Most people are able to describe email marketing. But how many truly understand it? More to the point, how many advertisers make a success of it?

Email Spam

Email marketing is a type of advertising that conveys a message to a person or group of people (usually the latter) via electronic mail. That message could be about a new product, an existing service or whatever else the advertiser wants to bring to the attention of recipients. The problem with email marketing is that it cannot be easily distinguished from spam, either by human recipients or automated junk filters.

Marketing emails are often mistaken for spam because the difference between a genuine offer and bogus deal can appear negligible. And that is what advertisers need to understand about email marketing: it is not, or at least it ought not to be, a medium through which unsolicited emails of limited value, relevance or importance are distributed to many thousands of prospects or customers at a time. Email marketing is not the virtual equivalent of distributing leaflets or cold calling. It is about delivering a specific message to a targeted interested audience.

Successful Email Marketing

But what makes an email marketing campaign successful? Extending the point above about spam, advertisers need to manage their databases with great care. Failure to maintain an up-to-date database of prospects, customers and subscribers can quickly make spammers of advertisers. Recipients must be given the option to opt out of email communications. And advertisers must action such requests with immediate effect to avoid spamming people who have asked to be left alone (ignoring such pleas can result in negative publicity).

Maintaining a database of recipients also enables advertisers to gather information about people over time. More data means more targeted email marketing. Advertisers can, for example, measure an individual's response to certain offers. By identifying which recipients appear to be interested in, say, shoes and which appear to prefer handbags, an advertiser can divide a database to create interest-specific groups. Those groups can then be targeted separately, receiving exclusive or limited offers that are likely to appeal to their specific interests. A well-maintained database, therefore, can increase conversions.

As noted above, email marketing is about delivering a message. If possible, marketing emails ought to reach out to the individual. That means sending polite reminders about abandoned shopping carts, happy-birthday emails, user-specific shopping lists and incentives for inactive or infrequent customers.

Successful email marketing is all about being noticed, but grabbing the recipient's attention can be a challenge. The first hurdle is difficult to overcome: the email must be seen, clicked on and viewed. An eye-catching subject usually does the trick. But then it must be read. This is where advertisers are required to work their magic. Many have fewer than five seconds to make an impression on the recipient, so the content and incentive of a marketing email must be clear, concise and compelling.

Advertisers also should make an effort to optimise marketing emails for mobile devices, as almost 40 per cent of recipients view such messages on smartphones and tablet PCs.