Click through rates, mobile optimization, CAN-SPAM – what does it all mean? If you’re like most marketers, email marketing should be at the top of your to-do list. As a sales channel, emails have the power to drive up to 180% more revenue than banner ads, social media native apps, and organic posts, according to a recent study conducted by KoMarketing. As a marketing medium, email has an incredible reach with over 3.9 billion email accounts in use today and 99% of email users checking their accounts daily.
Naturally, the most effective way to grow your business is also one of the most complex. In this guide, you’ll get a full primer on email marketing.
So what is email marketing?
Email marketing is a term used to describe activities conducted via email to your customer base. Each individual email contributes to a greater email marketing strategy. In turn, this contributes to your broader marketing and sales strategy.
The goals of email marketing can encompass one or more of the following:
- Building your brand. Have you ever received an email from a company with a personal message from the CEO? How about an email with content that isn’t necessarily aimed at selling you something? Instead, it’s wishing you a happy birthday or sharing the company’s thoughts on a relevant subject. These are examples of brand-building emails.
- Sharing information. As an average open rate of 15-25%, email is an excellent way to share new product features, company updates, or other information with your audience.
- Getting new leads. Many companies utilize emails to ask for referrals – in this way, they are acquiring new leads at little to no cost.
- Selling to new customers. Much like cold calls, sales representatives often employ “cold emails” in business-to-business outreach to begin conversations with potential new customers. In business-to-consumer settings, marketers may send emails with special deals to new email subscribers. This tactic helps close a sale early on.
- Engaging your existing customer base. Many companies utilize emails as a way to offer discounts to existing customers, remind customers to check out the items left in their shopping carts, or even to share products a customer may enjoy based on previous purchases.
Emails can be either plain text or HTML; similarly, they may be sent directly from an email client or from a tool designed specifically for email marketing campaigns. We’ll discuss our top picks for email marketing tools a few sections down.
Image source: Chamaileon
How does it work?
Email marketing is just one part of a marketing strategy. Let’s start from the top with a quick overview of marketing strategy and work our way down to emails.
Typically, marketers start with their overall strategy to determine how email marketing supports their organizations’ goals. They’ll need to answer questions like the below:
- Who is my typical customer? What is their role? What do they care about, like, and dislike?
- How does my audience prefer to receive information, and what goes into their decision making process?
- What am I trying to achieve – a specific revenue goal, outcome, or action?
- Where can I communicate with my audience?
- When is my audience most likely to buy, and how long is the typical sales cycle?
- Why is what my company offers unique and superior?
Types of content
Once the overall strategy and message have been determined, marketers should create campaigns to support the strategy and message. Campaigns may be one of the following:
- Evergreen: This type of campaign lives on in perpetuity, like a new customer welcome flow.
- Timely: This type of campaign requires execution at a specific point in time and may be related to current events internally or externally to the company. Examples include the kickoff to a sports season or a new product release.
Each campaign will then require a messaging plan. It may include social media, paid ads, website copy, out of home marketing, design, media outreach, and emails. Each of the campaign components work together to deliver and reinforce messaging to maximize results.
From there, marketers map out the email flow related to the campaign. This can range from one to many emails depending on the length and subject of the campaign. For example, a product feature or company update may require just one informational email. However, a customer event may warrant 5 emails. These may be split between the invitation, first reminder, final reminder, a recap of the event, and a re-engagement email.
Each email will also require audience parameters to ensure the message is relevant and useful to its recipients. It’s rare that every person in your database should receive the same email at the same time; Hubspot has reported that marketers who segment their emails can see revenue gains of up to 760% compared to marketers who don’t bother with segmentation. Some common segmentation parameters include:
- Types of purchases (product, price point)
- Length of time as a customer
- Geographic location
- Previous interactions with your brand (website visits, previous email opens or link clicks, forms filled out indicating interest)
- Role and industry
A quick note on spam (don’t do it!)
One thing is key in determining the number of emails to send and to whom: in a world where 45% of all emails sent are marked as spam, every email must have a specific purpose and provide value to your audience. Bombard your audience with emails that are poorly written, irrelevant, or otherwise boring? You run the serious risk of losing your customers’ interest and business.
Do you think sending a huge number of emails is worth being marked as spam sometimes to reach more people? Think again. When your customers hit the spam button too many times, you may end up on email providers’ spam list. When was the last time you purchased something from an email in your spam folder?
Why is spam bad?
First, you’ll lose potential customers. Second, you may run afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act if you send misleading, incorrect, or otherwise unwanted emails. That comes with the potential for big fines of up to $43,280 per email and even imprisonment for severe violations. According to the Federal Trade Commission, you must abide by the following rules in digital marketing communications:
- Don’t use fake info. Your “From,” “To,” and “Reply-To,” and mailing address has to be accurate.
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line should be in line with the email’s body.
- Mark advertising materials. There are some options here, but marketing emails have to announce they’re an ad.
- Allow unsubscribes. This is usually done with an unsubscribe link or button in the footer of the email. You also must act on unsubscribe requests in a reasonable timeframe (within 10 business days).
- Monitor your vendors. You can’t pass the buck if your email marketing agency breaks the law. Both companies may be held legally responsible.
Regardless of audience and messaging, all emails typically have the components.
- Subject line
- Call to action
We’ll discuss how to optimize each of these parts in a later section. However, the main way email marketing works is by pushing recipients to take a desired action. This may be making a purchase or sharing content. It can also include altering behavior or clicking through to your website to view additional information.
“But how does an email without an immediate sales call to action grow my business?” The answer is remarkably simple: email marketing is a way to cultivate a relationship with your audience and establish your brand as a familiar industry expert. When it’s time to make a purchase, you’re more likely to be not just top of mind, but also trusted. In fact, email marketing was rated as the third most influential source of info behind colleagues’ recommendations and industry-specific experts by Imagination Publication.
Why is email marketing the king?
Email marketing is most marketers’ most valuable tool for several reasons.
- Low cost. Emails are one of the lowest-cost ways to connect directly with your audience. Many email tools offer a free version for low-frequency marketers with the average medium-sized business spending anywhere from $9-1000 per month on email marketing software for in-house campaign management, according to WebFX. This is much less than the typical monthly advertising budget for even one social media or print campaign.
- Reach. With nearly 4 billion email users (half of the world’s population!) in existence and 99% of those users checking their email daily, you have the ability to reach a huge number of potential and existing customers at any given time. Additionally, 60% of consumers rank email marketing as their most preferred promotional channel – give the people what they want!
- Customizable. Not only is email marketing a low-cost way to directly reach an enormous number of people, it’s also fully customizable. You control the copy, design, and timing of your emails completely and as a result, you can position information in the best way to appeal to your audience.
- ROI. The preceding 3 points make email marketing’s return on investment unbeatable, with the ability to generate an average of $44 in revenue for every $1 spent on email marketing.
What are the hottest trends coming up?
Email marketing has come a long way since the days of dial up. As technology improves and buyers become savvier (and more inundated with emails), it’s key to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in email marketing. Read on for our top 3 trends to watch!
Optimize for mobile
With more people than ever on the go, you must optimize your emails for mobile devices. According to Hubspot, 46% of all email opens occur on a mobile device and 35% of business professionals check their emails on mobile devices. Don’t lose your customers’ trust by assuming your emails will look great on any device!
How can you ensure your email renders well? Use these simple steps:
- Keep your subject line short. You have much less real estate to work with on mobile devices’ screens due to small dimensions. Put your creative copywriting skills to the test and get the point across in fewer than 30 total characters. Want to know the precise number of subject line characters shown on various mobile devices? (Good job on putting segmentation by device into action!) Check out Email Address Manager’s experiment here.
- And your body copy, too. No one wants thumb cramps from scrolling through an endless email. Keep the body of your email concise, ideally with a call to action “above the fold” (in the first part of the email without requiring a scroll). This means a single column of info with appropriately-sized text as well. Don’t cheat to save space! Your customers’ thumbs will thank you.
- Make actions easy. Speaking of call to actions, no one is excited about having to mash a tiny button to try to click through. Make taking action effortless by sizing buttons appropriately for a human thumb.
- Trust but verify. You might be certain your emails will look awesome on both desktop and mobile, but you won’t know until you test. Send yourself the email and open it on your laptop and your phone to guarantee it’s readable, clickable, and beautiful everywhere.
Make your content accessible
Accessibility software is increasingly widespread. Don’t lose out on an entire segment of potential customers by not ensuring your content can interact properly with emerging technologies. This spans everything from being concise and logical in your emails’ layouts to using design and coding schemes that make reading the content easier.
- Copywriting: Some users will use accessibility software to read the text presented within the email. If Wendy’s Twitter account is any indication, today’s consumers value a sense of humor and realness in brands. But beware – being personable doesn’t mean being verbose. Get the point across with clear copy and formatting so the point isn’t lost when being read aloud.
- Color schemes: Did you know up to 300 million people experience color blindness? Adjust your color schemes to have enough contrast between the background and font to ensure your audience can read your emails with ease.
- Alt text and images: Remember the text-reading accessibility software mentioned above? It can read text, but it can’t read images. Include alt text for your images to describe their contents and refrain from putting key info in an image so that the software can read your emails appropriately.
- Plain text: If your emails must use difficult color schemes or images that contain important information, use an email marketing tool that provides plain text versions of your HTML emails. This will allow users to interact with a version that is sure to be compatible with even the most basic accessibility software.
Get even more bang for your buck with automation
As up to 75% of marketers now use at least one automation tool, it’s more crucial than ever to integrate automated flows, testing, and reporting into your email marketing campaigns – or be left behind.
When you think of automation, you may think of tools that allow you to schedule email sends or create simple drip campaigns. If so, prepare to have your mind blown — email marketing automation tools are more sophisticated than ever. This means that you don’t have to give up personalization in order to streamline your email marketing efforts, as was the case in the past.
Email marketing automation often starts with lead scoring. One common method is to score leads on both target profile and readiness to buy, resulting in an alphanumeric score that may change over time. Savvy marketers first create a lead scoring model based on their target customers’ profiles and actions, then they collect information that contributes to customer profiles through what is called progressive profiling. This process involves gathering information about potential customers over time as they sign up for your email list, download ebooks or other resources, request more information, or other typical activities.
As your potential customers build their profiles through interacting with your brand, they also increase their “readiness to buy” score by opening emails, clicking through emails, visiting particular web pages, and similar activities. Their behavior should trigger their addition to various segments and inclusion in automated email marketing flows to push them toward a purchase. In B2B settings, leads are then handed to a sales team as a marketing qualified lead once their combined lead score reaches a particular threshold.
Similarly, email marketing automations make it possible to identify customers or leads whose activity is decreasing or otherwise indicating that they are disengaging from your brand. This may trigger a call from their account manager or a customer success team, a special email offer, or a reengagement-focused email flow designed to pique their interest and recover their business. Have you ever received an email from a brand after leaving items in your digital shopping cart? This is an excellent example of an automated reengagement technique.
These types of automations make it possible for your marketing team to scale their efforts. Rather than requiring a person to manually segment audiences and send the appropriate emails at the right times, automation can handle the segmentation, decision points, and timing on your behalf. This frees your team to focus on creating more detailed flows, running experiments, and optimizing your existing flows to maximize conversions — increasing your email marketing ROI even more!
What are the best email marketing tools?
The right email marketing tool for you will depend on several factors, including:
- How many email addresses do you plan to store in the tool?
- Do you require the ability to code your emails from scratch, or do you prefer WYSIWYG interfaces?
- What level of automation sophistication will you need? Do you simply need to send one-off emails, simple drip campaigns, or the ability to create complex automated flows with multiple inputs and outcomes?
- What types of integrations do you need?
Want to see our favorite email marketing tools at each level of need? Read on!
Best basic email marketing tool
Are you a casual email marketer who needs to balance a low price point with light automation and integration capabilities? Our pick: Mailchimp.
Mailchimp is perhaps one of the best known budget-friendly email marketing tools. Starting at $0/month and ranging up to $300+/month, their pricing is based on the number of subscribers in your email database.
Mailchimp has both an excellent support team as well as an extensive following of users online, meaning you’ll be able to find answers and support for any questions you may have as you work your way through the tool. In addition to strong pricing and support, Mailchimp offers:
- Both WYSIWYG and HTML-coded email templates
- Easy to use dynamic fields for email personalization
- A slew of easily integrated tools, including Zapier, Slack, Canva, and WordPress
- The ability to build lightly automated email campaigns based on timing or user behavior
Image source: Mailchimp
Content-centric email marketing tool
Need something a bit more robust to manage your email marketing, customer database, content, and customer service strategies? Check out Hubspot.
Hubspot is a fan favorite when it comes to content-centric marketing. The company offers multiple products to meet most needs:
- Hubspot CRM to manage contacts and information
- CMS Hub to create and store content like blogs
- Marketing Hub to gather data, manage forms, send marketing emails, and monitor social media accounts
- Sales Hub to maintain a record of tasks, meetings, automations, and tracking
- Service Hub to receive and respond to customer tickets and feedback and maintain a customer service knowledge base
Each product has its own pricing, ranging from free (Hubspot CRM) to up to $3,200/month (Marketing Hub) and based on either the number of subscribers or number of users with additional premium features unlocked at higher spend levels. Hubspot also offers the ability to bundle all products to unlock savings, ranging from $50/month for the Starter Growth Suite to $4,200/month for the Enterprise Growth Suite.
Image source: Hubspot
Powerful enterprise-level email marketing tool
If you’re a more experienced marketer, need heavy integrations with tools like Salesforce, or require powerful automation and customization abilities, Oracle Eloqua is the right option for you.
Eloqua offers top of the line features in audience segmentation, data management and cleansing, lead scoring, progressive profiling, automated campaigns, tracking, and much more. This tool can even incorporate offline customer activities and data into your database, providing a truly comprehensive view of your audience and even better ways to fine-tune email marketing targeting.
These enterprise-level features come with an enterprise-level pricing structure ranging from $2,000/month for the most basic instance of the software to $4,000/month for a standard setup and beyond for most complex use cases.
Image source: Marketing Automation Insider
How does SMS marketing compare to email marketing?
You may have heard of another up and coming marketing channel, SMS, and wondered how it compares to email marketing. SMS marketing is simply marketing that takes place over text messages.
While at its core, SMS marketing may seem similar to email marketing as both send textual information directly to users’ devices, there are key differences between the two. SMS marketing is typically a more informal way of communicating and requires much more brevity to avoid having your message split and (potentially) sent out of order. Additionally, SMS marketing messages should be timed very carefully to avoid irritating your audience at inopportune times — like early in the morning or overnight, when they’re likely sleeping.
However, SMS marketing is highly effective in terms of quick delivery and higher response rates than most other forms of marketing communications. This can be an excellent way to supplement your email marketing strategy to reinforce messaging and use a multi-channel approach!
So, how can I write a great marketing email?
Here’s the TL;DR:
- Subject line: This is your first chance to hook your audience. Come up with something concise (remember – less than 30 characters for mobile!) and intriguing. Usually, this means something funny, demonstrating a potential benefit, or or creating a sense of urgency. For desktop-prone recipients, keep the length to under 60 characters.
- Preheader: The preheader is the preview text that email interfaces show after the subject line. Use this space as an opportunity to add a little more color to your subject line. Most previews will have space for anywhere from 35-140 characters. We recommend keeping the length to under 80 characters for best results.
- Body copy: In the US, almost a full quarter of email users simply skim emails. Make your email easy to skim with clear header text, bullet points or numbered lists, and quippy copy. If you can’t get the gist of your email’s content in a 3-5 second glance, rework the content until you can. And don’t forget — make sure imagery and color schemes are optimized for accessibility tools!
- Call to action: Drive the point of the email home to get to a desired action. Make the call to action button big enough to easily tap on a mobile device, use a distinct color to draw attention, and put it above the fold so users don’t have to scroll.
- Follow up: Most readers won’t take action after just one email. Compound the results of your efforts and send at least one follow up email to recipients who didn’t act.
Congratulations, you’re now ready to send marketing emails like a pro! But there’s always more to learn in this ever-changing field. Want to brush up on skills and learn even more? Check out these resources:
- Psychology in email marketing: Learn how to use human psychology to increase your open rates and click through rates with this quick guide.
- Lead scoring: Want to get more in-depth on lead scoring and how it relates to email marketing? Check out Hubspot’s beginner’s guide.
- Email templates: Get inspired with hundreds of email templates at Beefree here.