With how quickly email marketing technology advances these days, we often find ourselves focused on the stream of new, shiny tech that is just hitting the market. This spotlight on the cutting edge is fascinating to us since we’re inundated with all things email marketing, however, we sometimes lose sight of those with a cursory knowledge of what email marketing can offer at its core.

So let’s take a step back and address the basics of email marketing in an effort to catch everyone up to speed. We’ll even the playing field and hopefully have a similar understanding and appreciation for the incredible new email marketing tech out there.

What is Email Marketing?

At its essence, email marketing is a form of direct marketing in which a strategically planned and targeted email message (or series of messages) is sent to a specific group in an attempt to get them to fulfill a definitive goal.

Although the aforementioned “goal” is often making a sale and achieving an immediate return on investment, this doesn’t always have to be the case. The goal could be as simple as getting them to engage with your content, RSVP for your event, or enticing them to visit your website.

There are several advantages to email marketing over other marketing mediums that keep it relevant in the modern business world.

  • It consistently achieves the highest ROI of any marketing medium because it’s cheap and it works
  • Most if not all of your clients and potential clients use it
  • With the proper list-building techniques, you can reach an extensive amount of people in a single email campaign
  • Email allows you to personalize your marketing efforts more than most other mediums

The biggest challenge in email marketing is the competition in your subscribers’ inboxes. Since so many businesses have caught on to the ease and effectiveness of email marketing, your target’s inbox is crowded with marketing email, so standing out from the crowd and then gaining and sustaining their trust is no easy task. But, with the right tools and strategy, you can certainly establish a strong email marketing presence and generate the desired ROI.

Where do I start?

Now that you understand what email marketing is at its most basic and what it can do for you and your business, you need a starting off point. When you’re first beginning your email journey, it can be tough to initially get the ball rolling. Let us take the pressure off by providing this step-by-step guide to starting your email journey. This article will focus on the lead up to launching an actual campaign and our follow up article (stay tuned!) will focus on the campaign itself. Let’s get started.

Step 1: List Building

In order to put together a successful email campaign, you have to have people to send it to. Building and maintaining a clean email list is an essential part of achieving success in your email marketing efforts. Make sure to put the necessary efforts up front and build a targeted and relevant audience.

Even if you’ve never put together an email marketing campaign, odds are you have plenty of email addresses from current clients, connections, prospects and whoever else you’ve contacted via email that might find your content interesting. Use what you already have as a jumping off point. If you’re unsure how to expand and maintain your email list from there, refer to the resources below:

Step 2: Strategy

Once you have an audience to send emails to, you need a plan of attack. There are a number of factors to consider when planning your email marketing such as what to send, when to send it, which portions of your email list get what, where your email is leading people and a number of other variables that can initially be overwhelming.

The important thing is to do initially is take a step back and pinpoint exactly what you want to accomplish with your email campaigns. Do you want to strengthen your relationship with current clients? Do you want to build relationships with prospects? Do you want to increase sales of a certain product or offering? These are the big questions upon which you can build the rest of your campaign.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to just pick one objective and stick with it. Although it may be best if beginners focus on a single goal, eventually you should be running multiple campaigns with various objectives, targeting specific audiences.

There are several conventional strategies to utilize when you’re just starting out, such as general content marketing, inbound marketing, or account-based marketing. Understanding the underlaying differences in each marketing approach will help you appreciate how email fits with other branches of marketing, and ultimately define your email marketing strategy. For example, you might realize email campaigns are simply a delivery mechanism for great content. Hence, you need to focus on creating a cohesive content strategy.

Step 3: Template Building

Once you have an idea of what your strategy will be, you need to start designing the email itself. This is where things can get a bit tricky since building beautiful emails often requires a bit of technical know-how. Email design is a particularly important step since the competition in any given inbox is extremely intense. Anything less than a stellar looking email will get trashed before it’s even given a chance.

There are a few options at your disposal:

  1. Stick with a plain-text email and make it look as clean and presentable as possible and just hope that your content will speak for itself. This is undoubtedly the least common option, yet it can be useful on occasion
  2. Study and become proficient at HTML and design a beautiful email from scratch. A cumbersome option to be sure, but ultimately a rewarding one.
  3. Outsource your email design to an Email Service Provider (ESP) who, depending on the ESP, will design custom email templates to build out your campaigns in a user-friendly email builder.

The latter option is preferable if you are serious about starting up a successful email marketing campaign and keeping it going for the foreseeable future. An ESP will not only help you build out beautiful emails, they will help you with planning, delivery, and reporting of your emails, all of which are crucial to hitting your KPIs.


This should get the ball rolling and point you in the right direction in developing your email marketing strategy. Stay tuned for part 2 and check out these helpful articles in the meantime: