Got Mail? Successful Email Marketing for Beginners
Click through rates, mobile optimization, CAN-SPAM – what does it all mean? If you’re like most other marketers, email marketing should be at the top of your list when it comes to driving business. 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.
- What’s email marketing, and how do I profit from it?
- How does email marketing work?
- Why is email marketing king of digital marketing?
- What are some of the latest trends in email marketing?
- What are the best email marketing tools?
- What is SMS marketing vs email marketing?
- How to write a great marketing email?
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, which in turn 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, but is instead of 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, savvy marketers may send emails with discounts or other special deals to new email subscribers to try to 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 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: Chameleon
How does it work?
Email marketing is just one part of a marketing strategy. To understand how it fits into the bigger picture, we’ll start from the top with a quick and dirty overview 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?
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 that may include (but is definitely not limited to!) social media, paid search ads, landing pages, web updates, blogs, out-of-home marketing, image or collateral design, media outreach, and our favorite — emails. Each of the campaign components works 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 whereas a customer event may warrant 5 emails between the invitation, first invitation reminder, final invitation reminder, a recap of the event, and a final re-engagement email for leads generated during the event.
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
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, and you run the serious risk of losing your customers’ interest and business.
And if you think sending a huge number of emails is worth being marked as spam sometimes just by virtue of hitting as many people as possible, think again – if 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?
Not only will you lose customers, you may run afoul of the CAN-SPAM Act if you send misleading, incorrect, or otherwise unwanted emails — and 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 false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future emails from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting emails from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.”
Regardless of audience and messaging, all emails typically have the components.
Call to action
While we’ll discuss how to optimize each of these parts in a later section, the main way that email marketing works is by pushing recipients to take the desired action as a result of the email. This may be making a purchase, sharing content or information, changing the way they interact with your company, or simply 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.
1. It’s 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.
2. It has incredible 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!
3. It’s 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.
4. It has sky-high 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 their mobile devices. Don’t lose your customers’ trust by assuming your emails will look great on both desktop and mobile!
How can you ensure your email renders well regardless of device? Use these simple steps:
Keep your subject line short. You have much less real estate to work with on mobile devices’ screens due to their 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 a thumb cramp from scrolling through an endless email. Keep the body of your email concise and to the point, ideally with a call to action “above the fold” (in the first part of the email without requiring even one 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 action, no one is excited about having to mash a tiny button multiple times to try to click through. Make sure taking action within your emails is 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 regardless of device.
Image source: Lyn Muldrow, Slideshare
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 doing 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 automation makes 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 re-engagement technique.
These types of automation 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
Image source: Mailchimp
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.
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
Image source: Hubspot
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, automation, 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?
Now that you have a primer on all things email marketing, you may be wondering how to write a great marketing email.
We’ve done the work to condense it down for you!
Subject line: This is your first chance to hook your audiences’ attention and get them to actually open the email. Spend sufficient time on your subject line to come up with something that is clear, concise (remember – less than 30 characters for mobile!), and makes them want to see what’s inside. Usually, this means using the subject line to write something funny or clever, demonstrate what benefit they’ll receive inside, or create a sense of fear of missing out if they don’t open. If your audience is more likely to read the email on desktop, try to keep the length to under 60 characters.
Preheader: The preheader is the preview text that many email interfaces show users after the subject line. Use this space as an opportunity to add a little more color to your subject line, and keep in mind that 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: Ok, you’re past the first hurdle and your reader has opened the email. Now what? 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: This is where you drive the point of the email home and try to get your reader to take 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 to the call to action, and put it above the fold so users don’t have to scroll to find it.
Follow up: Most of your readers won’t take action based on just one email. Compound the results of your efforts by making sure to send at least one follow-up email to anyone who didn’t open or opened but didn’t take action!
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.