Email Marketing 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Small Businesses

What is email marketing and why does it matter?

Thanks to email, we can do business with people on the other side of the world in a matter of minutes. The scale of email’s potential is also huge, with more than 3.9 billion email addresses worldwide providing businesses with masses of opportunity to engage new audiences. When utilized properly, email has a huge role to play in creating lasting, profitable relationships between small businesses and customers.

Email is considered the most critical factor in marketing success by over 40% of B2B marketers. 80% of business professionals consider email a vital aspect in customer retention. And when used properly, email has the potential to deliver the greatest ROI of every marketing channel achieving $52 for every dollar spent in 2019. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 73% of consumers also said that email is their preferred marketing channel.

Every marketing channel has its advantages. It’s easy to see the likes and shares expanding in real time over social media, while print and broadcast marketing offer clout. But for more than a decade, email consistently produces excellent results.

Here’s a quick guide to what email marketing is, why it’s useful, and how it can help your business.

What is email marketing?

On the surface, email marketing is just what it sounds like: marketing conducted via email. But there’s more to it than that. Successful email marketing is about building relationships.

We’ve all seen bad examples of email marketing. Just open your spam email folder if you’re unsure. The clickbait, phishing, and glitchy content which sprays pop-ups all over your screen—that’s email marketing done badly. Sadly, this sort of content has given email marketing a bit of a mixed reputation, but the businesses that continue to master email marketing have a much more impactful strategy.

Sophisticated email marketing is a two-way business in which the customer is just as involved as the brand. For long-term success, it’s not just about blasting out content and waiting for sales to begin. It’s a finely balanced process of gaining subscribers, getting to know them, communicating with them, responding to their concerns, keeping them informed, analyzing your performance, and generally keeping up with what’s important to your audience.

There are many different formats and opportunities to use email marketing. Here are a few tried-and-true tactics:

  • Greet new subscribers with welcome emails. The most important email a brand can send is a welcome email. It’s typically the first email (or series of emails) that a new subscriber receives, which makes it a prime opportunity to set expectations with your new subscribers. Welcome emails are among the top-performing campaigns, as they often achieve the highest open rates for businesses.
  • Keep people in the loop with newsletters. These regular emails provide an opportunity to share your weekly, monthly or bi-monthly news about your company, your product, or your industry. It’s also a great format to highlight your latest customer reviews, latest research, or interesting insights with your audience.
  • Incentivize sales through special offers. When launching a sale or a special promotion, email marketing is fast and effective way to communicate your latest offer. You can even personalize emails like these, using behavioral targeting. For example, let customers know when a product (or something similar) that they like is on sale. Or send your best customers a special discount to thank them for their loyalty.
  • Send updates about your brand. Perhaps a favorite item or event is changing in some way? Perhaps the brand in general is changing? Email is a brilliant way to keep your loyal subscribers informed. Order notifications are also now expected via email when customers buy something online. So make it easy for your customers to track their order and schedule their delivery.
  • Give reminders to inspire action. Abandoned cart email campaigns are a good example of reminders that work. When an online shopper adds an item to their cart but doesn’t check out, these automated emails nudge them to return to your site and purchase what they left behind. Product retargeting emails work similarly.
  • Connect with subscribers on special occasions. Lots of brands now send their subscribers emails to mark special occasions, like birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. This makes your customers and subscribers feel special when you tailor the content specifically to them.

Why is email so useful?

All marketing, ultimately, is about building relationships. Sure, there’s an end goal—the brand wants something from the customer and the customer wants something from the brand. Hence, the most useful forms of marketing are those which help to form connections and build long-lasting relationships between brands, customers, and potential customers. And this is where email really shines.

Opening an email is more of a personal commitment than scrolling past an ad on a social media timeline. Someone who clicks on your email is immediately committed to and engaged with your content.

Once you’ve gained a spot in someone’s inbox, you’ll be able to communicate with them on a far more personal and individual level than might otherwise be the case. Email is, by its nature, a channel for one-on-one communication, and the best email marketing strategies take advantage of that.

Through email marketing, you can speak directly to each individual customer. You can send them the content, offers, and updates most relevant for their circumstances. You can address their concerns on a bespoke level, and you can tailor your content in a way which feels personal to them. Email is your best tool for engaging new customers, and it’s your best tool for retaining the loyalty of older customers.

Email is also extremely versatile. You can do a lot and say a lot with a well-crafted email campaign. So long as you can land in inboxes and keep your subscribers interested, there’s no limit to the kind of content you can send them. This opens up a wealth of opportunities for marketing, relationship building, and generally expanding your customer base.

How can email help my business?

Email can generate a lot of return for minimal investment, reach vast audiences, and help you retain customers. It’s a very popular marketing channel for these reasons.

Email can also help you learn about your audience and grow your business. Email is a two-way street and perhaps the closest to direct communication you can get with your customers, short of speaking to them face-to-face. But in-person conversations are resource-intensive, unpredictable, and relatively rare, whereas email provides a kind of controlled test pool from which you can draw useful data about how your campaigns are landing.

Modern email metrics are very simple to gather, measure, and analyze. Opens, clicks, engagement, and more can be tracked with ease across every audience segment.

Why is this important? Because good performance is nothing if you can’t replicate it and improve upon it. There’s an element of chance to some campaigns. But, for the most part, success can be measured and replicated, so long as you have the right data to work from.

Email provides valuable data, from which you can take the temperature of your campaigns, your customers, and even your competitors. So, in addition to gaining and retaining valuable customer relations, providing the best ROI available, and making you a marketing force to be reckoned with, your email marketing campaigns are also your top resource for keeping your business in touch and on trend.

Written by Jenna Tiffany for Mailchimp. Jenna is an expert in digital marketing strategies.