What Is Email Marketing? And How to Do It

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn how a well-executed email campaign has the potential to help you meet your marketing goals.

[Feature image] A woman wearing an orange sweater works on an email marketing campaign on her computer.

Email marketing is a form of digital marketing that uses email to connect with potential customers, raise brand awareness, build customer loyalty, and promote marketing efforts. 

In the world of digital marketing, email marketing is commonly considered a low-cost but high-impact tool with the ability to increase customer engagement and drive sales. As a result, it is often a cornerstone of many digital marketing strategies created today.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at email marketing’s efficacy and impact, find examples of it in action, and become acquainted with key terms. You will also find a list of email marketing best practices, common email marketing platforms, and suggested online courses to help you get started today.  

Email marketing: Impact, examples, and glossary

Email marketing has the potential to improve your marketing efforts. Read on to find out how and learn some of the key terms used by email marketers every day. 

Email marketing impact 

Email is one of the most popular modes of online communication. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 306.4 billion emails were sent daily in 2020. That number is projected to grow to 376.4 billion by 2025 [1]. 

The ability to reach large numbers of potential customers with just a click makes email a relatively cheap digital marketing tool with a potentially high impact. This is backed up by the data. One 2021 study, for instance, found that the average return on investment (ROI) for email marketing is $36 for every $1 spent [2]. 

Nonetheless, the ROI for email marketing is not the same for every industry. In the same study, the researchers broke down the average ROI per dollar spent for four different industries as follows:

  • Retail, economics, and consumer goods: $45 

  • Marketing, PR, advertising agency: $42

  • Software and technology: $36

  • Media, publishing, events, sports, entertainment: $32

Whatever the industry, it is clear that email marketing offers a potential return worth many times the initial investment. 

Email marketing examples 

If you have an email account, then you have likely encountered some form of email marketing before. Typical examples of email marketing include: 

  • Email newsletters that inform recipients about upcoming events, such as at a museum, playhouse, or concert venue 

  • Emails promoting holiday sales, such as during Black Friday or the Fourth of July  

  • Emails sent after a purchase (also known as transactional email) offering a discount on a future purchase 

Email marketing glossary 

Digital marketers use a variety of terms to describe the email marketing process. This glossary includes some key terms you should know: 

  • Acceptance rate: The percentage of messages received by recipients’ email servers.  

  • Bounce rate: The percentage of messages not received by recipients’ email servers.

  • Open rate: The percentage of emails opened by recipients. An email campaign’s open rate is one of the key metrics for determining its success. The higher the open rate, the better. 

  • Subject line: The text that shows up in a recipient’s inbox describing the email. Subject lines should be intriguing and relevant to recipients. 

  • Call-to-action (CTA): A link or button that connects to a download or website, such as a product page, blog post, or scheduling page.

  • Conversion rate: The number of recipients who follow through with a CTA by clicking a link or making a purchase, such as when a recipient clicks onto a link to your website. 

  • Click-through rate (CTR): The percentage of recipients who click on a CTA in an email. 

  • IP warming: The practice of gradually sending an increasing number of emails to a recipient in order to establish your IP address. 

  • Opt-in/opt-out: To either subscribe (opt-in) or unsubscribe (opt-out) from an email list. 

  • Nurture sequences: A series of automated emails that are sent when someone signs up for your email list. Nurture sequences foster customer engagement and help push customers further along the marketing funnel. 

Email marketing best practices and tips

A well-executed email marketing campaign has the potential to engage previous customers, attract new ones, and help you meet your marketing objectives. To pull this off, though, you will need to create a thoughtful email campaign that strategically attracts potential customers with relevant and well-timed messages.

As you are working on creating your own email marketing campaign, keep the following tips in mind: 

1. Craft eye-catching subject lines.

A subject line catches the reader’s attention and prompts them to open the message, while the content of the message elaborates on your value proposition and urges readers to act.

The high volume of daily emails means that competition is high in recipients’ inboxes—a stellar subject line can help you stand out from the crowd. This reality is highlighted by the fact that the average open rate for branded emails across all industries is only 21.33 percent [3]. 

Standout subject lines are intriguing and relevant to those who open them. Some ways to improve your subject lines include: 

  • Clearly state a promotion. (“Get 15% off Your Next Purchase”)

  • Create a sense of urgency. (“Hurry! Our 30% Off Spring Sale Ends in 24 Hours”) 

  • Evoke a sense of curiosity. (“Ice Skating in June?”)

  • Highlight a specific time period. (“Still Have Christmas Shopping To Do? We’re Here to Help.”)

  • Personalize it. (“Jane, Your Subscription Has Almost Expired!”)

2. Intentionally structure your message.

Structure is an important piece of any writing, but especially so for marketing emails. 

Effectively structuring the content of your message will allow you to immediately articulate your value proposition to your reader so you don’t waste their time. In fact, according to one study, the average time a recipient spent reading branded emails in 2021 was estimated to be just 10 seconds [4]. You might literally only have seconds to get your message across. 

To optimize this brief time, make sure that your email is well structured. Some ways to optimize the little time you have with your reader include:

  • Put the most important information at the top of your email, such as the promotion you most want them to see 

  • Make it scannable so readers can easily find the information they need

  • Keep text at a minimum and use links to re-direct readers to longer pieces, such as blog posts referenced in the email

  • Include CTAs, such as links, throughout your piece

  • Make sure there is a clear CTA at the end of the email to direct those who have scrolled through the whole email

3. Keep your design simple. 

There is a thin line between eye-catching and distracting. On one hand, you want to create a dynamic visual design that attracts attention. On the other, you want to make sure that key information is easily conveyed and highlighted. A simple design,  then, is generally more effective than a more complicated one. 

Some key considerations when designing a marketing email include: 

  • Use three or fewer colors in your email. A reduced pallet will be eye-catching without being overly distracting 

  • Emphasize your logo and branding. You want the recipient to quickly know exactly who sent it and where they can go to get your product

  • Visually emphasize CTAs 

  • Optimize your message for mobile devices. Many people check their email through their smartphones, so it is important that your messages are well-suited for their devices

4. Only email people who opted into your list. 

It is important that you only email individuals who have purposefully opted to receive them. There are several reasons for this practice.  

Firstly, while it is technically possible to purchase lists of email addresses from third-party sellers, this practice is often forbidden from many marketing platforms.  

Secondly, in some cases, it may actually be illegal for you to send marketing emails to individuals who’ve opted out of receiving them. In the United States, for example, CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act) is a 2003 law that expressly forbids sending emails to those that have previously opted out of them. According to the law, “each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $43,792” [5]. 

Finally, sending emails to those who don’t expressly want them is simply inefficient. While it may seem like sending as many emails as possible will help you reach your marketing goals, the reality is that email marketing is most effective when it’s targeted to a specific audience. Rather than sending emails to people who don't want them, it makes more sense to advertise your product or service to those who have already expressed an interest. 

5. Strategically time your emails. 

In many ways, email marketing is all about timing. Sometimes, sending the right message at the right time is the best strategy to improve customer engagement and meet your marketing goals.

As a form of digital marketing, email marketing benefits from being easily automated. Marketing automation allows you to send automated emails to a targeted audience. Use automation to either send targeted emails at certain times of the year, such as during the holidays, or to create automated nurture sequences. 

Automated nurture sequences help keep recipients engaged by automatically sending out relevant emails that maintain brand awareness and guide them through your marketing funnel. 

6. Keep tabs and run tests.

One of the benefits of digital marketing is that you regularly receive data on the efficacy of your campaigns. As you further develop your marketing campaign, this data can be invaluable to finding more efficient approaches to reaching your target audience. 

Email marketing platforms allow you to keep track of important data, such as your open rate, CTR, and conversion rate. Furthermore, many of them also allow you to run A/B tests, which compare the performance of two different campaigns to identify the most effective one. 

Routinely analyzing your data and conducting tests will help you improve the performance of your overall email marketing campaign.

Email marketing platforms and tools 

There is a wide range of email marketing tools and platforms available online. As you are implementing your marketing strategy, these platforms can help you design personalized emails, manage customer email addresses, and send out automated emails to increase your impact. 

Some of the most common email marketing platforms include: 

Whatever your marketing goals, you can use marketing platforms to help implement your email marketing strategy. 

You’ve got mail

 A well-executed email marketing campaign has the potential to lead to future marketing success. Prepare for a career in marketing with a flexible online marketing course, like The Strategy of Content Marketing from UC Davis or Digital Marketing from the University of Illinois.

Alternatively, gain in-demand technical skills to help you better analyze your marketing campaigns with the Meta Marketing Analytics Professional Certificate on Coursera. 

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Related articles 

Article sources 

1. Statista. “Number of sent and received e-mails per day worldwide from 2017 to 2025, https://www.statista.com/statistics/456500/daily-number-of-e-mails-worldwide/.” Accessed January 25, 2022. 

2. Statista. “Email marketing return on investment (ROI) in selected industries according to marketers worldwide as of June 2020, https://www.statista.com/statistics/804656/email-roi-perception/.” Accessed January 18, 2022. 

3. Mailchimp. “Email Marketing Benchmarks and Statistics by Industry, https://mailchimp.com/resources/email-marketing-benchmarks/.” Accessed January 27, 2022. 

4. Statista. “Average time people spend reading brand emails from 2011 to 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1273288/time-spent-brand-emails/.” Accessed January 27, 2022. 

5. FTC. “CAN SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Businesses, https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/guidance/can-spam-act-compliance-guide-business.” Accessed January 27, 2022.

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