March 08, 2018

What is Email Marketing?


Are you looking for a comprehensive email marketing definition? You're in the right place. We'll be covering the history of electronic mail, the steps and processes involved in creating email marketing campaigns, the features of email marketing platforms, and details on how email differs from other marketing channels.

A Brief History of Email

Electronic mail, more commonly known as email, goes as far back as 1971, when Ray Tomlinson created a basic system to send messages between computers. By 1972, the first email management program was created, allowing users to list, select, forward, and respond to messages. By the mid 1990s, free email was easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

In February 2017, the estimated number of email users worldwide was 3.7 billion, with around 269 million emails sent every single day. These figures show how valuable email marketing is, allowing companies to reach a huge number of potential customers directly.

What Is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is the practice of communicating with an audience via email. It's a form of direct marketing, and can include everything from keeping your customers up-to-date with the latest company news to promoting a special offer.

Email marketing has a few key benefits over other channels, including but not limited to:

  • It's cost-effective and easy to set up.
  • It's easy to track and analyze your results.
  • It's possible to tailor emails to different groups of customers.
  • It lets you send current 'real-time' messages.
  • It's easy for customers to click links and take action.

Every time you send an email to your company’s mailing list, you're participating in email marketing. The success of your campaigns depends on how well you plan and execute them.

What Does Email Marketing Involve?

1. Building an email list.

You can't start email marketing if you don't have anyone to send messages to. Building your email list is essential, and there are multiple different ways to collect addresses. For example, a few common ways are:

  • Adding a sign-up form to your website.
  • Collecting email addresses when customers make a purchase.
  • Offering freebies in return for email addresses.
  • Encouraging current subscribers to forward on your emails.
  • Asking for email addresses at trade shows and other events.

Once you've built up a list, you might choose to segment it, allowing you to send highly-targeted messages to specific groups.

2. Designing an email schedule.

Next, you'll need to determine how often you want send out emails. You could opt for a monthly newsletter, a weekly promotional email, special offers during holidays, etc. The options are endless and should be based on the specifics of your business and your email marketing objectives. It’s a balance of staying top of mind with your readers, while not irritating them by bombarding them with too many emails.

3. Creating subject lines.

Writing an attention-grabbing subject line is an essential part of email marketing. You're competing with tons of other emails, so you need to make sure your message stands out. You can do this by using teasers, making subject lines sound personal, or trying to convey a sense of urgency. Use A/B testing to compare the open rates for different subject lines.

4. Writing email copy.

Great copy makes it more likely that customers will continue to read and share your emails. Keep it short and sweet, use plenty of subheaders and bullet points, and highlight the most important sections. This allows readers to skim through and access the most relevant information.

5. Adding images and video.

Adding images and video to your email enhances your written message and keeps readers interested. A picture really does speak a thousand words, and including large images with calls to action and hyperlinks encourages customers to visit your website.

What Do Email Marketing Platforms Do?

Most companies use email marketing platforms to manage their campaigns effectively. They'll allow you to track signups to see which forms are performing best, segment your list to target specific customers, and track your open and send rates to see how well each email performs.

You can set up templates, which makes it quick and easy to compose and send emails. You'll also be able to schedule messages, set up automated emails, and create auto-reply messages. You can even set up A/B testing campaigns to figure out which strategies get the best results.

If you want to get the most out of email marketing, signing up to an email marketing platform is essential.

Email Marketing vs. Other Channels

Now that you've been given a clear email marketing definition, you might be wondering how email compares to other channels. We've explained below.

Social Media

Email marketing is more direct than social media, but both platforms have a high potential for sharing, and make it easy to link customers back to your site. Email is ideal for sending personal messages, while social media is a great for more general content.

Direct Mail

Direct mail involves sending letters and promotional materials via snail mail. It costs more than email marketing and the results are harder to track, but it can be an effective way to reach certain consumer groups, like the elderly.

Text Messaging

Text messaging is a form of direct mail that's much more basic than email. You can't use HTML, images, or videos. Text messaging is more suited to information like delivery updates than marketing messages.


Customer relationship management refers to a whole body of practices that help you to maintain a good relationship with your customers. CRM management tools allow you to effectively manage your relationships with tools for staying on top of email, text, and phone communications.

Overall, between cost effectiveness, segmentability, and the ability to communicate frequently with an interested following, there are many reasons to make email marketing a pivotal part of your business’ marketing operations.