What Is Email Marketing?

A Very Effective Marketing Option for Small Businesses

Man with newspaper using laptop in kitchen
••• Astronaut Images / Getty Images

In its most basic sense, email marketing is the use of email to promote products or services. But a better email marketing definition is the use of email to develop relationships with potential customers or clients. Email marketing is one segment of internet marketing, which encompasses online marketing via websites, social media, blogs, and more. It is essentially direct mail done electronically instead of through the postal service.

This kind of marketing can be used to build relationships with customers or drive them away.

Much of the spam email we all get proclaiming "deals" is a good example of email marketing at its worst. 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, though, email marketing allows businesses to keep their customers informed and tailor their marketing messages to their audience.

Email Marketing Can Be Personalized

Email marketing allows you to target particular groups of customers or even specific individuals. Offering individual customers special birthday deals on merchandise or services is one way to do this. A restaurant might send an email to customers on their birthdays offering 50% off an entree, for instance. This kind of personalization helps a business gradually develop and maintain a relationship with a customer that can lead to increased sales and customer loyalty. 

Other Advantages of Email Marketing

The two biggest advantages of email marketing are price and ease. Compared to other types of marketing, emailing is an inexpensive way to advertise your company and its products or services. It's also extremely easy to set up and track an email marketing campaign, which makes it easily accessible for small businesses.

You can add a newsletter sign-up option to your website, for instance, then send newsletters to the email list that accumulates as people sign up. A regular newsletter is a simple and effective way to send updates about your company, upcoming events, and special offers. Email software also makes it easy to schedule automated promotional emails for customers who haven't purchased recently.

Email Marketing Is Still Relevant

In the age of social media, it's tempting to write off email. But consider the following statistics:

  • 91% of email users check their email at least once a day.
  • Email marketing returns an impressive $42 for every $1 spent.
  • 59% of survey respondents say email influences their purchase decisions.
  • Email marketing has a conversion rate of 2.3%, compared to 1% for social media.

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 on social media doesn't mean that everyone you want to see your message will see it. However, an email will sit in an 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. It's a great way to get people to visit (and revisit) your website or blog, and more traffic usually equates to more income.

Email Marketing Tips

Effective email marketing takes effort though. Here are a few strategies for making the most of your email marketing campaigns.

  1. Build your own list. All you're going to do by sending unsolicited email is turn off most of the people you're hoping to turn into customers. Whether through your website, in your store, or at an event, make it clear when customers are opting in to receiving your emails.
  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 or that of others, giving them tips and insights they can value. Share information that lets them know more about you and your company.
  4. Treat your list well. Remember that the people you're communicating with over email have trusted you with their information; they deserve your respect. If you want a chance to convert them from customers to fans and even evangelists for your brand, then make them feel special.
  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.
  6. Optimize your email for mobile usage, as statistics show that roughly half of emails are opened on mobile devices.

Article Sources

  1. Litmus. "Email Preferred Communication Channel; Commands More Clicks & ROI." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  2. Litmus. "[Infographic] The ROI of Email Marketing." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  3. Business 2 Community. "25 Email Marketing Statistics You Need to Know Heading into 2020." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  4. Smart Insights. "E-Commerce Conversion Rates – How Do Yours Compare?" Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  5. U.S. Federal Trade Commission. "CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.

  6. Litmus. "Email Client Market Share Trends for the First Half of 2018." Accessed Jan. 20, 2020.