What is Email Marketing and How Does it Work

What is Email Marketing and How Does it Work?

As an owner of a business, you may have asked yourself “What is email marketing and how does it work?” and “Is it still relevant in the era of digital marketing?” Search no further. In this post, I will take you through the basics of email marketing, the tools available and how they are used in email marketing, the pros and cons of email marketing and finally, the relevance of email marketing to the marketing needs of your business.

Email marketing is the use of email to reach out to your existing and potential customers to market your products and services and nurture relationships through automated email sequences with software called an autoresponder.

The next question on your mind would be how it works and whether it would work for your business. Once you have an understanding of what email marketing is, you can decide whether or not it is something that could enhance your business.
Before that, however, you need to have an understanding of how this approach works by looking into the structure of this marketing channel.

How email marketing works


To begin with, there is a subject line. This is a significant component of email marketing as it allows you to grab the attention of your potential and current customers. If you don’t craft a catchy subject line, then your customers will not open the email.

Next, there is the body of your email. You do not want to grab the attention of your readers then provide content that is not enticing or engaging for them.

The body of the email is critical in that this is where you have the opportunity to deliver some highly valuable information that will help your subscriber reach their own goals and gives you the chance to continue to build your trust and relationship with them.

Why is this so important? Because when the time comes to promote your offer your subscriber will feel more receptive and, in many cases, the principle of reciprocation is in full play, in other words, they will be more inclined to take action as they almost feel that they owe you a debt for all the help you’ve given them!

Finally, there should be a call-to-action. This is where you get to tell your client what to do after reading the body of your email. This includes telling them to download your e-books, or filling out a form, and maybe contacting your company. You should ensure that the process followed after the call-to-action is simple and is precise, to avoid confusing your readers.

The basic idea of email marketing is quite simple in that you’re trying to build a relationship and add value for your subscribers. The good news is you can use software, called an autoresponder, to make the process relatively straightforward and some are totally free to start, and I’d recommend using one as it’s an excellent way to find your feet.

Now depending on what you’re trying to achieve it can, like many things, get very involved if you wish to build sequences that are fully automated and send emails concerning a subscribers actions or lack of actions. In this case, you would need to invest in a more robust and complex solution.

How relevant is email marketing in the 21st century


Research (smartinsights.com) has proven that email marketing still ranks higher than most of the other marketing approaches currently being used today, such as affiliate marketing, social media platforms, and SEO.

I wholly agree with this statement. Here are my reasons why:

First, according to data from 2017 (statista.com) approximately 85% of all adult users in the USA use email. In comparison, only 60% rely on search engines, and only 63% are on social media platforms. As you can see, the channel with most people is still email. You can reach people on a wide range of devices, and the best part is that this is your subscriber list, you own it not a third party platform.

The second reason and this is a major one, the tools used in email marketing allow you to set up automatic email sequences leaving you free to attend other sections of your business.

What email marketing tools can do for you

  • They can help you handle advanced communication sequences with all your subscribers, with greater ease. This is done, as mentioned earlier, using software known as an autoresponder which I will tell you more about right after this section.
  • There are tools to help with the management of different but simultaneous communication paths. Again, most of the other marketing approaches cannot let you do this.
  • You can get access to advanced statistics. Social media and SEO marketing will give you access to advanced statistics too; however, this is usually the front end of bringing people to your website, it will not show you what’s working or not in your ongoing communication with your subscribers. This kind of insight is extremely powerful and you have this analytical capability when using email marketing tools.
  • You can integrate your email marketing platform with your e-commerce platform

Do you want to reach out to someone when they purchase a product, or abandons their cart, or visits a given product page multiple times without buying anything? The sure way to do this is through integrating your email marketing platform with your e-commerce site. This will enable you to reach out to your clients and interact with them where necessary, to boost your sales.

Email Autoresponder


What is the definition of an autoresponder? An autoresponder is a SAAS service that lets you send out emails to individuals, groups, or many different groups, of people automatically.

And how exactly does it work? Well, autoresponders work in three of the steps as I’ll outline here:

  1. You set up a marketing system that attracts suitable subscribers to sign up and receive emails from you.
  1. You draft your emails, design your sequences, put in place any triggers or automation that are in line with your business objectives and once you have all you need, the sending process is automatic 24/7.
  1. The emails are received by the subscribers, often personalized along with content that is of high value to them.

An autoresponder is one of the most powerful software tools your business can invest in.

It works night and day delivering your message, building trust, literally on autopilot. Of course, you have to invest in the time and content to set it up, but once done it just keeps working for you without complaints regardless of what time your subscriber signs up to your list.

Having gone through the basics of email marketing, it is essential to know how exactly you will benefit from using this marketing approach. How will it help my small business? Will I have any specific advantage over my competitors? These are the questions I expect you to have by now and I can show you how exactly you and your business stand to benefit from using email marketing.

The Benefits of email marketing


Email marketing is permission-based

This means that the people who have chosen to receive emails from you are genuinely interested in you, your business and what you have to say that can help them. They are people who would like to do business with you if you build a strong rapport with them.

There is a list of endless things you can do with an active subscriber base, but most importantly you get the liberty to preplan your business to meet their needs. Without a constant number of people that you are regularly engaging, you cannot create a suitable model for your business, let alone scale your operations without making potential losses.

You can rely on flexible designs.

Most of the marketing approaches out there provide you with a limited approach to broadcasting the messages you want to reach your customers. For instance, if you are using advertisements on your website, you are only expected to place the ads at specific points.

You cannot afford to break such rules; if you do people will avoid visiting your site as it looks disorganized and generally spammy. With email marketing, however, you are presented with the option to come up with any design to get the attention of your current and potential customers.

You can send out your email in plain text, or you can come up with graphic designs. You can also have a download link in your emails for files if you want your active subscribers to get specific content from you, such as e-books, whitepapers, and other useful material.

Conversions and increased sales

If you have created a new promotion, your emails should have compelling headlines and content with a call to action that encourages your subscribers to click on the links you send them.

Email marketing can also be applied at every stage of the purchase process.

You can, for example, target customers using email marketing before they buy your product.

Also, you can wait until they have purchased one product, for you to ask them to agree to receive marketing messages from you. So long as you are interested in nurturing the customer relationship before and after the sales transaction, you will get rewarded in the form of increased conversions and sales.


With the cut-throat competition going on within the marketplace, you cannot afford to be complacent, you must analyze the methods your competitors are using, both right and wrong, to stay in the game so to speak.

Otherwise, it is like groping in the dark and hoping to get to your intended destination without any incidents.

How does email marketing help me with knowing how my competitors are doing? By using benchmarking reports, you can compare your performance to the rest of the companies in your industry. With the free online email marketing benchmarking reports at your disposal, you can evaluate how well you are doing and plan for your next moves.

It is time-saving

With this marketing approach, automation can be used to trigger emails to be sent out to your clients once they perform a specific action on your website.

For instance, a customer can automatically receive a welcome email after signing up to your email list via your website. They can also be included in a series of follow up emails that help them with a specific problem.

The more advanced autoresponders such as Convertkit, Aweber and (my favourite) Activecampaign allow you to have advanced triggers, rules and even URLs that determine what emails a subscriber will receive and by their actions also will enable them to join or leave specific sequences. The possibilities are truly extraordinary and allow the subscriber to follow what best interests them.

There are considerable benefits to investing in email marketing and if done well can indeed build your business. It is an area of internet marketing that often isn’t used to its full potential, and this can help you get ahead of your competitors.

As with most things in life you are also bound to experience some challenges. These challenges, which come up as disadvantages of email marketing, can, of course, be addressed in one way or another.

Below are some of the drawbacks of email marketing…

Disadvantages of email marketing



This one is a significant drawback as far as email marketing is concerned. If your messages are not directed to the right people, they are highly likely to delete them and unsubscribe from your regular emails.

Those who do not delete or unsubscribe are likely to treat the messages as spam, thus denying you the opportunity to spread the word about your campaigns. Your concern at this point would be how you can solve this challenge. This I can tell you straight up; you need to ensure that your email marketing approach complies with all data and privacy protection rules and that your messages are only sent to the people who want to receive them. If you fail to do this, you will find out that the “click-through rate” for all your untargeted emails will be very low.

A simple way to address this is by using double opt-in sequences for your sign-ups. Yes, it is true that your conversion rate will be lower; however, the quality of your subscriber list will be significantly higher and more engaged with you and your business.

I’m a firm believer that the quality of your list is far more important than the size. If you think about it, what is the point of a large subscriber list that doesn’t engage with you? I’d much rather see a smaller engaged list that opens, reads and responds to my emails. This is how businesses grow.

Problems with the email design


When designing your messages, it is essential to ensure that they are compatible with all devices. You might encounter the problem when you have a well-crafted campaign that is only properly visible to people who own laptops. Smartphone users may have trouble viewing your graphically designed email and may give up reading the email.

Emails that contain embedded images are often blocked by the internet service provider and even your email client, Gmail and Outlook for example, due to spammers inserting viruses and so forth.

If you want to address this problem, you may need to at times make a trade-off between functionality and design. If functionality is your primary objective, you might want to focus on how you will deliver your messages in a way that is precise and can be viewed by every subscriber.

In my opinion, a simple text-based email that delivers relevant and compelling information that encourages action is a far better solution. It will get delivered and is lightweight which provides a better user experience. Remember you can always direct them to a well-designed landing page once they click…

Next steps


Having learned the basics of what email marketing is and how it works, you are now in a position to decide if email marketing is a good fit for your objectives and goals.

It’s a great way to establish relationships with new and existing customers, you can start with a modest investment into an autoresponder which is usually priced monthly based on your subscriber count.

There really is no reason why you shouldn’t add this to your marketing mix. With some testing, you’ll see some great ROI, just be prepared to test, learn, iterate and repeat until you get the results you’re looking for.

Karl Freeman

Karl Freeman

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