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What is email marketing? How does it get results?

Email marketing is all about sending messages, tracking responses, and keeping up with unsubscribers. If your marketing strategy relies on email, you’ll be glad to know that email marketing remains alive and well. According to the research firm Econsultancy, "Email continues to be a vital component of the marketing mix and the vast majority of companies (72 percent) rate email as 'good' or 'excellent' in terms of ROI."

To use email effectively, you’ll need a sound knowledge of email design best practices, an eye for email deliverability, and a flair for developing engaging content that targets specific audiences.

Getting started with email marketing

In the always-evolving world of marketing and email marketing, it can be difficult for marketers to know where to invest their energy and time to garner the best results. To help marketing organizations prioritize their email marketing efforts, we surveyed more than 500 digital marketing experts, asking them to rate the broad range of email marketing technologies and tactics as well as their predicted business impact during 2020.

Hopefully this marketing survey can help you determine the platform and technologies you can leverage to execute your email marketing campaigns, from sending your email messages, observe responses, managing unsubscribers, monitoring engagement, and tracking the results.

The first step is to choose an email service provider (ESP) or a CRM solution provider to build automated email marketing campaigns. Your choice will depend on your budget, feature requirements, sales process, marketing organization, and the number of contacts in your database.

How to build an email marketing list

When you build a house, the first thing that is built is the foundation. That same concept applies when you are building your email marketing program. The how, where, and when of acquisition are as critical a factor in the success of that email program as anything else you can create. A relevant and engaged audience is crucial to deliverability success and having the right audience is a good start.

Once you’ve chosen the platform/solution for sending messages and managing responses, you’ll want to focus on building your email list. To be clear, email marketing is not spamming. In fact, it usually begins when website visitors voluntarily “opt in” to be added to a database of marketable names. Your audience has asked for your emails and should be expecting to get them. They might have signed up for a newsletter or webinar, filled out a form on your site, or be following you on social media. It is better to build your email list with people who want to hear from you, rather than buying email lists or procuring email addresses from other sources.

In this way, you can better ensure that the email is something the recipient wants. Sending a random email out, even if it’s relevant to recipient’s interests and business, is the same as cold calling. Your audience didn’t ask to be contacted and may not be receptive to hearing from you.

Tread carefully with new sign-ups

Experts say sending email to new sign-ups always carries an elevated risk of triggering spam filters, due to the unproven nature of the new email address. For this reason, it’s very important to stay current with your welcome campaigns. The risk of triggering spam filters is compounded if you ever find that you have a backlog of new email sign-ups.

Stay away from appends, rentals, and purchased lists.

These tactics erode brands and create major deliverability issues. The address segments are characterized by a lack of response—very low open and low click rates. And because these users had never expected to receive email from the sender, the lists can generate many spam trap hits, higher bounces, unsubscribes, and complaints. That puts the sender’s deliverability reputation at risk and requires a great deal of effort to restore.

Email best practices—create a strong welcome program

When a subscriber is first added to your list, it is a good idea to send them a series of emails welcoming them to your program. With these emails, you should clearly communicate your opt-in/permission policy and set expectations for what is to come in future emails. You should also use this opportunity to let them know how often they can expect to receive your emails and how to opt-down or change their preferences if necessary. A simple welcome campaign can go a long way in establishing a good relationship with new subscribers.

Acquiring new email addresses is the golden goose for marketers, but experts point out that there are inherent dangers. New signups risk a Spamhaus listing because emailing multiple times to a new registrant who never opens or clicks is a high-risk gamble. This newly acquired email address can likely be a spam trap, and repeated emailing to it can trigger having your emails blocked.

Email targeting—know your audience

Once you, the marketer, have your database in place and a growing list of opt-in subscribers, you’ll need to monitor your communication volume and content to ensure that the messages you sending are targeted and relevant to your recipients.

Through testing, optimization, and monitoring your marketing content, you will have an opportunity to increase your engagement, increasing open rates while decreasing opt-outs. Bottom line: if opt-outs increase and open or click rates go down, you can be sure that sales aren’t increasing.

Devise targeting is one way to help improve engagement. By using link targeting, marketers can improve inbox personalization. You can also leverage more emails with more targeted messaging for each step of intended campaign or journey. Not more emails, but more targeted messages.

No matter how well targeted the message is, email deliverability is critical to your success. Don’t let your emails get stuck in the spam folder. The best way to avoid that is to use email best practices when designing your email messages. Taking the time to implement best practices will boost the overall results of your email campaigns. The deliverability ratings of your ESP, email marketing software, or marketing automation vendor should also be carefully examined.

The versatility of email marketing—Know your persona

Almost all of us use email, whether it’s for our personal or professional lives. It’s easy to reach us on email because we are constantly checking it on our phones, mobile devices, and computers. Email, therefore, is an easy and cost-effective way to connect and engage with people. Moreover, email can be used in a multitude of ways, depending on your creative strategy, including: to tell a story, sharing news, deliver product and service information, and drive sales with coupons and other offers. The list is endless.

Long ago, most digital marketers recognized that email has an important role to play as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. Emails have been proven to be very effective at nurturing prospects and converting them into customers. Emails are a good channel to keep in touch with your existing customer base, in case they want to purchase add-ons or other products and services. Keeping established customers in the loop strengthens the bond between them and your brand, which might help turn them into advocates who refer your business to others.

What advantage do emails have over other communication channels?

Email is an ever-present part of people’s lives and an accepted form of marketing and communication. But with so many emails flooding our inboxes every day, how do you stand out? How can you help ensure that your emails get read and not deleted?

You must remember these two things:

Your email message must be relevant. It has to be about something that the prospect cares about or might be interested in. The more personalized it is, the better chance you have of getting prospects to read it and act upon it.
You must intrigue your prospects. Does your subject line make your prospect want to open the email? Does the copy leave them wanting them more? Is the information or news you provided useful to them? Your email must motivate the recipient to open and take further action.

Email analytics—Make adjustments

Using the analytics built into most email marketing systems, you can test new email campaigns, analyze the results, and make adjustments. The most common metrics marketers look at are open rates, click rates, unsubscribe rates, and bounce rates.

Open rate The number of people opening the emails you send.
Click rate The number of people who open your emails and take action by clicking a link on it. They might go to your site or sign up for a newsletter or webinar.
Unsubscribe rates The number of people who ask to unsubscribe from your list.
Bounce rate The number of email addresses on your list that didn’t receive the email due to it being returned by the recipient’s email server. A hard bounce is when the email address was invalid. A soft bounce is when an email is returned for another reason such as a full inbox or the emailer’s name being unknown.

Content marketing plus email marketing

Email marketing is one of the leading channels to get your message in front of more people—including your most loyal customers and interested prospects. Over the past few years, the technology has expanded to include a wide variety of tools and technologies that enable you to test drive more dynamic content and personalize your message. The content and email marketing partnership is stronger than it has ever been before.

Remember, there’s a lot of competition for your audience’s attention. People have jobs, families, and millions of other things that can distract them online (including other emails). You need to capture their attention right away—and get to the point quickly.

Email copy needs to be concise and sharp. Use no unnecessary words. Your subject line needs to be intriguing and your headline should use as few words as possible. The body of your message—the email copy itself—needs to be short and sweet. Once a recipient opens the email, they should be able see the whole email without having to scroll up or down. Once you have your prospect’s attention, don’t waste it. No one wants to read a too-long email.

Strive for clarity in your writing. You don’t need to be mysterious. Simply tell them everything you think they need to know. Whether you’re promoting a brand, selling a product, or sharing information, tell them a story. Storytelling is still the best way of communicating. But keep it brief.

Email design—How to design an email

Now we can address email design. An email’s images and design need to pleasing to the eye and leave a strong impression. They have to align with the copy and the message of what you are trying to get across. And they should reflect your brand’s voice and tone.

An email should be easy to read and understand. The copy and design work together to achieve this. Visuals—infographics, maps, and charts—can often communicate product benefits more concisely and powerfully than a few lines of copy.

Keep in mind that people read emails on their computers, phones, and other mobile devices. Consider how your email design looks on both mobile and computer. Some marketers choose to create an email optimized for both mobile and web, while others prefer creating different versions for each.

The value of email testing

In email marketing, if you’re not testing, you’re guessing. The best way to improve your email marketing results is to test them. Which subject line is working best? Which call to action performed better? All of these elements are easy to test. For example, A/B testing enables you to test two or more versions of an email and compare how they perform.

By running tests and looking at the metrics, you can learn to fine-tune and improve your email marketing. You can see what prospects are responding to, and tweak your marketing strategy to achieve the best results.

1. Make small changes—Witness a big difference

By testing individual aspects of the email message, such as the subject line, preheader, or call to action, brands can understand how to make email content as interesting as possible according to their various customer demographics. For example, a clothing retailer might try sending customers emails that include images of an individual dress , a model wearing the dress, or style recommendations for items that would go well with the dress in order to see which form is most likely to encourage customers to click-through.

2. Push the branding boundaries

The visual impact of an email is very important to the consumer opening it. Brands should not be afraid to push the boundaries by varying color formatting, hero image placement (the positioning of best-selling products within a given email), or even the tone and style of written text to discover innovative ways to excite customers.

3. Never assume

Brands cannot predict how different audiences will respond to emails; while some customers prefer soft, educational messaging, such as relevant product recommendations, others are engaged by sales-driven versions that encourage you to ‘shop now.’

4. Accept the results

Testing is not about confirming your existing assumptions, but looking for new trends and consumer behaviors that will shape your email marketing campaigns. Are your customers looking at their emails on mobile devices? Do they prefer product recommendations and editorial content? Or are they more interested in sales and promotional information? These kinds of insights are vital in creating a campaign suited to your customers’ interests. Prepare yourself: you might not always get the results you’re hoping for. But listening—and responding&mdashto your customers’ preferences is the best way to drive great sales results.