Email marketing is a digital marketing strategy that involves sending emails about your business to consenting customers and leads, in order to boost engagement and profits. Every time you sign up for a newsletter or buy something online, then receive emails full of information (from news to sales and discounts), that's email marketing.
If you’re running a business in this day and age, you need an email marketing strategy to some degree. Just like a well-oiled website and social media strategy, email marketing is a crucial part of every company’s online presence. In fact, email marketing is so effective that you may be able to make $44 for every $1 you spend on the software.
It’s certainly a way of locking down sales – if you have a fresh new product, showing it off in an email is a way of triggering interest among your customers. However, even if you don’t have something specific to promote, sending an occasional reminder email can be an effective way to maintain brand awareness and build loyalty and trust.
Why is email marketing important to your business?
It’s business 101 that staying fresh in your customers’ minds is one of the most important objectives a business can pursue in order to stay afloat. And unlike conventional advertising, such as billboards or commercials, email marketing doesn't rely on chance sighting – instead, it gives you full control of when information appears in peoples’ inboxes, and who receives it.
Plus, not everyone can afford a TV commercial or a billboard. These marketing methods both revolve around finite resources – time and space. However, email marketing is managed in data, a resource so abundant that it’s drastically cheaper than “conventional” advertising.
Email marketing even has a lot of advantages over other forms of digital marketing. Social media marketing might miss its audience, based on their log-in schedule, while Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can only reach so many people, as everyone is competing for the same spot on Google.
Due to the broadness of an email list’s audience, as well as the ability to manage when a message is received, leading to higher visibility, email marketing is often cited as a big success when it comes to return on investment (ROI). In fact, since email marketing is so cheap, yet also able to accomplish so much, it’s believed that your ROI can be as massive as 4,400%.
This is because the email user base is huge. Due to how accessible email has become, almost 4 billion people check their email every day, which is around half the population of the planet. You’ll never find a bigger audience than that.
Investing in email marketing software gives you the tools to build your brand recognition and loyalty, communicate directly with potential customers, increase repeat customers, and optimize your digital marketing and online performance.
Benefits of email marketing software
Beyond the relative affordability and flexibility of email marketing, not to mention its huge potential ROI, there are a lot of more tangible benefits that can be gained by utilizing email marketing software over other types of marketing. These include:
- Personalized content. Studies have shown that using a person’s name in a subject line can increase open rates by up to 35%. Email marketing software allows you to personalize your content for the receiver, so you can make each message feel that much more intentional and intimate.
- Collect feedback through surveys. Email marketing software can help you connect with your customer base to improve your overall business efforts. You'll be able to create emails with built-in surveys that allow you to collect feedback from your customers after purchases, or otherwise. These are usually based around a single button press that answers a basic question, but if you think your readers are up for it, they can also be made more advanced.
- Send timely campaigns. Let’s say you have an upcoming month full of different offers and deals. Email marketing software will let you plan and schedule your marketing around this ahead of time to go out when it's most relevant, so you don't have to remember or do the same thing more than once.
- Build contact lists. Email marketing software can help you organize and tailor marketing material for your audience by sorting your existing customers into lists based on demographic, location, or behavior.
- Custom templates. Email marketing platforms allow you to choose from one of their pre-made templates, or you can create your own. Rather than building each piece of marketing material from scratch, you can make sure that everything you send fits your approved mold, saving time and strengthening your brand.
- A/B testing. To improve your marketing performance, it’s important to test different options. Email marketing software provides the ability for you to run A/B testing. For example, one group of your customers could receive subject line A, while the other group receives option B. You can then see which performed better through your email platform’s analytics. Try this with email templates, calls to action, and anything else that might impact whether the recipient engages with your email.
- Analytics. By analyzing metrics such as the engagement and open rates of your different emails, you can see clearly what worked and what didn’t. You’ll be able to learn and improve your marketing using these cold, hard facts about your emails’ performance.
Email marketing software can also provide additional functions to support your business, such as CRM and social media management – see below.
Read about the best email marketing software, ranked based on Tech.co's independent criteria.
Additional features of email marketing software
While the features we listed above can be found in almost any email marketing software, there are also some rarer features offered by leading providers that you might be interested in.
Social media marketing
Email marketing software isn’t always just for emails – you can use some email marketing software to perform similar tasks for your social media accounts, like scheduling and sending messages. Good software will also allow you to check the analytics of these posts.
HubSpot and Zoho are the best platforms if you’re looking to implement social media marketing as well, since both of these platforms support integration of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.
CRM stands for customer relationship management, and is the way your company interacts with both existing and potential customers. CRM software is its own product in and of itself, but some providers enable you to combine your CRM provider services with your email marketing software. This improves the way you can nurture your client base, and allows you to gain the trust of your old and new customers alike.
While you’re only going to want to combine your email marketing software with a single CRM software of your choice, it’s best practice to look at the software that accepts the widest range of CRM software integrations, so you have options. Mailchimp is your best bet, integrating with 50 different CRM providers. ActiveCampaign comes in second, supporting 30 CRM integration options.
We mentioned analytics above, but it’s quite a broad term. Every software is going to have some degree of analytics, but some will have more comprehensive analytics than others.
For example, some platforms offer click maps, which show where people are clicking on your email, or platform tracking, which tracks how the recipients read their emails (such as on their phone or on Gmail). Mailchimp and Constant Contact are our recommended platforms for anyone looking for strong analytics.
While most marketing emails are sent to a broader audience using a large mailing list of contacts, transactional emails are sent to individuals, following particular transactions. These commonly include things like password resets or receipts.
Constant Contact and GetResponse are two platforms that make it easy to set up transactional emails. Getting these automated and taken care of can be a big benefit for any business that doesn’t have a lot of time to deal with individual customer requests.
How does email marketing work?
While standard emails are composed one by one and sent through a client like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, email marketing requires a bit of outside assistance. Since you’re going to be constructing things like email marketing templates and customer surveys, you’ll need some software to help you out.
After finding your ideal email marketing software, you link it to your business’s email account (such as BusinessName@gmail.com). Then, you craft your emails and customer lists through the software itself.
As for where you get these customer lists, ideally they’ll come from your customers themselves. You can set up your website and software to be linked, so that anyone who comes to your website can enroll in your emailing lists, and will automatically be added to any future emails. You can also add an email sign-up field at the end of customer receipts and account registration, in order to maximize your contact list.
Make sure you have the correct permission, however. A captive audience can be a tempting prospect for anyone looking to maximize their sales, but sending emails to anyone who hasn’t asked – or has opted out – can be a very bad look, and reduce your overall engagement metrics. If you email people who haven’t consented, you might also be breaking certain laws, like GDPR regulations, so err on the side of caution.
Email marketing examples
Email marketing is an art in itself, straddling the line between artistic creativity and business-focused marketing. Do you want your logo to be front and center? Or should it take a backseat and let the content do the talking? Where should you put your images? There are no solid answers to these questions, so you’ll have to go with your gut (or even better, your analytics).
We’ve found some of the most effective email marketing campaigns from the past year, to give you an impression of what works and what doesn’t.
Headphone manufacturer Jaybird leads with a great image of their product. They then follow with a short but comprehensive description of their headphones, and a “Shop now” button, prompting you to get your own pair. Under that they have another, more practical image, showcasing the possible colors and case.
This is a very by-the-book marketing campaign, but it still does what it sets out to do. It’s not too busy, but still has enough to draw the eye and entice the reader.
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Broadway.com confidently announces their newest moneymaker, the musical Matilda. The amount of words on the screen barely reaches double digits, as the promotional image speaks for itself.
This is certainly a very bold marketing campaign, but could certainly hit the right note with anyone eagerly checking their phone to see if tickets were available. If you know your customers are on the edge of their seats waiting for something from you, it can be nice to drop it onto them so confidently.
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In contrast to Broadway’s minimalistic approach, Rolling Stone Australia’s weekly newsletter is almost the exact opposite. They wrap up their week with their best headlines, with a small clickable preview of every article.
Everyone who goes out of their way to sign up for a newsletter like this knows what to expect, so they’ll definitely be willing to either flick through it to find a headline that interests them, or they’d just unsubscribe entirely. If you know your audience won’t care too much about how you present your information, sometimes a utilitarian approach can be enough.
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A depressing example, but still one worth talking about – Whale and Dolphin Conservation, or WDC, uses a sad image and facts about the slaughter of whales to encourage the user to click their button labeled “I wish to end whaling,” which leads them to a donation page or a petition.
Leading with an impact relevant to your business or cause can be the prompt that people need to take appropriate action. All marketing plays on emotion, as you can see with the compelling call to action (“I want to end whaling” instead of “Read more” or “Sign a petition”), so try to use them to your advantage.
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What is email marketing automation?
The main idea of email marketing is to create and send mass emails to your audience, then use software to keep track of open rates, clicks, and other engagement metrics to optimize results. You can create new emails based on seasonality, past performance, current affairs, or anything else as you see fit to reach your business goals.
This is a bit different to email marketing automation, which, while often a part of the same software, enables the creation of automated email campaigns, which are triggered by specific individual events and send pre-defined messages.
A common example of email marketing automation is the welcome email you get when you sign up to a website. That email is a standardized pre-defined message, sent automatically upon your subscription request, and only to you, the individual who signed up at that time and triggered it.
Email marketing automation may involve a single transactional email message, or a series of pre-written marketing emails that send at set intervals after the initial trigger and aim to turn subscribers into customers/conversions.
There are some platforms that also offer email sequences, where the chain of incoming emails is altered based on the customer’s behavior – like whether they’ve opened the previous email or engaged with its contents.
Salesforce Pardot is a top provider within the Email Marketing Automation space, allowing you to send all kinds of automated emails based on your customers’ actions.
Tips to get you started
If you're looking to get started with email marketing today, we've written a guide containing 36 essential tips for email marketing success, in conjunction with two leading industry experts. If there's just one tip we could offer, it would be to make use of email marketing software. It's inexpensive, easy to use, and sure to improve your email marketing results.
There are dozens of different email marketing software platforms out there. Our personal favorites are Constant Contact, which came out top for small businesses, and Zoho, which gives great value for your money.
Once you have an idea for the kind of path you want to go down, the best course of action is experimentation. Check out your software’s various templates, and use A/B testing and analytics to see what works and what doesn’t.
People on these lists aren’t familiar with you or your business, and might unsubscribe after a single email. They never consented to being emailed by you, and this could get you into some hot water if you annoy the wrong people.
Most importantly, most email marketing software won’t allow you to import a list of purchased contacts, so you might be wasting money. Just be patient and grow your own garden – don’t steal someone else’s overnight.
Try not to push it past once a week. The number one reason people unsubscribe from mailing lists is that they can’t keep up with the sheer volume of emails coming through from a single sender, so restraint is crucial.
This article by Optinmonster summarizes several studies done by various email marketing businesses. Trying to plan for when your customers have the most free time is generally a good idea – however, as is the nature of emails, even if you send one at 3AM, it’ll still be in the customer’s inbox, ready for them when they wake up.
Like we mentioned earlier, email marketing ROI can be as high as 4,400%, so you’d have to be doing something awfully wrong for email marketing not to net you more money.
While newsletters can include things like company developments, they can still be a way to sneak in conversion points, so they can net you a few sales here and there if you’re clever enough.
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