What is Email Marketing?

Email Marketing: General Marketing Explained

Email is a powerful tool in the arsenal of any marketer. It is a form of direct marketing that uses electronic mail as a means of communicating commercial or fundraising messages to an audience. In its broadest sense, every email sent to a potential or current customer could be considered email marketing.

It involves using email to send advertisements, request business, or solicit sales or donations and is meant to build loyalty, trust, or brand awareness. Email marketing can be done to either sold lists or a current customer database. Broadly, the term is usually used to refer to sending email messages with the purpose of enhancing the relationship of a merchant with its current or previous customers, encouraging customer loyalty and repeat business, acquiring new customers or convincing current customers to purchase something immediately, and adding advertisements to email messages sent by other companies to their customers.

Origins of Email Marketing

Email marketing has roots in the direct mail marketing of the past, where businesses would send out catalogues, postcards, and other promotional materials to customers and potential customers in the hopes of enticing them to make a purchase. With the advent of the internet and email, businesses quickly realized the potential of email marketing as a new medium for reaching customers.

One of the first examples of email marketing was in 1978 when Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp, sent out an email to approximately 400 potential clients via the ARPANET. The email was promoting DEC machines and resulted in $13 million worth of sales. This event is often hailed as the birth of email marketing.

The Transition from Direct Mail to Email

As the internet became more popular and email became a standard form of communication, businesses began to see the potential of email as a way to reach customers. Unlike direct mail, which requires a significant investment in design, printing, and mailing, email marketing is relatively inexpensive and can reach a much larger audience.

Furthermore, email allows businesses to reach customers in a place they visit every day — their inbox. While a direct mail piece can be overlooked or thrown away, an email will stay in an inbox until it’s read or deleted, giving email marketing a significant advantage over direct mail.

Evolution of Email Marketing

Over the years, email marketing has evolved to become more than just mass mailing. Now, it’s about creating personalized, relevant communications that provide value to the recipient. Emails are now often targeted based on a customer’s behaviour, preferences, and past purchases.

Email marketing has also become more integrated with other marketing channels. For example, a business might use email to promote a new blog post, encourage customers to follow them on social media, or invite customers to an event. Integration helps businesses create a more cohesive and effective marketing strategy.

Digital art to represent the various types of email marketing. The artwork features a central laptop with abstract visuals and symbols conveying different aspects of email marketing, all set against a light and warm background.

Types of Email Marketing

There are several types of email marketing that businesses can use to communicate with their customers. These include transactional emails, direct emails, and email newsletters.

Transactional emails are typically triggered by a customer’s action with a company. These emails are usually automated and provide information that the customer needs or wants. Examples could be a purchase, a request for information, or a response to a customer service inquiry.

Direct Emails

Direct emails involve sending an email solely to communicate a promotional message (for example, a special offer or a product catalogue). Companies usually collect a list of customer email addresses they can send direct promotional messages to, or they rent a list of email addresses from service companies.

A direct email method is relatively simple, as it involves the process of gathering an email list, designing an email, testing it, sending it out, and reviewing the results. This type of marketing is often used by smaller businesses that don’t have a large marketing team or a lot of resources.

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are regularly occurring emails that are sent out to a list of subscribers who have opted to receive updates from a company. These emails often provide content that is valuable to the recipients, such as industry news, tips, tricks, and advice.

They are a great way to keep a company’s brand top-of-mind and keep subscribers engaged. Email newsletters are a type of content marketing and can be used to establish a company as a thought leader in their industry.

Benefits of Email Marketing

Email marketing has several benefits for businesses. These include its cost-effectiveness, high return on investment, and the ability to track the success of campaigns.

Compared to other forms of marketing, email is relatively inexpensive. There are no printing costs, and there are no fees paid in exchange for exposure on a certain billboard, magazine or television channel. Email marketers might consider investing in specialist software to automate, track and evaluate their emails.

High Return on Investment

Due to its low cost, email marketing can have a high return on investment. According to the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing on average sees a 4300 percent return on investment (ROI) for businesses in the USA.

Furthermore, because emails are easy to share, subscribers can forward brilliant deals and offers to their friends at the click of a button. Subscribers, therefore, have the potential to become ‘brand evangelists’ — individuals who spread the word about your business, products, or services to their friends.

Ability to Track Success

One of the key benefits of email marketing is the ability to track the success of a campaign. With email marketing software, businesses can see who opened an email, which links were clicked, and how many people unsubscribed. They can even track the email to a purchase.

Tracking the email allows businesses to see what works and what doesn’t and to make changes accordingly. The data from an email campaign can give businesses a better understanding of their customers’ preferences and interests, which can then be used to tailor future marketing efforts.

Challenges of Email Marketing

While email marketing can be highly effective, it also comes with its own set of challenges. These include ensuring deliverability, maintaining relevance, and dealing with privacy concerns.

Ensuring Deliverability

One of the biggest challenges of email marketing is ensuring that emails actually reach the inboxes of customers. Emails can easily end up in the spam folder if they are not properly optimized, which can significantly decrease the effectiveness of a campaign.

Furthermore, internet service providers (ISPs) and email service providers (ESPs) have developed increasingly sophisticated filters to block spam emails, which can sometimes mistakenly block legitimate marketing emails. Email marketers need to be aware of the latest techniques and standards for getting their emails into the inbox.

Maintaining Relevance

Another challenge of email is maintaining relevance. With the sheer volume of emails that people receive every day, businesses need to send relevant emails and provide value to the recipient.

By understanding the needs and interests of their audience and tailoring their email content accordingly, they can maintain relevance. . It also requires keeping up with changes in customer behaviour and preferences, which can be influenced by a variety of factors such as changes in the economy, trends in the industry, and new technologies.

Dealing with Privacy Concerns

Digital privacy is a major concern, and email marketing is no exception. Businesses need to be aware of laws and regulations regarding email marketing, such as the CAN-SPAM Act in the United States and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union.

These laws require businesses to obtain consent from recipients before sending them marketing emails, to provide a way for recipients to opt out of future emails, and to clearly identify themselves in their emails. Failure to comply with these laws can result in hefty fines and damage to a business’s reputation.


Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes. It allows businesses to reach a large audience in a cost-effective manner and to track the success of their campaigns. It also comes with its own set of challenges, such as ensuring deliverability, maintaining relevance, and dealing with privacy concerns.

Despite these challenges, email remains one of the most effective forms of marketing. With the right strategy and the right tools, businesses can use email marketing to build relationships with their customers, increase sales, and grow their business.

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