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This beginner’s guide will explain exactly what email marketing is and how it works. By the end, you’ll have a solid grasp of the basics along with the know-how to launch an effective email marketing strategy for your business. ????
Email marketing is the most profitable direct marketing channel, generating an average return on investment of $42 for every $1 spent (DMA, 2019).
For this reason alone, email should be a key pillar of your digital marketing strategy. Not doing any email marketing is like leaving money on the table. ????
But if you’re a bit confused about where to start, that’s totally normal. Email is a vast discipline. It’s easy for beginners to get lost in a sea of tools, techniques, and terminology.
To learn more, stick around for everything you need to know about email marketing:
Email marketing is sending commercial emails to a list of contacts who have given their express permission to receive email communications from you.
You can use email marketing to inform your contacts, drive sales, and build a community around your brand, like with a newsletter.
Modern email marketing has moved away from one-size-fits-all mass mailings and instead focuses on consent, segmentation, and personalization. ???? This may sound time-consuming, but marketing automation does the heavy lifting for you.
Emails can be promotional, informational, or serve a specific purpose in the buyer journey.
Email marketing campaigns are used to promote special offers, new product releases, gated content like ebooks and webinars, and your brand at large. A campaign could consist of 3 – 10 emails sent over several days or weeks.
Promotional emails have a clear call-to-action — or CTA, for short. The CTA represents the specific action you want the reader to take, whether it’s visiting your website or making a purchase.
Your business’s sales and marketing rhythm should determine the frequency of this type of marketing email. ⏱️ During crucial periods like Black Friday, you may be sending multiple promotional emails in the same 24-hour period. During slower periods in the marketing calendar, there may be a few weeks between your promotional campaigns.
Newsletters: A newsletter, as the name suggests, shares news related to your business. ???? Think: new milestones reached, new product capabilities, or to feature valuable content like case studies about your product. Sent at regular intervals — weekly, bi-weekly, monthly — newsletters help maintain consistent touch points with your email subscribers.
But did you know newsletters don’t just have to be about ‘news’? As email expert Ann Handley says, focus on the letter aspect. Imagine you’re writing a one-on-one letter to your subscribers about something that interests them.
Simply put, a newsletter is an opportunity to share insights, thoughts, tips – whatever brings the most value to your audience.
Announcements: Email is the perfect way to inform customers of company announcements, new releases, changes to the service, etc. ????
More often than not, email is the go-to channel for important messages. If there’s a glitch on your website, shipping delays, or an outage in your system/software, updating your contacts via email is the best way to maintain communication. It’s secure, instant, and can match the formal tone of even the most important announcements.
Further reading: What Is A Newsletter? Definition, Purpose & Benefits
Email isn’t a new technology. In fact, it was one of the very first means of digital communication to arrive back in 1971. But get this: Email marketing — at 50 years old — is used today more than ever before. ????
You may be thinking, “Do people really still use email? Isn’t social media where it’s at for marketing today?” While it’s true that social media is an important channel for any digital marketing strategy, email has several advantages.
First, email marketing campaigns can be personalized to a greater extent than those on social media. Next, costs are considerably lower than for other channels, especially considering the reach and conversion rate associated with email marketing.
Finally, what makes email marketing so powerful and lucrative is that it gives you direct, individual access to your audience’s inboxes.
Still don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Given the figures, not having an email marketing strategy means missing out on sales opportunities and the chance to build lasting customer relationships. ????
From order confirmations to newsletters, emails are an essential part of the growth and management of your business.
Email marketing helps you achieve 3 key objectives:
Launching a sale or promotion? You can send your subscribers an email marketing campaign to drive sales. ???? In addition, try using these email marketing techniques to further boost conversions:
What’s great about email is that it lets you reach someone directly. It’s one-to-one communication at its best. And people don’t just let anyone into their inbox these days. It’s a curated space reserved for favorite brands and publications.
Showing up in someone’s email inbox will help your brand stay current in the minds of your subscribers. A personalized marketing email is more impactful than a social media post where you can’t be sure if someone has actually seen your message. ????♂️
One of the major benefits of email marketing is its scalability. This means that emails can be sent to a large number of recipients for a relatively low cost (compared to other marketing channels).
Email drives customer loyalty at every stage of the buyer journey: lead-nurturing, conversion, onboarding, retention. As well, email marketing is a necessary tool to use alongside sales CRM systems to streamline communication.
It’s truly a powerful way to build a community, as discussed in our guide to building relationships with email. ????????????
To learn more about the benefits of email marketing, watch this video from the Sendinblue Academy:
Email is accessible to all age groups. It opens the door to a wide range of audiences — even the least digitally-savvy among us.
We might live in the digital age but not everyone is super comfortable using the internet. However, most people do know how to check their email. This makes it the most mainstream form of digital marketing.
Email marketing is extremely cost-effective. Most email marketing tools offer pricing packages to suit all budgets. To make the most of your marketing efforts, you really need an email marketing service.
Many email tools — Sendinblue included — offer free plans. These are ideal for first time email marketers who want to get a hang of the software before purchasing. With nothing to lose, there’s no excuse not to give it a go.
Want to know the cheapest email marketing tools? Check out: 10 Mailchimp Alternatives Compared by Price
Think about it: If your social media disappeared, you’d lose all your followers with it. You’d be left with nothing. But this is also what makes an email list special— it’s yours. ????
So if all else goes belly up, you’ll still have a direct line of contact with the people who are most interested in your brand. This is why having your own email list is so beneficial. And the intimacy of email as a one-to-one channel will bring you even closer to that audience.
Businesses use what’s known as an email service provider (ESP) to send marketing emails.
An email service provider is software that sends and manages email marketing campaigns.
It’s also referred to as an email marketing platform, email marketing tool, email marketing service, or email marketing software.
Now you might be wondering, can’t I just send marketing emails with my regular inbox provider? Do I really need to pay for this additional email service?
Technically, it’s possible. (We even explain how in our guide to sending mass email with Gmail). Beware, though. You’re likely to run into problems with limited email bandwidth, design, and more importantly, email deliverability. Here’s why:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc. are designed for personal use — not for email blasts. So when a mass email is sent from an ISP, it’s easily flagged by spam filters and your account can be disabled for suspicious activity. ????
ESPs, on the other hand, have the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure good email deliverability rates —i.e., the ability to land emails in your subscribers’ inboxes. If you want to set yourself up for email marketing success from day one, get yourself a dedicated email marketing service.
Keeping it simple, there’s two main things you need to run email marketing campaigns.
As we’ve just explained, a dedicated email marketing provider is the way to go. Sending marketing emails through an ISP will only put your brand and email sender reputation at risk.
This list should contain the email addresses of interested subscribers who have opted-in to receive email communications from you.
Yes, that’s right — opt-in. Because here’s the thing about email contacts:
Everyone on your email list needs to have given their express permission to be there.
What does that mean?
It means they agreed to receive emails from you when they entered their email address into an email signup form on your blog, website, landing pages, social media, or anywhere else. In email terms, this consent is referred to as an ‘opt-in.’ (‘Opting out’ would be an unsubscribe).
Permission-based marketing is essential to conform with data protection laws and safeguard the integrity of your brand. After all, nobody likes a spammer. ????♀️
Still with us? Great, because here’s where it gets exciting — learning how to launch an email marketing strategy, starting with your first email campaign.
The first step is finding an ESP to send and manage your email campaigns and email subscribers.
Popular email tools include Sendinblue, Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Convertkit, Mailjet, Mailerlite, and HubSpot — to name a few.
With hundreds of ESPs on the market, it’s hard to know which one is right for your business.
And it’s easy to get sucked in by shiny bells and whistles you probably don’t need (not yet, anyway).
Evaluate your needs. Distinguish between must-have features and nice-to-have features. Make a list. ????
Here are some questions to help narrow down your options:
It’s also a good idea to consider your future needs. Found an ESP you like? Do some simulations: Ok, if my list grows to x, how much will this ESP cost? If I want to add x to my strategy, does this ESP have the feature-set to support me? What sort of integrations or apps will I be able to add on?
Optimism for the future is a good thing, but don’t get carried away. Of course, stay focused on the essentials for now. ????
As you’re exploring different options, you’ll notice most providers base their pricing on the number of subscribers.
Lots of email marketing solutions will try to lure you in with cheap entry plans for a small number of subscribers (often 250 or 500). The catch? The prices tend to jump significantly once your list grows beyond these limits, as is the case with Mailchimp.
And hopefully your list will grow because that’s kind of the point. ???? But it sure would be a shame to end up overpaying for email in the long run.
Sendinblue, on the other hand, structures its pricing according to email volume rather than the number of subscribers. That way, you grow your email list infinitely and it won’t impact the pricing.
The Lite Plan starts at $25 for unlimited subscribers and 10,000 emails — more than enough for any small business just starting out. Test-drive Sendinblue today on our free plan.
You can’t send email campaigns without anyone to send them to, so it’s time to start building a list of engaged, opt-in subscribers.
Most ESPs let you create subscription forms to embed on your website.
When creating a subscription form, be super clear about your signup promise — what kind of email content will subscribers receive and how often?
If you promise a bi-weekly email newsletter with content marketing tips, stick to that. If you start sending unrelated promotional content, expect people to unsubscribe, or worse, mark your emails as spam. ???? (Very bad for deliverability rates!)
Remember: People trust you enough to give their email address in the first place, don’t abuse that trust.
Place your email subscription form in highly visible places where people will definitely see it. ????️
Typical subscription form hotspots include blog posts, the homepage, and contact page. Creating a pop-up form on your website can be a good idea, too. Just make sure not to disrupt the user experience too much. Pop-ups that prevent visitors from using your site can be big deterrents!
Share forms on social media by including a link in your bio or posts.
Run an ecommerce/online store? Include a signup option as part of the checkout process.
Nothing makes a list grow faster than premium content.
Guarded content like ebooks, reports, checklists, or infographics are great ways to grow your contact list. Visitors get valuable content in exchange for joining your newsletter list. It’s a win-win! ????
Special offers and discounts are a great way to get people onto your list, too. For example, clothing brand Mango offers 10% off your first order when you subscribe to their newsletter.
Discover more tactics in our guide to email list-building.
When someone signs up to your email list, you’ve gotten their attention. Now it’s time to engage them even further with a welcome email. ????
A welcome email is an automated message sent to new customers and subscribers. The idea is to introduce your brand and any content that’ll establish your relationship with the subscriber — a welcome discount, links to latest articles, useful information, etc.
Email deliverability tip: Get subscribers to add you to their contact list so they never miss an email.
Now that you’ve started building your email list, it’s time to think about what you want to achieve from this first campaign.
Every email marketing campaign should have a clear goal.
Examples of common goals include:
Your goals can be specific or broad — as long as they fit with your business and your audience. In either case, having a clear goal in mind will make it easier to create your email content.
Responsive emails automatically adjust their formatting to fit the device they’re viewed on – mobile or desktop. ????
You might be wondering, do I need to hire an email designer for this?
If you’re bootstrapped and on a budget, then no. You don’t need one. To make things easy, most email marketing services have some form of drag & drop email editor. These are great for producing clean, simple, hassle-free designs.
Of course, that’s not to diminish the value of having a dedicated email designer, especially for ecommerce. An email designer will help you stand out from the crowd with custom templates. It’s definitely something to consider down the line — or even now if you have the means.
That said, email design doesn’t have to be difficult or technically over your head. Using a drag and drop editor, you can create stunning and professional marketing campaigns. ????????
There’s no need to get hung up on creating fancy, elaborate emails. More importantly, you should focus on creating an email that embodies your brand, whatever it may look like. Oftentimes, this means keeping it simple. You can always build upon this later on as your skills grow.
Email marketing templates are the perfect shortcut to standout email design.
If your email marketing service offers templates, pick one you like and personalize it to match your brand colors and font. ????
Re-use the template over and over for future email newsletters. All you’ll have to do is update the content. Quick and easy.
You know your goal. You know your target audience. Now, it’s time to build on that foundation.
Your email copy needs to offer value and feature topics that interest your audience. You also need to hone in on your voice and tone. ????️
To write persuasive, engaging email copy, keep these tips in mind:
The email signature should be the name of a real person. This is more personal than a faceless brand logo.
Don’t have much copywriting experience? Don’t worry. Writing emails is something you can practice and improve at with time. ????
There are a number of ways to boost your email open and conversion rate, starting with your email sender name.
When you get an email, what’s the first thing you look at? Probably who it’s from.
The sender name answers the recipient’s first subconscious question: Is this genuine or is it spam?
The best way to reinforce trustworthiness and brand recognition is to incorporate your brand name into the sender name. There are several ways to go about this:
To be easily recognized in the inbox, use the same sender name and address for all campaigns.
Avoid no-reply email addresses, as these diminish trust in your brand and prevent subscribers from reaching out with questions. You want engagement from your audience — why close off a potential means of communication?
Introducing one of the most important elements of your email marketing campaign: The email subject line. ✨
These few words could determine whether your email is read or not. And with so much competition in the inbox these days, they need to stand out.
Aim to create intrigue or a desire to open in just a few words.
Take a look at our best subject line resources to boost open rates:
The email preheader (or preview text as it’s also known) is the snippet of text that appears after the email subject line for certain email clients, particularly on mobile devices.
The preheader adds valuable context to your subject line and can significantly boost your open rates. The subject line and preheader should work together to start telling the reader a story.
Again, it should instill enough curiosity to make the reader want to open the email and learn more. ????
Fail to set a preview text and the email client will see the first line of text.
“View this email in your browser” isn’t the most enticing, is it?
Always send a test email before officially hitting send. Small mistakes can easily slip through the cracks and may harm your brand image. ????♂️
Keep your eyes peeled for:
Have some team members proofread and check the test email on both desktop and mobile devices.
If you’re with Sendinblue, you can use the email preview feature to test different screen sizes and email clients.
When everything is good to go, double check that you’ve selected the right email list(s).
Rather than choosing a random day and time to send your emails, be strategic. Choose a time that makes sense for your audience, based on what you know about them.
Most people tend to only visit their inbox a few times each day. Find a time that’ll put you top of the inbox when subscribers are checking their emails. This is sure to increase your open rates.????
Email marketing campaigns tend to perform better when sent on Tuesdays or Thursdays in the mornings around 10:00 AM or in the afternoons around 2:00 PM.
It makes sense: Many people check their emails in the morning when they get to work, as well as after returning from lunch.
But, what works for most may not work best for you. It’s important to test different times to see where the sweet spot is with your audience.
Sendinblue Premium users get access to the send time optimization feature, which selects the best time for each individual contact based on previous engagement data. ????
Analyzing key email marketing metrics will teach you how to improve your strategy for future campaigns. As a beginner email marketer, there will always be areas for improvement. ????
Most ESPs have an analytics dashboard with at least the following metrics:
Further reading: How to Create a Newsletter in 9 Easy Steps
This next section focuses on strategies and best practices to do email marketing well. ????
Building an email list can be slow, especially when you’re just starting out. Buying a list might seem like a tempting shortcut, but trust us — it’s a terrible idea.
Buying a list will put your business at serious risk because:
And that’s not all. Many email addresses on purchased lists are actually spam traps. A spam trap is an inactive email address that’s purposely left out in the open to attract spammers. ????
Because the email address doesn’t belong to anyone, it’s impossible that it opted in to any email lists. That way, the ISP knows that whoever contacts this address is a spammer.
In short, don’t buy email lists. Build your list organically — however slowly — and you’ll reap the benefits in the long run.
As already mentioned, the term ‘opt-in’ refers to the signup process. There are two different types of opt-in for email marketing:
Sure, double opt-in adds an extra step between the potential subscriber and your list. But far from being an obstacle, this process is important — especially for email deliverability.
Double opt-in eliminates any misspelled email addresses (which would otherwise generate a hard bounce). It also rules out spam traps and acts as proof of subscriber consent — a GDPR requirement. ⚖️
For better email marketing, double opt-in is the way to go.
As your email list expands, it’s likely to contain diverse buyer profiles. ????
List segmentation is the process of dividing your list of subscribers into smaller sub-lists with common traits. The idea behind this technique is to engage subscribers with more relevant, targeted emails.
Typically, contact lists are segmented by demographic information like age and location as well as customer information like lead score and purchase history. (This is where having a sales CRM that works with your email marketing tool comes in handy).
To get a head start on segmentation, you can add subscribers to separate lists during signup by asking about their email content and frequency preferences.
Who doesn’t like to feel noticed? ????
People generally appreciate when brands add personal touches and pay attention to small details. When it comes to making us feel valued and understood as a customer, a little effort goes a long way.
This also rings true for email marketing.
Email personalization is essential to building trusting relationships with prospects and customers.
Here are some simple email personalization ideas that’ll positively impact your open, click through, and conversion rate.
For a more complete guide, check out our article on Personalized Emails: How to Reach Customers and Generate Sales.
61.9% of all emails are opened and read on mobile devices. ???? To get the best results, make sure your emails display correctly across devices.
Depending on the email design capabilities of your ESP, it’s likely that mobile-responsiveness is an already built-in feature.
All emails designed in Sendinblue are automatically programmed to fit mobile devices, and you can double check this using the mobile preview functionality.
Email marketing success hinges on reliable email deliverability.
All-important for email marketers, email deliverability refers to the ability to deliver an email to the inbox.
When all goes according to plan, the email makes it past the spam filters and arrives at its destination. When deliverability is compromised, the email lands in the spam folder or, worse, your sender IP is blocklisted by the ISP. ????
While deliverability often depends on technical factors, there are plenty of non-technical ways to help your email newsletters reach the inbox.
Here are some easy deliverability best practices:
More tips to improve email deliverability (and a free ebook) available here.
When it comes to email marketing, design is just as important as the content. The look and feel of your email is going to communicate a message about your company and its values. Spend some time getting it right. ????️
Ideally, you want to capture attention with an on-brand email design that highlights your main message and CTA in the best way possible.
Great email design supports email content by making it clear, legible, and structured. A structure that naturally draws the reader to your call-to-action will drive up your click-through rate. ????
If you intend to add images to your email content, keep in mind these best practices for newsletter images:
For the best email design inspiration, check out ReallyGoodEmails.
It’s a long-standing debate among email marketers — HTML vs. plain text, which is better? ????
Plain-text can be just as effective as HTML. It all boils down to your audience and the types of emails you’re sending.
If you’re a writer with a writing tips newsletter, plain-text makes sense. On the other hand, ecommerce emails will need to be more eye-catching. The best way to know? Test! ????????
Watch this Sendinblue Academy video for more insights into HTML vs. plain text.
Keep your database up to date for optimal email deliverability and higher engagement rates.
Got subscribers who’ve dropped off the radar? If someone hasn’t engaged with your emails in at least six months, send a reactivation campaign or even ask for a second opt-in. See if you can get them interested again.
If there’s still no engagement, delete the subscribers from your list. ????
Sure, it’ll be sad to see them go but better for your deliverability in the long term.
Another important point: Make it easy to unsubscribe with a clearly visible unsubscribe button. If people can’t find the way out, they’re more likely to mark you as spam.
For reference, a good unsubscribe rate is 0.5 or less.
Hesitating between two subject lines? Not sure what content your audience will react best to? A/B testing is one way to find out — and a great way to optimize your campaigns.
Test different email subject line formulas, content formats and CTAs. See which ones get the best engagement and stick with the approach.
Keep testing until you find what works best for your subscribers!
Once you’ve got the hang of things, automate your email marketing strategy to make your business grow even faster.
Autoresponders are the simplest form of email automation.
Autoresponders send an automatic personalized email (or email series) at different stages of the buyer journey. You get to follow up with subscribers without having to be physically present to hit send. ????
The welcome email is the most common autoresponder example and most email marketing services have an autoresponder function.
Armed with the right email automation software, you can go one step further and set up complex email automation sequences using if/then/else logic. This kind of email series is highly effective for lead nurturing and lead scoring.
Further reading: 11 of the Best Marketing Automation Services in 2022
If you’re determined to become an email marketing expert, then you’ll love the Sendinblue Academy email marketing course.
Complete the course and you’ll get an email marketing certification to add to your CV and LinkedIn. And the best part? It’s completely free! ????
Hopefully this article has given you a better idea of the world of email marketing. To keep up with the latest tips and tricks, subscribe to our monthly newsletter:
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