Email marketing is the use of email content to drive marketing objectives.
At the end of the day, mastering email marketing isn’t rocket science. Remember these key points to keep your email strategy pointed in the right direction.
Don’t just notify — engage
We’re past the point of using emails as static notifications. There’s nothing wrong with letting your subscribers know when you’ve published something new. But you should present the information in a way that says “This benefits you, and here’s why…”
"Email, like every other modern, content based marketing tactic has to focus on a key area — delivering value. You have to earn your place in the recipient’s inbox and send an email they simply can't delete.” — Marcus Miller, Head of SEO & Digital Marketing at Bowler Hat
There’s no excuse for being ignorant about email marketing best practices — both from a legal standpoint and an ethical one. By keeping respect for the end user in mind, your emails consequently become more relevant, personal and genuine.
"The future of email marketing will require more personalization to ensure that emails are reaching people with what they are looking for, at the right time, and when they are in the right place. The biggest challenges to this, however, will be the growing challenges around data privacy.” — Scott Poniewaz, Founder & Fractional CMO at The Pony Group
Think outside the box
Treat your marketing emails like a blank canvas, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Chances are, your users will appreciate the freshness that comes with more creative email content.
"That's the beauty of modern email landscape. If you can stay ahead of rapid changes in the marketplace by testing things that haven't been tested, you will build a real foundation for scale." — Cory Smith, Vice President of Email at Metric Digital
Before moving forward, it’s important to have a few key terms fresh in your mind:
- Email Service Provider (ESP) — a company that offers email marketing services, namely bulk emailing, as well as segmentation and analytics.
- CAN-SPAM — U.S. email law passed in 2003 that distinguishes between legal and illegal email practices. The acronym stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.
- UCE — an acronym for Unsolicited Commercial Email (AKA “spam”). The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has monitored UCE since 1998.
- Opt-in/opt-out — The deliberate act of subscribing to or unsubscribing from specific email content. Offering these options helps to ensure users don’t mark your emails as spam.
For more need-to-know terms, check out Hubspot’s email marketing glossary.
What is email marketing?
Email marketing is the use of email content to drive marketing objectives. Pretty self-explanatory, right?
In general, emails sent by brands can be either promotional or transactional.
Promotional emails, like newsletters and sales announcements, offer general brand information to the recipient.
Transactional emails are personalized to a single recipient or segment of recipients. They include order status/confirmation emails, cart abandonment emails and personalized offers.
In the age of omnichannel
While the types of emails we send has basically stayed the same, the way our audiences consume those emails has drastically changed.
Because like all other modern marketing tactics, email is no longer a one-way street. It’s not about going from point A to point B. It’s not about sending a message or receiving a response.
"While I've seen a lot of changes over the years, email marketing ROI isn't one of them. What has dramatically changed, is the attention email marketing now commands and the dizzying transformation in the way humans interact with email and brands.” — Kirk Bentley, Business Development Director at WordFly
Email marketing is now part of an omnichannel marketing strategy — a seamless, value-dense, purpose-driven stream of interactions made possible by new media and IoT.
"With the advent of multi and omnichannel platforms, traditional email marketing is becoming more and more enmeshed with other media. We know that our users aren’t strictly email consumers.” — Colleen Rice, Email Marketing Manager at The Penny Hoarder
"It is axiomatic that using multiple platforms, rather than increasing usage of one platform, will increase reach (and hence, effectiveness).” — Leila Modarres, Chief Marketing Officer at Infostretch
Examples of email in omnichannel marketing
You don’t have to look far to find an omnichannel pioneer. These brands, which set the standard for what omnichannel marketing can and should be, are often the subject of industry news.
And they’re the perfect example of what a cohesive martech stack is able to do.
With channel/partner marketing: Car rental service Hertz syncs with customers’ travel plans, sending them an email when their plane lands to tell them their rental car is ready.
Why marketers love email marketing
Email ain’t easy, but it’s a tactic we couldn’t do without. We asked some email marketing advocates, “Why does email rock your socks?”
Check out their responses below.
Drag, drop, deliver
Most ESPs come with pre-made templates to fit a variety of email types. With easy-peasy drag-and-drop and responsive design, templates make it easy and quick to craft quality emails that are guaranteed to be responsive on mobile and web.
"Email templates are quicker and easier to use than developing fresh email layouts all the time. They also provide familiarity for regular readers to search for certain sections of an email that interest them most, which will positively impact click-through rates.” — Justine Beauregard, Owner & Founder at Mirelle Marketing
"The future of email marketing will see a steady increase in the use of email templates. Graphic based templates are a lifesaver when you have a small team and thousands of customers to reach.” — Cassie Gonzalez, Community & Brand Manager at One Pitch
For the more technically-inclined, customization through coding is often an option, too. This allows for you to put your own personal stamp on bland or basic designs.
And that’s pretty HEXy, if I do say so myself.
"It’s worth the time and manpower to create your own email template if you value ownership of the asset.” — Kristin Dyak, Digital Marketing Director at The Cyphers Agency
Email marketing and segmentation are pretty much BFFs. Together, they make it easy for marketers to tailor the right messages to the right people at the right time.
Already, 80 percent of marketers practice basic segmentation, which differentiates by geography, gender, purchase data and the like.
"We’re seeing brands move toward a Netflix approach to email marketing, where they look at what’s happening at the intersection of consumers' behaviors and the attributes of the products they engage with or buy.” — Jared Blank, SVP of Marketing & Insights at Bluecore
"With the rise of AI and machine learning within marketing, we now have the ability to build infinite amounts of segments, all the way down to segments of one.” — Jaime Romero, Vice President of Customer Success at MRP
"Subject lines, copies, images, links, CTA (Call-to-Action), time to send, etc... every aspect of email marketing will be connected to AI.” — Jonathan Aufray, Co-Founder & CEO at Growth Hackers
Why marketers hate email marketing
Sadly, email marketing isn’t all quirky copy and strategically-placed emojis. This grandparent of digital media has quite a few war stories to tell as well.
Which are the most impactful? A few come to mind...
Compliance has turned into a dirty word for marketers, especially considering that the UK’s GDPR hype has all but settled down.
Different countries have their own versions of email compliance law, which means those who sell internationally (i.e. large-and-in-charge organizations) have the most to lose.
"We've experienced a few setbacks with so many franchisees sending emails from a shared server. Now, we're moving to a platform where it doesn't affect everyone if a franchisee goes against industry best practices.” — Susan Price, Marketing Manager at National Property Inspections, Inc.
"Your marketing automation system needs to be able to confirm that they are compliant, as they are considered your Data Processor and any noncompliance on their part could put you at risk.” — Alex Tarrand, VP of Marketing at Lucktastic
"Brands that comply with GDPR create a better experience for the consumer and end up on the right side of trust.” — Chris Byrne, Co-Founder & CEO at Sensorpro
Tempted to play with compliance fire? Even if you did decide to skirt the rules, you’d only be delaying the burn.
That’s because security-focused providers have already started to incorporate features that make it super easy for users to distinguish between “safe” and “shady” where their inbox is concerned.
"With GDPR looming and email providers increasingly implementing passive opt-outs, the size and composition of email lists is likely to change, making personalization and customization paramount.” — Natalie Nathanson, Founder & President at Magnetude Consulting
"There is a fine median point between email service providers and brands. The results of initiatives like GDPR is that users/people will increasingly just receive content that they want and that is relevant to them.” — Robb Hecht, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Baruch College NYC
"With far fewer reasons to check our inboxes, email providers are well aware that they need to make a consumer’s visit to their inbox worth their while, hence the aggressive push to cut the clutter and make inboxes more focused.” — Jon Hayes, Marketing & Outreach Assistant at AuthorityHacker.com
Current & future trends in email marketing
There are (dare I say) some a-mail-zing things happening in email marketing today.
We asked some martech mavens to tell us what trends they’re most excited about. Here’s what they said.
Taking out the trash
Much like the mailbox of its elder “snail mail,” email inboxes have slowly grown more… and more… and more… crowded. By 2020, it’s estimated that we’ll be sending over 240 billion emails per day. Globally.
And the user’s response? Delete. Mark as spam. Unsubscribe.
It seems that the volume of email the average person receives is directly correlated to their aversion to it.
"As consumers receive more and more emails, we’re seeing users treat their inboxes as a to-do list.” — TJ Sanders, SEO/Content Analyst at Planit
"Younger people are creating separate inboxes just for marketing messages, or are giving fake emails when it's required to get access to a benefit.” — Victoria Sawtelle, Community Manager at Uptowork
Recently, users en masse have taken this aversion to the next level with Inbox Zero — “a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty -- or almost empty -- at all times.”
"As inboxes become noisier and increasingly cluttered, people are starting to shift their mindset to ideals like Inbox Zero, in attempts to reclaim their email, attention and digital lives.” — James Glover, President and CEO at Coherent Path
"While personalized ads and videos suggestions exist during one’s public consumption of the Internet with no barrier to entry, their inbox is a semi-sacred place, and entry requires a truly legitimate reason.” — Doug Burr, Digital Marketing Manager at Cord Media Company
Inbox on lock
Basic filtering functionality has been a staple of email services for years — That’s nothing new. But the days of manually setting rules and sending items to trash are nearing their end.
Soon, super smart inboxes will organize users’ mail behind the scenes… and on a constant basis. Emails will be subject to algorithms, much like social media and search, resulting in a tidy, clean, curated inbox.
"Companies like Google and Yahoo are putting the proverbial foot down by creating various features allowing for easy unsubscribe and BTS (behind the scenes) inbox blocking.” — Marissa Jimenez, Director of Email Marketing at Hawke Media
"Gmail is introducing new ways to filter the emails, the default categories are primary, social, and promotions. Honestly, if your email doesn’t reach the primary category, there’s a very high chance I won’t read it.” — Tom Hartel, Chief Executive Officer at Valley Fire Protection Systems, LLC
Where the functionality of email providers stops, third parties will intervene.
‘E-zine’ on the eyes
Email designers have recently taken a cue from the journalist’s manifesto by investing in white space, hierarchical displays and short, snappy copy.
In a survey of over 500 respondents, Litmus concludes the biggest email design trends for 2018 include interactivity (44 percent), personalization (39 percent), concise content (29 percent) and storytelling (24 percent).
"When people are reading email on a mobile device, they are reading with multimedia in mind. Nobody wants to read a giant block of text. Nobody wants to read a text only document, especially if we are on the go.” — Christopher Penn, Co-Founder at Brain+Trust Insights, Inc.
"Utilize professional graphics to drive readers to click through to a sale, blog, event and that is where they can spend time reading the content — You don't want them to hang out on your email letter, there is no SEO in that!” — Alicia Williams, Founder & CEO at Aliste Marketing
Email design will continue to cater to mobile, meaning we won’t likely see a shift in this trend anytime soon.
"The vast majority of subscribers now use mobile devices to first open emails, as opposed to desktop. Having a responsive design that is easily viewable by subscribers using any device is critical.” — Seamas Egan, Director of Sales and Marketing at Campaigner
"Even today, most emails are read by smartphones so in the future we will need to pay even more attention to them.” — Sarunas Budrikas, Chief Executive Officer at Angle180
GIF me more!
In an inbox chock full of cookie-cutter content, animation alone is enough to make an email stand out. But it’s what marketers can do with GIFs, specifically, that’s made them a piping hot trend.
GIFs can showcase new products, tease interactive features or even act as mini tutorials for more complex ideas.
Animations like GIFs, along with various types of interactive content, are set to take the email world by storm.
"In the future, consumers will start seeing interactive emails that resemble miniature landing pages. These emails will be built using coded interactive elements that allow consumers to shop and checkout or to answer quizzes and surveys within the email.” — Melanie Balke, Head of European Markets & Growth Strategist at BAMF Media
"In February, Google announced a spec for AMP for email in their Gmail Developer Preview. [This] is an effort on Google’s part to move email marketing away from static messaging and toward a dynamic, interactive form of content that could evolve into a channel of its own.” — Jena Donlin, Director of Product Marketing at Braze
In its 2017 Email Marketing Industry Census, Adestra found that 49 percent of email marketers encourage social sharing. Another 20 percent said they have a social sharing strategy in the works.
But as the consumption of marketing in general has changed, so too have the methods in which we deliver it. Now, our once ultra-personal and direct email marketing is morphing to adapt to a social-focused world.
"While not so long ago, emails used to be a ‘nice to have’ marketing tool for retention and loyalty with customers, the area of marketing automation has grown exponentially as one of the most powerful tools to manage the entire user lifecycle.” — Neta Ilovich, Head of Marketing at Lusha
"The 'dark social' web of private chat apps (Telegram, WhatsApp, etc) is growing in popularity because of their niche focus. People are sharing content there more than ever. I think we'll see niche-focused email newsletters (and interest in them) continue to grow.” — Glen Allsopp, Founder at Detailed
Email marketing is the grandparent of digital marketing tactics.But don’t be mistaken: This old dog is more than willing to learn a few new tricks.
Email is slowly but surely catching up with modern marketing, in which dynamic content, hyper-segmentation and omnichannel experiences are the new normal.