What is Email Marketing? (An Underrated Channel!)

Tommy Griffth
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Jul 6, 2023
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6 min. read
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A comprehensive guide on how email marketing fundamentally works in 2024. We are CONVINCED that this is the most underrated digital marketing channel.

Today, I’m going to answer the super high-level question: “What is email marketing?”

There are a bunch of reasons why you would want to understand and have a clear email marketing strategy. If you’re just getting into digital marketing, or if you understand a little bit about email marketing channels but you might be missing a few pieces here and there, this blog post is for you.

I’m going to do a comprehensive overview of what is email marketing channel and the fastest way to do successful email marketing using an email marketing platform.

Let’s get going.

What is email marketing?

Email marketing is a tool that allows us to do two things:

  • Provide value to existing customers in the form of content;
  • Direct potential customers through each step of the customer journey or the sales funnel when they get stuck.

Email marketers use email campaigns for these two main reasons.

Email marketing is arguably the most underrated digital marketing channel with a high return on investment if done right.

Personally, I love Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—I’ve been doing it for 10 years, but as I’ve grown my business more and more, I’ve realized that understanding how email marketing works is incredibly important.

Why is email marketing so important?

Let’s put it this way: not everyone is on Facebook. Not everyone is on Snapchat. And there’s a long list of social media channels out there, not everyone is on.

But everyone has an email address.

That is why email marketing campaigns are so important for your overall digital marketing strategy. Your email list can go with you as you grow as a marketer, as an entrepreneur, and as a business owner. It’s a portable asset. The best thing about email marketing channel is that it is also cost-effective.

Additionally, email marketing campaigns can leverage your conversion funnel with its reach.

There are a lot of digital marketing channels out there that change very dramatically or they die. What has value today may not necessarily have value tomorrow:

  • Ranking #1 on AltaVista in 1997 was fantastic for any business—but it’s not that important now. Does AltaVista even exist anymore?
  • Having the dopest Myspace page was, back in 2002, absolutely awesome. Probably doesn’t matter as much now—right?
  • Spamming your way to growth through social invites seemed like a great strategy to acquire new customers for the creators of Farmville—then Facebook changed the rules regarding social invites and FarmVille’s stock price slid as well.
  • Praying Google doesn’t change the rules doesn’t work either. Demand Media basically went public off of low-quality content marketing—but then, Google’s Panda Update really slapped them and their stock price took a very dramatic drop.

Rules change all the time.

Google and Facebook can change their rules all the time. Different social networks can expand and contract all the time. Stuff can often change a lot—but email often doesn’t change.

That’s because email is not a social channel. It’s a web protocol, and that’s different in many ways.

Basically, the Internet is made up of protocols and applications.

Applications are the private companies we all use every day: Facebook, Google, Yelp, Instagram, Snapchat, Myspace, and so on.

These are all web applications and they often sit on top of various web protocols—such as DNS (Domain Name Service), HTTP, FTP, IRC, SSL, or SMTP.

Protocols are standardized digital communication platforms (or languages, if you want to put it this way) – and we all use them on a day-to-day basis.

Unlike applications, web protocols are not necessarily owned by a private company.

They are standards we all use when we go on the Internet and SMTP is the email web protocol.

When you’re doing email marketing, you’re using the SMTP protocol. You’re not tied to Facebook’s or Google’s Terms of Service.

That is precisely why your email list is, effectively, a portable asset that moves along with you.

Companies can change their rules, and platforms can become unpopular, but web protocols don’t really die.

Until people stop using the SMTP protocol, your email list will retain its value.

The chances are very good that we’re probably still going to have an email 25 or 50 years from now. That’s why it’s really important to build on this channel.

The 3 types of emails

There are only three different types of email when we’re talking about email marketing:

  • Transactional emails,
  • Content emails,
  • And conversion emails.

Transactional email

These are emails that have a mostly utilitarian purpose—users expect to get these as feedback from an action they took on your website.

An example of a transactional email is receipts: You buy something on Amazon, and you get a transactional email receipt.

Forgotten password emails, support tickets, and sign-up details. Double opt-in for your email list, the unsubscribing email, and Fthe shipping details for an order—they are all transactional emails.

Content email

Content emails are those that are meant to provide value to your email subscribers and nurture your relationship with them.

One of the most common examples here is the welcome email: Maybe you just got a user’s email address or they have just signed up as a customer and you can send them an email thanking them as a welcome.

Basically, any content that you create and share via email (blog posts, brand awareness emails, free tools, exclusive content like email newsletters) is a content email.

Conversion email

These are the emails you use to try to generate conversions. In this context, conversion doesn’t necessarily mean purchase—a conversion can be any action that moves the subscriber further along in the funnel.

Any type of promotional emails, new product emails, special offers, upgrades, webinars, or any event invitations, lead magnets, etc.—can all be conversion emails.

The 2 methods of email distribution

While there are three types of email, there are only two means of distribution—or at least two you should be focusing on:

  • Broadcast emails;
  • Automated emails.

The rule of thumb in email marketing is that you should use email automation for most of your e-mail marketing efforts—manual broadcasts are not ideal for most businesses.

Sometimes it is understandable to send broadcasts, especially if you have a small business. But, generally, you should automate most of your email messages.

Broadcast emails

There are only two types of email you should broadcast:

  • Great content suitable for your entire list;
  • One-off promotions.

When you create something absolutely amazing and you want to tell your whole audience about it, you broadcast your email.

Broadcast emails may be sent on a seasonal basis as well (e.g. for Christmas 2021, for example).

It’s totally fine to send emails to your entire list when they are of interest to everyone.

Automated Email

Aside from the two types of email designs mentioned above (content that is for your entire list or one-off promotions), everything else should be automated based on your subscriber’s demographics and actions.

Email Marketing automation allows you to send effective email content and messaging that is much more specific and contextually relevant to the users.

Segmentation is a great email marketing strategy to personalize email templates to increase your conversion rate. This marketing tip is a great way to improve your open rates, reduce your unsubscribe rates, and most importantly increase click-through rates.

Instead of just blasting out everything that you have to your new subscribers and what remaining subscribers you have left, you can send emails based on what each user is interested in and the actions they’re taking on your site. You can do this with an email service provider, or ESP, like MailChimp, ConvertKit, Constant Contact, ActiveCampaign, or Drip, among many others. Use this guide to check ActiveCampaign pricing for the best email marketing services if you’re interested in getting started with email marketing tools.

Doing this typically leads to an increased click-through rate and, in the end, more conversions.

Some examples of automated email are:

  • Receipts,
  • Order confirmations,
  • Welcome emails,
  • A value sequence,
  • Cart-abandonment emails (when users have a product in the cart and leave the site),
  • Lead magnets,
  • Autoresponders,
  • Upsells.

This is really it! A very, very high-level overview of what email marketing is, the main types of emails you can send, when to send them, and whether or not they should be broadcasted or automated.

Using this information, you can proceed with digging deeper into email marketing and making the most out of it to increase user awareness, conversion, and customer loyalty for your e-commerce venture.

Don’t forget to download our email marketing channel templates, if you want to write powerful emails that engage your subscribers to be your customers!

Also, don’t forget to check out our other insightful articles on email marketing:

Run Powerful Email Marketing Campaigns

How To Write The Perfect Email Marketing Proposal in 2024


Copy Our Exact Tactic to Double Your Email Opt-In Rate (In 25 Minutes)

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