What Is Email Marketing? Strategy and Tips

Email marketing can be a highly effective way for small businesses to develop leads, retain existing customers and increase sales.
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Written by Lisa Anthony
Lead Writer
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Assistant Assigning Editor
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Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that uses email to directly or indirectly promote a business and its products or services. Common goals for this type of online marketing include increasing brand awareness, generating leads and driving sales. Marketing emails can be sent to individuals, small groups or entire contact lists.

Email marketing allows a business to target a specific audience; it can be easy to create and send while also being fairly inexpensive. However, this form of marketing is highly competitive, and crafting an email message that gets your audience’s attention — and the open rates you want — can be challenging.

Successful email marketing uses a variety of email types based on the target audience and the goal of the message. A finely tuned contact list, relevant content, personalization and A/B testing can all contribute to the overall success of email marketing for small businesses.

Types of email marketing

There are several types of marketing emails, which typically fall into one of two buckets: one-off emails or email campaigns. One-off emails have a singular, often time-sensitive purpose, such as a promotion announcement or abandoned cart reminder.

In contrast, email campaigns are a series of emails that are sent over a period of time to achieve a broader goal, such as converting leads into customers, building brand awareness or retaining existing customers. Email campaigns are often referred to as drip campaigns because they slowly provide information over days, weeks or months.

Here are some popular email types small businesses can include in their email marketing strategy.

Welcome emails

A welcome email is an automated message that is typically sent to new customers to acknowledge their agreement to receive messages from the business and provide information on the brand and its offerings. It may be a single email or a series of messages created with additional goals such as offering onboarding assistance, highlighting related products or encouraging engagement on social platforms. Welcome emails are helpful in building good engagement rates for future emails.

Milestone emails

Milestone emails are typically one-off emails that mark an occasion, such as a customer’s birthday or the anniversary of their first purchase. They can also highlight a company occasion such as the anniversary of its opening or the release of a significant product. If a company occasion is being marked, thanking the customer for their support can help draw them into the celebration.

Email newsletters

Email newsletters are commonly sent out to subscribers on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis. The most engaging newsletters are easy to read, have content that is valuable to the reader, are well designed, and include tempting calls to action, or CTAs.

The frequency of your newsletters can be guided by the engagement of subscribers. For example, if you're sending out a newsletter monthly and you see positive engagement, then you may want to consider sending it out more frequently. In contrast, if your weekly newsletter has poor engagement, you may want to reduce the frequency and focus on the quality of the content.

Promotional emails

Promotional emails highlight the products and services offered by a business. They might include coupons, special offers, discounts and invitations to exclusive events. Promotional emails are designed to boost sales and revenue for the business or increase awareness of specific products. They are typically clear, simple and have strong CTAs. Some may set a deadline to create a sense of urgency in responding to an offer.

Informational emails

Informational emails, also called informative emails, are used to provide recipients with important information about your business, such as news reports, press releases, updates to policies and company announcements. Not typically designed to sell a product like promotional emails, informational emails can be used to communicate with your customers between purchases.

Lead-nurturing campaigns

Lead-nurturing campaigns are a series of emails that encourage leads, also known as prospective customers, to eventually make a purchase. Nurturing leads involves building a relationship with the recipient. Messages are typically personalized, concise, cover a single topic, and contain content with value and insights. Tracking key metrics such as click-through rates and unsubscribe rates can help you fine-tune the performance of emails with different subject lines and content.

Abandoned cart emails

Abandoned cart emails are sent to online shoppers who have items in their carts but who have not checked out. They encourage shoppers to complete their purchase, thus boosting sales for the business. Abandoned cart emails are typically triggered automatically when shoppers leave an e-commerce website before completing a purchase. An incentive, such as a discount code or free shipping, can be included to motivate the shopper to finalize their transaction.

Re-engagement emails

Re-engagement emails are sent to customers who have been inactive for a specified period of time. Depending on the business, this may mean they no longer open emails, take certain actions or complete purchases. Because retaining customers is generally easier and cheaper than getting new customers, a re-engagement email can be cost effective. Messaging typically centers around reminding customers of the benefits of products and services and may include incentives such as special offers and free items.

Email marketing strategy

When developing your email marketing strategy, identify the email types that will work best for your business and marketing budget. Some emails, such as welcome messages, are fairly straightforward while others, such as lead-nurturing campaigns, can be more complex.

Email marketing software can help you automate your email processes, provide templates to more easily design email content, and track performance to measure success. To a large degree, the content in your messages and the quality of your email list will determine the effectiveness of your email marketing efforts.

Focus on relevant content

Regardless of the type of email you send, the content needs to be relevant to your audience and offer something of value. For example, a welcome email provides information on the business, a promotional email explains the benefits of a product, and a re-engagement email may include a coupon for a future purchase. Generally, you’ll get greater engagement when your emails are short and to the point, are conversational in tone, and can easily be scanned.

Grab attention with subject lines

The subject lines used for your emails should be catchy and grab the attention of the reader. However, they also need to be straightforward, honest and descriptive. Clickbait subject lines that are enticing but don’t reflect the content of the email can lead to a negative user experience and, ultimately, unsubscribes.

Design clear CTAs

Including CTAs in your emails can give recipients a clear next step that aligns with each email's purpose. CTAs can be links or buttons that allow recipients to take specific actions, such as learning more on your business’s website, completing a purchase, writing a review, or engaging with your business’s social media platforms. CTAs are typically short, concise, action-oriented and eye-catching.

Use an opt-in strategy

An opt-in email marketing strategy is where emails are only sent to people who have agreed to be added to your contact list. You can gather subscribers through opt-in forms on your website, CTAs through your social media platforms, and contact information collected during customer checkout.

Subscribers who opt in to receiving emails from your business — as opposed to those who are subscribed automatically — are typically more likely to open your emails and be receptive to the content. This engagement can help increase your email open rates, as well as inform what types of email marketing most resonate with your audience.

Email marketing tips

Here are three tips that can help you increase the effectiveness of your email marketing efforts.

Segment your contact list

A contact list can be segmented by dividing it into groups based on demographics, product interests, email preferences and other characteristics. This allows you to send emails with content that is most relevant to specific groups. For example, lead-nurturing campaigns can be sent to a group of potential customers rather than your entire database. Or, subscribers who have opted in to only newsletters can be excluded from promotional emails until they expand their preferences.

Personalize content

Personalizing content can help with engagement, specifically open rates and CTA clicks. Where appropriate, pull personal data into the subject line, greeting or content of your email. This will typically include the recipient's name and possible details about their geographic location or past purchases. You could further personalize your message based on the customer persona for that segment group, if you’ve developed one.

Use A/B testing

Email marketing is not an exact science so it’s helpful when you can evaluate the effectiveness of an email in real time. A/B testing allows you to try different subject lines, CTAs, graphics and content by sending two variations of an email to two different segments. The email that receives the most opens and clicks can then be sent to a larger group, and you can use those learnings to inform future email campaigns.

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