In 1978, Gary Thuerk of Digital Equipment Corporation sent out the first ever mass email to approximately 400 clients. He claimed to have generated $13 million worth of sales as a result, revealing the high potential of email as an effective marketing tool.
Today, email marketing remains one of the most efficient methods for promoting brands and engaging with prospects and customers. Since Thuerk's first email, campaigns have evolved over the years from mass email blasts to strategic, highly targeted messages. In this article, we’ll dive into what email marketing is, as well as how your brand can use it to build engagement and growth.
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is an effective type of marketing that involves sending emails to prospects and customers. This valuable tactic can be used for a variety of purposes, including driving conversions, promoting products, or generating interest and loyalty in your brand.
While far from being novel, email is a key strategic channel for nearly every industry and is one of the most effective ways to convert people into customers. In fact, research has shown that organizations receive an average ROI of $42 for every dollar spent.
Benefits of email marketing
Marketing emails can fulfill several purposes for your company or organization, depending on their content. Their main benefits include:
Promoting your products or services
Building engagement with your brand
Driving traffic to your website
Turning prospects into customers
Turning one-time buyers into loyal fans
Because email is a direct line of conversation with your customers, it has advantages over other forms of marketing communication. First, people are more likely to see an email than a social media post, which may not appear in the feeds of prospective customers and followers. Second, emails let you send different messages based on your subscribers’ individual desires and needs. Compared to one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns, this targeted form of communication is far more effective in generating conversions.
Types of marketing emails
From automated emails to weekly newsletters (we've got some email marketing examples and newsletter examples here), different types of messages achieve different goals for your brand. You can use a combination of them to put together a comprehensive email marketing strategy:
Email campaigns are sent with a specific purpose in mind, whether it’s to promote a special offer, encourage users to download a whitepaper or e-book, or sign up for a free trial.
Email newsletters are sent on a consistent basis to provide regular updates to subscribers. A newsletter might share new blog posts or case studies, discuss a product update or recent milestone, or highlight upcoming events. For more information, take a look at this article on how to make a newsletter that stands out.
Automated marketing emails are automatically sent based on predefined triggers. For example, you might send a welcome email to new subscribers, a celebratory email to subscribers celebrating their birthdays, and a reminder email to customers with abandoned shopping carts. Or, you might send a drip campaign that nurtures leads and convinces them to buy. Whichever email automation you choose, you can set up strategic automated responses using free email marketing tools.
Automated transactional emails are another effective form of marketing automation that are automatically sent following a transaction. They include order confirmations, shipping updates and reminders about appointments or events. While these emails are quite simple, they’re important for building customer trust, particularly for eCommerce websites.
How to do email marketing
Now that you have some background on email marketing, it’s time to learn how to create effective marketing emails in 5 simple steps:
Build your mailing list
Choose an email marketing service
Segment your audience
Create great content
Optimize your campaigns
01. Build your mailing list
The first step in beginning your email marketing strategy is to get subscribers. Keep in mind that you’ll need to obtain people’s permission in order to use their addresses. It’s poor practice to purchase a mailing list, and most email marketing companies have a strict permission-based policy. In addition, you’ll need to make sure you’re compliant with any applicable laws, including the CAN-SPAM Act in the US, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, and the Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL).
With that in mind, the best way to build an email list is to use tactics that encourage people to voluntarily sign up. One way to do this is by using lead magnets - something valuable that you give away for free in exchange for an email address. Most lead magnets aren’t products but, instead, digital goods that you can create cheaply and easily using your industry expertise. These include:
Whitepapers and case studies
Business toolkits and guides
Once you define your lead magnets, add opt-in forms to your website to encourage people to sign up. Be sure to use enticing headlines and compelling CTAs asking users to subscribe. For instance, you might offer a downloadable guide to email marketing using the title “The Complete Email Marketing Checklist” and the CTA “Download Now.” Next to the CTA button, you’d have one field for the subscriber’s name and another for their email address.
You can place these forms in a variety of strategic places on your site, including a pop-up, sidebar, or a blog post.
02. Choose an email marketing service
Because email marketing involves handling a large number of subscribers, sending targeted messages and analyzing your email metrics, you’re going to need a robust email marketing service to help you manage and organize your work. There are several different platforms available, including:
Wix Email Marketing is a particularly effective tool that you can conveniently integrate into your website. It includes inbuilt analytics features, such as statistics on email opens, views and clicks, so that you can analyze the performance of your campaigns. In addition, you can customize the design of your emails so that they look professional, reflect your brand identity and resonate with your audience.
On top of that, Wix Email Marketing lets you connect your email to your website. That way, you can send emails through a special business email address, and view data about their performance directly through your site's dashboard.
03. Segment your audience
Another key email marketing tip is to divide your audience based on their unique interests, characteristics and behaviors. This process, called segmentation, allows you to send more targeted communication so that your emails directly appeal to the wants and needs of your target market.
There are a few different categories by which to divide your subscribers. These include:
Demographics: Factors as age, gender and income level can tell you about a person’s needs and interests.
Geographic area: Information about your audience’s country or region can help you tailor your content based on different interests, languages and cultures in different parts of the world.
Website behavior: Data about users’ interactions with your website - such as which pages they visit and which products they view - can point to their interests and help inform your targeting strategy.
Purchase history: Details of your customers’ purchases can help you differently target one-time versus repeat buyers, as well as send distinct messages to people with different interests.
Amount spent: The amount of money customers have already spent on your site can give you an idea of how much they’re willing or able to spend in general, and what kinds of products they’re likely to buy.
Position in the marketing funnel: Whether a user is a brand new subscriber or has an abandoned shopping cart, you can use this information to create emails that guide them toward making a purchase.
Personal interests: Information about people’s personal interests - which you can gather by allowing users to create profiles on your website or save their favorite items - gives you a better understanding of your customers’ individual preferences.
Overall, keep your communication as targeted as possible, even if you choose to send email blasts to mass audiences. By sending different email campaigns between these categories, you can create content that is more relevant, relatable and convincing.
04. Create great content
At this point, you have everything set up to start creating your email marketing campaigns. The next step is to generate the content itself.
Whichever kind of content you’re creating - an automated message, a newsletter or an update about a new product - you’ll need to keep a few key principles in mind. First, remember that your goal is to become a welcome guest in your subscribers’ inboxes. Rather than come across as spammy or annoying, craft thoughtful emails that provide your audience with real value.
You can do this by providing perks or insights your subscribers will appreciate, whether it’s actionable tips, exclusive content or a seasonal coupon code.
The writing itself should be engaging, too. Build rapport with your audience by speaking to them individually (e.g., addressing them by name and writing in the second person). Infuse your content with personality, and add humor when appropriate. Your goal is to sound like a helpful friend, rather than a corporation.
Finally, conclude with a professional email signature, as this creates an immediate association between your brand and the campaign.
05. Optimize and improve
Once you’ve written and sent your emails, you’ll need to analyze your email marketing KPIs so that you can continually optimize your campaigns. These metrics should already be built into your email marketing service.
The most important analytics to track include:
Delivery rate: This tracks the number of emails delivered. If some emails aren’t getting delivered, you may be sending to addresses that don’t exist. 95% or higher is considered to be a strong delivery rate; if your number is any lower, clean up your subscriber list and delete any invalid addresses.
Bounce rate: Opposite from the delivery rate, this metric shows how many of your emails were not delivered. If your bounce rate is high, you risk destroying your sender reputation, which can trigger filtering and blocking on your IP. Be sure to regularly purge your email list to keep your bounce rate low, boost your engagement rates and avoid the spam folder.
Open rate: This shows the percentage of subscribers who opened your email, giving you an understanding of whether people are actually interested in your messages. If your open rate is low, consider how you can improve your email content, better target your audience and create more compelling subject lines.
Click rate: This reveals how many people click on the links within your emails. It’s also a helpful way to understand which links generate the most clicks. If your click rate is low, chances are you need a more strategic targeting strategy and better CTAs.
Spam complaints: This shows whether your emails are getting marked as spam. To avoid this, make sure you have a valid list of subscribers who have opted in to receive your content. You should also maintain high open rates and low bounce rates to maintain a strong sender reputation and avoid the spam filter.
Based on these numbers, you can find out what is working and what needs to be improved in your email campaigns. You can then use this analysis to refine your marketing strategy, engage subscribers and boost your conversion rate.
Email marketing best practices
As you optimize and improve your email campaigns, there are a few key strategies you’ll need to implement in order to avoid common email mistakes and, instead, boost engagement and drive conversions:
Follow proper email etiquette: Always make it your goal for people to actively appreciate and enjoy your emails. This means treating your subscribers with kindness and respect. Only message people who have demonstrated interest in your company by subscribing to your emails. Also make sure to keep your promises to your users: use a subject line that isn’t misleading, don’t send emails more often than you say you will, and make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
Perfect your timing: Think carefully about the time of day you send your emails. There is no black-and-white answer for which times are more strategic than others; in fact, your audience’s age, location, and occupation will affect their email open times. However, you can get a sense of which times work best for your business by performing A/B tests and using the results to inform your future campaigns.
Stay mobile-friendly: Recent research has shown that mobile accounts for nearly 50% of all email opens in the US. For that reason, it’s critical your emails are optimized for mobile as well as desktop viewing. Consider ways to adapt to the small size of the mobile screen, including making your subject lines shorter, simplifying your formatting, reducing your image sizes, and using large CTA buttons that users can easily tap with the thumb.
Add value: You may have enticed your customers to subscribe in the first place by offering them some sort of value, whether it’s a free downloadable guide or coupon code. After that initial offer, keep the value coming. Continue to delight your customers with actionable tips, special content, and the occasional holiday or birthday message. You’ll generate engagement - and build brand loyalty - as a result.