What Is Email Marketing?

Email Marketing Can Be Very Effective Marketing for Small Business

Man with newspaper using laptop in kitchen
Email marketing reaching its target. Astronaut Images / Getty Images

Definition:

What is email marketing? Basically the use of email to promote products and/or services. But a better email marketing definition is the use of email to develop relationships with potential customers and/or clients. Email marketing is one segment of internet marketing, which encompasses online marketing via websites, social media, blogs, etc. It is essentially the same as direct mail​ except that instead of sending mail through the postal service, messages are sent electronically via email.

Much of the spam email we all get proclaiming 'deals' on this and that is a good example of email marketing at its worst; the mindless email barrage.

Someone somewhere buys an email list (or several!) and sends an email along the lines of “Get ___________ (the product name) for only $_____! (the amount) to everyone on the list – sometimes repeatedly. All this does is annoy everyone and give email marketing a bad name.

At its best, email marketing allows businesses to keep their customers informed and tailor their marketing messages to their customers.

Email Marketing Can Be Personalized

Particular groups of customers can be targeted or even individuals. Offering individual customers special deals on merchandise and/or services on the customer's birthday, for instance, is one example of email marketing personalization. (A restaurant might send an email to customers on their birthday offering 50% off an entree,) Email marketing helps a business develop and maintain a relationship with a customer over time that hopefully results in increased sales and increased customer loyalty.

 

Email marketing best practices include developing your own email list rather than buying an email list(s), and making participation in your email list opt-in rather than opt-out (using permission-based email marketing). Email should also be optimized for mobile usage as according to statistics over half of emails are opened on mobile devices.

The Advantages of Email Marketing

The two big advantages of email marketing are price and ease. Emailing is an inexpensive way to advertise your company and its products and/or services compared to many other types of marketing. It's also extremely easy to set up and track an email marketing campaign, making it a very accessible type of marketing for small businesses.

Newsletters can be sent to the email list you've built from the people who provided the necessary information on your website, for instance, providing these potential customers with news updates about your company, upcoming events and/or special offers – and, of course, reminding them that your business exists and that maybe it's time for another visit.

Email Marketing Is Still Relevant

In an age of increasing usage of social media for advertising, email marketing still rules the roost, according to a study conducted by HostPapa:

  • 94% of Internet users use email, while only 61% use social media
  • 75% of adult online users say that email marketing is their preferred marketing method
  • the "opt-in" feature of email allows marketing by consent
  • email marketing allows targeting by demographics (age, income, etc.)
  • email messages have a much wider range of formatting possibilities than social media messages
  • email offers more reporting and analytics capability, such as click-through rates, open rates, bounce rates, and conversions

The huge advantage of email over social media is that prospects and customers are more likely to see an email than social media. Just posting something doesn't mean that everyone you want to see your message will see it. Your post might not even show up in your targets' social media streams. However, ​an email will sit in the inbox until it's read (or deleted). 

Ideally, email marketing should go hand-in-hand with social media. Adding social media "Like" or "Share" buttons to your marketing emails gives an additional way for customers to connect with your brand. Snippets of positive reviews from social media fans can be included in emails, and conversely social media postings can be used to encourage fans to subscribe to your email newsletters.

Email marketing can substantially increase your income if you do it correctly. (See the tips below.) It's a great way to get people to visit and/or revisit your website or blog and more traffic usually equates to more income.

Email Marketing Tips

1) Build your own list. This has already been mentioned but buying email lists is a waste of time. All you're going to do by sending unsolicited email is turn off most of the people you're hoping to turn into customers and run the risk of being labeled a spammer.

2) Adhere to the rules of the CAM-SPAM Act. These rules include having a non-deceptive subject line, a method of unsubscribing, and your name and address at the end of the emails. 

3) Don't just send out ads to buy all the time. Use your emails to build rapport with customers by sharing  your expertise and/or that of others, giving them tips and insights they can value. Share information that lets them know more about you and/or your company if it's interesting.

4) Treat your list well. Remember that the people you're using email to communicate with have trusted you with their email and name; they deserve your respect. Just as you deserve as chance to convert them from customers to fans and even evangelists for your brand, people who want to talk about and share your message and get involved in any way they can.

5) Stick to a schedule if you're doing a newsletter. Sending email on a regular day or days can help your subscribers know what to expect from you and when.

For more on email marketing and other online marketing strategies, see:

Online Marketing: Basic Strategies Any Business Can Use

How to Create a Social Media Plan

17 Advertising Ideas for Small Businesses

7 Tips on How Best to Use Pinterest for Your Business

A Guide to Using Facebook for Business

How to Promote Your Business on Twitter

Also Known As: E-mail marketing, direct email marketing.