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What Is Email Marketing, And How Does It Work?

Lindsay Tjepkema
Lindsay Tjepkema , Marketing Director, Americas , Emarsys

To this day, email remains one of the most popular and versatile mediums available. Email marketing is a strategy used by many businesses, and can be defined as the following:

Email marketing is the method of sending a commercial message to a desired person, or set of people, via email. This usually includes any email communication sent to an existing or potential customer.

To help break down email marketing and how it works, we wanted to provide more clarity around the term and the industry, so we’ve outlined below the perceived benefits, challenges, best practices, common questions, and additional resources for your convenience.

The Major Benefits of Email Marketing

When done successfully, email marketing can lead to a number of benefits:

Increase Brand Awareness: Every time you send an email, day or night, you’re exposing your business and brand to consumers everywhere. By utilizing targeted content, strategic planning, and a smart design, your business and brand’s value will increase. In doing so, you stay better connected with your audience. Increased brand awareness means that when a customer needs a product or service, they’ll be more likely to look to you, thus turning leads into clients, and clients in loyal customers.

More Cost Efficient: Arguably the most attractive benefit of email marketing is the return on investment. Compared to social media, email is one of the most affordable marketing strategies available, with costs that are much less significant than any other marketing channel.

Track User Engagement: Thanks to the advanced software on the market today, drawing on data to determine what’s successful, and what’s never been easier. Tracking how many people open an email, click a link in an email, or even identifying if your email made it to right inbox are a few of the capabilities email marketing solutions can offer.

Create Highly Personalized Content: Email marketing can outperform competing marketing channels through the power of personalized experiences. With email marketing, you can tailor specific ads for greater conversion rates, create and send personalized messages to people with particular needs, and target social media ads for pre-determined audiences. Email marketing allows you to send personalized messages or ads based on previous sales and purchases that have a greater chance of conversion. Email marketing lets you speak with your customers in a very intimate and personalized way that would not be possible though other marketing channels.

Common Challenges of Email Marketing

Email marketing is great, but no marketing strategy is without its flaws. Let’s look at a few of the challenges that surround email marketing:

Improving Email Deliverability: The challenge of email deliverability can be tough, as you need to be constantly acquiring and updating accurate information for available contacts. Deliverability rates are determined by the ratio of emails you have sent versus the number of emails that actually make it to the inbox of your intended recipient. It’s frequently assumed that an email sent will automatically make into the recipient’s inbox, but this not the case, as many emails are filtered and will go unread.

Retaining Subscribers: Marketers who have trouble adding and retaining subscribers sometimes turn to buying email lists in hopes that they’ll convert potential consumers by sending unsolicited messages (spam) to people who have no interest or affiliation with their company or product. This is not a good practice to follow, as it’s highly unlikely any of these people will respond, and/or messages may be marked as spam.

Mobile-Friendly Emails: Nowadays, the majority of consumers check their email from their smartphones or tablets, meaning businesses need to strongly emphasize mobile-friendly emails. If your email isn’t mobile friendly, you force consumers into scrolling left and right to read the whole email, or even worse, cutting of part of the message so it’ll fit on the screen. Undersized text and images will likewise ruin readability.

Growing an Email List: Marketers are pushed for time, and planning to implement a successful email marketing campaign is a real struggle. In many cases, businesses and marketers alike are wearing multiple hats. Along with managing schedules, contacts, and employees, they also have to build an email list, segment contacts, and create personalized tailored emails, all while tracking metrics. It’s quite the challenge.

Measuring ROI: With regards to email, it’s fairly easy to measure the size of a list, or opened and click-through rates. However, measuring the actual ROI of an email is a bit trickier, especially if you’re not driving consumers to an online conversion metric or sale. If you are unaware of how your email marketing campaigns are impacting your sales process, you’ll never truly know if your email marketing efforts are effectively driving conversions.

Best Practices for Successful Email Marketing

Creating a successful email marketing strategy is no easy feat, but there are certain considerations that come into play. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Write a Good Subject Line: Crafting a strong and solid subject line is essential, as they directly impact both email deliverability and open rates. Poor subject lines will be ignored by recipients, and also lead to your email being marked as spam, or even blocked. However, a good subject line will ensure your message will reach your intended recipient, thus improving your open rates.

Create Multipart Messages: When sending multipart messages, it’s important that both HTML and text versions are sent simultaneously, as spam filters expect it. Some email clients don’t recognize HTML, some people simply prefer plain text emails and it guarantees that all recipients can read your emails. The Emarsys email marketing software ensures that a text version is automatically generated and sent for template-based email campaigns.

Size Matters: Look to find that email content sweet spot. Too much content will significantly slow down the load time launch of your campaign, in turn negatively impacting your deliverability. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution available, as it’s difficult to measure any CMS, and deliverability is strongly influenced by reputation. Pro Tip: Aim for less than 300KB for the best deliverability rates.

Be Patient with Deliverability Issues: Deliverability issues happen all the time. Whether it’s emails being sent to spam folders, extensive engagement issues, or contacts complaining about unwanted emails, there always appears to be some sort of potential challenge. The best way to fix these issues is to remember that significant improvement won’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and even though you’ve emphasized fixing these issues, it will likely take time before you see noticeable results.

Email Marketing FAQs

As with any marketing strategy, frequently asked questions arise, here are some of the most common:

What’s the best way to test and optimize my campaigns?

The best way to test and optimize campaigns is through an endless cycle of testing, analyzing different theories and questions. Here’s an example:

  • Question: How do I improve engagement?
  • Hypothesis: Will sending emails in the morning improve engagement?
  • Test: Send half your emails in the morning and half in the afternoon.
  • Analyze: Which set of emails produced a higher level of engagement?
  • Learn: Use the data from this test to determine the best time to send emails.

How do I measure the campaign’s success?

This question is a little open ended, as each brand measures the success of their campaigns a little differently. Ideally, most important is to analyze a series of consistent metrics; isolating a single metric to analyze for improvement does work, but not as effectively as analyzing multiple metrics. When you breakdown multiple metrics, you have a better sense of overall performance.

Why should I personalize my emails?

One of the great aspects of email marketing is that you possess far more customer data than you would through any other channel. Naturally, with all that customer data you should be personalizing your messages to connect and engage with consumers. Sending subscribers messages they actually care about means they’ll be more likely to remain customers.

What’s the difference between a hard and soft bounce?

A bounce, when it relates to email, means that your message couldn’t be delivered to your desired recipient’s email address. A hard bounce means that it failed for a specific reason, such as a fake, invalid or blocked email address. A soft bounce fails because of a much simpler issue, such as a full mailbox or unavailable service.

Future of Email Marketing

With so many ways to interact with customers, it’s easy to overlook email marketing. There’s a widespread belief that social media, face-to-face, and other channels are more effective, but that’s clearly not the case.

Simply put, email is still the most popular way for people to connect with each other. Likewise, email marketing provides us with a powerful tool to convey personalized messages to consumers on a more effective one-to-one level.

If your business is not actively engaging and building a database of customer email addresses, now’s the time to start. Email is alive and well, and incorporating it into your digital marketing strategy is a must. Without an email marketing strategy in place, you may be putting your business at risk.

Additional Email Marketing Resources: