What is email marketing?

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Mar 062014

What is email marketing?

First there was the carrier pigeon, then came AOL and nowadays you can get a virtual monkey (MailChimp) to deliver your messages electronically. So what exactly is email marketing?

“Sending an electronic message persuading a specific audience to take a specific action.”

Or we might just say:-

“Promoting stuff via email”

Email marketing is a direct descendant of direct mail. You know, those long typed letters with yellow highlighter liberally applied promising you treats galore. It’s a personal message.

Without a specific retail outlet, most businesses make their sales via email. Not just those with electronic shops, selling products online. If you’re a web designer, you will undoubtedly receive enquiries and send quotes via email. Even though social media may initiate some sales conversations, most will be concluded by email.

Email marketing is the name for those personal, targeted messages sent directly to your a list of contacts. So is it just large companies using email marketing?

Who uses email marketing?

In recent years sending professional email campaigns has got easier and cheaper with programmes like Aweber and MailChimp (no affiliation with either) offering free services to businesses with small lists. More than 5 million people use MailChimp alone and it is just one of a number of platforms available.

Why do they use email marketing?

In comparison to postal marketing, email marketing is cheaper, quicker and gives you more useful information as well as potential sales. For example, if you use a programme like MailChimp, you can track reader behaviour such as opens and clicks, allowing you to do targeted follow up activity, either more email messages or phone contact. This is way beyond the simple redemption of a coupon, the only quantifiable or useful outcome of many postal campaigns.

In addition the rise of the use of smart phones and tablets (estimated to be over 1.2 billion and 200 million respectively by the end of 2013)*  means email is now accessible at the office, at lunch, at home, at the gym, on holiday and in the bath. It is our constant companion and we turn to email for information, products and services for all areas of our lives: our work and play.

This makes email marketing an attractive choice for small businesses in particular. For those with deeper pockets there are sophisticated integrations and auto-responders that can send targeted follow up messages. Have you ever left your computer with a shopping basket half full only to find an email from the company half an hour later encouraging you to go back and complete the purchase? Those companies are using robots to track activity and send follow up marketing messages. Neat or scary depending on your point of view. So what about all the email marketing jargon?

What does all the email marketing jargon mean?

Here’s a quick run down for you:-

  • Email campaign – the name MailChimp uses for every email you send out whether it’s an offer, a full blown e-newsletter or a simple plain text thank you note.
  • Email list – this is a list containing at least the email address for every contact, but often has first name, last name and other relevant information you want to use to target your messages, such as purchase history or birthday.
  • Subscriber – a contact on your email list
  • Opt-in – someone actively joins your list i.e they fill out a form on your website giving their email address and asking to be added to your email list.
  • Soft opt in – in the UK, soft opt in permits you to send marketing messages to those who have enquired or purchased from you in the past as long as they can unsubscribe easily and as long as the marketing messages relate to the same subject (this is my loose interpretation and does not constitute legal advice – I’m not a lawyer). Read it for yourself here.
  • Unsubscribe – when people ask to be removed from your email list. By law, you must remove them when they ask.
  • Subject line – the text that appears next to the FROM text in email inboxes
  • Email formats – your email can be sent as HTML (hyper text mark up language or as I like to call it, all singing, all dancing with images, colours and the rest) or plain text. Read about Pros and cons of 3 different email formats.

So what are businesses doing with email marketing?

How do businesses use email marketing?

It varies. Some businesses send e-newsletters, a round up of news, events, offers and tit bits on a regular schedule e.g. bi-monthly. Others send a series of promotional emails for e.g. workshops, festivals, seminars or other events. Others still, send a series of sales emails that follow in a sequence. Excited, want to get started?

What do you need to know to start email marketing?

The law around email marketing is designed to protect consumers from unwanted and unsolicited marketing messages. Check the law where your country operates. In the UK you need to familiarise yourself with the Data Protection Act and the rules governing Email Marking. The Information Commissioner’s Office spells it all out in plain English. Don’t be afraid, go take a look! Remember too if your subscribers are from another country you might want to familiarise yourself with their laws. 

Good practice dictates that you’ll send well targeted messages to a list of opted in subscribers i.e. people who’ve asked to receive your information and crucially you’ll give the chance to unsubscribe at any time. Programmes like MailChimp and Aweber provide automatic unsubscribe features with a link in every email.

In practice the law is different if you’re sending business to business marketing messages. As long as the marketing messages are directed at the business and not say offers for holidays for individuals then, in the UK, at the time of publishing, you don’t have to adhere to such strict regulations. If in any doubt, consult a lawyer (that’s not me!).

So let’s take a look at the nitty gritty. The hub of your email marketing activity is your list.

Your email list

Most businesses collect email addresses in the course of their business. It’s simple to start a list. Simply ask for opt in. Something like,

“We’d like to send you offers and news about our business, please tick if you’d like to join the list.”

This, or something short and snappy like “, Get StyleMail”,  can be written on your booking form, on a sign up form on your website, with a QR code on the back of your business card or anywhere else potential subscribers might see it. So what do you do with all these email addresses?

Small and micro businesses may keep their contacts in:-

  • Email programme like Gmail, Outlook or Contacts for Mac
  • In an external database like a booking system
  • On a spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel
  • In a note book

Once you have a central location for your contacts, programmes like MailChimp allow you to import data in a number of ways:-

  • Adding subscribers one by one
  • Copying and pasting from a spreadsheet
  • Integrations with a number of platforms including Google Contacts

So there’s your shiny new list, now you need to look after it.

Keeping your email list clean

If you use programmes like Aweber and MailChimp they take care of that side for you. If not you need to manage:-

  • Unsubscribes – when someone asks to be taken off the list you must ensure they don’t get sent any more emails.
  • Hard bounces – email addresses may be incorrect or defunct. These need to be cleaned off your list.
  • Soft bounces – sometimes there’s a temporary problem with an email meaning it can’t get through e.g. Mail box is full. Some of these may function again and others will eventually become hard bounces I.e. Not functioning.

You’ll want to update your list regularly. How to keep your email lists fresh and up to date. And of course you’ll want to keep attracting new subscribers.

Building your list

Building your list is not a one time activity. It’s something you need to work on week in week out, like all your marketing activity. Think of your email campaigns as a group of products you want to promote. Use every possible platform and opportunity to ask people to join your list, such as:-

  • Sign up form on your website
  • Sign up tab on your Facebook page
  • A link in your email signature
  • A link in your Twitter bio
  • A pin with link on Pinterest
  • QR code on leaflets, business cards
  • Exhibition banners
  • Promotional goods like pens
  • At networking events
  • At the till
  • On feedback forms
  • During presentations
  • In conversation

Keep Googling ‘Build your list’ for more ideas. You’re probably thinking a programme to manage all this for you, sounds like a good idea.

Which programme is right for you?

MailChimp (not affiliated) has a Forever Free programme offering a generous allowance of lists up to 2000 subscribers and up to 12000 CHECK sends per month for free. If your list is bigger than this, then you want to carefully check out comparison tables like this one [add link] to find the best fit for you. The platform takes care of delivery and you’re building a good clean list, but why exactly do you want to send out emails?

What’s your goal?

In 2013, the majority of email traffic comes from business email, which accounts
for over 100 billion emails sent and received per day.

Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017 Editor: Sara Radicati, PhD; Principal Analyst: Justin Levenstein

The number of emails sent continues to rise, so it’s getting harder to get noticed. You will not get away with vague or poorly targeted messages, so take a long hard look at what you want to achieve and then consider the best way to do this. You should expect to refine and tweak what you do over months and years. It’s not a quick fix. Here are some of the outcomes you might want to result from your marketing emails:-

  • Sales enquiries
  • Bookings
  • Member renewals
  • New subscribers
  • Quote enquiries
  • Collaboration
  • Fundraising
  • Sell tickets
  • Raise awareness
  • Get people out marching on the streets
  • Get people talking

Once you’re clear on that, you need to decide what type of content you want to send.

What content should you email?

Here’s a sample to get you started:-

  • Special offers
  • E-newsletters
  • Event promotion
  • Thank you’s
  • Information/articles
  • Article + offer
  • Blog articles
  • Members’ news
  • Industry news
  • View from
  • Quote of the day
  • Prices
  • Market round up

So you’ve planned your fabulous content, now there’s one more crucial element, without which all your efforts can be wasted.

The call to action

The call to action is simply the instruction usually at the end of your email that tells people what to do next. For instance:

• Read more
• Get a quote
• Sign up to the waiting list
• Book now
• Check availability
• Tell a friend
• Register for the event
• Give your opinion
• Follow us on Pinterest

So how did your campaign perform?

Email marketing delivery and click through

Programmes like MailChimp and Aweber allow you to see which subscribers opened your email and which clicked on links (when and how many times). Now this is all very exciting but what really matters, is whether your email met your objectives. Did you get enquiries from it, did people book tickets, did you get more fans on Facebook? If you didn’t, then you need to look at the reason.

Does your email need follow up?

One email will rarely clinch a sale if it’s the first time the subscriber has seen the offer. So planning a series of follow up emails at the outset makes sense. If it’s an event, short to the point messages outlining different benefits of attending are ideal. If it’s an information product then a series of articles highlighting different aspects can work well.

To find out more, browse the library of articles on www.onlinesalesmessages.com.