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What is Email Marketing? A Quick Guide to Getting it Right

You’ve probably heard the rumors…

They pop up every few years, claiming email is dead, that some other bright, shiny tactic is taking its place.

But I’ve got news for you.

Not only is email alive and well, it’s one of the best digital marketing tactics out there.

In this article, we’ll go through how, and why, you should be using email marketing to grow your business.

And we’ll cover some of the details you need to know as an email marketer.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is the strategic use of email to…

  • Connect with customers
  • Share useful information with them
  • Deepen relationships and drive sales
  • Ascend your customers through the Customer Value Journey

But you’re not going to see these results just sending random emails here and there—no matter how well-written, friendly, or fun to read.

That’s because email is just 1 piece of your marketing plan. While it does a LOT of the heavy-lifting for engagement, acquisition, and retention—email can’t do it alone.

Graphic showing what email marketing should be used for

So how do you integrate email with everything else you’re doing to get great results like these? Let’s take a look.

Why do Email Marketing

Businesses turn to email marketing because it nearly always results in profit and growth. But here’s the thing…

Profit and growth should NOT be your goal.

Hear me out… Obviously profit and growth are central to any business-owner, entrepreneur, or marketer’s success. But when it comes to email, focusing on profit and growth FIRST creates a whole “cart before the horse” situation.

Your real goal with email should be to help customers move from one stage of the Customer Value Journey (CVJ) to the next. If that’s your primary focus, profit and growth will naturally follow.

Image of the Customer Value Journey

(RELATED: Learn more about the CVJ and its role in your business’ growth here)

And if you do email marketing the right way, you can help your prospects along that path—en masse.

But before you start arbitrarily messaging your email list, remember… you can’t just wing email marketing and expect to succeed. There are rules, expectations, and processes you need to know.

The Rules of Email Marketing

Rule #1 in email marketing is to get permission before sending anyone anything.

That’s why it’s SO important to work with a respected email service provider. Today’s top providers offer templates, tracking, automation, and are optimized for mobile devices—all of which you need to succeed at email marketing.

You can’t just wing email marketing and expect to succeed.

If you’re struggling to choose the best email service provider, start here:

  • Infusionsoft
  • Campaign Monitor
  • AWeber
  • MailChimp
  • Constant Contact
  • Campaigner
  • Drip

Each of them will give you the tools to create permission-based email marketing campaigns that comply with email regulations (namely CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR).

Email marketing needs an email service provider like Maropost

Maropost is the email service provider that DigitalMarketer uses

Rule #2 is to be fully transparent with your subscribers about what you are doing.

Let subscribers know what they can expect from you (the frequency and types of emails you will be sending). And be true to your word!

TIP: You can use your initial welcome email to set expectations with your subscribers.

Rule #3 is to be relevant and show your subscribers stuff that matters to them.

You want to train your subscribers to open and engage with your messages—and that won’t happen unless you always send relevant, useful information.

TIP: The best way to gauge this relevance is by regularly monitoring your open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates, as well as direct responses to your emails.
And rule #4 is to segment your list, that way the right emails are going out to the right subscribers.

This will raise engagement, lower complaints, and be a good source of data for you to use.

Now, let’s talk about how this works together to give you great results from email marketing.

How to do Email Marketing—Setting Up Your Strategy

A good email strategy starts with the specific outcomes you’d like to achieve…

Email marketing is about engaging with people, building trust, and sharing information that deepens your relationship with them.

But this process starts before they’re subscribed—ideally in the form of a valuable offering in return for permission to email them.

At DigitalMarketer, we call that initial offer a Lead Magnet, because it attracts the people who are most likely to be interested in a product and service.

What makes a good Lead Magnet? A good Lead Magnet is short, easily digestible, and offers immediate value.

Think in terms of:

  • Checklists
  • Instructional videos
  • eBooks
  • Lists
  • Samples

(RELATED: Read this post to learn more about growing your email list fast)

But once you have your subscribers, you then have to actually email them. And you want to make sure you carry over that value into your subscription. But like any type of digital marketing, you have to have a strategy (a good one) in place.

A good email strategy starts with the specific outcomes you’d like to achieve—things like brand awareness, lead generation, and sales (remember that profit should NOT be your main goal).

Like any tool, in order to use it properly, you need to determine what your success metric is. And in order to do that, you need to determine what your goals are.

Then, to achieve these goals, you’ll use a combination of 3 different types of emails:

  1. Transactional emails: which provide customer service (These are your invoices, electronic receipts, log-in credentials, billing notifications, etc.)
  2. Relational emails: which engage subscribers and nurture relationships with them (These are typically your content emails, but can really be anything that isn’t trying to drive a sale)
  3. Promotional emails: which are used to drive sales

As you can see in the chart below, each type helps you achieve different goals, so you’ll use a mix of them all.

A checklist of what different email types can do

You can see examples of these emails and learn how to create them in the Ultimate Guide to Digital Marketing.

But you can’t just send 1 or 2 emails and expect to build a long-term relationship with your subscribers, which is where email campaigns come in.

(RELATED: Learn more about building your email marketing strategy here)

5 Types of Email Marketing Campaigns

A strategic email marketing plan aligns your messages to the stage of the customer journey your subscribers are in. And it automates as much as possible, so you don’t have to oversee EVERY email that goes out EVERY day (because honestly, who has the time for that?).

We call this approach the Email Marketing Machine (and you can read more about it here.)

Since you’re nurturing subscribers who are all at different stages on their journey, just one type of email campaign won’t cut it.

Since you’re nurturing subscribers who are all at different stages on their journey, just one type of email campaign won’t cut it. To engage everyone right where they’re at, you’ll use 5 unique campaigns:

  1. Indoctrination
  2. Engagement
  3. Ascension
  4. Segmentation
  5. Re-engagement

If you are new to this email marketing game, this may sound overwhelming. But don’t worry, I’m going to break down each of these campaign types, the stage of the customer journey they’re designed for, and how they work.

The Indoctrination Campaign

The indoctrination campaign is sent immediately after someone subscribes, and it’s designed to welcome them, set expectations, and get them excited about receiving your emails.

This campaign may be 3 or more emails, sent 1 day apart. While you can structure them any way you like, here’s a common formula for an indoctrination series:

  • Email 1 – Welcomes new subscribers and introduces them to your brand
  • Email 2 – Gives subscribers a gift or useful information
  • Email 3 – Sends subscribers some of your best content

Below is an example of an indoctrination email that DigitalMarketer sends.

Example of an indoctrination email

Tip: Because this campaign is for BRAND NEW subscribers, you’re messaging potential customers when they’re the MOST excited to hear from you… So when it comes to this campaign, make sure it’s as cohesive as possible. Don’t be afraid to reference a previous email or tell them to look forward to the next email you’re going to send them.

The Engagement Campaign

This is a sales campaign triggered by a specific action your subscriber takes. For instance, if they click on a link in one of your emails, indicating they’re interested in Topic A, you’ll send a series of emails about a product related to Topic A.

The goal here is to turn subscribers into buyers by showing them the best offerings (and logical next-step in their journey) based on the actions they’ve already taken.

To map it out:

  • Explain that they’re receiving this information because of their interest in [topic]
  • Explain the offer/solution, and then overcome any objections to moving forward on that interest
  • Explain why taking this action is the next logical step, based on the previous action they took/actions they’ve taken

Below is an engagement email example from our own campaign at DM.

example of en engagement campaign email

The Ascension Campaign

The ascension campaign follows the purchase of a product, with the aim of “ascending” the customer, or moving them forward in their customer journey. Ideally, this turns one-time buyers into multi-buyers by letting them know right away what their next step should be.

Here’s how it works:

  • Congratulate them on the purchase they just made
  • Introduce the next step and overcome any objections to taking it now
  • Clearly spell out what they need to do now
  • Ask them to buy/take action

And here is an example from our campaign.

Example Ascension email

The Segmentation Campaign

This is a manual promotional campaign sent to your entire subscriber list in order to identify who is interested in whatever the topic is. Subscribers who click on a link are segmented, and then triggered into an engagement campaign.

Here are some ideas for segmentation campaigns:

  • Send content, such as blog posts, videos, or gated content
  • Make special offers, such as coupons, flash sales, or special promotions
  • Invite them to events, such as webinars, demos, workshops, or one-on-one consultations

This is one of the segmentation emails we send out.

Example segmentation email

Tip: Segmentation campaigns—while potentially valuable as stand-alone campaigns—are typically sent to lower the barrier for entry into your ascension campaigns.

The Re-Engagement Campaign

The re-engagement campaign is triggered once a subscriber hasn’t opened or clicked an email in 30–90 days. It’s designed to re-engage them, so you can continue building the relationship and selling to them.

Here are the steps:

  • Identify subscribers who haven’t clicked on an email in the last 30–90 days
  • Give them a reason to re-engage with your emails
  • Update them on what they’ve missed, and then send them valuable content to get them excited about your brand again

Here is another DM example email.

Example re-engagement email

If they re-engage, great! If not, add them to a separate list that you suppress from your typical emails, and then send them your best-performing email each week. (Keep in mind, these are NOT people who have explicitly indicated that they don’t want to hear from you. They just might need a reminder of the value you can bring them.)

Leveraging Email Automation

By now, you probably can tell: email marketing can be complicated. That’s why it can be so helpful to automate everything you can.

But you don’t need to know anything fancy about automation to do it. Your email service provider should have the process built in already. They let you send emails in 2 different ways:

As broadcast emails, which you create manually. (These are typically reserved for promotions and content emails.)

Or, as autoresponders, which are set up in advance to be delivered when someone performs a triggering action, such as clicking on a link, subscribing, or making a purchase.

Email Marketing automation example

Here is the autoresponder map for the DM welcome series

It’s this second type of email you’re going to set up in most of these campaigns. And they’ll be triggered anytime your subscriber takes one of these actions:

  1. Subscribing
  2. Requesting a lead magnet
  3. Registering for an event
  4. Making a purchase
  5. Clicking a link in a segmentation campaign
  6. Abandoning a shopping cart
  7. Not engaging with your emails

So how do you set it all up?

Email marketing can be complicated. That’s why it can be so helpful to automate everything you can.

First, think about what you need to say to people when they take one of these triggering actions.

What do they need to hear?

Where are they on the Customer Journey?

How can you move them quickly and LOGICALLY to the next stage?

Then build your campaign and set the automation to go out whenever someone takes the appropriate action. It’s really that easy.

(RELATED: Want 3 plug-and-play email campaigns? Check out this post.)

How to Track Your Email Marketing Success

As with everything else in digital marketing, you can’t know what is working unless you look at the numbers.

Email marketing metrics displayed on a site dashboard

Most email service providers will have these metrics all housed together like this…

Here are some of the numbers that will help you track your email marketing efforts.

List Growth: For this metric, look at your number of new subscribers and compare it to your number of unsubscribes. As you might expect, you want the ratio to be positive.

Delivery Rate: This is the percent of messages delivered to the recipient’s inbox relative to the number of emails sent. Aim for a delivery rate of 95% or more.

Open Rate: The percent of messages opened by the recipient relative to the number of emails sent.

Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percent of email messages clicked relative to the number of emails sent or, in some cases, relative to the number of emails opened.

Unsubscribe Rate: The percent of emails that lead to an unsubscribe relative to the number of emails sent.

Complaint Rate: The percent of emails marked as Spam relative to the number of emails sent.

Does Email Marketing Work?

In a word, yes!

Email marketing consistently generates the highest ROI of any marketing activity—that’s why it’s so important to get it right!

The key is to coordinate with your content and marketing campaigns so you can attract new subscribers, nurture those relationships, and quickly move them through the Customer Journey.

And you can’t just send out emails about new blog posts. You’ve got to build automated campaigns that segment, engage, and ascend.
The result? Emails that not only get opened, but also effectively grow your business.

Matt Shelar

Matt Shelar

Matt Shelar is a Florida-born, Delaware-raised, Idaho-educated Texan. As the Promotions Manager at DigitalMarketer, Matt is in charge of planning out, projecting the performance of, and generally managing DigitalMarketer’s promotional calendar, in addition to scheduling out all of our promotional and content emails.

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