How to Get Started with Email Marketing 

You know that you want email to be a part of your marketing mix. How do you get—and keep—the attention of the people on your list? What tools and tactics have been proven to work, and what will end up being an expensive waste of time? In other words, how do you even get started with email marketing, if you’ve never done it in a serious way before?

We put together this guide to get marketing teams started with their email marketing efforts. Yes, email marketing is more complicated than it was even a decade ago. Companies and brands need to do way more than just blast out a company update, or practice “spray and pray” cold emailing. Email marketing is a game of providing value, organic growth, consistency, and patience.

Thinking through the right questions now, before you start, will help ensure that your marketing efforts begin on the right foot and continue to move you toward your goals.

First, a Reality Check: How Not to Get Started with Email Marketing

Before we dive in, there are some things you certainly should not do to start with email marketing:

  • Don’t buy a list
  • Don’t reach out to people you’ve never spoken to or contacted before
  • Don’t invest in expensive software (yet)

The first two don’ts here are important, for a few reasons. First, most email lists are riddled with inaccurate or outdated information and so are not really worth the dollar. Second, when they do have accurate information, there is a live person checking that email. They are busy, and the last thing they want is another piece of spam in their inbox. So you need to ensure that they want to receive what you have to offer. Otherwise, they are going to mark you as “spam” and move on.

And being marked as spam can have some serious consequences: It can affect the deliverability of emails from your domain, get you flagged by email platforms, and even get you in trouble with the law for violating the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act.

This guide is not a guide to cold sales sequences, one-off email blasts, or spammy practices. The assumption is you are building an email list the right way, slowly and organically, and that you will market to this list with a regular newsletter of some sort. If that’s your goal too, then you’ll want to follow these five steps:

The Five Steps to Get Started with Email Marketing: 

  1. Identify your aims and goals,
  2. Think through the execution,
  3. Choose an email platform that will serve you over time,
  4. Develop your list, and
  5. Know your metrics.

Step 1: Identify Your Aims and Goals

Too often, companies will try email marketing because they see the competition doing the same. Or because they hear it is a “best practice” in marketing. Or because they think it will be cheaper than traditional advertising.

All of those things may be true—but the only way to tell if email marketing is right for your company is to think seriously about how it helps achieve both your specific marketing goals and your broader business goals. If you can’t trace a line from the activity of your readers to incremental progress on your goals, you might be considering email marketing for all the wrong reasons.

Next, ask yourself: What are you going to use your emails for? That is going to have a large influence on what kind of content goes into them. Are you aiming to share promotional content that highlights specific products, and that links to those product pages? Or are you looking to share mostly education content? Most email newsletters are a mix of these two, but you need to think through the proportion that makes sense for your business.

For example, for most B2B clients, we suggest a newsletter that is mostly educational, with just a little bit of promotional content. That mix serves well when purchase decisions are long and require quite a bit of customer education. B2C companies, on the other hand, can do well being largely promotional.

Step 2: Think Through the Execution

The most important element for making an email marketing campaign successful is consistency. Your company is not going to see results if it produces a handful of emails and then disappears from inboxes. You want people to anticipate your emails, partly because they come out on a regular schedule.

So ask yourself:

  • What sort of cadence makes sense for your business? Once a week? Once a month? Once a quarter? Hint: Don’t send out daily emails. Your readers will feel inundated and learn to ignore you—or worse, unsubscribe.
  • When do you want to send them out? Will they send on a certain day of the week? A certain date every month? Holidays and special events only?
  • Will the content be primarily in the email, or will the email simply point to your website/blog? This is important, because it means you might have to schedule your blog content first.
  • What is the plan to start producing your content? Who decides the topics? Who will write the content? Is there keyword research involved? Who needs to review, once the content is drafted?
  • Given how long it will take to create and review the content, how much “runway” do you need? Depending on the size of your organization, the availability of team members, and their commitment to marketing, it could take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to create and distribute your content.

When planning out the workflow for your email campaigns, be sure to include some extra buffer time in your deadlines. Things happen, and you don’t want to throw off your cadence simply because a stakeholder took a few extra days to review an article, or because you are waiting for the sales team to send you the final details on this month’s promotional offer.

Step 3: Choose an Email Platform that Will Serve You Over Time

There are many email marketing platforms to choose from today. Many of them have overlapping features, but each is unique enough that you really have to pay attention and make sure you are getting the functionality you want and need.

For example, do you need forms and landing pages to streamline newsletter sign-ups? What level of segmentation and automation are you looking for? What kinds of reporting needs to be available? Do you need an advanced layout editor, or would a few slick templates do just fine? Do you want the ability to do A/B testing easily?

When answering these questions, don’t just think about what you need right now. Think about what you might need a few years into the future. Switching platforms is not impossible, but it does require some effort—so why not start out with a platform that could grow with your company?

As for specific platforms: We tend to be platform agnostic here at Pace Marketing; we aren’t going to recommend one over others unless we understand what your organization’s specific needs are. That said, here are some of the most popular ones in this space:

  • ActiveCampaign
  • Benchmark
  • Brevo
  • Constant Contact
  • HubSpot
  • Mailchimp
  • Zoho Campaigns

There are dozens of other options as well. Shop around and take advantage of any free trials offered.

Step 4: Develop Your List

Remember what was said above: You do not want to buy a list, if you can at all avoid it.

It is OK to start with a small list. In fact, it is better to have a smaller list where every name is a person who wants to see your content than to have a huge list where 99% of the information is junk.

So, no matter where you pull your list from, take some time to review it. For each name, ask: Does it still make sense to be emailing this person? Or are they simply going to mark our emails as spam?

Eventually, you will want to segment your list as well. For example, you might want to target different demographics, or people from different industries. But you don’t need to do this to start out. Wait until your list has grown to a size where such segmentation is worth the time and you are able to scale your email marketing program to include segment specific content.

Step 5: Know Your Metrics

How do you know if your email marketing is successful? This is where metrics come in.

There are some standard metrics for emails that are worth knowing:

Open rate. The number of opens divided by the number of successful sends. (Successful sends are the number of contacts on your list, minus the number of addresses that produce a “bounce.”) Open rates depend on just three things: Your subject line, your name/from field, and the quality of your list. If you have the right people on your list, and they want to hear from you, it’s relatively easy to get a high open rate.

Unique opens. Open rates can seem high if you have a few readers who open your email multiple times. “Unique opens” counts multiple opens by the same person as just a single unique open, giving you a better sense of how many people truly opened your email.

Note on open rate and unique opens: Many modern email programs track opens by using something called a tracking pixel. Although this is something you would not notice in an email, it is still technically an image, and so any email client that is blocking images will block the tracking pixel. This means that open rates tend to be somewhat underreported, especially for lists with many business emails (which tend to block content with images more often).

Clicks per unique opens. A common goal of email newsletters and campaigns is to drive traffic to a website. That could include product pages, blog articles, or landing pages. Your email can track those clicks, letting you know how many people went to your website, given that they opened your email. Whereas open rates depend on your subject line and list, clicks will depend crucially on your actual content.

Bounce rate. Not all emails are deliverable. An email on your list might be old and defunct, or the inbox could simply be full. Thus, your email will bounce. Bounce rate gives you a good sense of the quality of your email list; a high bounce rate is bad news and might affect future deliverability.

More advanced platforms may have other metrics as well. But the basics are enough to get you started—just be sure to measure what most aligns with your goals and be consistent with the metrics you review and frequency you review them.

Once you are collecting metrics consistently, you can compare them with benchmarks, like industry averages. Some email platforms will even include industry averages in their deliverability reports. But if not, the data is just a web search away. For example, Constant Contact makes public the average open rate, clicks, and bounce rate for a number of industries.

Now Do It…Or Get a Little Help

Hopefully, this guide has been enough to get you and your company going with email marketing. Good email marketing is a lot more complicated today than just sending out a group email, or doing “spray and pray” cold emailing. By thinking through the right questions, you can start off on the right foot.

That said, the execution itself still will take some work. Creating the content, sticking to a calendar, and keeping the process going month after month can be daunting work for a company owner or marketing director. If you need help planning or implementing your email marketing program, reach out to set up a Roadmap Call.

Recent Posts

The Top 7 Problems that Can Kill a Product Launch

Of all the missteps that can give a company a black eye, a failed product launch surely tops the list. This is especially true for products that have a long development cycle: Medical devices, pharmaceuticals, advanced software, etc. Nothing is more frustrating than developing and testing a product for years,

Read More »

How to Get Started with Advertising (Online and Offline)

Advertising seems deceptively simple. A creative person creates an ad, and then you pay someone—a magazine, a radio station, Facebook, Google, a billboard owner—to run your ad. If that was all there is to it, getting started with advertising would be simple. But of course it isn’t that simple, because

Read More »

Finding “Holes” in Your Marketing Framework

There are many ways to conceive of and organize marketing activities. One of our favorites is our marketing framework, which tracks customer journeys against marketing goals and tools in place. Whereas many marketing firms think of these journeys as forming a funnel, we think of them as being hourglass shaped,

Read More »

We and selected third parties use cookies or similar technologies for technical purposes and, with your consent, for other purposes. You can consent to the use of such technologies by using the “Accept” button, by closing this notice, by scrolling this page, by interacting with any link or button outside of this notice or by continuing to browse otherwise.