Email marketing is a digital initiative that involves sending marketing communication to current or potential customers through email. Email communication plays a critical role in sales, customer relationship management, and branding among other areas.

Email marketing is an oft-forgotten discipline, many digital marketers focusing resources on SEO, social media, or influencer marketing. However, email is still considered one of the best mediums for marketing communication. In fact, Constant Contact states that email marketing converts more customers than social media and search combined.

Email is an important cog in the digital marketing machine, and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) would be wise to consider using this channel. So here’s a crash course to help your SMB get started with email marketing.

Why Should SMBs Care About Email Marketing?

Email marketing provides a direct channel to their customers and is one of the easiest ways to perpetuate business growth. Email lets businesses connect with customers in a personalized format that is unmatched on social media or in PPC ads.

In other words, email communication offers businesses an opportunity to build rapport and break through much of the clutter present on other marketing channels. A few other reasons why SMBs should care about email marketing include:

  • It’s an easily measurable marketing medium: Use data like open rates, responses, click-throughs, and bounces to measure the effectiveness of your email marketing.  
  • It’s affordable, with long-term value: An email is exponentially valuable because it helps acquire and retain clients.  
  • It works and customers like it: 61% of consumers enjoy receiving promotional emails weekly and 72% prefer email as the main source of business communication.

How Email Marketing Works

To put it simply, email marketing requires two critical steps. First, you need to collect emails from current, potential, and past clients. Second, you need to create marketing emails targeting each segment.

There are subsequent steps along the way, but for you to understand email marketing, you must understand that these two separate processes are dependent on one another.

No matter how great your lists are, poorly written or executed marketing emails can limit your results. Likewise, the greatest marketing emails in the world will be wasted if you don’t have a qualified and targeted list to email.

How to Do Email Marketing Better

There are several steps that your SMB can do to improve your email marketing initiatives.

1. Collect more emails

Collecting emails should be one of your main digital marketing goals. Much like phone numbers, emails offer you a direct line to your target audience. Unlike phone numbers, people are much more willing to give you their email address.

  • Start with the low-hanging fruit: You should first start growing your email lists with your current and past customers. You likely already communicate with your clients through email, so you simply need to add them to a relevant list segment.
  • Optimize your website for opt-ins: The next way to collect emails is to make sure you are asking for them on your website. Create multiple opt-in forms and conversion points on your website.
  • Use gated content: Locking valuable resources, content, and tools behind an email wall is a powerful strategy for building email lists. People are more than willing to give you their email in exchange for something they find valuable.

2. Segment your lists

After collecting an email, you need to decide what list is most relevant to that user. Few businesses segment their email lists appropriately. That’s why you may find your inbox inundated with similar emails from the same company.

Segmenting is the process of breaking your email lists into separate buckets, based on things like location, age, type of customer (current, previous, lead), or any other variable that is relevant to your business. MailChimp estimates that segmenting lists can increase open rates by 14.31% and clicks by 100.95%.

3. Personalize your emails

Statista estimates that emails with a personalized message generate an 18.8% higher open rate. Personalization is key to successful email marketing campaigns. We’ve all received marketing emails that weren’t personalized, and if you’re like me, they immediately go into the trash.

Personalization is more than just plugging their name. Try adding something from a past conversation or sharing something that you know they are interested in. Segmentation is a critical step in the personalization process. The more you segment your lists, the easier it will be for you to balance automation and personalization.

4. Use resources to make email marketing easier

All the steps mentioned up to this point should be executed inside an email interface. Hopefully, you’re not just tracking your email contacts inside a spreadsheet and sending out piecemeal emails. There are many affordable and freemium options for you to make email marketing easier.

SMBs can use resources like MailChimp or ConstantContact, which both have free options, to handle their email marketing. After creating an account, you can add your emails into lists and segment accordingly. You can design your own emails and send them to an entire list at the click of a button. Best of all, you can track opens, clicks, bounces, and even A/B test different emails.

5. Be creative, but consistent

The best email marketing campaigns are the ones that stand out. Try being creative with your subject line and the message inside the email. However, creativity should still match your brand. If you’re an accounting or law firm, using a funny or witty subject line might not make sense. Thus, you can be unique – as long as it remains consistent with your brand.

Consistency also relates to the frequency and schedule of marketing emails you send. If you’re sending out a monthly newsletter, it should be sent on the same day and time each month. Consumers are creatures of habit, so sending too many emails at inconsistent times will cause confusion and lead to a poor email experience.

6. Every email is a chance to market your brand

Don’t limit your email marketing to bulk email campaigns or monthly newsletter blasts. Every email can help grow your brand. Many companies don’t take full advantage of the opportunities that daily email communication presents.

Take your email signature for example. If you’re using Office 365, you can easily add a branded email signature that showcases your company and specific deals or news that you want to promote. The example below shows a great example of how to approach branded email signatures. You can add a photo, your phone number, social channels, website, and even a Call-to-Action all inside your signature.

By adding a crafty email signature to all your outbound emails, you can show current customers your other offerings, provide more resources to leads, or pique the curiosity of a new contact.

Email marketing should be a critical part of every SMB’s digital marketing initiative. This crash course gives a solid foundation for SMBs to get started with email marketing, but those interested in learning more can find additional resources below.

 Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Derek Miller is a content marketing expert for CopyPress, a content production and promotion company that specializes in creating articles, web copy, infographics, interactives, videos, and other dynamic content for marketing agencies and enterprise businesses.

Not only does Derek have a great deal of experience covering content marketing, he also writes about social media marketing, SEO, email marketing, conversion optimization, and other relevant digital marketing and business growth topics.