What is email marketing?

Ray Tomlinson sending first email

Since the first @email was sent via Arpanet (the precursor to the internet) in 1971 by engineer Ray Tomlinson, we have been increasingly reliant on email communications.

This pioneering moment saw the dawn of a revolution in terms of how we communicate.

Email was born.

Today, the majority of us would find it hard to live without an email address and regular access to the internet.

Consider life without your email…

Hard, right?

We depend on email for work, social engagement and for almost everything we buy and sell.

Every contract we sign, every purchase we make or access to important details we need, all depends on our having an email access.

You can’t pay your taxes, use a phone or even open a bank account without email.

The modern world simply doesn’t work without it.

Pretty crucial isn’t it?

While other methods of communication have changed (just look at phones – from brick to slick) email communication has essentially remained the same today as when it first launched back in the 70s.

This is because email was and still is great for communication.

We use email to explain, discuss, educate, entertain, and most importantly to connect.

Email marketing is the logical extension to email. Companies want to explain, educate, connect and sell to their existing customers and to potential future customers.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is an effective way for businesses to communicate with their audiences in order to develop or nurture relationships.

As those relationships blossom, readers turn into fans, who then turn into paying customers.

With the majority of us checking our inbox daily, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Ask yourself, what should I be doing to increase my fanbase?

what is email marketing

Why you need email marketing

Email marketing is your lifeline of communication with your customer and a major pillar to any decent content marketing strategy.

Email marketing provides you with the opportunity to connect with your audiencebuild a customer base and most importantly; create value and loyalty.

When your potential audience checks their inbox, it’s the only time you’ll have their full attention, short of them standing in front of you.

Email is a clear, direct form communication compared to some other fickle and over-saturated marketing landscapes such as social media, so use it to your advantage.

Use email to drive better customer relationships and to create valuable and engaging interactions.

But beware, you only get a small amount of time to capture the attention of your audience.

The average attention span is a mere ten seconds, and people are always looking for reasons NOT to open the endless waves of marketing emails they receive.

Goldfish in bowlYour efforts really need to cut through the noise.

Email marketing is great for small businesses

Email marketing costs a great deal less than other forms of marketing.

It also has a huge success rate, with a huge proportion of businesses depending on it as their main form of customer communication.

And when you add email automation software into the mix to automate your workflows, you can save resources as well as costs. Email marketing is an inexpensive way to get your messaging in front of people who want to see it.

Whilst social media is brilliant at connecting you with an audience, it has a very different set of advantages in comparison to email marketing, and there’s no guarantee you’ll get your post seen by the majority of Facebook members, mainly due to competition and its closely guarded algorithms.

In other words, if you have 2,000 email subscribers, 2,000 Facebook fans and 2,000 followers on Twitter – this is what you will get:

  •  435 people will open your email
  •  120 Facebook fans will see your message
  •  40 Twitter followers will see your message

You get a Higher click rate with email too – email marketing campaigns can see 50-100 times the click-through rates from Facebook and Twitter.

How do you like them apples!

Impressive, right?

And it’s simple, too!

Here’s some reasons why email marketing is so great and how it can really make a difference.

  •  It cultivates your relationship with current and potential clients / customers
  •  You can update people on your news and promotional ideas
  •  It can convert leads into sales
  •  You can measure your ROI on everything you send
  •  You have a much wider reach and a far higher chance of getting your message read
  •  You can personalise and tailor your campaign to the individual, giving your emails more value and building trust

Why does email have a bad rep then?

Email marketing has been used badly by many companies for years and unfortunately still is.

Junk mail is everywhere and is a daily inbox pain.

Just about everyone sends emails out because they can, rather than pausing to decide whether they should

Trash can full of emails

Most emails are not relevant, they just self-promote.

Any irrelevant junk you receive in your inbox is a result of thoughtlessness and short-termism.

Any email telling you to buy something just because you should is also a result of thoughtlessness and short-termism.

Bold, I know, but true.

In fact, I urge you to go through your entire inbox and unsubscribe from everything which isn’t relevant to you.

Not only will you remove irrelevant emails from your inbox, you will also quickly get an understanding of what emails you find relevant and what you value.

Quantity over quality

If businesses take a ‘throw it at a wall and see what sticks’ approach to marketing, they usually turn to crappy mass-email solutions.

‘Just send them an email’ is a phrase I have often heard from business leaders as they think of email as a quick-fix, catch-all and risk-free approach to sell to their customers.

Whilst this approach does save thinking time (in fact, it requires none) most of these email campaigns achieve poor results and waste everyone’s time too.

Trouble is, it’s because companies use email in this reckless way that gives email marketing its bad reputation.

Email – Your route to long-term sustainable growth
Your email marketing list is your address book, it contains people who are willing to engage with your message.

As your email address book is unique to your business, it should be considered a fundamental marketing tool to growing your business as it contains people you should care about.

eMail address book

Getting started with email marketing

If you are starting from scratch, you should initially focus on the following points to ensure you are set up and starting to gain followers before going on to build out your email marketing plans.

    • What value are you providing that means people should engage with your emails?
    • How regularly are you going to provide this value? Will it be weekly or monthly?
    • How are people going to find out about the value you provide? For example, are you using sign up forms or popups on the site?
    • Do you need to create a lead magnet to get people to initially sign up?
    • What are the best ways to build your email marketing list?
    • What is the best way to keep speaking to your audience once you have them initially engaged?
    • How do you get your audience to want to share your content with other people who might be interested?
    • How do you turn these contacts into customers in a way which is unforced?

I know there’s a lot to consider here, however approaching email marketing in this way will ensure you don’t waste time doing stuff that isn’t going to work.

I have tried loads of approaches to email and found this is the one that actually works.

Improving your current marketing efforts

First things first: All marketing is about connecting people.

People are inherently self-orientated; they will only care about you if you are helping them achieve their goals.

It's about connecting people

This means creating valuable content to help them achieve their goals, rather than yours.

Promoting your agenda as soon as people are signed up is obvious and short-sighted.

Good email marketing means building good relationships

Only once you have a relationship in place and are developing them consistently, can you start to ask a potential customer to open their wallets.

If you know who your customer is, understand their spending habits and lifestyle, what they like and don’t like and what they are looking to achieve – then you’ll know exactly how best to speak to them and help them.

If you know how to communicate and add value to your audience, you will know exactly how to sell to them as your product will be the next logical step to help them reach their goals.

In other words, your product now aligns with your audiences needs as a result of your email marketing.

Through this lens, any email marketing plan should be seen as an extension to your marketing strategy and integral to your content marketing plans.

Nail this area first, before cracking into email marketing.

Building email campaigns that cut through

Imagine your email campaigns are a rock band.

Get your email campaigns right and you will have a loyal audience who turn up to watch every time you perform, buy all the merchandise and be singing your songs all the way home.

Get them wrong and it’s like inviting everyone you know to come see you perform, only to realise that it’s just your mum who turned up to watch.

Imagine your email campaigns as a rock bandThat means your emails need to constantly offer something of intrinsic value which your audience wants, otherwise they will simply tune out.

Connecting to your audience

Think of the email as though speaking to a friend about something you’re really excited about, rather than a mass of people you need to get information out to.

Be informal, friendly and engaging but always professional and consistent.

A good email campaign should grab attention but it should always provide value.

Prioritising value might also mean that you are not always selling your product at every turn, as that end sale might not be seen to provide the most value to your customers.

Once you’ve got them engaged in the value you provide, the likelihood is you’ll convert those readers into paying customers eventually, as they are now engaged with your brand.

Gradually warming customers is always better than the cold hard sell.

Different types of emails for different types of interactions

Different emails achieve different purposes.

All of them should be focused on achieving that purpose.

Remember that phrase ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’? – That applies here.

Different types of email campaigns:

Transactional emails
Transactional or service emails are often automatic response emails specific to the individual and the company exchange, and are usually based on the behavioural actions of the customer.

Examples include: Order confirmation / receipt of purchase emails
These are usually personalised and have specific details which are relevant for you customer to know.

Other transactional emails include password changes, account updates, security checks, notification emails, feedback and welcome emails.

These are not marketing emails, but need to be toned correctly, none the less.

Some companies add on some marketing information to transaction emails, generally I find that this approach doesn’t work unless done as a natural continuation of the conversation you are already having with the customer.

For example: It might make sense to include a downloadable guide in a welcome email, but not in password change email.

Prospective emails – warming up emails
These are pure content value led emails and core to your content marketing strategy. These are the most important emails your business has.

Prospective eMails

It doesn’t matter what your product or service is, you need these emails to really strike the right tone with your audience, again and again.

Finding out who these people are and what motivates them is crucial to the success and authenticity of your message.

It’s always important to focus on the value you are bringing to your prospective customer – this is crucial to influencing thought or decision making.

Most of the content in this article is directly focused on helping you achieve this goal.

Sales emails
This is an opportunity to pitch your product or service.

The best way to do this is not by an obvious hard sell but as a logical ending to your content marketing.

But even if you are going for the cold hard sell, you can approach these emails in a better way.

For example, sending an email with a bit of humour in it is often a great approach (once you know your audience is warmed up and more likely to engage).

Here’s a good example of how to start an email conversation in an engaging, non-salesy way:

example email campaign

This email is much more engaging than a standard, boring request to subscribe, buy or join.

A little bit of effort can go a long way.

In-life emails (upselling and cross selling to existing customers)

Every business wants to pull in more sales from their current customer base.

Use email marketing to re-engage the customer on a regular basis.

Continue to use interesting, engaging content – this makes sense as a continuation of what they would expect.

In other words, you don’t stop email marketing just because your customers have made a purchase.

You might want to focus your in-life content around certain themes associated around the product they have bought.

There are other in-life emails which are far more situational.

For example: Luxury beauty brand Beauty Pie added value by giving their customers a membership charge break due to the Covid19 situation.

This is a great example of in-life comms which are focused on providing value for the customer as their primary goal.

Renewals (end of cycle emails)
If a customer is coming to an end of a service or product (for example an annual subscription) and you want to remind them they are still important – retention emails are your friends.

Renewals (end of cycle emails)

If a customer is coming to an end of a service or product (for example an annual subscription) and you want to remind them they are still important – retention emails are your friends.

Retention emails

Prevention is better than a cure

The best way to prevent customers leaving is by speaking to your customers way before the expiry date of their subscription /account end date.

Make sure they are satisfied and engaged with your service or product, and if they’re not, find out why, before you get to this end point.

If you do have to resort to incentives – discounts, free vouchers and upgrades can all be useful tools.

Example – Take this one for a cinema club. It’s a month ahead and gets straight to the point and offers FREE, EXCLUSIVE, SPECIAL REWARDS for you if you just renew now…

The success rate of selling to current customers is 60-70%, while the success rate of selling to a new customer is 5-20%.

It is much cheaper to keep a customer than to have to entice someone new to buy your service Make sure your retention emails are personalised and relevant in order to keep them year after year.

Building emails with purpose: A practical guide to creating an email marketing campaign

Here are some key steps to consider when creating any campaign:

Using the right tools for the job

There are loads of brilliant emailing tools available that can design, segment and send emails that you can find online without my help.

I will say this: do make sure that you have a system which gives you the flexibility you need.

If you are just getting started, then focus on ease of use over everything else.

There’s no point using something complicated when the content should sell itself.

Make sure you have permission

First things first – make sure you have permission to send content to your subscribers.

This is usually in the form of an opt-in after someone gives you their email address.

If you don’t have permission to email them, you are more likely to end up going straight to junk.

This rings true if you are buying email data too.

Usually it is full of junk and unlikely to really want to connect with your brand. Therefore don’t bother buying it.

Quality data is important

There’s no point in having a massive list of email addresses if none of them are interested in what you have to say.

Better to have a list of 100 engaged users who are going to take an interest than thousands of disengaged users.

Scales weighing likes and dislikes

Mass emailing to random people means more people are likely to mark you as spam.

When this happens, your IP address is marked as spammy by email providers such as Outlook or Google, which means your emails are more likely to fall into your recipients junk folders.

Make sure that all your data sources are providing you with high quality leads that direct you towards an audience who are likely to be engaged with you.

Segmenting your emails properly

Understanding which customers are best suited for certain emails makes perfect marketing sense.

The better you can segment, the more relevant your emails will be.

Increased relevancy means the better open and click rates and increased sales.

Think about their age, gender, buying habits, where they live and what time they’ll be looking at their emails and then design your emails for each type of person.

The more the customer feels you are speaking to them, the more likely you are to hold their attention.

If you don’t have this information, then think about how you obtained the data. Did they fill in a website page form after learning about a particular subject?

If this is no use, you can still get a picture of which customers are most engaged to the particular content you are sending.

You can also see who didn’t react to anything, maybe you should try something different for this group?

Quality content

Just to reiterate: If you don’t have any value to add, then don’t bother trying.

Create great content and deliver it in a way best suited for your customers.

Just as you would email a friend about a subject, your emails should be about building a relationship around a relevant subject.

You should always set up your email content as part of your overall content marketing strategy.

eMail marketing as part of a campaign
A clear content strategy built around customer values will ensure all your emails are valuable too.

A consistent design

Always consider the design and keep your content consistent across your all your communications.

Think about your brand identity on your website and the message and style of your content.

Remain consistent when it comes to how you speak to the customer, in whatever digital or non-digital platform you’re on.

It matters – right down to the font, colour, images, spacing, and of course the style of language you use.

Your emails should feel like a seamless addition to your overall marketing strategy.

Headers and Preheaders

Make sure you take time to create a great header and preheader titles.

Never trick people into opening emails and always refer to the content inside the email.

Make it lively, fun, engaging, and not too long.

It’s ok to be bold and inject some humour.

The best email headers are simple and immediately make the reader want to know there is something of value included.

Build an email flow which works best for your customers

Is it best to send one big piece of content or to send a series of pieces on a theme over the long-term?

This completely depends on your product or service and what and how you are trying to communicate about it.

Consider how your customers might want to consume the content you are creating and start there.

Test and learn

As soon as you send a campaign, you will have a benchmark on your email performance. Use this to measure and improve your email marketing campaigns.

Examples of effective marketing content

This is custom heading element


Buzzfeed’s newsletter emails are heralded for being modern and engaging.

For example ’Welcome to Tasty – the world’s largest food network’

This is a great header – it entices and offers value – you know exactly what you are getting.

Their use of numbers is an effective way of grabbing attention – the reader is preparing to spend more time engaged with the content.

Think of how you’d like to capture your audience and give your news in the most engaging, concise way.

2. Beauty Pie

Beauty Pie website

This beauty subscription service has a great email campaign with an attention-grabbing header:

‘We Forgot Something in Your February Box!’

Well, they hadn’t actually forgotten to put the discount code in the previous email, it’s simply a promotional offer for a partner product.

Nevertheless, it’s a clever way of grabbing attention by giving the impression of FOMO and that you, the reader, are special enough to be given this opportunity.

3. You Need A Budget

YNAB email example

This money managing app has really an appealing content marketing style.

When signing up to YNAB we get an instant welcome email which creates value by being clear and offering a number of services, immediately.

I’ve signed up so you can see how it looks.

The header entices and the email is personalised, so it doesn’t feel too generic.

In the body content there are clear directions and CTAs offering various ways of engaging with the company.

YNAB’s content style is upbeat and encouraging.

It feels like they are speaking to us individually, not a mass audience.

They are working hard to educate people into being more sensible financially, they’ve thought about the ways to access and engage their audience and the problem they are trying to solve.

The confirmation request has been well thought through, too.

YNAB have really nailed their pitch and communication style – this is a great example of email marketing.

3. James Clear

James Clear example

The author of self-help book ‘Atomic Habits’ offers immediate value to his new members by giving them a free sample of his book (a lead magnet) and clear CTAs, as well as sales gifts in the form of discounts and bonuses.

He also sends out weekly content which includes link to read more sections of his book and listen to free podcasts – it’s a great example of value-based marketing, whereby there is immediate value for the customer, rather than a push to sell.

Clear’s ask to share his content has a lead magnet with it of access to his ‘Secret Newsletter’ – which is another great example of value-based marketing; the customer has some incentive to share his content by the reward of the (extra special) newsletter.

To create a system of positive value you need to over-deliver and under-promise.

The customer should feel delighted by your email content, not disappointed and frustrated.

It is this consistency which creates value and trust.

What are the results you should expect from an effective email campaign?

      • You’ll see your prospects turn into customers
      • Increase your open and click rates
      • Create an improvement in sales
      • Engage your customers better
      • Give you a deeper understanding of your customer and use this information to further hone your marketing strategies
      • Recommendations – customers who are engaged are more likely to share. The best kind of sale is one from a recommendation
      • Saleable growth – once you have nailed the process, you just have to work out how to get more people into the funnel. This is where the fun really happens

As you’ll see now, email marketing is one of the most beneficial and smartest ways to build your audience in a logical, growth focused way.
Email marketing is a great way of consistently delivering value to your customers.

You have an opportunity to make email a cornerstone of your marketing strategy, if you are willing to put in the groundwork.

After nailing this, the rest is easy.

Good luck!

About Murray Dare

Murray Dare is a Marketing Consultant, Strategist and Director at Dare Media. Murray helps UK businesses find better ways to connect with their audiences through targeted content marketing strategies.