Email marketing helps organizations acquire and retain customers, build businesses and make more money.
That single sentence explains why companies must invest in effective email marketing.
Email success relies on more than buying an email platform and knocking out random messages to every email address in the database, although some email thought leaders do joke that email is the only marketing or advertising channel where even a marginal program still makes money.
However, companies will make more money and use email to serve their entire organizations more effectively when they use a strategic approach that harnesses and respects the channel’s power simultaneously.
Email remains a cost-effective way of reaching audiences and driving outcomes. Because of the volume of email customers receive, there is a growing emphasis on personalization and the use of engaging dynamic content. Also, while email optimization has endured as essential for marketers to master, new challenges tied to inbox algorithms and deliverability have added technical considerations that marketers need to manage.
A successful email marketing program requires a thorough understanding of the channel, from acquisition to strategic planning, data collection, and management. Unlike other channels, marketers need to know the mechanics of message delivery, too.
This guide helps marketers understand the most significant issues that affect email marketing and its success within the company. Here’s what you’ll learn:
Estimated reading time: 14 minutes
A snapshot of today’s email marketing landscape
It all began in 1971, according to email legend, when engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the first email – to himself, basically, to see if he could send a personal message between two computers.
Then, in 1978, DEC marketing manager Gary Thuerk sent what amounted to the world’s first spam email, an unsolicited email that brought in an initial $13 million of sales for Digital’s VAX computer systems.
The effects of both events wouldn’t be felt in the wider world for a couple of decades, but there’s no doubt about their impact in ushering in email both for personal communications and for commercial impact.
Today, nearly three decades have passed since commercial email emerged in the mid-1990s as a powerful channel for communications, commerce, relationship-building and just plain making money.
3 drivers of email marketing’s evolution
Permission and privacy regulation. Permission has evolved from a vague concept to a best practice and now to the law in most countries around the world. The evolution continues, too, because permission is now intertwined with privacy expectations, both from the individual’s perspective and as enshrined in law in just about every country with commercial email senders.
The Wild West days of buying email lists and scraping addresses off the internet have moved from standard practice to illegal activity or strictly outlier behavior thanks to country-specific laws like CAN-SPAM in the U.S. and Canada’s Anti-Spam Law and federation laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
Marketing automation. This technology explosion turned email marketing from a labor-intensive, spreadsheet-driven manual process into a nearly seamless production where most of the work goes into setting up processes that can run in the background.
Dashboards control nearly every process relating to email, from acquisition to message creation, launch timing and optimization, and from list management and quality enhancement to reporting. The benefit to marketers is clear – while automation does the heavy lifting of day-to-day marketing, the marketing team can direct its energy toward strategy and achieving goals.
User expectations. Email marketers (and their texting cousins in SMS) have to weigh both the channel and how they use it or face backlash, not just from recipients but from the guardians of that channel.
Once upon a time, consumers were excited about seeing messages from their favorite brands in their inboxes. Email fatigue is a well-documented reason why consumers disengage from brand emails, either by unsubscribing or ignoring unwanted messages.
Over the years, email recipients now expect much more from the commercial messages they choose to receive. Besides requesting permission first and an email frequency that respects their inbox load, they expect brands to send them relevant, personalized emails using the data they have volunteered. When a brand violates those expectations, consumers unsubscribe, ignore or report those emails as spam.
Why email remains a dominant channel for marketers and consumers
One of email’s great benefits is that it plays well with other digital channels like websites, search marketing, social media and SMS. It has a strong record of driving engagement and revenue but can also combine with other channels such as search, social and SMS marketing to reach out to the widest possible audiences.
Continued growth predicted. Research firm Radicati predicts email users, volume and revenue will grow through 2025:
- The addressable market of email users will increase from more than 4.1 billion users as of 2021 to 4.5 billion.
- Daily email volume, both individual and commercial, will grow an estimated 4% a year through 2025.
- Email revenues will grow between 15% and 17% year to year, from $54.8 billion in 2021 to $97.1 billion in 2025.
B2B and B2C marketers say email is essential. More than 90% of respondents to a Litmus survey said email is at least “somewhat critical” to their companies’ overall success, and 41% said it’s “very critical.” That’s 30% higher than pre-pandemic sentiment in 2019.
Email serves up first-party data: The email address is the epitome of data given by the consumer instead of inferred from a third-party cookie. Both B2B and B2C marketers can use preferences and email campaigns to collect this first-party data and use it to understand their customers better, target and personalize messages better, whether in email or other marketing channels.
Customers prefer email: Email is the No. 1 channel for consumer communications from brands, with social media a distant second.
7 reasons brands should invest time and money in email marketing
- As the numbers quoted previously show, most people with access to technology have at least one email address) everyone has an email address and almost all users check their inboxes regularly.
- Most digital marketers are spending money on email marketing right now. So, using that budget more effectively can reveal new ways to recoup an investment, grow the audience and meet company objectives.
- Email marketing puts brands closer to their customers than other channels like search or SMS and can have a direct impact on their customers’ experiences with their brands.
- Social media includes the opportunity to speak directly to customers, but it doesn’t scale as easily as email, and messages won’t always reach their intended audiences thanks to changing algorithms and paywalls that determine what a brand’s users see in their Twitter, Instagram or Facebook feeds.
- Email marketing will deliver a higher impact at a lower cost than other channels. Different studies have estimated email’s ROI from $35 to $42 for every dollar spent – most recently, Litmus calculated that ROI at $36. However, email generally comes in at No. 1 for ROI over search, social media, mobile, direct, print and broadcast.
- Email technology has evolved over the years to become more sophisticated, more available and less costly. Marketing technology, in particular, drove the evolution from broadcast messaging to personalization in everything from content to sending schedules. Today, even basic platforms now have many of the tools for marketers of all budget sizes and skills.
- Email faces many challenges, from inbox exhaustion to deliverability and resource constraints. But marketers can reach customers’ inboxes at will thanks to push messaging. They don’t have to wait to be discovered, as in search marketing or social media.
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The difference between B2B and B2C in email marketing
B2B marketing and its B2C counterpart isn’t the clash of the titans that some have made it out to be. Rather, they’re two sides of the same coin. Even more importantly, marketers in each discipline can learn something from the other to create more effective marketing that delivers better results.
First, here are the similarities.
Permission is essential. “Opt in” is a legal requirement in most countries to get subscriber permission before sending marketing or other commercial email. The United States and India are notable exceptions. However, even if the law allows “opt out” email marketing, it’s best to get permission first to avoid spam complaints, potential blacklisting and bad customer reactions.
Personalization delivers better results. Emails that reflect a customer’s purchase history, browsing activity, location on the buying journey, demographics, and other data points perform better, via clicks and conversions, than general emails. While a good email program includes both broadcast and custom emails, personalized messages deliver more revenue or other KPIs. Historically, B2C marketing adopted personalization earlier than B2B but this is changing as more B2B brands adopt account-based marketing (see below).
Email drives brand equity. All of the email a company sends – marketing, transactional, account-related, one-to-one communications and more – affects the way recipients view its brand. Marketing messages, in particular, can help or hurt brand equity: what audiences think of a brand, whether as customers, employees, vendors or just observers. Email marketers, both B2B and B2C, can build up or tear down their brands’ equity based on their email practices.
Now, for two key differences.
Transactions versus nurturing. B2C is often more transaction-based, focused on driving customers to websites to act. Transactions usually happen offline in B2B marketing. Thus, B2B marketers focus on lead nurturing and qualifying for sales contacts through education, becoming a trusted industry news source and microtransactions like whitepaper downloads, webinar and conference registrations, information requests, how-tos, Q&A, etc.
Account-based marketing. ABM is “a B2B marketing strategy that aligns sales and marketing efforts to deliver targeted advertising, as well as personalized content and messaging, to high-value accounts.” Although both B2C and B2B email marketers are pivoting to personalization through improved data and marketing technology, ABM strategy and tactics focus on a different approach.
Who uses or works with email marketing?
The email team generally works under the chief marketing officer or a similar C-level position. It manages these tasks:
- Program direction and planning goals.
- Strategy and tactics.
- Campaign design and execution.
- Testing and optimization.
- Subscriber acquisition and list management.
- Day-to-day use of marketing technology.
- Decision-making about data acquisition, use, management and integration.
Most in-house email teams have these positions:
- Email specialist.
- Email analyst.
- Email designer/developer.
- Email manager.
- Email team leader.
Email teams also work with these departments, teams, or solutions:
What challenges facing today’s email marketers?
It’s often said that email is the only channel where even mediocre efforts can make money. That means email often doesn’t get the care, attention, budget or respect it deserves. But even having enough resources isn’t a cure-all, as this list of challenges shows.
How do I prove the value of email marketing?
Email’s high ROI is a selling point, but it can also imply that a company isn’t spending enough to achieve even greater gains. Getting better at acquiring, managing and analyzing data is a start.
How do I acquire and retain high-quality subscribers?
The permission model allows marketers to attract more motivated and interested customers, but keeping those customers as active subscribers is an important follow-on objective.
How do I reach customers’ inboxes?
Email marketers don’t have to contend with search and social algorithms. But they do have to meet ISP rules that govern whether they go into the inbox, land in spam or get blocked.
How do I use email marketing data?
Email marketers need to become better at measuring performance accurately and using data to optimize every aspect of their email programs, from acquisition to content.
How do new privacy laws and customer expectations affect email marketing?
These two developments have transformed the email marketer’s world from the “anything goes” early days. Marketers must understand what laws like CAN-SPAM, CASL and GDPR require and how their operations must comply. Equally, customer expectations can make or break an email program, especially if the emails don’t meet expectations for relevance or frequency.
How do I get corporate support?
Marketers must work hard to show not only how well email marketing makes or saves money but also how much more money it can make or save by investing in better technology and human resources.
How do I build customer trust?
Spam, phishing and security breaches have heightened consumer distrust. The inbox is one place companies can shore up brand trust, especially with a technology like Brand Identifiers for Message Identity, which can help subscribers tell whether an email is genuine or fake.
How do I use email marketing technology effectively?
Today’s marketing tech can do amazing things. But getting the right tech and getting the best use from it is a perennial challenge. It takes a team approach to buying technology, a clear plan for using it and training users so the company can reap all the benefits a tech platform promises.
How do I focus on strategy over tactics?
Tactics are easy. Strategy is hard. But marketers have to understand how strategy – the “why” – can drive the “how:” tactics like campaign design or acquiring technology.
How do I develop agile marketing workflows?
The COVID-19 pandemic taught many marketers how agile marketing helped them reduce the time between campaign planning and launch. But true campaign efficiency is still a work in progress.
5 email marketing tactics to acquire more customers, build brands and make more money
No email marketer can expect to succeed in this day and age with batch-and-blast campaigns. Instead, marketers should gain a better understanding of their audiences with effective data collection processes, allowing for more engaging communication.
Here are five email marketing tactics to help brands secure customer buy-in:
- Use a prominent opt-in form throughout the website, in all digital communications and printed collateral, with copy highlighting the benefits of subscribing.
- Acquire first-party customer data that can drive and inform the company’s understanding of its customers and communications.
- Include engagement-focused copy in email messages along with purchase calls to action or other transaction requests.
- Develop complete message programs that align with key points on the customer journey, including onboarding, engagement, abandonment and retention.
- Maintain a customer service and problem-solving mindset, especially in B2B communications, to make email communication more valuable.
6 best practices every email marketer must follow
Like most of the marketing world, email tactics and technologies are in a state of constant flux. However, several best practices can help marketers succeed no matter what comes their way.
- Develop strategy before focusing on tactics: This will avoid wasting time and money on things that don’t work.
- Focus on benefits over features. Customers are always asking, “What’s in it for me?” whether it’s about subscribing to an email program or deciding whether to click from an email to check out an offer. Email copy should always answer that question.
- Use data to drive meaningful personalization: Customers, whether B2B or B2C, want to know that a company knows who they are, and email personalization is an easy way to achieve that.
- Keep learning: The email industry is always changing, from new laws and evolving customer expectations to new marketing technology and trends. Read trade publications like MarTech, join industry organizations and hang out in email communities.
- Continually test, optimize, and document results: Testing can reveal whether email efforts are succeeding or failing and prevent wasting precious time and money on strategies or tactics that don’t work.
- Ask for help and accountability from tech vendors to get the best use from all tools and platforms: Nobody knows a tech platform better than the people who built them. They succeed when their customers succeed. If they can’t or won’t help, it might be time to find a different vendor.
How the Email Marketing Periodic Table can optimize email
Today’s email marketers have to know much more than the best day to send an email. Dozens of factors go into planning, executing and reporting on a successful email program. Marketers juggling many duties can find it hard to keep up from day to day.
Enter Martech’s Email Marketing Periodic Table. It lists the factors (“elements”) that go into email success and groups them into categories of similar elements, just like the periodic table of elements that you had to memorize back in chemistry class.
The Email Marketing Periodic Table has eight element groups, ranging from compliance to infrastructure and content to experimental concepts like artificial intelligence.
Knowing the Email Marketing Periodic Table will help marketers understand all of the fundamentals for email success, how they relate to each other and why they’re important.
Resources for learning more about email marketing
Email marketing isn’t going anywhere; it remains a great channel for connecting with audiences. Marketers should make sure they’re aware of the best practices, technologies, and platforms available.
Here are some helpful resources detailing the best email marketing tactics and tools:
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.