One of the most effective forms of online marketing, email marketing uses a mix of text, graphics and links to deliver a message to people who are knowledgeable about a niche and may be interested in purchasing specific products or services.

Email marketing can help business owners reach large numbers of subscribers and is more affordable than other forms of advertising. Also, it offers the advantage of providing measurable metrics; by tracking the right parameters, a marketer can work on those parts of the emails that don’t trigger the expected customer response, to improve conversion rates and sales.

In today’s article you’ll learn what is email marketing, how it works and how to create an email marketing campaign.

What is email marketing and how does it work?

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that uses emails to deliver a business message to existing subscribers, with the purpose of:

  • enhancing the relationship with the audience
  • acquiring new leads and customers
  • encouraging repeat sales and client loyalty

Unlike other forms of online marketing, email marketing is more intimate, as it creates a direct line of communication with the target audience.

Instead of placing an advertisement on a website and hoping your target audience will see it, when creating an email marketing campaign you craft a personalized message that addresses specific needs or desires of your customers, and provides a solution that is likely to be appreciated by your target public.

Unless you offer something valuable in a format that is likely to appeal to your audience and capture their attention, it’s unlikely to generate conversions or sales from emails.

In the third part of this article you’ll find some email marketing tips to help you create personalized emails, but for now keep in mind this basic rule: in order to sell, you must offer great value for your customers’ time. Don’t waste their time with salesly emails that annoy your potential clients. For sales to come, there must be a value exchange and you must build a relationship that is based on trust.

How can you do this? By choosing the proper type of marketing email for your online campaigns.

Types of marketing emails

There are three main types of emails that can be included in a campaign:

  • direct emails
  • newsletters
  • transactional emails

1. Direct emails

Direct emails are sent to a permission-based list of prospects and are used for informing subscribers about new products, special offers, sales, new releases, upcoming events and so on.

As their name implies, direct messages offer direct information and provide a link where the customer can learn more or buy the product or service. Direct emails are the equivalent of fliers, catalogs, brochures and coupons offered in offline marketing campaigns.

Tip: People expect to receive an advantageous offer through direct emails, so offer them coupons, special discounts, limited time offers or exclusive online deals through these marketing messages.

2. Newsletters

Newsletters are regular emails sent on a weekly or monthly basis, that provide information about your business, changes in your company’s structure or website, upgrades, changes in terms and so on. These marketing messages are usually informative and their purpose is to create a positive image and make your audience feel more connected to your brand.

Tip: As their name implies, newsletters are intended for news and announcements, but you can still integrate them in your sales strategy by informing subscribers about the benefits they will get from the announced changes.

Let’s say you’re working on your website’s design to improve it and provide a better user experience for visitors. You should announce your subscribers about these changes and let them know how they’ll benefit from the new design and features.

3. Transactional emails

Transactional emails are messages that are sent automatically after a customer buys a product, subscribes to a newsletter, downloads a catalog, books a service or takes another action that is defined as business or marketing goal by the sender.

Transactional emails confirm the subscriber’s action, so in this category we can include welcome messages, payment confirmations, order tracking messages, registration confirmations and so on. Although you may not see the immediate business value of these emails, transactional messages can enhance the relationship with your clients and can tell you more about your customers’ expectations and needs.

Tip: These marketing messages have higher open rates, so use them not only for confirming the customer’s action but also for cross-selling products or asking questions. You can offer upgrades, recommend similar products, or ask customers to share their feedback or post a review for the product they purchased.

Ashley Cummings from Campaign Monitor wrote an excellent article on using welcome emails for engaging subscribers, read it here: How to use a welcome email to engage your subscribers from the start.

Basic steps to create an email marketing campaign

1. Establish your marketing goals

The goals on an email marketing campaign should be aligned with your general marketing goals; here are some examples:

  • drive traffic to your website or online shop
  • increase signups or downloads
  • increase sales for a specific product
  • increase social reactions
  • generate leads
  • increase attendees for an event

2. Create your list of subscribers

Email marketing done right equals permission-based marketing, otherwise it’s spam. Keep this in mind when building your email list, and start by importing the contacts that have already shared their email addresses with you.

To attract new leads, you can:

  • build a landing page
  • add a subscribe bar or a newsletter widget on your website
  • create compelling content and add CTAs at the end of your articles, asking your visitors to join your list of subscribers
  • offer powerful incentives on your blog and social channels
  • offer first order discounts and coupons for referring friends

Take a look at the subscriber list building guide from Campaign Monitor: Email list building guide.

3. Choose the type of marketing email you want to send

Thematic newsletters, seasonal newsletters, new product launches, announcements of new collections, offers for products on sales, limited time offers, event invitations, discounts for group orders and other such emails can be incorporated in an email marketing campaign. See the Types of marketing emails section again if you’re not sure what to choose.

4. Structure your email

Plan the content of your marketing email, starting with the headline and continuing with the copy and images. Make sure to have:

  • An attractive headline – Questions, lists, numbers and data, references to studies or to recent events tend to grab the reader’s attention more than simple statements.
  • A clean design – Keep your email clean and organized by including headings, optimized images and links to relevant pages from your website. Don’t forget that less is more.
  • An obvious call to action button
  • Contact information, links to social accounts and an unsubscribe link

Personalizing your email isn’t a must, but depending on your niche and relationship with the customer, it may help in increasing click-through rates and conversions.

5. Send the message at the right hour

Megan Marrs from Word Stream explains how to choose the best hour for sending your marketing messages, depending on audience and device: Perfect timing: The very best time to send email newsletters. If you already have some data to analyze, compare the open and click-through rates for emails:

  • sent during daytime vs. nighttime
  • sent during week days vs. weekends
  • targeting specific demographic groups
  • optimized for specific devices

6. Track your customers’ actions

After sending these marketing messages, you should watch a series of parameters in order to evaluate the performance of your campaign. Kristi Hines from The Daily Egg explains the most important email marketing metrics in this article: 8 email marketing metrics that matter. However if you’re short on time I’ll list the parameters here as well:

  • spam percentage
  • open rates
  • click-through rates
  • action rates over time
  • bounce rates
  • unsubscribe rates

Before jumping to examples, take a look at Copyblogger‘s email marketing tips here: 37 tips for writing emails that get opened, read, and clicked.

Email marketing campaign examples

Now that you know what is email marketing, how does it work and how to create an email marketing campaign strategy, it may be useful to take a look at some email marketing templates and examples of successful campaigns, just for inspiration.

Here’s Campaign Monitor’s Top 100 email marketing campaigns from 2015: The Top 100 email campaigns of 2015.

Outbrain’s picks can be found here: Inspiring examples for successful e-mail marketing campaigns.

Here are 5 email marketing campaign examples selected by Simon Cave from Stampila.com: Top 5 best email marketing examples (and why they really rock).

And here’s HubSpot’s selection of email marketing emails worth analyzing: 12 of the best email marketing examples you’ve ever seen.

I hope these email marketing campaign ideas will inspire you to create irresistible newsletters, direct and transactional emails for your subscribers and customers. However, if you’re finding it difficult to plan your first email marketing campaign and need help with developing a strategy, feel free to get in touch via the Contact me page.

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