could consider sending an email that features a story of a happy customer who swears by the sneakers and other athletic wear that your brand sells. You can include candid photos of the products in use along with a personal, real-life story to help your new customer imagine themselves with the product. 
Get started by thinking about your buyer personas and mapping out a series of emails that will inspire loyalty and future purchases across each persona group. 
Keep in mind that optimizing may not always mean you need to add emails to your welcome series. It may also mean taking away emails that are too long, detailed, or simply not resonating. Review your key metrics — such as open rates and in-email clicks — to gauge which messages and formats are working, and which aren’t, and adjust your email strategy accordingly.

Streamline Data

Establishing a real-time data and insights strategy is a major element of modern email optimization practices. Gathering and aggregating real-time data can help boost business agility, improve campaign performance, increase operational efficiency, and enhance understanding of your audience. All of these benefits are now necessities — not just nice-to-haves — for brands hoping to engage customers effectively and grow. 

58 percent of business leaders around the world say they’ve seen marked increases in customer retention as a result of real-time data analytics, according to Harvard Business Review.

Luckily, retail and DTC brand marketers tend to have more access to first-party data than those in other areas of the company since they are so close to customers. By tapping into the gold mine of data at their fingertips, these marketers can make educated decisions to guide personalization and engagement strategies throughout every email touch. 
Additionally, email teams can and should leverage the tools that are often right within their email platform to collect data in a way thats efficient and effective to learn more about customers’ preferences. It’s essential that teams not only collect this data but also house it in a way that unifies it to tell a story that makes sense to their business so they can apply findings to any current and future marketing and business initiatives. 
No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, letting data lead the way is a foolproof tactic to guide your email strategy to success. Without data, email building and optimization is simply a guessing game.

Quality Over Quantity

Our experts have found that sending less emails that are more relevant and personalized is a much more successful tactic than sending an abundant amount of generic emails to a large swath of recipients. Retail and DTC marketers can get more engagement and ROI out of every email by ensuring that the messaging ties back to the customer’s behavior, which includes what actions they do take in addition to what actions they don’t take. 

As a rule of thumb, before sending an email, marketers should always ask themselves — “What am I hoping the customer gets out of this email? Why am I sending this?” When you answer these questions, you’re allowing quality to be the guiding force behind your email communications rather than quantity. 

Let’s step into the customer’s shoes for a moment. Would you rather: 

A) Receive a flood of daily emails from a brand that contain products and messaging that don’t interest you 


B) Get less frequent emails that showcase content and products that you care about?

It would be hard to believe that every person who consumes products in any way, shape, or form wouldn’t choose the latter.
Developing more tailored segmentation strategies for customers and email content that is hyper-personalized around their purchase and browsing history makes the emails you send more relevant to customers who receive them. This will result in higher engagement rates across your email sends and most likely increase the lifetime value of your customers.
For a long time, marketing teams struggled to keep up with the number of emails they were tasked with producing or the numbers they were expected to hit in terms of reach. This led to “batch and blast” becoming the tactic many teams utilized to deliver emails to massive customer bases on an increasingly frequent basis. But the consumer shifts of the pandemic changed all that. 
With the widespread adaptation of automation technology taking over many facets of marketing campaign processes, teams can now eliminate the tedious and repetitive elements of their existing workloads to AI and automation solution providers. This allows todays email marketing teams to spend more time aggregating and understanding customer data to develop strategies and messaging that is more robust, personalized, and engaging for their customers.

Lean Into Loyalty

Over the last few years, our email subject matter experts have noted that many brands are leaning into customer loyalty strategies to scale email engagement with much success. Loyalty perks and programs not only help give brands a perceived edge over competitors, but they also help improve a customer’s willingness to engage with brands on a regular basis. In addition to increasing engagement and customer lifetime value, leveraging loyalty programs allows marketing teams to request and aggregate first-party data information from customers — like their email address or phone number — as a part of the loyalty program enrollment processes.

According to Sailthru, 80 percent of consumers are willing to share personal data with brands in order to earn loyalty program benefits.

In exchange for their information, loyalty customers are provided access to exclusive deals, events, and content. From highlighting members-only events and value-based perks to integrating loyalty program education into new customer onboarding emails, the options for appealing to loyal customers via email are endless. 

However, all roads lead back to data in the current marketing landscape, and brands that are not leveraging that data to optimize their loyalty programs and email content strategies to appeal to their customers wants and needs will not see the success of those that do. In other words, brands can develop and send the most beautifully designed and curated emails that include an awesome loyalty program, but if they don’t utilize their customer data to tailor those messages accordingly, they won’t resonate with their key market or drive the ROI the team is trying to achieve.


When done well, email can be an extremely powerful, relationship-building communication tool between retail and DTC brands and their customers. These best practices, along with more strategies to gain and retain customers, will set up email marketers for great success. Remember, the quality of your emails is often more important than the quantity sent, and you only get one chance to make a positive first impression. The key to success is letting data and loyalty lead the way, ensuring that your email marketing initiatives are engaging the right customers and increasing customer lifetime value for your brand.
Above all, remember to always remain compliant with the ever-changing data privacy laws that specifically affect email strategy. These changes are not something to fear. They’re a chance for marketers to showcase their agility and optimize strategies for a future world where zero-party data reigns supreme. When brands invest in email done right, they can strengthen customer relationships and fully embrace all of the new opportunities that are sure to arise as a result of their efforts.

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