What is Email Marketing? A Beginner's Guide to Success
Updated: Nov 18
Email marketing eliminates the middleman, speaking directly to an interested audience. Little wonder that it has the best return on investment (ROI) of any digital marketing strategy: an average of $44 for every $1 spent.
While it's almost an ancient communication medium by social media standards, an email marketing strategy should form a key pillar of all business advertising. For minimal cost, email marketing allows businesses to keep customers up-to-date with news, new products, offers, and other relevant information.
With a user base of over 4.5 billion people (and counting), ignoring email marketing simply isn't an option. Yet, merely sending emails isn't enough. Just because businesses "on average" earn 44 times what they're spending doesn't mean you will. Average conversion rates are meaningless without a solid understanding of this digital marketing medium.
Learn about what email marketing is, how it works, and the core points for developing an email marketing strategy below. Let's fly!
What is Email Marketing?
Email marketing is simple: write an email about your business and send it. Congratulations, you're an email marketer.
Commonly sent emails include newsletters, promotional emails, welcome emails, and more. Email marketing allows companies to keep their customers engaged with their brand – after all, it's more cost-effective to keep old customers than to make new ones.
That's email marketing in a nutshell: sending emails to earn money.
Types of Email Marketing
Email marketing has evolved significantly from the weekly newsletter. While it still forms the bedrock of most email marketing strategies, there are over a dozen different types of email marketing. Here are the most popular:
Welcome emails. Welcome emails are all about making a positive first impression. When a user first subscribes to your email list, send them a fun, inviting email welcoming them to your list – you can even sweeten the deal with a special offer. Subscribers who read an initial welcome email are 40% more likely to read further content in the subsequent 180 days.
Promotional emails. Special offers and promotions are among the most effective email marketing strategies. Receiving a special perk encourages customers to remain part of your list and ensures they feel appreciated. Doing so builds a relationship (and loyalty) with your customers.
Cart abandonment emails. Your customer stacks their digital cart with products or services only to hear the doorbell. The cart is abandoned. It's so easy! Sending a simple email – "Still thinking about buying?" – can spark a customer's memory, prompting them to return to their cart hours or days later.
Newsletter emails. Published weekly, monthly, or quarterly, newsletters are the bread and butter of email marketing. You can include company news, share articles, and customer reviews, and add an all-important call to action (CTA) to encourage a sale.
Confirmation emails. Also known as transactional emails, customers receive these emails after a transaction or to confirm a booking. Such emails should be simple and straightforward.
Seasonal marketing emails. Christmas, Thanksgiving, Diwali, or Mother's/Father's Day represent landmark dates in your company calendar. Sending a seasonal email – using relevant graphics and colours – can trigger a spike in sales. Perhaps a limited-time offer for Easter (add a special code to register the discount during the online checkout).
Re-engagement emails. Old customers are gold customers. Targeting inactive subscribers, customers, or clients can lead them to reconnect with your brand. All it takes is the right email and the right words.
Survey emails. Requesting reviews for customers who recently bought a product or service is invaluable. Customer feedback is one of the most beneficial marketing tools – never forget to ask.
How Email Marketing Works
The trick about email marketing isn't sending the email – that's step 1 – it's getting people to open, read, and act upon the emails you send. Confusion occurs, as with everything in digital marketing, when businesses forget the core objective of their marketing emails: to sell.
Think about your audience: in marketing, the single greatest challenge isn't convincing reluctant buyers to purchase a product or service; it's filtering out all the people who will never buy what you're selling, no matter how hard you try.
In email marketing, you've struck gold. Every single recipient has chosen to join your subscriber list. They're either very or somewhat interested in your business.
Note: Never purchase an email subscriber list. First, it's illegal to use people's details without their consent. Second, it defeats the point of email marketing. Such individuals are not tailored towards your brand, meaning most emails will never get opened.
The job of email marketers is to stop them from regretting that decision. To keep them engaged, excited, and energised about your brand. Like Goldilocks in the woods, you don't want to send too many emails (that's overwhelming), nor too few (that makes you forgettable); you don't want to overtly sell, sell, sell (that's too obvious), nor be totally blasé about getting the sale (that defeats the point).
You want to be just right.
That could mean sending a promotional offer on their birthday or an update on an upcoming company event. Regular newsletters (monthly or fortnightly) are a popular option as they serve as a flexible platform to advertise upcoming events, special offers, new products/services, and more.
However, the best email marketing is personal. Collecting the name and date of birth of your recipients allows a level of personalisation impossible with other marketing methods.
Whether using a customer's name in the subject line – "Hi Jenny!" – or targeting a customer with a special birthday deal, personalisation works. Consider that emails with personalised subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.
Better still, matching emails with demographic data allows email segmentation. The larger your email list, the more granular your segments can become. You can target customers based on browsing habits, age, location, and more – research found that segmented campaigns increased email revenue by 760%.
Pros and cons of email marketing
Email marketing is a key tool in a business's arsenal. But that doesn't mean it's perfect – or that it's suitable for every business. Like any marketing tool, you need to be smart about how you use it.
Pros of email marketing:
Captive audience. Targeted email campaigns allow you to send your message directly to customers who are most likely to buy. No other marketing technique is so precise.
Rewards loyalty. Email marketing drives customer loyalty through special offers and personalised messaging. Customers develop a brand connection unlike anything else.
Flexibility. You can send anything in an email. The sheer variety of email types allows you to tailor your message to the customer and circumstances. Indeed, segmentation and personalization mean businesses can achieve a level of precision unmatched by other marketing methods.
Cons of email marketing:
No new customers. Email marketing can never attract new customers. It's solely focused on people already aware of your brand. While it can expand an existing customer's brand awareness – keeping your business at the forefront of their mind – it doesn't reach customers who have never heard of you.
Spam. Get your email strategy wrong, and you could end up in the dreaded spam folder. Such emails never get read (wasting a company's time).
Constant effort. Email marketing isn't a piece of cake. Just because customers were initially interested doesn't mean they'll stay that way. You need to engage your audience continuously, or else your unopened rates will rise, or people will unsubscribe.
Developing an Email Marketing Strategy
Effective email marketing isn't easy. There's no shortcut to success. Follow these tips, however, will help you build a rock solid email marketing strategy for your business.
1. Build an email list
No email marketing strategy matters without subscribers. You need to tempt potential customers to subscribe through a list-building strategy. You could offer a coupon to subscribers, create a special whitepaper that subscribers receive, or market your emails as a key service that's not to be missed.
Most of all, put your subscriber form in hard-to-ignore locations. Many sites do this with a lightbox that triggers upon arrival at your site. You can also include forms throughout your site in key locations.
2. Follow the rules
National (and international) regulations govern various aspects of email marketing – including the collection, use, and storage of personal data. Key legislation includes CAN-SPAM Act in the United States, the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the UK.
Familiarise yourself with the relevant regulations and ensure you follow the rules to the letter. You should also know the location of your subscribers as that governs which laws apply to you.
3. Plan your email marketing strategy
Who are you targeting? What types of emails will you send? How often will you send them? And when? Answering these questions is critical to developing an email marketing strategy – and it's specific to your business.
When we plan an email marketing strategy, we list the types of emails relevant to the business in question. We decide when we will send these emails and to who. For more variable email types, like newsletters, we list potential ideas for items, e.g., blog articles, key tips, special offers, and more.
For example, for one client who created knit-to-order woolly hats made from a flock of organic sheep in Scotland, we made the sheep the star attraction. We updated subscribers about the sheep's lives, used seasonal photographs, and then led into the gorgeous products – it worked!
4. Use an Email Service provider (ESP)
Email Service Providers (ESPs) allow you to construct emails quickly and effectively. These services manage your email list for an affordable monthly subscription fee. Whether you're a small or big business, B2B or B2C, you'll need to find the right service for you.
Here are the top ESPs:
MailChimp. Industry titan MailChimp is the best in the business. Their easy-to-use platform removes the headache of sending emails – and they have tons of templates to choose from.
SendInBlue. Best for small businesses, it's an affordable service that includes live chat, SMS, and more. Perfect for running simple email campaigns.
Pardot. B2B email campaigns require a specific approach. Pardot allows B2B companies to build high-growth campaigns – however, it costs a lot more than other platforms.
5. Create your email templates
Most types of email marketing can be created ahead of time. Your welcome emails, cart abandonment emails, confirmation emails, and more should all be planned and written as you launch your strategy.
Craft the content to maximise your appeal. Clever subject lines like "Don't let free shipping go to waste" or "Where did you go?" get straight to the point.
Where possible, perform A/B testing to trial different email designs and copy. You want to hone your templates to achieve the best results possible.
6. Write impossible-to-ignore subject lines
Like headlines, subject lines are your bait to tempt a subscriber to click. They're the most important part of the email – and the hardest to write.
In a few characters – go too long, and you'll be cut off – you need to grab your subscriber's attention, convey the topic of your email, and get them to click.
Best practices include using keywords, being benefit-driven, asking questions, using an active voice, and personalise where possible. However, avoid words that trigger spam filters like free, bargain, or cash bonus. After all, you want to get seen.
Asking a question or using words like hurry or quick can spark action. Psychologically, people hate incompleteness. They're much more likely to click if you can make them curious or create an unanswered question. It's the fear of missing out (FOMO).
Here are some examples:
7. Respect your subscribers
Never cram your subscriber's inbox with too many messages. You're a guest in their inbox; be respectful. You should ensure every email you send adds value to your customers. Cost savings, new products or services, and product benefits inform and engage your audience.
You should also keep your email easy to read. People are busy; they want you to get to the point. That means keeping sentences and paragraphs short, avoiding jargon and complex words, and using bullet points.
To quote Dan Munz: "How to write a good email: 1. Write your email. 2. Delete most of it. 3. Send."
8. Track your metrics
Monitoring your email campaign's success is critical. While your open rate is important, it's only a measure of your subject line's effectiveness. Here are the key metrics you want to measure:
Open rate. Conveys how many people opened your email. If your open rate is low, that means many of your subscribers are unengaged.
Click-through rate (CTR). Your CTR measures how many people clicked on a link in your email. It measures the success of your email copy and design.
Unsubscribe rate. The unsubscribe rate tells you to have many people click the "unsubscribe" button. If high, it means subscribers aren't receiving value from your emails. You need to perform a serious evaluation of your email marketing strategy.
Start Email Marketing with Impeccable Writing
Now you know the critical aspect of email marketing – from the definition to our top insider tips. Ready to get started?
While you can achieve some success with a DIY email marketing campaign, the best results come from relying on the pros. We'll design and create a bespoke email marketing campaign that achieves results.
From attention-grabbing subject lines to top-class copywriting, we're the only email marketing service you need.
Schedule a free consultation today to discuss your email marketing strategy.