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What is Email Marketing? [An Expert Guide for Beginners]

What is Email Marketing? [An Expert Guide for Beginners]

Email is one of the oldest and biggest digital communication channels, with a user base of over 4.3 billion people. It is also the most effective marketing channel, with an ROI of $36 for every dollar spent. As if that’s not enough, email marketing is 40 times more effective at customer acquisition than Facebook and Twitter put together.

The first email in the world was sent by Ray Tomlinson in 1971. In 1978, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp named Gary Thuerk sent the first commercial email to a list of 400 addresses announcing a new product. This email was so successful that it brought about $13 million in sales.

Common email marketing terms

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that refers to the use of email to attract, engage, and communicate with potential and existing customers. 

It can be a promotional tool to inform email subscribers of new products, discounts, and other services. It can also be used for educational purposes to inform subscribers about your business’ value or benefits.

Benefits of Email Marketing

There are so many advantages to using email marketing. Here are a few that set email apart from all other channels. 

  1. Direct audience access 

With email, you can communicate directly with subscribers in their inboxes. When you send out messages, you are sure that they are reaching the intended recipients compared to social media, where you create posts and hope that your audience sees them. 

  1. Email provides more control

Email is the most stable marketing channel. It gives you control over your audience and how you reach them. Other channels like SEO and social media are outside of your control, where a single algorithm update can affect your whole strategy. 

  1. Better personalization

One of the key strengths of email marketing is its ability to deliver personalized and targeted content. Emails can be customized to address the needs and interests of individual recipients, enhancing the relevance of the message. This personalization can range from simple techniques like including the recipient’s name in the email to more complex strategies like segmenting your audience based on their behaviors or preferences. Research shows segmented and personalized campaigns increase revenue by as much as 760 percent.

  1. Measurable success

Another significant benefit of email marketing is its measurability. With various tools and software available, businesses can track the performance of their email campaigns with metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. These insights allow for data-driven decisions to optimize future campaigns and strategies.

  1. Cost-Effective and High ROI

Compared to other forms of digital marketing, it requires a relatively low investment. Businesses can reach a large number of consumers at a rate of nearly nothing per message. This affordability is especially beneficial for small to medium-sized businesses. Moreover, email marketing offers an impressive return on investment (ROI).

How Does Email Marketing Work?

Email marketing is an indispensable tool in the digital marketing toolbox, but how does it actually work? To understand this, we need to look at the three essential elements of an effective email marketing campaign: the email list, an email service provider (ESP), and clear goals.

  1. Email list: the foundation

The backbone of any email marketing campaign is the email list—a database of subscribers who have consented to receive your emails. The key here is to have an active, engaged list. Building such a list isn’t just about accumulating email addresses; it’s about attracting the right kind of subscribers who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

How to build an email list:

  • Offer Value: Create something that your target audience finds valuable, like a free ebook or a webinar, and offer it in exchange for their email addresses.
  • Opt-In Website Pop-Ups: Utilize pop-up forms on your website, giving visitors a convenient opportunity to subscribe to your list.
  • Facebook Ads: Leverage ads to generate leads that direct users to your landing pages with opt-in forms.
  1. Email service provider: the engine

An Email Service Provider (ESP) is any specialized tool that is meant to streamline and enhance your email marketing efforts. An ESP, or email marketing platform, is your campaign’s engine. It helps with:

  • List Management: It’s like a digital address book with enhanced features that helps you organize, segment, and maintain your subscriber list efficiently.
  • Design and Automation: ESPs offer user-friendly interfaces and templates, making it easy to create professional emails. Plus, they automate repetitive tasks like sending welcome emails to new subscribers.
  • Analytics and Improvement: They provide valuable insights, like open rates and click-through rates, helping you understand the performance of your emails and refine your strategies.
  1. Clear goals: the direction

What do you want to achieve with your email marketing campaign? Is it driving sales, boosting brand awareness, generating and nurturing leads, keeping customers engaged, or increasing customer loyalty and lifetime value? Your goals will dictate the content and structure of your emails.

  1. Bringing it all together

When these elements align, you’re well on your way to executing a successful email marketing campaign. With your list ready and ESP at hand, segment your subscribers for targeted communication. Craft emails that align with your objectives, and let your ESP do the heavy lifting in sending and monitoring these emails. 

This systematic approach ensures your email marketing campaign is not just a shot in the dark but a strategic effort toward measurable goals.

Types and Examples of Emails

Various types of emails serve distinct purposes and engage audiences differently. Understanding the different types of emails will help you tailor your campaigns to best suit your company’s needs. Let’s explore some of these types, along with examples to give you a clearer picture.

  1. Welcome emails

Welcome emails are your first handshake with a customer, warmly introducing them to your business. Picture an email that thanks a subscriber for joining and provides an enticing glimpse into your products or services. 

  1. Newsletter emails

Newsletters are like a regular catch-up session, often highlighting new offerings, sharing insightful articles, blogs, and customer reviews.

  1. Lead nurturing emails

Lead nurturing emails are more strategic, targeting a specific audience through a series of thoughtfully crafted messages. Their goal is to guide potential customers from mere consideration to the actual purchase, like a series of breadcrumbs leading to your product.

  1. Transactional/confirmation emails

Transactional or confirmation emails come into play after someone signs up for your service or buys a product. They confirm the action taken and can be followed by post-purchase drips, like updates on shipments, invitations to review the product, or even an offer on the next purchase.

  1. Dedicated emails

Dedicated emails are more selective. They are sent only to certain segments of your email list based on criteria such as recent activity or membership status. For instance, an exclusive discount offered to customers who haven’t shopped in a while. 

  1. Announcement emails

Announcement emails turn the spotlight on upcoming events, new product launches, or seminars, aiming to drum up excitement and awareness.

  1. Promotional emails

Promotional emails cast a wider net, often reaching out to your entire audience to keep them engaged with your brand and products. These could include general announcements of a store-wide sale.

  1. Survey emails

Conversely, survey emails reach out for feedback, showing customers that their opinions are valued and essential for shaping your product offerings.

  1. Seasonal marketing emails

Seasonal marketing emails bring a festive touch, aligning with holidays and special events like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or Black Friday, offering themed promotions or greetings.

  1. Re-engagement emails

Re-engagement emails attempt to rekindle the interest of those who haven’t interacted with your content recently with nudges like “We miss you” or “Are you still there?”

  1. Triggered email series

Triggered email series are more responsive and are activated by specific customer actions such as joining your list or abandoning a shopping cart.

  1. Connect-via-social campaigns

Connect-via-social campaigns encourage subscribers to engage with your brand on social media platforms, and are often sweetened with incentives like loyalty points or exclusive offers.

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Email Marketing Best Practices

Email marketing, when done right, can be a powerful tool for engaging and retaining customers. However, it’s crucial to follow best practices to ensure the effectiveness and legality of your campaigns. Here’s a guide to the most important practices in email marketing:

  1. Avoid buying email lists

Purchasing email lists is a bad idea for several reasons. Under GDPR and CAN-SPAM regulations, it’s illegal to send unsolicited emails and store people’s data without consent. Unsolicited emails are often marked as spam, which can damage your email sender’s reputation and lead to being placed on an email blocklist. Moreover, most email marketing services won’t work with you if you use purchased lists, as they can harm deliverability for other users on shared IP addresses.

  1. Use double opt-in

Although the double opt-in process adds an extra step for subscribers, it is very helpful for email deliverability. It helps eliminate misspelled email addresses (which cause hard bounces) and spam traps. Double opt-in also serves as proof of subscriber consent, a requirement under GDPR.

  1. Segment your email list

Segmenting your email list means dividing it into smaller groups based on common traits like age, location, lead score, and purchase history. The goal of this technique is to send more relevant and targeted emails to your subscribers. Effective segmentation starts at signup by requesting subscriber details like content and frequency preferences. 

  1. Personalization

Personalization in emails goes a long way in making customers feel valued and understood. Some great personalization tactics you can use in your email campaigns include using subscribers’ first names in the subject line and content, considering time zones when scheduling campaigns, segmenting contacts for targeted messaging, using behavior-triggered emails, recognizing user milestones, and sending tailored product recommendations.

A graph of email personalization trends
Subscriber personalization preferences based on a survey conducted by McKinsey.
  1. A/B test your emails

A/B testing involves experimenting with different email elements like subject lines, content formats, and calls-to-action (CTAs) to see what resonates best with your audience. This tactic can help you find out what performs better based on open rates and click-through rates. Always adjust your email marketing strategy based on A/B test results.

  1. Optimize email deliverability

Email deliverability refers to the ability to deliver an email to the inbox.  Good email deliverability ensures that your emails reach subscribers’ inboxes and not their spam folders. To improve deliverability, avoid spammy or overly promotional subject lines, keep your subscriber database current by removing unengaged contacts, only send emails to opt-in subscribers, and always include an unsubscribe link.

A list of email deliverability best practices
  1. Clean your email list

Regularly cleaning your email list can enhance email deliverability and engagement rates. You can do this by removing subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails in a long while. For instance, if someone hasn’t engaged with your emails for four months, consider sending them a reactivation campaign. And if they don’t engage after you send them a reactivation email, delete them from your list.

  1. Track success with email marketing metrics

Tracking the success of email marketing campaigns is crucial, and this is done by closely monitoring key metrics. Regularly analyzing these metrics allows for the optimization of email campaigns, leading to improved engagement and conversion rates.

A list of email marketing metrics

The open rate reflects the effectiveness of your subject lines and sender reputation. The click-through rate (CTR) shows the engagement level of your content, measured by the clicks on links within the email. The unsubscribe rate is a critical indicator of content relevance and email frequency. Finally, the bounce rate, including both hard and soft bounces, measures the deliverability of your emails. By continually monitoring and analyzing these metrics, you can fine-tune your email marketing campaigns for better engagement, higher conversion rates, and improved overall performance.

  1. Automate your email campaigns

Automating your email campaigns can greatly assist in scaling your business. One of the most common forms of email automation is autoresponders, which are used to send personalized emails at different stages of the buyer journey. More complex automation sequences can also be set up for lead nurturing and scoring. Automation is increasingly becoming a focus area for companies, so understanding and implementing it can give you a competitive edge.

By adhering to these best practices, you can create email marketing campaigns that are not only effective but also compliant with legal standards, ensuring a positive impact on your business growth and customer relationships.

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