What Is Email Marketing? Definition, Tips, Best Practices, Benefits, and Examples


“Email marketing is defined as a sales and marketing strategy where a commercial message is sent to a specific audience to increase engagement, encouraging conversion, and inspiring referrals.”

Given the exceptional ROI of email marketing, it is now essential in B2B and B2C businesses around the world. In this primer, we share email marketing best practices, three examples of effective email marketing strategies, and tips to help you get started.

Table of Contents

Email marketing is any marketing strategy that involves the sending of commercial emails to a group of customers or prospects. Technically, email marketing also covers one-on-one communication, like messages sent to solve a specific customer query.

As brands try to strengthen relationships with their customers via digital channels, it is important to find effective and cost-optimized techniques. Email marketing ranks high on this list, owing to its massive reach, ease-of-use, and proven returns. According to some estimates, marketers can even unlock up to $38 in value for each $1 invested in email marketing.

A typical marketing email will have the following components:

  • The subject line – The subject line is your first touchpoint with the customer on their inbox. While opinions vary from expert to expert, email marketing best practices as per data from Marketo recommends 41 characters or seven-word long subject lines to be ideal
    The greeting – You can choose to have a graphic or a one-size-fits-all messaging that’s not personalized for each customer. For example, in the case of company announcements, a generic greeting for all would make sense. Marketing automationOpens a new window also lets you greet each customer by their name; this lends a personal touch that could lead to higher conversion rates.
  • The content – There is no specific format to be followed when creating email marketing content. You can play around with texts and images, add charts and GIFs, and even embed videos. We discuss the content aspect of things in the section on email marketing examples below.
  • The CTA – The CTA or Call to Action directly links your marketing email to a revenue-generating action. For example, an existing customer might be asked to revisit their shopping cart, a new lead could be asked to subscribe, and a customer who had “dropped off” could be informed about the latest offers and products.
  • The unsubscribe button – This is an essential email marketing best practice that should be followed. Often, companies acquire customer email IDs by purchasing email lists. While communication may be relevant, the customer should always have the freedom to opt-out. This instills confidence in your brand and establishes transparency.

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So, how does email marketing work? To start with, you curate a customer email list which includes everyone who will receive a message from your brand on a regular basis. You can do this by purchasing third-party email lists or by creating your own list via a subscribe button on your website. Any visitor to your website who shares their email information automatically becomes part of this list.

Next, you select an email marketing platform that can help send mass messages, while incorporating personalization and campaign-specificity. Salesforce, HubSpot, and Marketo are among the top email marketing platforms you can look at.

Finally, you can set up an email drip campaign that schedules regular communications as a response to a customer action, which makes the customer feel as if they were communicating with an individual and not a brand. An email drip is great for building long-term engagement, and will typically comprise the following drip elements: welcome mail, product promotion, incentivized offers, follow-up, and drop-off.

A drop-off mail is generally recommended as an email marketing best practice as it asks uninterested customers to unsubscribe. This keeps your email list highly efficient and focused only on the most promising leads.

Let’s now look at the different types of marketing emails that you could be sending.

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Types of Marketing Emails

Representation of the Types of Marketing Emails

Email marketing content comes in many shapes and sizes. However, they can be broadly classified into engagement emails and transactional emails. Here is a closer look at these two categories:

1. Engagement emails

These are sent to establish your brand’s voice and value proposition, rather than directly completing a sale. Typically, engagement emails are targeted at top-funnel and mid-funnel customers and at warm leads.

There are a variety of engagement emails that you can use, including a standard greeting after a customer signs up, content-oriented mails such as tutorials and newsletters, insights into your brand or the customer, or re-engagement emails where a low-engagement customer is sent attractive, persona-specific information. For example, if you’re running an online publication, you can send low-engaging customers updates about new articles in their areas of interest.

2. Transactional emails

A large portion of any email marketing strategy will consist of transactional emails. After all, these deal with day-to-day product updates, reminders, payment information, product tracking facilities, surveys, and other sales interactions.

But no rule says transactional emails must be staid and forgettable. You can incorporate your brand identity by tweaking the copy, mentioning recommended products after a successful sale, and turning product receipts into shareable assets for referrals. For example, after a customer has purchased a lipstick, they might want to share the product on their social feed – innovative transactional emails make this simpler.

So, what are the benefits that you could expect from investing in an email marketing strategy? Let’s find out.

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5 Benefits of Email Marketing

There are several reasons why email marketing is the real secret weapon to growing your conversion-ready audience. We spoke to Chirag Thumar, senior web developer at NexSoftSys, a company that builds business software for brands around the world. He had a few useful ideas to share on email marketing:

1. It is more effective than social media

Despite the rise of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, email users still outnumber audiences on social. According to the Radicati Group, in 2018, nearly 34% of the world population uses emails, which approximately amounts to 2.5 billion users, and it was expected to go up to 2.8 billion users within two years.

Even when it comes to marketing to Gen Y and Millennials, Armand Thiberge, Founder & CEO, SendinBlue, said exclusively to MarTech Advisor. “While millennials certainly enjoy their social platforms, the fact that they prefer to keep them just that—social – aka as engagement channels between friends and family–isn’t that much of a surprise. While email has been around since the mid-‘90s and, in comparison, may seem old school, it’s continued to maintain a stronghold with consumers thanks to its ubiquity around the world and broad appeal across age groups.”

2. You can combine mobile with email

Email messages are a great way to reach mobile customers, as a significant chunk of promotional communication is accessed via smartphones.

As Thumar noted, “42% of retail-related emails are opened on smartphones while 17% of them are opened on tablets, which implies for every five marketing emails sent out, almost three of them double as mobile marketing messages.” This means that even if you don’t have a mobile app, an email marketing strategy takes your brand to a wide range of devices.

3. Emails are highly customizable

By segmenting your email marketing audience into specific lists and customizing elements such as greetings, CTAs, and in-mail data, you can deliver a personalized content experience to every customer.

“On social media, you address your audience as a whole. But email marketing allows you to arrange your target audience sets into specific lists and send each list a personalized email that resonates well with the reader and will offer them something relevant,” mentioned Thumar.

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4. You can create action-oriented emails

Email marketing leverages our natural propensity to either respond, forward, or act on an email. As Thumar puts it, “It is the usual instinct to act someway with an email and this can hugely benefit the business in bringing in traffic on your website and consequently causing an increase in sales.”

For example, Gmail now supports marketing emails that can be saved to the inbox or forwarded to one’s friends and families.

5. It is inexpensive and cost-effective

The base cost of one message is extremely minimal. As a result, you can reach a wide audience with a single email marketing campaign. There’s no cost in buying ad space or efforts required to create a targeted audience, as in social media and search ads.

“It automatically favors small businesses that are on a budget, who can use this marketing tool to expand the business without having to spend a fortune on traditional marketing spaces like TV or billboards or even social media promotions,” added Thumar.

Because of these benefits, it is now essential to have an email marketing strategy, no matter the size or nature of your business. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Tips to Remember Before Starting Your Email Marketing Campaign

Now that you know all about the benefits of email marketing, as well as what exactly email marketing means for your brand, let’s look at six key pointers before you get started with your email marketing strategy.

1. Quality versus quantity

Customer mail inboxes are regularly bombarded with promotional messages, and it is advisable to not add to the clutter. Send valuable emails spaced out over a reasonable amount of days. Remember to also embed an unsubscribe button and share drop-off emails as a standard best practice.

2. Clear value proposition

Outline clearly on your website why a customer should sign up for promotional emails. Every message should come with an informative subject line that encourages high open and click-through rates.

3. Regular testing

Your email marketing strategy will get better with time if you regularly test how different elements are working. For example, try a variety of subject lines, fonts, button placements, etc., to arrive at the most optimal combination.

4. Email marketing analytics

This is a corollary to our previous tip, as analytics gives you measurable data on what’s working and what isn’t. Depending on your email marketing platform, you can adopt an analytics plug-in. For example, Event Webhook for the SendGrid platform.

5. Automation usage

Needless to say, email marketing without automation would be a time-consuming and cumbersome task. Automation can be added at key moments on the customer journey. For example, when a shopping cart is abandoned or after a lead has visited your website more than three times.

6. Social + email

Cutting-edge technology allows you to integrate email marketing strategies with your social presence. For example, a conversation started on social can be carried on via email. Or, a recent follower on Instagram could be added to your email drip campaign.

Keeping these email marketing tips in mind, you’re now ready to get started with the on-ground implementation of an email strategy.

4 Steps to a Stellar Email Marketing Strategy

Representation of the Steps to Create a Marketing Strategy

Whether you’re a digital native brand or a legacy company, this four-step email marketing roadmap will create a bedrock of long-term engagement and sustained ROI.

Step 1: Segment your audience

Take your existing database of customers (loyal, new, prospects, defectors, and returns) and segment them as per purchase behavior and interest patterns. You can share a quiz with the entire customer base to find out granular data on each group, trimming down each list to perfection.

Step 2: Create a customer journey

A customer journey involves breaking down the entire lead-to-conversion and return experience into specific moments of truth. This mirrors a customer’s real-life experience. For example, someone buying a budget computer for school work begins by graduating from high school, getting admission into a college, purchasing supplies, and researching study devices. This journey will help share the right kind of messaging across your email marketing drip.

Step 3: Personalize your message

As we’ve already mentioned in the tips on email marketing, personalization is absolutely critical (and pretty easy) for your campaign. According to Experian Marketing Services, “personalized emails generate six times higher transaction rates.”

Step 4: Experiment and test

There are several types of emails and content formats you could experiment with, in your email marketing strategy. For example, interactive content can be a big help when you’re trying to overhaul your brand image, and reengage existing customers. Take a look at how Domino’s built an interactive pizza preview to give its previous customers a taste of what they are missing out. And based on test results, you can continue experimenting until you create an effective email marketing formula.

Domino’s Interactive Pizza

So, what does a great promotional email that’s ready for engagement and conversion, look like? Here are three examples to inspire you.

Email Marketing Examples that Illustrate Critical Best Practices

Top brands around the world use emails to reinforce their brand identity and engage with customers in new, innovative ways. Here are three examples that suggest how you could adopt email marketing best practices to your advantage.

1. Grammarly’s re-engagement email that shares a personalized dashboard

Productivity tool, Grammarly, offers its premium users personalized updates on usage and performance. These incorporate elements of gamification and social media integration to keep users engaged.

Screenshot of Grammarly’s Re-Engagement Email

2. The Hustle hooks readers with a “Save the intern?” subject lineThis is a great example of a drop-off email targeting users with very low email open rates. The Hustle’s email content is framed as one-on-one communication, following the brand’s unique voice.

Screenshot of the Hustle’s Email Content in Their Unique Voice

3. Bokksu welcomes new customers with a short, personal greetingNiche e-commerce store specializing in Japanese F&B, Bokksu, welcomes newly registered customers with a short greeting that requests you to respond. It shows that the brand truly cares about its customers, and values every order.

Screenshot of Bokksu Welcoming Newly Registered Customers

There are numerous other examples of email marketing strategies at work. And these best practices apply for both B2C and B2B marketers.

In Conclusion: How Email Marketing Could Help B2B Marketers

Given its capacity to target large audiences and drive product sales, email marketing has always been a B2C favorite. But this doesn’t mean that it’s outside the scope of B2B. In a conversation with Colby Cavanaugh, SVP of marketing at Emma (an email marketing company acquired by Insight Venture Partners), we explored best practices and recommendations in this segment.
So, if you’re a B2B marketer, here are three tips to remember about optimizing your email marketing strategy:

  1. First, establish a relationship with your email list. You’re reaching out to a far smaller audience than in B2C, and every stakeholder matters. “To put it bluntly, buying email lists might seem like a quick fix, but it won’t work in the long run,” said Cavanaugh.
  2. Clean your email list every year. Your subscriber base will churn by 30% annually, noted Cavanaugh, making it essential to keep email marketing lists accurate and up-to-date.
  3. Integrate with CRM, analytics, and social media. We’ve already touched upon this while discussing email marketing tips – but this is even more important in B2B. Given the high value of sales and the depth of research involved, integrating data across the customer journey can help better understand expectations and product needs.

Clearly, despite the rise of so many other marketing channels, good-old email remains a trusted and proven methodology. By following these email marketing best practices, and selecting the right email type, for each scenario, you can establish an ongoing line of communication that translates into exceptional lifetime value.