The first marketing email was sent in 1978, resulted in $13 million in sales, and kicked off what has become one of the most highly used marketing channels even to this day.
Given its early beginnings, email isn’t as shiny as some newer channels like messaging and social, but it is an effective way to build an owned audience that gets results.
Your customers don’t give their information lightly, and — if used right — email marketing can be both a relationship-building and profit-building tool.
So, how does email marketing actually work anyway?
How does email marketing work?
Email marketing is the process of targeting your audience and customers through email. It helps you boost conversions and revenue by providing subscribers and customers with valuable information to help achieve their goals.
Now let’s review when you should use email marketing and some benefits and statistics that support the reason why email marketing is so valuable.
Master the fundamentals of email marketing with a free online course.
When to Use Email Marketing
There are many ways to use email marketing — some of the most common including using the tactic to:
- Build relationships: Build connections through personalized engagement.
- Boost brand awareness: Keep your company and your services top-of-mind for the moment when your prospects are ready to engage.
- Promote your content: Use email to share relevant blog content or useful assets with your prospects.
- Generate leads: Entice subscribers to provide their personal information in exchange for an asset that they’d find valuable.
- Market your products: Promote your products and services.
- Nurture leads: Delight your customers with content that can help them succeed in their goals.
Email Marketing Benefits
Email Marketing Stats by Industry
Email marketing rules change based on your industry and who you’re marketing to. Below are some email marketing trends for B2B, B2C, ecommerce, and real estate companies that can inform your email marketing strategy.
Email Marketing Stats for B2B
Email Marketing Stats for B2C
Email Marketing Stats for Ecommerce
- 57.2% of marketers say the ecommerce brands they manage have 1,000 to 10,000 contacts on their email lists.
- 85.7% of ecommerce marketers say the primary business objective of their email strategy is increasing brand awareness.
- Roughly 72% of ecommerce marketers say the biggest challenge they face with email is low open rates.
Getting Started with Email Marketing
Before you get overwhelmed with the vast possibilities of email marketing, let’s break down a few key steps to get you started building a strong email campaign that will delight your customers.
You can think of these steps as the way to create a successful email marketing strategy.
Create an Email Marketing Strategy
You can learn how to build an effective email strategy and send emails that people actually want to read. It just takes a plan (one that can be broken down into a few key steps).
Think of the following five steps as an outline for your email strategy. We’ll dive deeper into some of these in a moment.
1. Define your audience.
An effective email is a relevant email. Like everything else in marketing, start with your buyer persona, understand what they want, and tailor your email campaign to your audience’s needs.
2. Establish your goals.
Before you come up with your campaign goals, gather some context.
You’ll want to know the average email stats for your industry and use them as benchmarks for your goals.
As you can see, these benchmarks vary greatly by industry. Using this guide will help you create realistic goals for your team.
3. Build your email list.
You need people to email, right? An email list (we’ll cover how to build your email list in the next section) is a group of users who have given you permission to send them relevant content.
To build that list, you need several ways for prospects to opt-in to receive your emails.
Don’t be discouraged if you only have a few people on your list to start. It can take some time to build. In the meantime, treat every single subscriber and lead like gold, and you’ll start to see your email list grow organically.
4. Choose an email campaign type.
Email campaigns vary and trying to decide between them can be overwhelming. Do you send a weekly newsletter? Should you send out new product announcements? Which blog posts are worth sharing?
These questions plague every marketer. The answer is subjective.
You can start by learning about the types of email campaigns that exist, then decide which is best for your audience.
You should also set up different lists for different types of emails, so customers and prospects can sign up for only the emails that are relevant to them.
5. Make a schedule.
Decide how often you plan to contact your list and inform your audience upfront.
This way, they’ll know exactly what to expect ahead of time. Forgetting to do this can lead to high unsubscribe lists and can even get you in their spam.
In addition, once you set a schedule, be consistent. It will build trust and ensure you stay top of mind for your audience.
6. Measure your results.
This should come as no surprise. As marketers, we measure everything. Being meticulous about every key metric will help you make small changes to your emails that will yield large results.
We’re going to touch on the exact KPIs to monitor in a bit (or you can jump ahead).
Now that you understand the steps to creating an email marketing strategy, we’ll look at what’s involved in building your email list.
How to Build Your Email List
Now to the fun part: filling your email list with eager prospects that are excited to hear from you.
There are many creative ways to build your email list (and, no, purchasing emails ain’t one). Tactically speaking, list building comes down to two key elements that work cohesively to grow your subscriber numbers: lead magnets and opt-in forms.
Here’s how to get started building and growing your email list.
1. Use lead magnets.
Your lead magnet is exactly as it sounds: something that attracts prospects to your email list, usually in the form of a free offer. The offer can take a number of formats, should be valuable to your prospects, and is given away for free in exchange for an email address.
There’s just one problem: People have become hyper-protective of their personal information. You can’t expect to receive an email address without exchanging it for something valuable.
Think about a lead magnet that is relevant, useful, and makes your prospects’ lives easier.
Here are a few types of lead magnets you could create:
- Report or Study
- Webinar or Course
If you’re short on resources, you can even repurpose your existing content to create lead magnets.
How to Create a Great Lead Magnet
Remember that your lead magnet should be relevant to your prospects. Here are a few guidelines to ensure you’re creating a valuable asset for your potential list.
Make your offer solution-oriented and actionable.
Provide practical information that solves a problem and creates a realistic way to achieve the solution.
Ensure that the asset is easy to consume.
Lead magnets should be delivered in a digital format. Whether it’s a PDF, a webpage, a video, or some other format, make it easy for your new lead to obtain and consume it.
Create your offer with future content in mind.
There’s nothing worse than signing up for a great offer only to be disappointed by the content that follows. Make sure your offer is aligned with the value that you will provide throughout your relationship, otherwise you risk damaging trust.
Treat your lead magnet as a stepping stone to your paid solution.
The point of your email list is to eventually guide subscribers to a paid offer. You offer free content to demonstrate the value that you provide as a company, and those free offers should eventually lead to your product or service.
Create offers that are relevant to each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Every new lead will be at a different stage of the buyer’s journey, and it’s your responsibility to know which.
Segment your list from the beginning by providing separate opt-in offers that pertain to each stage of the buyer’s journey. You can tell a lot about a prospect’s mindset by the content they consume.
2. Create an enticing opt-in form.
Your opt-in form is how you get a prospect’s information to add them to your list. It’s the gate between your future leads and the incredible asset that you created with them in mind.
Here are some tips for creating an enticing opt-in form:
Create an attractive design and attention-grabbing header.
Your form should be branded, stand out from the page, and entice people to sign up. You want to excite readers with the offer.
Make the copy relevant to the offer.
While your goal is to get people to enter their information, it isn’t to deceive them. Any information on your form should be a truthful representation of the offer.
Keep the form simple.
This could be one of your first interactions with your prospect. Don’t scare them away with a long form with several fields.
Ask for only the most essential information: first name and email is a good place to start.
Set your opt-in form for double confirmation.
It may seem counterproductive to ask your subscribers to opt in to your emails twice, but some research on open rates suggests that customers may prefer a confirmed opt-in (COI) email more than a welcome email.
Ensure that the flow works.
Take yourself through the user experience before you go live. Double-check that the form works as intended, the thank you page is live, and your offer is delivered as promised.
This is one of your first impressions of your new lead — make it a professional and positive one.
Next, let’s take a moment to cover some universally-accepted email marketing best practices regarding how to send marketing emails.
How to Send Marketing Emails
- Choose an email marketing service.
- Use email marketing tips.
- Implement email segmentation.
- Personalize your email marketing.
- Incorporate email marketing automation.
- Use email marketing templates.
If all goes well, you’ll have built a robust list of subscribers and leads that are waiting to hear from you. But you can’t start emailing just yet unless you want to end up in a spam folder, or worse, a blocked list.
Here are a few extremely important things to keep in mind before you start emailing your list that you worked so hard to build.
1. Choose an email marketing service.
An email marketing provider (ESP) is a great resource if you’re looking for any level of support while fine-tuning your email marketing efforts.
For example, HubSpot’s Email Marketing tool allows you to efficiently create, personalize, and optimize marketing emails that feel and look professional without designers or IT.
There are a variety of features to help you create the best email marketing campaigns and support all of your email marketing goals.
Additionally, you can analyze the success of your email marketing so you can share the data that matters most to your business with your team. The best part? You can use HubSpot’s Email Marketing service for free.
Here are examples of features services like HubSpot offer to consider when choosing an email service provider:
- CRM platform with segmentation capabilities
- Good standing with Internet Service Providers
- A positive reputation as an email service provider (ESP)
- Easy-to-build forms, landing pages, and CTAs
- Simple ways to comply with email regulations
- Ability to split test your emails
- Built-in analytics
- Downloadable reports
2. Use email marketing tips.
While you probably don’t think twice about the formatting or subject line of an email you send to a friend, email marketing requires a lot more consideration. Everything from the time you send your email to the devices on which your email could be opened matters.
Your goal with every email is to generate more leads, which makes crafting a marketing email a more involved process than other emails you’ve written.
Let’s touch on the components of a successful marketing email:
Copy: The copy in the body of your email should be consistent with your voice and stick to only one topic.
Images: Choose images that are optimized for all devices, eye-catching, and relevant.
CTA: Your call-to-action should lead to a relevant offer and stand out from the rest of the email.
Timing: Based on a study that observed response rates of 20 million emails, Tuesday at 11 AM ET is the best day and time to send your email.
Responsiveness: 55% of emails are opened on mobile. Your email should, therefore, be optimized for this as well as all other devices.
Personalization: Write every email like you’re sending it to a friend. Be personable and address your reader in a familiar tone.
Subject Line: Use clear, actionable, enticing language that is personalized and aligned with the body of the email.
3. Implement email segmentation.
Segmentation is breaking up your large email list into sub-categories that pertain to your subscribers’ unique characteristics, interests, and preferences.
Our subscribers are humans, after all, and we should do our best to treat them as such. That means, not sending generic email blasts.
We talked about segmentation briefly above. The reason why this topic is important enough to mention twice is that, without it, you run the risk of sending the wrong content to the wrong people and losing subscribers.
Why should you segment your email list?
Each person who signs up to receive your emails is at a different level of readiness to convert into a customer (which is the ultimate goal of all this).
If you send a discount coupon for your product to subscribers that don’t even know how to diagnose their problem, you’ll probably lose them. That’s because you’re skipping the part where you build trust and develop the relationship.
Every email you send should treat your subscribers like humans that you want to connect with, as opposed to a herd of leads that you’re trying to corral into one-size-fits-all box.
The more you segment your list, the more trust you build with your leads and the easier it’ll be to convert them later.
How to Segment Email Lists
The first step in segmentation is creating separate lead magnets and opt-in forms for each part of the buyer’s journey. That way, your contacts are automatically divided into separate lists.
Beyond that, email marketing platforms allow you to segment your email list by contact data and behavior to help you send the right emails to the right people.
Here are some ways you could break up your list:
- Geographical location
- Lifecycle stage
- Awareness, consideration, decision stage
- Previous engagement with your brand
- Job Title
In reality, you can segment your list any way that you want. Just make sure to be as exclusive as possible when sending emails to each subgroup.
4. Personalize your email marketing.
Now that you know who you’re emailing and what’s important to them, it will be much easier to send emails with personalized touches.
Sure, you’re speaking to 100+ people at one time, but your leads don’t need to know it.
A 2021 report by Litmus revealed that 80% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.
To really drive this point home, consider this: Personalized emails have higher open rates. In addition, 83% of customers are willing to share their data to create a more personalized experience.
You’ve gathered all this unique data. Your email marketing software allows for personalization tokens. You have no excuse for sending generic emails that don’t make your leads feel special.
Here are a few ways to personalize your emails:
- Add a first name field in your subject line and/or greeting.
- Include region-specific information when appropriate.
- Send content that is relevant to your lead’s lifecycle stage.
- Only send emails that pertain to the last engagement a lead has had with your brand.
- Write about relevant and/or personal events, like region-specific holidays or birthdays.
- End your emails with a personal signature from a human (not your company).
- Use a relevant call-to-action to an offer that the reader will find useful.
5. Incorporate email marketing automation.
Automation is putting your list segmentation to use.
Once you’ve created specific subgroups, you can send automated emails that are highly targeted. There are a couple of ways to do this.
An autoresponder, also known as a drip campaign, is a series of emails that is sent out automatically once triggered by a certain action. For instance, when someone downloads your ebook.
You’ll use the same guidelines for writing your emails that we discussed previously to ensure that your readers find your emails useful and interesting. You should decide how far apart you’d like your emails to be sent, say every few days or weeks or even months.
The great thing about autoresponders is that you can set it and forget it. Every user that is part of your autoresponder will receive each email that you’ve added to the series.
Workflows take autoresponders a step further. Think of Workflows like a flow tree with yes/no branches that will execute actions based on the criteria that you set.
Workflows have two key components:
- The enrollment criteria, or the action that would qualify a user for the workflow.
- The goal, or the action that would take a user out of the workflow.
Workflow tools are smart enough to know if a user opened an email or downloaded an offer, and it will set off a series of actions based on that behavior. That means, it can send an email series, or even change a prospect’s lifecycle stage based on what a user does.
Here’s an example of how a workflow could be set up:
The key difference from an autoresponder is that workflows are smart: They can change the course of your automated series based on what your prospect will find useful.
For instance, if a new subscriber receives a welcome email and the subsequent email is set up to send them an offer that they already found and downloaded on your site, the workflow tool will know and adapt. In an autoresponder, a user receives a specific set of emails at specific time intervals no matter what action they take.
Why is this important? Sending the right email at the wrong time is detrimental to your bottom line.
6. Use email marketing templates.
Email marketing templates — like these ones from HubSpot — are another great resource to help you with your email marketing.
Unless you’re a designer and developer on top of being a skilled marketer, templates will save you a ton of time — they take the design, coding, and UX-definition work out of crafting your emails.
Just one caveat: when making your selection, choose email templates that are proven to be effective.
The highest-quality templates come from the most reputable ESPs that have tested them against thousands of alternatives. So, stick with the professionals.
And speaking of things like quality work and great reputation, there are some email regulations to be aware of when crafting emails and developing your marketing strategy.
Email regulations are consistent with consumers’ desires to know how and why their information is being used. If there’s anything we care about, it’s complying with what our customers—or potential customers—want.
1. CAN-SPAM Compliance
Technically, CAN-SPAM is an acronym for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (because sometimes the two go together).
In practice, it’s a way to protect your subscribers’ right to only receive emails that they’ve requested.
The law was passed in 2003 and applies to any commercial emails used for business purposes.
Here are the ways to ensure that your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant:
- Include your company name and address in every email.
- Place visible unsubscribe links within your emails.
- Use real email addresses in the “From” and “Reply to” fields.
- Write subject lines that indicate the contents of the email.
Please note: This is not to be confused for legal advice. See the FTC’s site for more specific legal information regarding CAN-SPAM laws.
2. GDPR Compliance
While some may view these newly implemented email regulations as burdensome and unnecessary, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) actually moves us closer to building long-lasting and trusting relationships with our customers.
GDPR is about giving your customers the right to choose. They choose your emails. They choose to hear from you. They choose your products. And that is exactly what inbound marketing is about.
Something important to note about GDPR is that it only applies to businesses that operate in the European Union and businesses that market to EU citizens. Noncompliance will result in significant fees that aren’t worth the risk, so make sure to read the GDPR guidelines entirely.
Here’s an overview of how you can comply with GDPR laws:
- Use clear language when requesting consent to store personal information.
- Only collect contact data that is necessary for and relevant to your business.
- Store contact data in a secure manner and only use it for the agreed-upon purpose.
- Retain data for justifiable business purposes only.
- Delete contact data on request.
- Make it easy for contacts to unsubscribe from your list or update their preferences.
- Comply promptly to a contact’s request for access to their data.
- Keep company records to prove GDPR compliance.
These regulations will be taken seriously (as they should), so it’s a good idea to create a GDPR strategy for your business before you start sending out emails.
3. Avoid Spam Filters
You spend time creating the perfect email and adhering to regulations, so the last thing you want is to end up in a spam folder.
You’ll want to avoid the spam folder because:
- It hurts your deliverability rates across the board.
- Your contacts will likely miss all of your emails.
- You won’t be able to accurately measure your email marketing effectiveness.
- Your analytics will be skewed.
You can avoid being deduced to spam by:
A whitelist is the opposite of a blacklist, meaning it’s a list of approved senders that are allowed to reach the subscriber’s inbox. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have your new subscriber add your email address to their address book. Include directions on how to do this in your welcome email.
Minding your copy.
Avoid using all caps and multiple exclamation points, as well as spam trigger words, like “opt in”, “click below”, and “order”, that are easily detected and marked down by Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
Using a reliable email service provider.
Your email service provider’s reputation affects your deliverability, so stick to established, well-known companies.
Implementing a double opt-in.
Once someone opts in to your email list, send an email asking them to confirm. This ensures that your new subscriber is genuinely interested in your emails and will likely be more engaged.
(Check out more ways you can avoid the spam filter.)
And last but certainly not least, you need to consistently measure the success of your email marketing efforts. There are a number of options you can choose from when it comes to your business’s email marketing analytics.
Email Marketing Analysis
By diving into your email marketing analytics, you’ll be able to make better decisions that are sure to positively impact your business’s bottom line, resonate with your subscribers, readers, and customers, and justify your work to the rest of your company.
Here are the best ways to analyze the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns.
1. A/B test your marketing emails.
Not all email lists are created equal. Some audiences prefer personalization and others will think it’s spammy. Some audiences will like bright, eye-catching CTA buttons, and others will prefer a more subtle call-to-action.
You’ll never know what type of people make up your email list until you test the variables. That’s where A/B testing comes in handy.
Surprisingly, not many brands leverage it. A 2021 Litmus study found that 44% of marketers rarely A/B or multivariate test their emails. Only 19% do it often or always.
A/B testing, or split testing, is a way to see what type of email performs best with your audience by analyzing the results of email A against email B.
Here’s the step-by-step process for A/B testing your emails:
- Select one variable to test at a time, e.g., subject line, CTA, images.
- Create two versions of the email: one with and one without the variable.
- Allow your emails to be sent out simultaneously for a period of time.
- Analyze your results and keep only the version that performed better.
- Test a new variable and repeat the process.
Most email service providers will have A/B testing built into their software, which will make it easy for you to compare email results without much manual work.
2. Set email marketing KPIs.
There are four key metrics to pay attention to when evaluating the effectiveness of your email marketing campaign.
- Deliverability measures the rate at which emails reach your intended subscribers’ inboxes.
- Open rate is the percentage of people that open your email once it reaches their inbox.
- Clickthrough rate (CTR) is the percentage of people that click on your CTAs.
- Unsubscribes measures the number of people who opt out of your email list once they receive an email from you.
3. Adjust email components to improve results.
Many factors impact your KPIs, and it’s going to take some experimentation and guesswork to figure out which tweaks to your emails will yield the biggest changes.
If you aren’t getting the numbers you want, try playing with these variables to improve your email results.
- Ensure that you’re following best practices when it comes to avoiding spam filters.
- Remove inactive people from your email list to keep only engaged subscribers.
- Check which emails hard bounced and remove those email addresses from your list.
- Play with the language in your subject line to entice people to click on your email.
- Adjust the time and day that you send your email to see what works best.
Clickthrough Rate (CTR)
- Evaluate your offer to ensure that it provides value to your segmented list.
- Rewrite your copy to make sure that it’s clear what you want the reader to do.
- Try different CTAs, e.g., graphic versus Inline copy, bold versus subtle.
- First, consider if this is a blessing in disguise, as uninterested parties are removing themselves from your list.
- Evaluate whether the email you sent is aligned with your brand.
- Ensure you haven’t performed a bait-and-switch by promising one thing and delivering another.
- Make sure your emails are providing value to your audience before trying to upsell.
4. Use an email marketing report template.
Your data does no good if you can’t report it in an organized fashion.
An email marketing report is a spreadsheet where you can record your results in one place to help you make inferences from your KPIs and take action to improve them.
Here’s how you should organize your report:
- Total number of emails sent
- Number of emails delivered
- Deliverability Rate
- Bounce Rate
- Open Rate
- Clickthrough Rate
- Unsubscribe Rate
- Subject line
- Length of the email body
- CTA (inline or graphic)
- List segment
Questions To Ask:
- Was your deliverability rate high in comparison to previous periods?
- How did your CTR compare to your open rate?
- Were your unsubscribe numbers consistent with other emails?
- Did a certain subject line perform better than others?
- Does the length of email make a difference in CTR?
- Could another style of CTA perform better?
- Was the offer appropriate for the list segment?
Beginning Email Marketing
While there are many rules to sending a marketing email, the most important is this: Treat your subscribers like humans.
You can achieve all of your email marketing goals if you keep this golden rule top-of-mind in every autoresponder, lead magnet, and subject line.
When in doubt or if you’re ever in need of inspiration, turn to some of the greatest email marketing examples. You can also take a look at some quick additional tips in this video by HubSpot Academy:
And remember, your subscribers want to hear from you and they want to relate to you. Be a genuine resource, and they will look forward to opening an email from you just like they would any friend of theirs.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Mar 23, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated March 23 2022