How to Be a Part of the Future of Email Marketing

Is email marketing really still relevant?

This is the first chapter of the HubSpot Academy Email Marketing Certification course, adapted for Medium. Sign up for HubSpot Academy to learn inbound marketing and sales for free. Access cutting-edge online courses, tools, and community to grow your business, and your career.

Chapter 1: Email Marketing and Your Business

By Isaac Moche

You might be asking yourself, “A whole course on email marketing? Hasn’t email been around for more than 40 years? Haven’t people learned to tune it out? Great questions.

Is email marketing really still relevant?

A lot has changed since the first email was sent in 1972, and email marketing has changed right along with it. Consider for one minute how revolutionary it is that most people access their inbox from their pocket. They carry their emails around with them everywhere.

As people have requested more transparency, value and personalization from their emails, great marketers have adapted. New technology and new best practices help marketers continue to send emails that deliver the right message to the right person, at the right time.

As a result, email marketing is still a huge part of being a successful business. But it hasn’t been an easy transformation, it didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not an adaptation to take for granted.

In the last forty years people have dramatically changed how they live and work. Naturally, the way that people consume information, shop and make purchasing decisions has transformed as well.

Many marketers haven’t done a great job of adapting to this new landscape, and it’s caused a disconnect between how companies sell and how people buy.

Let’s take a step back to consider the traditional marketing playbook that most people are familiar with.

In traditional marketing, companies focus on finding customers by getting their message in front of as many people as possible. They do this through channels like billboards, television ads and cold calling. There are two fundamental problems with this playbook:

  • Technology is making these techniques less effective and more expensive. Caller ID blocks cold calls, DVR and streaming services like Netflix make TV advertising less effective, and SPAM filters and priority inbox features block mass emails. Not to mention, many governments around the world have mandated that businesses give people the right to opt-out of communication. For example, the CAN-SPAM legislation passed by Federal Trade Commission in the US defines strict and comprehensive rules for sending commercial emails. Businesses found in violation of CAN-SPAM can be fined up to $16,000 USD per email!
  • Traditional marketing is interruptive and marketer-centric. The traditional way of doing things is convenient for the marketer, because they can push content in people’s faces whenever they want — even when those potential customers don’t want it. But it’s not such a great experience for the user, the reader, the viewer, and most importantly, the potential customer.

The alternative to interruptive, or outbound marketing, is called inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing embraces the digital world as it exists today, where consumers have all the power. Inbound is about empowering visitors, leads and customers with helpful, relevant content that provides value. It’s about starting a conversation that pulls people in, rather than interrupts them.

Email marketing is an interesting case. To many people, it is one of the prime examples of outbound marketing, the antithesis of inbound marketing. Email spam is enough to strike fear into the hearts of marketers and consumers everywhere. And rightfully so — too many marketers rely on purchased lists and emailing people who have never opted-in to hearing from them.

Marketers are people too, and we hate spam! So why do we send it? It’s time to market to people as we want to be marketed to. That’s what makes inbound, inbound. It’s SO important to remember that there is a human on the other end of your email who will be reading that message.

Email still has a core role in the inbound playbook, if done from a more human, customer-driven perspective. Email is STILL capable of driving serious, impactful results for your business as an inbound, rather than an outbound channel.

[Don’t Forget] Sign up for HubSpot Academy to learn inbound marketing and sales for free.

Let’s review the Inbound Methodology: What it is, how it can help your business grow, and how email fits into the process.

The Inbound Methodology consists of four stages that make up the inbound marketing and sales process. These stages are Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight.

Starting at the beginning, you’ll need to attract strangers to your site, turning them into visitors. Some of the most important tools to attract new users are blogging, search engine optimizing your website, and social media. Notice that these are all mediums for publishing and distributing content that people can consume on their own terms, not channels for forcing people to engage.

Once you’ve attracted new visitors to your website, the next step is to convert qualified visitors into leads by gathering their contact information, typically through a landing page and form. We do this by offering buyer-relevant content behind a landing page. Again, it’s their choice as to whether they’re willing to share their contact information in exchange for access to your content. This is why it’s imperative that you build trust with them upfront.

Moving along, now that you’ve attracted the right visitors and converted the them into leads, it’s time to turn those leads into customers.

In the Close stage, tools like email and a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can be used to help communicate with the right leads at the right time.

Just because someone is already a customer doesn’t mean that you can forget about them! Inbound companies continue to delight and engage their customer base, turning them into happy promoters of the products and services they’ve come to love.

Then, the whole methodology starts back at the beginning, when promoters talk to their networks — more strangers — they spread the word about your products and services and generate new visitors.

Email marketing plays a pretty big role in creating a sustainable, inbound playbook for closing and delighting your leads and customers.

Marketers recognize this need for a database to store relevant information about their contacts and a way to communicate with them.

When asked which technologies best support customer acquisition and retention, email marketing and lead nurturing are often the two most popular answers. CRM or customer relationship management software, is a common answer as well.

Your email database can be an incredibly valuable asset for your business.

With a return on investment (ROI) estimated to be 38-to-1, it is one of the best investments your business can make. But if abused, it can also cause damage to your company, in lost opportunities, loss of trust, and a bad reputation.

That’s the crux of the problem: Marketers recognize that email marketing is important, they just aren’t very good at it. Anyone with an inbox can tell you that. So what’s going on here?

In fact, only 4% of companies rate the performance of their email campaigns as Excellent. And even if you are part of that 4%, who wouldn’t want to improve their customer acquisition and retention.

So what makes email marketing so valuable and how can marketers get better at sending great emails?

First and foremost, email is the de-facto way that people get things done. Did you know that the average person checks their email 74 times a day? If you want to get a message to someone, and make sure that they see it, email is a pretty safe bet.

And with 54% of emails being opened on mobile, it’s a communication channel that stays with people wherever they go. The rise of mobile devices is a theme that will appear again and again on your path to improving your email marketing program.

A reality of the marketing landscape these days is that you don’t have a ton of control over channels that you use. Google can change their algorithm, so can Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — and there’s really nothing you can do about it. Alternatively, email is a channel that you get to own and have complete control over. With email you have a direct, 1:1 relationship with your audience, one based on explicit permission. When given the choice, it is best to build your property on owned, not rented, land. Which leads to the next benefit of email…

Email is also permission-based in a more meaningful way than social media or organic search. What we mean by that is, you’re getting an invite into a person’s inbox. That’s a pretty big deal. This is something you shouldn’t abuse. It takes a lot to get into a user’s inbox and very little to get pushed out. The inbox is, in many ways, deeply personal and well-guarded territory. Search results and newsfeeds? Not so much.

In the words of Winston Churchill (and Uncle Ben from Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” If and when a reader gives you permission to send them emails, it’s a powerful opportunity. Deeply embedded in the purpose of email is the expectation of action — whether to read, to respond, to purchase, to click, or forward — the inbox is like a virtual to-do list. This makes email marketing a natural way to support your marketing initiatives. Launching a new product? Running a webinar? Just published a new research report? Email can help you connect the value of these offers and events with your leads and customers, in a deeply personalized format.

You can use emails to inspire people to action by providing value, or you can abuse that permission and incite them to unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam. The choice is up to you.

And lastly, email marketing is measurable. Here is a great quote from Nicco Mele, a senior fellow USC Annenberg School For Communications and Journalism, that explains the measurable impact of email as a marketing channel:

“Why does email remain so valuable even in a mobile world? The great challenge of our current media landscape is capturing and retaining user attention. There are so many devices, so many media outlets, so many channels and opportunities that attention is fragmented and difficult to measure. How many people saw that tweet? Are the same people always sharing the same posts? Email’s most redeeming feature is the ability to measure repeat, sustained user attention. An email is, by definition, a unique identifier. You can track multiple opens over time, and build behavioral models to maximize your share of a reader’s attention”

There are four big themes that are woven through the entirety of this certification course.

They are the foundational, core principles of doing email marketing well. Consider them the context and lens through which you should view all the information you learn about email.

  • The rise of mobile devices
  • The significance of segmentation
  • The power of personalization
  • and the impact of data-drive analysis and optimization

First up, let’s examine the rise of mobile devices.

Email as a communication channel has been a stalwart for over twenty years now, which means people are prone to dismiss it. It’s not sexy, it’s not new, and it’s not different. But study after study shows that email is one of the most effective ways to stay in touch with a population that is radically changing the way they consume information.

The reality is that email has to be mobile-optimized to be effective. It’s true that 54% of emails are opened on mobile, but there’s more to this story.

According to UK telecoms regulator Ofcom4, 81% of smartphone users say email is the MOST popular activity they use their phone for. You heard that right — more than using their actual phone as a phone, 81% of people use their phone primarily for email.

When asked, 41% of readers said they wanted emails that can clearly be read on smartphones. That number has more than doubled since last year.

Another core idea to a modern email marketing strategy is segmentation.

Segmentation is THE thing that will determine if you can successfully send the right person the right message at the right time. Doing email marketing the inbound way means focusing just as much on the context of your message as the content you deliver.

Consider this: When consumers were asked to rate the statement: “Most of the marketing emails I receive include no content or offers that are of interest to me” — 63% agree or strongly agree.

Notice that these people didn’t say that the content was bad, simply that it wasn’t relevant. You can write the greatest email in the world, but if it doesn’t resonate with your audience it will be a waste of their, and your, time.

The next two chapters will take an extensive look at the impact that segmentation will have on your inbound marketing success. There’s a reason that segmentation is the focus of two complete chapters: If you’re looking for a high-impact way to improve your email marketing, you should first look at your email database and the way you segment your send lists.

Segmentation shows that context is just as valuable as content in your inbound email strategy, and another way you can add context to your emails is with personalization. The same database that allows you to segment your contacts for sending is the same data will enable you to deliver a more targeted and personal message.

94% of businesses say personalization is critical to their current and future success, and for a good reason. Not only has personalization has been shown to increase email engagement significantly, but it’s the more human way to communicate. To quote Dale Carnegie, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Personalization is about so much more than simply addressing your recipient by their first name. It’s about creating a contextualized and deeply individualized experience for your recipients. Email is a channel that is uniquely positioned to allow your business to send such a personalized message. There are no character count restrictions and there’s more room for creativity and experimentation with design.

There are so many components of an email that you can use to signal that you are having a 1:1 conversation with a reader. Who the email comes from, what the subject line says, the copy, the call to action, the design, can all be tailored and customized. So just because your email went out to 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 people, doesn’t mean it has to read like it did.

And if your email is attached to a contact database you can further personalize your email sends by sending them in response to specific activities and actions a user has done. This type of email is called behavioral email, and it represents one of the most significant changes that email has undergone since its inception. The modern marketer has lots of different channels at their disposal to attract, engage, and close people into customers. They also conducts lots of discrete activities like running webinars and conducting surveys.

Each channel, and event, is a chance to listen to users, learn more about them, and start a conversation based on what you gather. That’s an opportunity for personalization that is relatively new in the context of email marketing, but an exciting one to try and take advantage of.

The final principle of building a great email program is the importance of data analytics. It’s really hard to overstate the impactfulness that analytics have had on a marketer’s ability to grow their business. When faced with the decision of basing your email marketing program on faith or data, the marketer should pick data every time.

Analytics is the engine that powers the growth of your business. It allows you to hypothesize, test, identify trends and then optimize and improve your marketing. This course will give your business a playbook for:

  • Tracking the metrics that matter
  • Learning what they indicate about the success of your program
  • How to use those metrics and what they signify to optimize and improve your email marketing

In the next chapter, we will discuss the actions and activities a company must do to set themselves up for success with email marketing. It will explain what the IDEAL company’s commitment to a successful email program looks like. I want to be very clear: You do not need to do all of these things to start sending great emails. Over time, this is what you are working towards. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t do all of these things right away.

So what does it take to create sustained success with email marketing?

Here are the three things that successful email marketing companies all have in common:

  • Stakeholder buy-in and commitment
  • Software
  • And an understanding of email’s role in their business.

Let’s look at each one of these in a bit more detail

The first thing your business will need is stakeholder buy-in. Your team has to BELIEVE that email can drive growth for your business. Otherwise, it will be difficult to find the time, resources, and collective attention necessary to do well. You won’t be successful if you’re fighting an up-hill battle against your own team. Results won’t appear overnight.

That’s the main thing that buy-in gets you — TIME. Time to learn, time to experiment, time to see what works and what doesn’t. You can’t quit after just three months, you’ve got to stick with it. It will take a little bit of time to figure out the quirks and differences of your contact database- like what timing, frequency and content works best. .

That buy-in will also be important for the long-term maintenance of your database. Email is not a set it and forget it type program. A well-managed and up-to-date contact database is what allows you to:

  • Improve the effectiveness of your email over time
  • Use personalization to send a more targeted message
  • Keep your “deliverability score” high so your emails actually end up in people’s inbox

Most importantly, stakeholder buy-in will help you align your entire company. If executed properly, email can work for everyone in your business. But only if you communicate. If your team isn’t sure about using email marketing, or even worse, doesn’t have a cohesive strategy for using email marketing, that’s a problem. Long-term, you should work together to decide:

  • When is it right to send an email, and when is it not?
  • How often should you send emails?
  • How many emails should a lead receive? A customer?

Answering these questions won’t be possible overnight, and they’ll be difficult to do alone. But the answers will help your company create a great experience for your leads and customers, wherever they are on their path to purchase.

The next thing your business will need is some sort of software. You’ll need SOME Email Service Provider that you can use to send one-to-many emails.

The truth is, there’s a lot of software out there that does this — this resource is not here to tell you which one to use.

But it WILL recommend some features that every email marketer should look for. You’ll notice that these recommendations expand beyond just the ability to send batch emails. A truly successful email marketing program involves a lot more than that. So I’d recommend any system you use also have these features:

  1. It should be connected to a contact database that tracks both the qualities and behaviors of your contacts. That information is so important for segmentation and personalization, two of the foundational themes of email marketing.
  2. It should also have the ability to analyze the success of your email sends. The depth to which you would like to do this will definitely depend on how mature your business is and how you plan to use email. At a minimum, though, you’ll want to track deliverability, engagement and ROI of your individual emails and the channel as a whole.
  3. The software you use should be able to send automated emails based on user activity. The goal here is to get the marketer out of the driver’s seat. The actions and behaviors of your users should dictate when and how you communicate with them, and you can’t do that without the ability to send automated emails.
  4. And lastly, your email solution should also have landing pages and forms to generate new leads. Or at least the ability to integrate with other software that helps you capture leads. Your database will naturally decay over time, so lead generation is an essential part of any email strategy.

The final thing that all successful email marketing programs do well is contextualize email alongside your businesses other communication channels.

Email is not a swiss army knife. You can’t use it for everything. You have to understand where it works and where other communications and resources might work better. Education and analysis are your best weapons against sending emails that people don’t want to receive.

In order for a business to successfully use email marketing, they should be able to answer these questions:

  • How will lead nurturing be used by your business? In other words, at what point should lead nurturing end and a 1:1 sales process begin?
  • If every department relies on email to get their job done, things can quickly get out of hand. How many emails is too many emails for your leads and customers to receive?
  • What role will email play in the way that you communicate with your existing customers? Will you use it to share important updates, drive upgrades, and manage accounts? When might some other channel work better?

There are invariably other choices you and your team must make to properly use email marketing long-term to grow your business. The remaining chapters will help you understand how to accomplish that task.

Continue to Chapter 2: Sending the Right Message with Lifecycle Marketing

Chapter 1: Email Marketing and Your Business
Chapter 2:
Sending the Right Message with Lifecycle Marketing
Chapter 3:
Contact Management and Segmentation
Chapter 4:
The Components of a High-Performing Email
Chapter 5:
Email Design and Functionality
Chapter 6:
The Essentials of Email Deliverability
Chapter 7:
Developing Relationships with Lead Nurturing
Chapter 8:
Measuring Success With Email Analytics
Chapter 9:
Email Optimization and Testing

This is the first chapter of the HubSpot Academy Email Marketing Certification course, adapted for Medium. Sign up for HubSpot Academy to learn inbound marketing and sales for free. Access cutting-edge online courses, tools, and community to grow your business, and your career.

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