What is email marketing? Your 101 guide to email campaigns
Email marketing is one of the best ways to communicate with your customers. It can help you nurture leads, raise brand awareness and sell your products.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of email marketing and give you tips, email templates, and strategies for optimizing your email campaigns for better conversions.
Table of contents
- What is email marketing?
- Top 6 benefits of email marketing
- Types of email marketing campaigns & examples
- How to build an email marketing list
- Tips to create a successful email marketing campaign
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is a marketing strategy surrounding sending emails to current and potential customers with the goal of increasing brand awareness, driving engagement, nurturing leads, or making a sale.
As a business, you simply can’t ignore or neglect email. If you look at the data, there are over 4 billion email users worldwide—that’s more than half of the world’s population! In 2022, the average ROI of email marketing was $36 for every $1 spent.
There are so many different types of emails you can send as well. While we’ll expand more on this shortly, email can help businesses, small and large, connect and educate their target audience.
Top 6 benefits of email marketing
Email marketing can be an extremely powerful marketing tool to have at your business’s disposal. While there are endless benefits, we’re sharing the top six that can directly impact your bottom line.
1. Increase brand awareness
Email can help you spread the word about your brand, products and services by sharing valuable resources, educational content, news, updates and more with subscribers.
You should also align your email content and design with your brand identity to create brand awareness.
2. Generate website traffic
Email is an excellent way to drive more traffic to your website. You can share snippets of recent articles and take interested subscribers to read the full versions on your blog. Or, add calls-to-action to your promotional emails that take subscribers to your landing pages and sales pages to learn more about your products.
3. Drive sales and revenue
Email can help you put your products and services in front of customers and experiment with different promotional techniques to generate more revenue. For example, you can offer discounts and free shipping to trigger purchases. Another idea is to share roundups and collections that draw attention to specific products. You can also use upselling and cross-selling techniques to increase the average order value.
4. Boost other marketing channels
Email lets you integrate your marketing channels and drive traffic to other customer touch points, such as social media, landing pages, blogs, and in-person events. For example, you can ask new customers to share a review on your Facebook page, or start an Instagram challenge and invite subscribers to participate.
5. Keep customers engaged
With email, you have room to experiment with your messages. There are so many different types of email campaigns you can send, and there’s plenty of room for creativity. Switching up your email campaigns keeps customers interested and excited about your brand. Plus, it helps you stay on top of their minds.
6. Gain valuable business data
Email allows you to collect customer data and learn more about their behavior. You can do this by tracking analytics, or sending email surveys and feedback forms. Leverage this information to improve your emails, business, products, and services.
You can also use email marketing tools to set up automated workflows to trigger emails based on specific customer actions. For example, automatically send a welcome email as soon as a contact signs up for your newsletter.
Automation not only saves you time and effort but also helps you send the right email to the right person at the right moment, minimizing human error and delays.
Types of email marketing campaigns (+ examples)
Email marketing requires a comprehensive strategy. This is because there’s not just one type of email you’ll want to send out to your audience. Email can be used in a variety of different ways in order to help you make the most of your strategy.
A welcome email series—or even a single welcome email—is the first email a subscriber receives when they sign up to your email list or make a purchase.
With an average open rate of 50%, welcome emails are a great way to introduce new contacts to your brand, products and/or services.
The best welcome emails are short and actionable. Their main focus is to take subscribers to the “next step.”
Here’s an example of a welcome email from Duolingo after a new user starts learning a new language:
This email focuses on what the customer is most interested in at the moment—continuing their language study—and lets them choose the next step such as downloading their mobile app or practicing on desktop.
If you’re selling physical products, you can use welcome emails to ask new customers to share a review on your website.
Newsletter emails are one of the most popular types of email campaigns.
They’re usually non-promotional in nature, and brands can use them to share industry news and updates, tips, tricks, features, blog roundups and more with their subscribers.
Here’s an example of an email newsletter from Visme that focuses on highlighting their blog content related to brand visual design:
Newsletters are often sent on a regular basis, such as weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. They are great tools for building trust and long-term relationships with your customers.
Promotional email campaigns
A promotional email can take many different forms, but its main purpose is to promote a specific product, service or ongoing sale to your audience.
Here’s a great example of a promotional email from Modernica:
They’re showcasing some of their top sales for Black Friday so that interested customers are aware and can take advantage of the sale. Modernica is likely also promoting this sale on its other marketing channels, like its website and social media. Adding email into the mix helps build a full omnichannel strategy.
Plus, with the ROI and conversion rates we’ve talked about email marketing boasting, of course you want to use it to promote your business’s offerings.
Cart abandonment emails
Cart abandonment campaigns are emails sent to shoppers who visited your store and put some items in their cart, but left without completing their purchase.
Here’s an example of a cart abandonment email from Public Rec:
These emails are a great way to persuade cart abandoners to come back and finish their purchase. In fact, studies show that abandoned cart emails can make your company $5.81 in revenue per recipient.
Since cart abandoners are people who have already shown interest in your store and products, you can woo them back with reminders, creating urgency and offering incentives like discounts or free shipping.
Seasonal marketing campaigns
Seasonal emails are sent around specific times, like seasons, holidays, etc. They’re perfect for promoting products or services that fit certain times of the year.
For example, here’s a great marketing email from Lush promoting their Halloween-related products:
By showing off products that are relevant to the current season, Lush is likely to increase sales on those particular items. Another example of this would be a clothing store promoting its beachwear collection during the summer, showcasing jackets and coats during the winter, or sharing gift ideas for moms around Mother’s Day.
Other email marketing campaign types
Other types of emails you might consider sending out for your brand include:
- Re-engagement emails: Emails that attempt to get non-engaged email subscribers to re-engage with your content by opening the email, clicking a link or even making a purchase. Subject lines are often, “We miss you,” or “Are you still there?”
- Announcement emails: These email campaigns announce new products, sales, events, holidays, and anniversaries to subscribers.
- Triggered email series: These emails are triggered based on specific actions of your customers. For example, a welcome series can be triggered as soon as a contact joins your list, or an abandoned cart series can be triggered three hours after a shopper abandons their cart.
- Post-purchase drip: These emails are sent after a customer buys from your store to maximize their experience and increase your revenue. For example, you can update subscribers on their shipments, ask for a review and offer a discount on their next order.
- Connect-via-social campaigns: These emails allow subscribers to connect with your brand on social media. You can incentivize this by offering subscribers free credit or loyalty points for following you on your social media handles.
- Testimonial request emails: These email campaigns are sent to gather feedback and reviews from existing customers. You can ask subscribers to leave a review on your website or social media, or give a star rating on a review platform.
How to build an email marketing list
The first step when putting together an email marketing strategy is building your list. After all, you can’t send out marketing emails if you have no one to send them to.
Start by choosing your preferred email marketing software, then take advantage of these three tactics to build your list.
Place opt-in forms around your website
One of the easiest strategies is to place opt-in forms in various places on your website. You can create subscribe or signup buttons or full opt-in forms with your email marketing tool of choice, then embed them on your site.
A few key places to include forms:
- Your home page
- Your website footer
- Your blog feed or blog sidebar
- A pop-up on your website
- Landing pages
Let your audience know what to expect from your newsletter, or provide some sort of incentive to get them to subscribe. Here’s a great example from The Sill of what this might look like:
Create gated content and lead magnets
Another great way to build up your email list is by creating content that requires an email to access. One example of this is Sprout’s annual Sprout Social Index, where we compile original research to help marketers create better-informed strategies.
And while this content is completely free, it’s gated. This means people have to fill out our opt-in form in order to access the content.
Original research and reports are a great type of content to gate. Other lead magnet ideas include ebooks, checklists, white papers, templates, etc.
Create a form like the one above asking for name, email and any other pertinent information your team needs to nurture these leads.
Use event sign-up forms
Whether you’re hosting an in-person event or an online webinar, event sign-up forms are another great way to build your list. You can require a form signup to register for the event, helping you bulk up your email list even more.
Here’s a great example of what this might look like from Uscreen:
Tips to create a successful email marketing campaign
So, you’re all prepped to create your first email campaign.
But before you start, here are tips and best practices to help you take your email marketing campaigns from good to knock-your-socks-off great.
1. Choose a relevant email list
To ensure your emails have maximum impact, you need to send them to the right people.
For example, a regional deal or event from a brand with international presence should be targeted only to the relevant regional audience. Other ways to segment for a highly relevant audience include demographics such as age group or gender.
Be wary of unethical ways to collect emails, such as buying email lists. This is not only bad for your engagement and conversion rates, but it can also get you blocked or marked as spam by email service providers (ESPs.)
2. Design your email
Your email can be full of valuable and insightful content, but if it doesn’t look good, it might not have much of an impact.
Here are some tips to create an engaging email design:
- Apply your branding: Add your logo, use your brand colors and fonts, and keep the design aligned with your visual brand identity.
- Add white space: Let your email content breathe by adding white space, or blank areas, around the text and visual objects. This helps your email design look clean and professional, and makes the information easier to read.
- Use images: Plain text can make your email look like a boring letter, so add images and GIFs to make your emails more attractive. For example, you can grab attention with a colorful header image.
- Make your emails responsive: Your emails should look great on both desktop and mobile devices. Avoid using large images that don’t load properly on small screens or slow internet.
- Establish visual hierarchy: Use alignment, varying font sizes, and other visual hierarchy principles to organize your email design elements.
3. Personalize your email subject line and content
Your subscribers want to be treated like human beings with individual identities and needs. And that’s exactly what email personalization allows you to do.
Personalization is when you use subscriber data to tailor your email subject line, content, or design to each individual contact so your email feels more personal and relevant.
Here are a few ways you can personalize your emails:
- Mention subscriber name in the subject line to grab attention
- Use subscriber location to promote events or sales nearby
- Send tailored product recommendations based on past purchases
Here’s how Uncommon Goods sends personalized shopping suggestions to subscribers based on their past browsing or purchase activity:
By personalizing your emails, you can get more people to open and engage with your messages. Need more convincing? Studies show that email personalization can drive up open rates by 22.28% and click-through rates by 3.32%.
4. Be conversational
Consumers are bombarded with marketing emails every single day, and they’re tired of receiving overly salesy messages from brands and machines.
To genuinely engage your subscribers and build relationships with them, you need to talk to them as people, not businesses.
Keep your emails friendly, approachable and conversational. Talking to your subscribers like you’re talking to someone you know will automatically make your email feel more personal and relatable. This will eventually translate into more engagement and conversions for you.
5. Create follow-ups
Sometimes, a single email doesn’t do the trick. You need to follow up with a second or even a third email to nurture your subscribers and convert them successfully.
You can apply this to various email campaign types — from abandoned cart funnels to retargeting funnels to welcome email series. Here’s an example of an abandoned cart series that helps you recover sales:
- Remind subscribers they left some items in their cart.
- Send a discount coupon they can apply at check out.
- Create urgency by informing subscribers their cart will expire soon.
You can easily set up email workflows with marketing automation. All you need to do is create your emails, set triggers and wait times, and then sit back and let the automation software do the heavy-lifting.
Remember, there’s a fine line between following up and being annoying. Space out your follow up emails and limit the number of emails you send. If you don’t, there’s a high chance you’ll get unsubscribed or marked as spam.
6. Send emails from a real person
Imagine receiving an email from “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The wrong type of email alias can sound like a business that just sent out a generic, automated email to their entire list.
Don’t be that business.
Use a recognizable sender name to a) actually land in your subscribers’ inboxes and b) sound less like a brand and more like a human.
A good idea is to use the name of someone from your business, such as the founder or marketing manager, e.g. Justyn from Sprout.
7. A/B test your emails
There’s no such thing as the “perfect” email. But you can get pretty close to creating one if you test your emails before sending them out.
A/B testing lets you test two different versions of your email by sending each one to a small percentage of your audience. By analyzing the results, you can see which version performed better and send it out to the rest of your email list.
Testing your emails not only allows you to improve your campaigns, but also helps you learn more about your audience — what they like or dislike, and how they interact with your email. This eventually helps you improve your business in the long run.
8. Follow email or spam regulations
Ignoring spam regulations is a great way to get your emails banned or even land a massive fine. The CAN-SPAM Act is a guide to email compliance that businesses ignoring can get into big trouble for. The GDPR is another more recent protection act that’s essential to follow for brands operating in the EU.
- Don’t buy email lists
- Don’t add people to your email list who have not explicitly opted in
- Ensure unsubscribe buttons are easy to find in your emails—and honor opt-outs
- Don’t use deceptive language in your emails
- Provide mailing address information in your emails
9. Track the success of your email campaigns
One of the best things about email marketing is that you can continuously track and improve the performance of your email campaigns.
Most email marketing tools offer in-depth analytics and dashboards to help you understand whether your emails are having the desired effect or not.
Below are some key metrics you should be tracking for all your email campaigns:
- Open rate: This shows you the average number of opens your emails get. Open rates can help you analyze the effectiveness of your email subject lines, sender name, and pre-header text (the snippet viewable right after the subject line in many email clients).
- Click-through rate: This shows you the average number of times subscribers clicked on the links or CTAs inside your emails. The click-through rate is an important metric for understanding email engagement.
- Bounce rate: This shows you the percentage of your contacts who didn’t receive your email. A high bounce rate can indicate that your email list is full of inactive, fake or outdated contacts, or that you need to change your email service provider.
- Unsubscribes: This shows you the number of people who unsubscribed from your email list. High unsubscribes could either indicate that your email content is not relevant to your subscribers, or that your emails aren’t being sent to the right audience.
- Spam complaints: This shows you the number of times your emails have been marked as spam. This could be due to spammy subject lines, irrelevant email content, unsolicited emails, or issues with your email marketing software.
Other email metrics include conversion rates, most visited pages, best-performing links, mobile open rates, revenue per email, and more. In fact, there are dozens of metrics you can track depending on the email marketing software you’re using.
Align your metrics with your email marketing goals to hone in on the most important ones that illustrate what’s working and what’s not, and avoid analysis paralysis.
Get started with email marketing today
Start building your email list and mastering your email marketing strategy today. To make the process even easier, learn how you can create reusable email marketing templates that keep your strategy cohesive and your brand recognizable.
Email Marketing FAQs
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is a marketing channel and strategy that helps businesses engage with their customers, nurture leads, and ultimately drive conversions through carefully crafted emails.
What email marketing software is available?
Email marketing software is one of the most important tools marketers need when executing their email marketing campaigns. There are tons of different tools to choose from, but here are our top three favorite tools.
Email marketing tools can help save you time and money, so it is important to choose one that works for you and your business. Learn more about the best email tools that are pioneering the email marketing landscape.
What is influencer marketing: How to develop your strategyPublished on April 17, 2023 Reading time 14 minutes
How to do market research: The complete guide for your brandPublished on April 13, 2023 Reading time 10 minutes
Complete guide to content calendar creationPublished on April 6, 2023 Reading time 8 minutes
17 blogging tips to jumpstart your brand’s blogPublished on March 14, 2023 Reading time 7 minutes