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Email capturing basics: How to get email marketing leads to come to you

by Kate Lindemann  |  February 12, 2021

9 min. read
Email capturing form on a phone display.

Email marketing is highly effective, but before you can email potential customers, you’ll need their email addresses.

Email capturing is the process of attracting high-quality leads and collecting their contact information, so you can move the conversation to their inbox and keep them engaged with your brand.

This guide will cover the basics you need to know to build your own email capturing strategy. Let’s begin.

What is email capturing?

Email capturing is the practice of collecting email addresses from potential customers in order to engage them with targeted email campaigns. Methods for capturing emails range from simple newsletter sign-up forms to providing high-value content, like eBooks and white papers, in exchange for contact information.

First step: Messaging

You might expect the first step in email capturing to be, well… capturing emails. After all, what’s the point of writing emails before you’ve got anyone to send them to?

But if you dive in head-first without a strategy, you’ll end up reaching people who aren’t likely to become customers. Instead, you need to go in with a plan.

Decide what kind of leads you’re after

First, think about whose email you’re trying to capture. In B2B marketing, you might have a specific industry or job title in mind. For consumer brands, anyone who visits your website is a potential lead. But take some time to consider what type of person that usually is. This will help you tailor your messaging down the line.

Woman doing yoga on a beach and woman checking email in an office.

A luxury sportswear brand, for example, will have the most success marketing to active people with disposable income. They might further narrow their focus to young, style-conscious professionals who are intentional about the image they project in-person and on social media.

A company selling workflow management software, on the other hand, will need an entirely different approach. They want to focus on busy department heads at companies of a certain size. They may want to narrow their focus even more to focus on a certain industry or geographic area.

Whatever profile you develop for the person whose email you want to capture, keep that persona in the back of your mind at every point in the process.

Develop an email content strategy

Email capturing won’t do you much good if you use it to send lackluster campaigns. So dial in the messaging first. Tailor emails not just to your brand and products, but also to the personas you developed in the previous step.

Strategy planning meeting in a young, modern office.

Once you’ve ironed out what you’re going to say, you can begin capturing emails to build an audience.

Let the email capturing begin

Now let’s get down to brass tacks: How do you get email addresses from people interested in your products? From a technical standpoint, the answer is simple: They fill out a form on your website. The more complex question is how to encourage them to do that.

The first option is fairly straightforward: a basic email sign-up form with a short text explaining the benefits of subscribing to your mailing list.

Screenshot of a minimalist email sign-up form.

The second option is to use lead magnets. Lead magnets are pieces of content (a report, webinar, etc.) that attract people to your email sign-up form. By placing this high-quality content behind a form, you are offering something of value in exchange for someone’s email address. This method is much more involved, but also more nuanced and effective, especially for narrow, specific audiences.

Screenshot of a Canto eBook download form.

Depending on your marketing needs, you can use an email sign-up form, a lead magnet or both to capture emails. To help you decide what makes sense for your business, let’s dive a little deeper into each approach.

The basic sign-up form

A regular email sign-up form is a great way to capture email addresses from a broad range of people visiting your website. They’re especially popular in consumer marketing, where customers sign up to get notified about sales, new products and other news.

Screenshot of bike light company Knog's email sign-up pop-up form.

The most effective format for an email sign-up form is a pop-up window. They’re impossible to miss, and they force a response: Either sign up, or close the window.

Be sure to program your pop-up so it doesn’t interfere with web browsing. The best way to do this is with an exit-intent form. This type of pop-up appears when the user’s mouse movements signal they’re about to exit the page. That way, people can browse your site without any interruptions and soak in as much content as they want before signing up to a mailing list on the way out.

For more ways to create high-performing forms for email capturing, check out our guide to email sign-up forms.

Screenshot of email sign-up pop-up form on website.

Advantages and disadvantages of basic sign-up forms

The biggest advantage of regular email sign-up forms is that the emails they capture come from highly engaged leads. People have nothing to lose by not giving up their email, so if they signed up to your mailing list it’s a sign they’re already very interested in your brand. This means they come primed and receptive to the messaging in your email campaigns.

This is also the main disadvantage of regular sign-up forms. They don’t capture emails from people just discovering your brand or give you the chance to win over reluctant leads with convincing messaging. Fortunately, there’s still a way to capture those addresses too: lead magnets.

Lead magnets and how to use them

Remember the customer persona you created at the beginning of the email capturing process? Lead magnets are pieces of content designed to attract someone exactly like them.

Man filling out lead capturing from on a laptop.

As you decide what content to create as a lead magnet, keep these three criteria in mind:

1. Value
First and foremost, lead magnets need to provide something potential customers value.

2. Uniqueness
Insights and information only your brand can provide will stand out and highlight your expertise.

3. Quality
You want to make a good impression, and provide content worth filling out a form for.

Need some ideas to get started? Let’s look at some of the most popular lead magnet formats.

Insight reports

Screenshot of two pages from the Litmus State of Email Engagement report.

If your business generates valuable data insights, consider sharing them with your prospective customers. The best way to do this is to bundle multiple insights together into a report.

Take the annual State of Email Engagement Report by Litmus. This is the perfect lead magnet for an email analytics platform. Marketers who want to boost their email engagement (Litmus’s potential customer pool in a nutshell) will be interested in the unique insights the report draws from the billions of opens Litmus tracks.


Screenshot of Salesforce CRM eBook's table of contents.

Of course, data insights aren’t the only kind of industry knowledge. More in-depth than reports, eBooks offer a great way to provide customers valuable expertise that can’t be summed up in a few pages of graphs and statistics.

For example, Salesforce offers a Complete CRM Handbook for people new to the world of customer relationship management. This piece of content leverages the brand’s reputation as a leader in the field. There’s a lot of free CRM advice floating around the internet, but people will want to download this eBook – and give up their email address to do so – because of the strength of the Salesforce brand. They want to learn from the best.

Of course, there’s something in it for Salesforce too. Anyone trying to learn more about CRM is a potential customer. Now that they have their contact information, Salesforce can engage them with more tips and information about Salesforce’s CRM solutions.

Webinars and video

Screenshot of a webinar video thumbnail.

Reports and eBooks are classic lead magnet formats, but they’re not always the best way to present information. Marketing studies suggest that most people prefer video to text when learning new information. By using produced videos or live webinars as lead magnets, you can provide a more visual, engaging experience.

Webinars have the added bonus of being interactive. With audience questions, you can tailor the content not just to a hypothetical persona, but to the actual people in the seminar. And because we’re all used to signing up for events, asking for participants’ email addresses feels like a natural part of the process.

Outside-the-box lead magnets

Pretty much anything can be a lead magnet, as long as it fits with your brand and customer base.

An accountant might use a basic budget calculator to capture emails from people motivated to get their finances in order. A digital design agency might offer a few basic email newsletter templates.

Think outside the box, and consider what fun and unique ideas might work for your brand.

Capture more than emails

Whether you’ve used a basic pop-up, a lead magnet or a combination of the two, once you’ve captured people’s attention, you’ll need to collect their information.

The simplest email capturing forms ask for only an email address. This is great for a quick, frictionless sign-up for campaigns that will appeal to a broad range of people.

Email capturing form requiring just an email address.

If you want to target your campaigns more narrowly, however, you’ll need to dig a little deeper. Just be careful not to ask for more information than you need. You don’t want to make filling out the form so much work that people won’t bother.

Here are some popular fields you’ll often find in email capturing forms:

Name – Addressing recipients by name is one of the easiest ways to give marketing emails a personal touch.

Gender – In many industries, gender-specific marketing is a recipe for a PR disaster. Remember Bic for Her? But in others, it’s essential. Fashion retailers, for example, often include gender options in their email sign-up forms, so they can market menswear to men and womenswear to women.

Company – In B2B marketing, the customer is not the person who filled out the form, but rather the company they work for. You may also want to collect additional information about the company – like its size, location and industry – in order to tailor your campaigns or assign the lead to a specific sales team.

Job title / department – Even though the company is the customer, you’re still emailing a person. Knowing whether you’re dealing with the Head of Design or the Chief Monetization Officer can help in tailoring your messaging.

Email capturing form asking for company information.

Let’s recap

At the core of any successful email capturing strategy is a lead magnet (or sign-up form) created with a specific audience in mind. With the right content and messaging, you’ll attract the right leads. And with the right leads, your lead-nurturing emails have a better shot at success.

In the end, every part of your marketing campaign has to work together, from your content and email capturing form to the emails you send once the capturing is done.