What Is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is a form of marketing that uses email to send, analyze, and manage personalized and customized marketing campaigns to audiences worldwide. It’s an effective way to engage with target audiences that complements other channels like website and video content.

Email marketing has been used for several decades now to reach out to prospects and customers with offers and news of products and services. Every day, over 100 billion messages are sent, with some estimates reaching 300 billion. It’s simple and low-cost – almost every web user has an email account – and can be very effective: each dollar spent on email marketing leads to $42 in total returns.

What is Email Spam?

While once plagued with UCE – Unsolicited Commercial Email, also known as “spam” – these problems have largely been solved, from both technological and legal perspectives. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have become very sensitive to spam and successfully block millions of email addresses each day; end-user email applications (like Microsoft Outlook and Google’s Gmail) also give users the option to whitelist and blacklist individual senders.


This means that to make sure marketing emails are received and read, email marketers need to respect both user privacy and maximize deliverability, by making sure commercial emails comply with all local laws and ISP protocols. This becomes more difficult at scale, since sending thousands of emails at once often alerts spam filters. Accordingly, email marketing is most effective with an established platform that pre-empts problems.

How Does Email Marketing Work?

Obtain a User Opt-In

All legitimate email marketers use opt-in: gaining the recipient’s approval to email them. This usually starts with the users themselves. They sign up for a marketing list, subscribe to a content feed, or give their permission to receive marketing emails when making a purchase.

The best practice is “double opt-in”: the first marketing email simply asks the user to confirm they wish to receive emails. On clicking Yes, the user’s details are added to the marketing list (often in a CRM database). It’s equally important to respect Unsubscribe requests; all legitimate marketers do so, and many countries require an unsubscribe link to be added to every marketing email. This means an email should not be used for marketing to cold suspects (people who’ve never heard from the sender before).

Customize a Marketing Email

The best marketing emails are customized for the recipient’s interests, with their purchasing history and activity on the marketer’s website used to select content they’re likely to respond to. (For instance, someone who recently bought a power tool may receive emails containing special offers on batteries, adaptors, and drill bits.) And even if the email content is the same for all recipients, most email marketers at least personalize the email with the user’s name.

Track Responses in CRM Software

The most important part of email marketing happens after the email is sent: using email marketing software to see how many in the audience received the email, how many email addresses weren’t valid (known as “bounces”), how many opened the email (often detected by whether a single-pixel image in the email being downloaded) and how many times, and how many clicked on a link within it. This lets marketers assess the success of each email marketing campaign and offers insights for improving the next one.

email campaigns editor

What Are the Benefits of Email Marketing?

A Common Channel With a Large User Base

While everyday conversations between friends and colleagues have largely moved to other channels (like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and so on) the average user still checks their email 15 times a day. They’re also checking email in more places: many now use their phones rather than desktops or laptops. Making email the ideal channel for regular contact with customers.

Privacy Legislation Gives Users Confidence

Legal frameworks like Europe’s GDPR set strict guidelines on how marketers can use email when communicating with consumers. This has reduced spam, and given consumers more confidence that a marketer is legitimate. While problems still exist, in general, email marketing today is trusted.

Email Creates a Managed Conversation Over Time

More so than some other channels, email is viewed as a “thread” – not individual messages, but parts of a connected conversation. This lets marketers build deeper, more detailed, and longer-term relationships with customers. And as the customer responds in different ways over time, their statistics – opens, clicks, subsequent behavior – can be built into a meaningful picture of that customer, with opportunities for customized responses and tailored offers.

Email Marketing Statistics

Average Open Rates for Email Marketing

For several years, the average rate of opening for all emails has been around 15%, with around 85% never opened or deleted. But for compliant marketing emails, it’s much higher ­­– over 40%! This is because marketers are reaching out to people who’ve made an active decision to receive their emails, and are genuinely interested in their content.

Again, this compares well to other channels like physical direct mail – and of course, with email, it’s possible to detect whether the recipient received the mail or not.

Average Click-Through (CTR) Rates for Email Marketing

A successful email marketing campaign will enjoy clickthrough rates (the percentage of recipients who clicked on a link) of 2-5%. Again, this compares well to physical channels like TV shopping channels and direct mail.

Average Conversion Rates for Email Marketing

Conversion rate (CR) is used ambiguously, so it’s harder to estimate – some figures define CR as simply CTR, while others classify a conversion as a sale. But most reliable statistics put the CR statistic at around 15%, which again compares well to other channels.

How to Send Email Marketing Campaigns

Email marketing campaigns are best used to build long-term, ongoing relationships with customers who’ve actively agreed to your outreach and are existing customers of your products and services. It should never be used to approach a “cold list” (people you’ve never had contact with), a “constructed list” (emails guessed at by format, such as [email protected]), or to “hammer” random email addresses in the hope of finding an email in use – all these count as UCE and are illegal in many jurisdictions.

With the web and email now visual media, it’s also useful to design each email in a graphical format – today virtually all web users read email as formatted HTML, like web pages. A good email marketing platform will let you design colorful templates with simple dragging-and-dropping.

It's also best to send your email marketing campaigns from a platform, such as CM.com’s Mobile Marketing Cloud, rather than your personal email. This lets you send thousands of (opted-in) emails a day and track openings and other statistics on a dashboard, giving you a bird’s-eye-view of what’s happening with your campaign.

Another best practice is to connect your email marketing platform to your existing customer database (such as your CRM system) so you’re using a “single version of the truth” about customer data, with each customer record updated as you send and respond to emails. This prevents your view of each customer fragmenting.

It’s also a good idea to use email in combination with other channels, such as SMS, RCS, chatbots, Messenger, and WhatsApp. In today’s world, customers want to engage with you on the channels they prefer – and the right platform lets you switch channels without losing the context (or content) of each conversation.

How to Get Started With Email Marketing

The ideal way to add email marketing to your channels is a platform like CM.com’s Mobile Marketing Cloud, which lets you customize email templates, plan and create content, send to segmented lists of opted-in customers, and analyze results later to improve performance over time.


CM.com’s Mobile Marketing Cloud offers many approaches for using email as part of your marketing mix, with easy ways to integrate with other channels like SMS and WhatsApp plus existing applications like your CRM database.

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