Learn about email marketing
Email marketing is a powerful channel that is highly effective, widely used, and generates a significant return on investment. While not new, email marketing is constantly evolving, with changing technological tools, customer expectations, and business strategies. During the peak of the pandemic, with more people at home and on their devices, email helped marketers connect with consumers.
Now, with customer interaction increasingly virtual, workforces growing more remote, and digital experiences at the heart of modern business, email marketing is as valuable as ever. Whether you’re knowledgeable or a novice, everything you need to learn about email marketing today is right here in this post.
In this email marketing guide, you'll learn about:
- What email marketing is
- Email marketing benefits
- How email marketing works
- Getting started with email marketing
- Email marketing automation
- Email marketing FAQs
- Adobe Campaign for email marketing
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is the use of email as a marketing tool to promote a company’s products or services and develop customer loyalty. As a form of digital and direct marketing intended to make people on a company’s email list aware of products and services, discounts, news, or other information, email is a way to interact with customers when they’re not actively buying.
Email marketing campaigns are among the most popular and effective ways to grow an audience, sell products, promote your brand, and more. Email is a crucial part of any successful marketing strategy, improving lead generation, brand awareness, relationship building, and customer engagement.
Email has come a long way since 1971, when a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson dispatched what is generally considered the first message. In 1978, Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corporation, sent the maiden commercial email. With about 400 addresses on his email list, his messages about a new product generated $13 million in sales.
By the 1990s, the internet was widely available, people were using it to communicate instantly and continuously around the globe, and businesses realized the massive potential of email as a marketing channel. Today, approximately 4 billion people use email daily, and marketing emails are ubiquitous.
Certainly, there’s a reason spam folders and “unsubscribe” buttons exist. But the enduring value of a good marketing email is obvious — whether offering 10% off for subscribing, reminding someone about forgotten shopping cart items, or telling a brand story — especially when it contains a compelling message and appeals authentically to a customer’s needs.
The benefits of a good marketing email strategy
With social media, SEO, video, podcast, and so many other marketing channels fragmenting audiences and competing for attention — and with email campaigns competing against each other for clicks and credit cards — it’s fair to wonder if email marketing still works.
Make no mistake — email marketing continues to be enormously influential.
Email can generate an incredible 3,600% return on investment. Even with the growth of social, SEO, and other channels, email remains one of the most effective marketing strategies because of the simple fact that most people have email and use it often, including on their mobile devices.
There are many benefits of good email marketing, including:
- Increased conversions and deals by offering exclusive discounts or sending abandoned cart emails
- Improved awareness by reappearing in your audience’s inbox at regular (but not incessant) intervals
- Better customer relationships, primarily through personalization and automation
- Prompting readers to take another action, such as visiting your website or blog, shopping for products, or something else
- Results can be easily and objectively measured, providing a clearer picture of the impact of your efforts
The global value of email marketing was $7.5 billion in 2020, according to Statista, and the market is projected to increase to $17.9 billion by 2027. Likewise, daily email users are expected to rise by 600 million over the next 3 years.
How email marketing works
While the tools and techniques for doing it better than everyone else have become more sophisticated, email marketing is fundamentally simple and requires just a couple of things to get started: a platform to send emails and people to receive them.
The platform comes from email service providers (ESPs), technology vendors that offer software enabling brands to run email campaigns, including design, management, automation, and other functionalities. Most ESPs allow users to produce and personalize content, upload a subscriber list, and deliver emails, though different businesses will generally need different features.
An ESP helps brands maintain subscriber loyalty and nurture their customers. For most companies, especially large enterprises that require technology to support communications at scale, ESPs are a better solution than sending mass emails from your inbox for several reasons, including:
- IP warming. With IP warming, companies send out emails in batches, allowing the ESP to track delivery and see if they’re following best practices, which helps prove they’re a reputable sender and their IP is legitimate. IP warming gradually increases the volume of sent emails so that you can eventually execute full-scale campaigns.
- Deliverability rates. Running an effective email marketing campaign means sending a lot of emails — like, millions. This means you need technology that can support all that data and help you actually deliver those messages. At that level, you can’t just upload a subscriber list to your web-based account and send out emails.
- Email design. Nearly 40% of emails are viewed for eight seconds or fewer, so it’s critical you make it quick and easy for recipients to see what’s important about your message. That means getting the design right and strategically structuring content to deliver a captivating congruence of aesthetics, organization, and responsiveness.
- Metrics and reporting. Measuring the effectiveness of an email campaign is essential, and ESPs allow companies to collect engagement data — such as delivery, open, and click-through rates — and use it to inform reporting, understand performance, and guide decisions.
Successful email marketing requires an active list of subscribers to receive your messages. This is a database of contacts who’ve not only demonstrated interest in your brand but explicitly opted in and consented to receive your marketing communications. Permission-based marketing is vital for complying with data protection laws and maintaining your brand reputation.
Some options for building your email list include:
- Creating an opt-in form that appears on your website so potential customers who are already browsing can quickly and conveniently subscribe with the click of a button
- Targeting demographics similar to the people already on your list with ads on social media that gather email addresses or link to a dedicated landing page
- Using online giveaways, gamification, and referral programs, and offline methods of contact like business cards and corporate events
One of the best ways to get people in your target audience to join your email list is with a lead magnet — an offer that entices them to sign up. This could be a coupon, special access, or premium content, such as a free eBook that provides value to the recipient in exchange for their email address. Great content is a meaningful way to attract and grow your audience.
How to get started with email marketing: 7 simple steps
The process of getting started with email marketing varies based on a company’s needs and the type of email service provider with which they’re working. It could be very easy or quite complicated and heavily depends on the size of your company and your overall goals. No matter where your organization falls on that scale, these seven steps can help you to start building a successful email marketing campaign:
Step 1: Put the plan — and the goals — on paper
As with any business plan, it’s important first to lay out what you’re hoping to accomplish before taking action. You need to create an email marketing plan with stated goals, clear expectations, and ways to measure performance. Here are some things to consider when developing an email marketing strategy:
- Target audience and audience segments. It’s crucial to know and define your audience — who they are, what they want, their pain points, aspirations, and relevant personal information. Segmenting users allows you to send hyper-targeted and personalized emails with copy or incentives that expressly appeal to them, which boosts engagement, builds better relationships, and yields more significant ROI.
- CTAs and metrics. The call to action (CTA) in an email should be an obvious button or clickable link that prompts readers to act. It should be short, simple, and strong, using purposeful language that is alluring but not annoying, urgent but not aggressive. Finally, you must test your CTA, track metrics like click-through rates, and compare performance by evaluating the different language, location, and design used.
- Content marketing strategy. Email should be part of a coherent, comprehensive marketing strategy, echoing broader brand messages and aligning with business objectives. It’s a valuable tool in your content marketing toolbox, one that is itself a vehicle for original material and reinforces other content. Email marketing can drive content marketing and vice versa, helping you reach and convert more people.
- Frequency and schedule. How often should you send out emails? When should you send them? How many is too many or too few? These are important questions, and you should test the answers. You need to establish a regular schedule and a consistent frequency, building trust and expectations among subscribers. But don’t set anything in stone so you can tweak frequency and schedule to achieve better results.
Step 2: Choose an ESP
There are lots of ESPs on the market, so how do you know which one is right for your business? The answer depends on factors like your needs, budget, audience, objectives, and skill level. ESPs offer a range of features, some of which will be important to you and some of which won’t matter much. Here are some key features to look for when comparing ESPs:
- Ease of use for design and sending. If you’re a novice, you’ll probably want software with a drag-and-drop editor and email templates. But if you want more control or plan to build and code emails yourself, an HTML editor is better. Some ESPs have mobile responsiveness built in, so they can automatically be viewed on smart devices.
- Ability to test. You need to test everything from subject lines and CTAs to schedule and format. Most ESPs offer the ability to scale and manage deliverability, including testing tools and control over features like spam filters and storage, which increases the chances you land in a recipient’s inbox and get read. The more you test, the better.
- Data integrations with other marketing channels. Businesses need software that connects email marketing with activities across other channels to create omnichannel marketing experiences, so make sure to look at which data integrations and applications certain ESPs offer or that you could add.
- Personalization capabilities. Some of the features ESPs can provide to personalize emails include using subscribers’ first names and offering special coupons on their birthdays or anniversaries, taking into account time zones to maximize the chance of emails being read, and leveraging behavior-triggered actions to improve interactions.
- Automation and triggered emails. Recipients react to marketing messages in different ways. Their behaviors can trigger dynamic actions that respond automatically — like showing related content or sending abandoned cart reminders. Automation creates better personalization, improving engagement and conversion rates.
The best ESPs also offer features like central workflow and customer data management so you can see the whole customer journey at once, as well as managed cloud services that improve ROI. With Adobe Campaign, Adobe's B2C email marketing and omnichannel campaign management application, you can use rich customer data to create, coordinate, and deliver dynamic campaigns through email, mobile, offline channels, and more.
Step 3: Build an email list
You’ve set goals and got your ESP, but now you need a list of people to email. To scale your business, it’s best to add a subscription sign-up form to your website — either embedded or as a pop-up — to collect customer data. You can use your ESP to create an email sign-up form that can be shared on social media as well.
You’ll also want to finalize a lead magnet that incentivizes people to opt in to receiving your newsletter. If you’re a retailer, that might be a coupon for discounted products. If you’re a service provider, it might be a free trial or access to gated content like an eBook. Whatever lead magnet you settle on, it should be something that delivers real value to prospective customers and compels them to join or stay on your email list.
Step 4: Design emails
How do you get your emails to stand out from the crowd? By combining the right strategy and message with the best design. Start with the basic email templates that come with your ESP and edit them to match your brand guidelines. You can use the drag-and-drop editor to add content, colors, images, and styles. Save the template so you can use it every time for brand consistency.
Get inspired by design trends. Make sure your copy is clear, concise, and easy to read, broken up by larger headlines, smaller digestible chunks of text, and white space. Use web-optimized images that load quickly. Include alternate text. Be consistent with branding so people recognize your emails. And remember, the majority of emails now are opened on mobile devices — so ensure your designs are fully responsive and optimized for any screen.
Step 5: Test, test, test
Email marketing is as much a science as an art, and a proven way to find out exactly what works for your brand’s audience is to test. Test deliverability by sending to friends through different internet service providers. Use A/B testing to try different subject lines, email copy, and CTAs. Test sending messages on different days and times.
The only limit to how much you can test is your own capacity for trying to perfect email marketing. Keep testing, refining, and optimizing your approach until you find what works best for your campaign and audience.
Step 6: Schedule to send at the best time
Most marketers believe it’s important for organizations to implement a rule for frequency of contact. What that frequency actually is depends on your campaign goals, content type, email performance, and more. But making and sticking to a schedule helps you stay on track and avoid going dark for a period of time.
An ESP can help you automatically send out emails that are scheduled in advance and provide testing and insights to discover when your target audience is checking email. It’s critical to send emails when recipients are paying attention, receptive to your marketing messages, and inclined to engage. At the very least, you should figure out which days and times your audience tends to open emails and when they’re more likely to click through.
What’s next? Email marketing automation
Let’s face it: Marketers are busy, consumers have endless choices, channels are always changing, and competition in every industry is fierce. Automation makes email marketing fast and easy, streamlining tasks like segmentation and message-sending while gathering insightful user data that helps campaigns grow smarter, stronger, and more successful.
Email marketing automation makes it simple to identify, target, and segment your audience. You can segment audiences in several different ways, including:
- Recipients who opened emails but didn't click through
- Recipients who are similar in demographics
- Customers you believe have higher potential value
- Users who abandoned their cart and could use a reminder
- Subscribers who are inactive that you want to re-engage
Many of these events trigger automated campaigns with their own subgroups and strategies.
Marketing automation can improve engagement and growth easily and instantly. With Adobe Marketo Engage, marketers have a complete toolkit to deliver winning lead-based and account-based marketing, from acquisition to advocacy.
Email marketing FAQs
Should I buy an email marketing list?
No. First, most ESPs require permission-based emailing, so they’re not allowed to send to purchased lists and won’t work with them. Second, sending unsolicited messages and storing someone’s data without their consent is illegal in many places. Third, recipients are likely to mark such messages as spam, which damages your reputation and could land you on an email blocklist. Fourth, some email addresses on purchased lists are inactive spam traps.
Remember, people don’t give their email addresses away for nothing — you have to earn the right to be in someone’s inbox. Buying lots of random email addresses and cold messaging them is a good way to receive resentment and an unsubscribe click. Marketing is always about developing authentic relationships, and that’s just as true with building an email list.
Are there email laws I need to know?
Yes. With the rise of email marketing came consumer protection and privacy laws. In 2003, the United States passed the CAN-SPAM Act, which requires commercial or promotional emails to be marked as such. Senders must be honest and transparent about who they are, what they’re sending, and how they can be reached. Recipients must be allowed to opt out easily and promptly. The penalty for violation of the law can be a fine of more than $40,000.
In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation requires the protection of personal information and applies to all EU nations, as well as any entity that interacts with EU parties. Elsewhere, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries have similar laws, and it’s important to be aware of all regulations relevant to your location, industry, and application.
Get going with email marketing
Email marketing can help you reach and connect with your audience to promote your brand, improve lead nurturing and customer relationship management, and increase sales.
Learn more about Adobe Campaign and how it can take your email marketing strategy to the next level.