A Beginner's Guide to Email Marketing

Email Marketing

By Jennifer Nelson

Among all the digital marketing categories that exist today — SEO, social, content marketing, and influencer marketing, just to name a few — email marketing has remained effective throughout the years. According to the online advertising platform WordStream, email marketing in the U.S. generates a $44 ROI (return on investment) for every dollar spent. That alone should be enough to convince you that email marketing is a necessary strategy for your business.

Email marketing is such a valuable channel because it allows businesses to have a one-on-one conversation with their targets and customers. Marketers who focus on building a quality list of email subscribers know that when they are able to deliver valuable content over time, they are essentially building a rapport with consumers who explicitly want to hear from them. Email marketing allows you to develop your brand and foster a relationship with your customers.

Companies of all sizes have email marketing strategies in place. The mattress company Casper offers its site visitors a discount coupon for signing up for its mailing list. Nonprofits like the American Red Cross use email to encourage donors to continue giving.

Companies typically hire a specific person whose job is dedicated to strategizing and sending out email campaigns. Depending on the company, this can be one person who handles both strategy and execution, or the jobs can be split up across various individuals. On some occasions, these roles will be a blended position where a single person will manage the content calendar, social media, and overall email marketing.

When it comes to planning an email marketing strategy, there are several steps you must take to get started.

Choose a reputable email provider.

First, think about how you will deliver emails to your audience. Most companies start by choosing a credible email marketing service provider. The are hundreds of providers to choose from, including MailChimp and Constant Contact, which have dominated the space for a while. Newcomers in the field, including Drip and Klaviyo, are focusing on segmenting and automation. Segmentation and automation have become a huge shift in the email marketing world, and more marketers are looking for providers that can personalize emails based on subscriber behavior as they move about the digital world.

Most important is choosing a provider that has a good sending reputation, meaning that the provider has strict rules about who gets to use its platforms. This essentially means no spammers allowed! You’ll find that many email providers will monitor your performance as a sender when you first join. It’s also important to choose a provider that’s easy to grasp and that you or your team will want to use.

Most providers have basic functions, such as creating campaigns, but you will want to choose a platform that also has advanced features like segmentation. When it comes to segmentation, your provider should offer the ability to tag and group your subscribers based on their behaviors and preferences. This can be as simple as tagging people who found you via Facebook, or purchased men’s shirts versus women’s shirts. Similarly, by segmenting subscribers based on how frequently they’d like to receive emails, you can avoid sending emails too often to those who prefer to hear from you less. This will help reduce unsubscribes in the long run.

Most email providers have analytics capabilities, but based on your business needs you will want to use one that carves out the data that helps tell the best picture for your organization. This will vary based on your business. At the very least, you should make sure your platform can report on open rates, click-through rates, and, if relevant, conversion (or purchase) rates. More on this below.

As far as design goes, most email providers come with pre-designed templates to get you started. These are basic drag-and-drop templates that allow you to place text, images, and call-to-action (CTA) buttons in your email. Email providers are keen to provide you with templates that are their highest performers when it comes to conversions, so it’s usually a good idea to start here. However, you may find that you need to add more customized elements to match your brand to your emails; in this case, you can hire an email designer/developer to create a customized HTML design to be used in place of the provided templates.

Grow your email address list.

Next, consider how you will grow your subscriber list. Most companies collect emails via their website, typically through a newsletter form or pop-up module. These are called subscriber opt-ins, or, in other words, a person is giving you permission to market to them via email.

Other creative strategies for growing your email list include using your blog posts as lead generators. Having a call to action that relates to the blog post and gives the reader an incentive to opt in is a strategy that many marketers use. Also, cloud-based companies have mastered the free-demo strategy, where users have to provide their contact information in order to set up a free demo of the tool.

Remember that the U.S. has CAN-SPAM laws in place that regulate how and on whom you can conduct marketing through email. For example, you must have a clear, easy way for subscribers to opt out of your list. You also must include a postal address at the footer of your email. If you are emailing outside of the United States, be sure to look at laws within each respective country, as they may differ.

Develop compelling email content.

One major part of email marketing is deciding what kind of content you will send to subscribers. A good email marketing program typically consists of a mix of promotional and informative content. Some marketers use their blog content strictly as a way to stay in touch with their audience. A common approach is to share summaries of blog posts that have recently been published on the website. Depending on your company, your subscribers’ interests in what they want to receive from you may vary. Most importantly, when it comes to content, you want to make sure you are sending quality, engaging content that fits with your brand message.

Determine the best frequency for email sends.

Frequency is always tricky when it comes to email marketing. There really is no rule that dictates how often you have to email your subscribers — it differs per company and depending on how people opted in to the email list in the first place. What's most important is that you are delivering valuable content that your subscribers want to receive.

To ensure that you're not over-emailing your list, you can create a subscriber management page through which subscribers can select how often they prefer to receive emails. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to group and send to your monthly email subscribers and your weekly email subscribers accordingly. This is usually a smart strategy, as most people don't want to opt out or unsubscribe from your list, but would prefer to hear from you less frequently.

Analyze and optimize the results of your email campaigns.

As with any digital marketing tactic, you will need to continue testing and optimizing to ensure that you have an efficient email marketing system. Your consumers’ behavior can change over time, which is something out of a marketer’s control. The key is to keep your subscribers engaged and frequently ask them what they’d like to hear from you, which can be done by sending out a questionnaire or survey every once in a while. The last thing any marketer wants is a list that grows stale. By analyzing what's working and what's not, and optimizing for greater efficiency, you will begin to see the benefits that email marketing can bring to your business.

You can also link your emails to Google Analytics if you have this setup. Most providers have a direct connection to Google Analytics or you can simply create a unique UTM code. By doing this, you will then be able to understand what clicks to your website came directly from the link that you shared via email.

Measuring Success

When it comes to measuring the success of your email campaigns, you’ll want to look at metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. High-percentage open rates mean that your audience is opening your emails. High click-through rates mean that your audience is clicking on your links. High conversion rates mean that your audience is purchasing your products or services from your email. What makes a good open, click, or conversion rate depends on various factors, such as your industry and type of business. However, there are plenty of sources that provide benchmarks to use as a starting point.

Email marketing can be a fun part of your overall digital marketing strategy. Develop a solid plan. Come up with content that keeps your audience engaged and enthused to receive your email. You will find that it's, indeed, one of the most important digital marketing channels.

Email Marketing at General Assembly

In General Assembly’s part-time Digital Marketing course, on campus and online, students learn about email marketing and how it can be applied as a strategic vehicle to reach a target audience. Exercises include creating your email marketing strategy and developing a plan for growing your list and developing a relationship with your customers over time. Students have the opportunity to test out an email campaign as part of their final project, which is to present a digital marketing experiment on a real-life company.

Meet Our Expert

Jennifer Miranda Nelson teaches the part-time Digital Marketing course at General Assembly’s Los Angeles campus. Jennifer founded her own email marketing consultant practice in 2016, through which she works on email marketing strategies for her clients. With over 15 years in the ad industry, she's worked for nationally known brands including Tribune, The New York Times, Brit + Co., and Verve Mobile. Within these organizations she's helped globally recognized companies such as IBM, Samsung, and Macy’s with their digital media marketing. Jennifer holds a B.A. in English from the University of Florida and an MBA in global marketing from Nova Southeastern University.

“It’s rare that you’ll find a company today that exists without a marketing team. Digital marketing is a unique skill set that will be in top demand consistently for the next several years, if not decades.”

Jennifer Nelson, Digital Marketing Instructor, GA Los Angeles