Competition can increase dramatically during difficult economic times, and it’s usually the businesses that provide the most value that come out ahead. Email marketing is an excellent way to provide that value to new and existing customers. It can help your business build loyalty during good times so customers continue to show up during challenging times when the economy slows down.
Pretty much everyone can recognize email marketing these days from the seemingly endless flow of promotional messages being delivered to their inbox. It’s not as easy to get a customer to give up their email address today as it was in the past. That’s why it’s important to stand out through the use of a plan that synergizes effective marketing techniques with great writing skills that bake in a sense of purpose and meaning into every message.
"Email marketing is an excellent way to provide that value to new and existing customers. It can help your business build loyalty during good times so customers continue to show up during challenging times when the economy slows down."
This easy guide to email marketing is going to show you the basics of email marketing so you can build a foundational strategy moving forward. It will teach you about the types of marketing emails you can send and how to align them with the goals of your business. You will learn the basics of creating a customized strategy that’s ideal for your business, so when the time comes to collaborate with a professional marketing agency you will understand the fundamentals of how email marketing works.
What Is Email Marketing?
Email marketing is marketing by email. That line may sound like a joke, but it’s worth considering that marketing is more than just trying to sell something in the digital age. Digital marketing is the overall effort to build relationships online through a wide variety of media formats available. Email is one of those formats, and sending emails to your target audience can form an integral part of an overall digital marketing strategy.
Let’s now consider some of the objectives of email marketing campaigns and how they can fit into that overall plan:
- Lead generation (raising awareness)
- Promoting social media channels
- Invitations to engage on social media or the website
- Converting leads into consumers
- Communicating news and providing updates
All of the above objectives can be accomplished in other ways, however email marketing provides a personal touch through the written word, delivered straight to a person’s private inbox. This can make a massive difference when compared to other digital mediums.
What Does Successful Email Marketing Look Like?
Email marketing is successful when it helps a business achieve its goals.
While every operation has its own set of specific goals, some can be applied to most businesses. These include:
- Raising awareness about products and services
- Obtaining leads and creating dedicated subscriber lists
- Converting leads into customers
- Maintaining a loyal customer base
- Upgrading existing customer value through upsells
- Obtaining customer referrals
The difference between bad and good email marketing
You probably already know what bad email marketing is. In case you need a refresher, all you have to do is check the spam folder of your inbox.
Bad email marketing is the digital equivalent of a shady salesperson trying to sell you something that either doesn’t work or that you don’t need. It’s pushy, obvious, generic and ineffective.
Good email marketing, on the other hand, consists of messages people enjoy reading and look forward to receiving. For the most part, the messages are straight and to the point and offer value in exchange for the reader’s attention. Some examples include:
Welcome emails are typically used after a lead is converted to a client or customer. They outline product or service details, along with other useful information about the business. Some examples that can be used as part of a series include:
- Thank-you emails
- Access information (in the case of a digital product)
- Company contacts and team introductions
- Social media information
- Offering services or gifts, such as a video, audio file or ebook
Transactional emails are service-based emails that are typically formal with a clear subject line and call to action. Examples include:
- Personal information update requests
- Renewal reminders
- Sales invoices/receipts
- Event information and/or registration
- Appointment reminders
- Updates to business policies
Lead-building emails are useful for converting new prospects into paying customers. They usually contain information on the business and benefits of its products or services. Typically, they are used to draw in the reader for the purpose of building interest and trust.
Email newsletters are messages that communicate important product or service information in addition to giving company updates and promotions. These are typically sent on a daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, depending on the type of business and its communication strategy.
These messages, when done consistently, can become a part of your customer’s routine - especially if the delivery time is predictable. Email newsletters that offer value - even if it’s entertainment - can be a powerful communication tool that builds customer loyalty, increases retention, and drives sales.
Other Automated/Triggered Emails
Automated emails can be sent with the help of email marketing software. They allow you to specify the type of email to send along with the date/time to send it. These typically include:
- Birthday wishes
- Service renewals
- Holiday greetings
Similar to “cold calling”, cold emails are sent to people without their permission. Usually, these contacts are not familiar with you or your business.
Caution is usually advised with respect to cold emails - even when leads are added from business cards collected over time. That’s because if a receiver marks your message as spam, some email service providers (like Gmail) will downgrade your domain in their algorithm. This may increase the chances of your messages landing in spam folders automatically in the future.
Rather than send cold email blasts, some people prefer to take the time to send personal emails on an individual basis. This can be done manually or through the use of tools like Apollo.io or HubSpot Sales Sequences.
What’s the best type of email marketing for your business?
The quick answer to that question is all of them, but the timing for each type depends on the objectives and goals of your business within the context of its overall digital marketing strategy.
A good rule of thumb is to start with the basics and build up from there. Some businesses prefer to start with a general monthly newsletter that is easy to implement and can be produced consistently.
Consistency is extremely important in email marketing because it shows dedication and discipline. As mentioned earlier, regular communication is fundamental to building a long-term trusted relationship with your audience. This pays dividends in the long run through increased conversions, upsells and referrals.
5 Steps to Building an Email Marketing Strategy
Now that we’ve gone over the types of emails and how they work within an overall marketing plan, we can now set to work in building an email marketing strategy. These initial steps can get you started on your own for your small business so you can learn the details. Always keep in mind, however, that strategies are constantly evolving so remember to stay flexible when plans need to be refined.
1. Build your database
The first step in email marketing is to choose software and create an initial email list from your existing contacts. Here are some important questions to consider while completing this step:
- What software will you use? Where will the data be stored?
- Is your website optimized to collect email addresses?
- Do you have existing email contact information from your current customers? Where is it?
- Will your email marketing database be in a different place than your customer relationship management system? If so, then how will you sync these systems?
Some businesses start by using a spreadsheet to compile all the contact information while they work out the details. The key is to start small and allow the process to evolve over time according to the needs of your business.
2. Choose your software
Email marketing programs are available for every size and type of business and choosing can be difficult in the beginning. Some key questions to consider include:
- What is your email marketing budget? Is the chosen software or email marketing tool cost-effective?
- Does your business need stand-alone email marketing software or is an integrated marketing automation system needed?
- Which staff members will be responsible for the workflow?
- Does the new software integrate with any existing system?
- Will the software integrate with existing and proposed marketing channels?
These questions may require a great deal of trial and error before choosing what is best. For that reason, it is often more cost-effective to hire a marketing agency to help you with the process because doing so can provide an impressive return on the investment in the long run through increased leads and sales.
What is the difference between standalone marketing software and marketing automation software?
Standalone platforms like Constant Contact, MailChimp and ConvertKit are ideal for adding subscribers, segmenting them into specialized lists, and sending mass scheduled effective emails. Along with targeted emails, most of these platforms allow for extra integrations that include specialized email designs, email templates, automated/triggered emails and email drip options.
Full-featured marketing automation platforms like HubSpot, ActiveCampaign and Pardot take things a step further by offering website/blogging services, text messaging options, social media integrations, and much more. They offer a centralized environment that allows your business to create multi-channel digital marketing campaigns in one place.
3. Set goals and delegate tasks
As with most things in life, goal setting is very important for email marketing. After starting the database and selecting the software it’s imperative to set a few small goals to get started. Some examples include:
- Increase email list size
- Drive more traffic to the website
- Increase social media followers
Task delegation is also important to ensure everything is done efficiently. Some key questions to ask include:
- Who will organize the work to be completed? What is the timeline?
- What team members will be responsible for the copywriting, designing and/or scheduling of the messages?
- How will success be measured?
4. Produce content and send it
Following the completion of step 3, the task of actually producing the content and sending it out can begin. Ensure that there is a clear path moving forward that includes a content calendar and system of task delegation.
It’s also important to make sure that all due dates are set at least a couple of days in advance of sending the messages.
5. Measure and optimize
Most standalone email applications and marketing automation programs offer metrics that show the success of your campaigns. These usually include the percentage of emails that are delivered and opened, the time of day those actions occurred, any links that were clicked, and much more.
Metrics are vital to measuring success. Paying attention is important in order to refine the strategy so that the objectives and goals are reached. Flexibility, as mentioned earlier, is vitally important so keep your eyes on those numbers!
Email marketing is fundamental to an overall digital marketing strategy. It is an excellent way to connect with a new audience, engage an existing customer base, and build a referral network. This guide has given you the fundamentals for getting started with this powerful tool so you can create a loyal audience for your business that will stand the test of time.
Ashley Quintana, M.S., B.A.
Ashley Quintana is a co-founder of BridgeRev. In her role, she develops, leads, and executes digital marketing strategies for the company’s growing client base, including a Fortune 500 subsidiary and an NBA basketball team. Ashley’s work can be found in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, and she is an OKC.biz 40 Under 40 honoree for her leadership in business and community. She frequently speaks at universities, churches, and conferences on marketing, diversity, and business.