Email Marketing Essentials

Email marketing is a fantastic way of promoting your business relatively easily and with virtually no cost implications. However, with the rise in popularity of email marketing and the subsequent increase in unsolicited email, it’s important you think carefully about who you’re targeting and what message you are promoting.

Everyone hates spam and you can be sure that if you get your audience and/or message wrong, your email marketing won’t help your business or enhance your reputation.

Instead of blanket emailing a group of email addresses think about sending email to prospects you’ve already contacted, to your inhouse database file, or to targeted, opt-in email lists. It’s simple to do, it’s quick, the response is immediate, and provided the recipients are genuinely pre-qualified via a confirmed opt-in procedure the results will be more cost-effective than conventional posted communications.

In what follows we’re making a distinction between emailed newsletters (which we’ll cover later in the series) and shorter, more personal communications such as sales messages.
The best prospecting emails are short and snappy. Simply address your target customer’s needs, make your offer and tell them who you are. The simplicity of email is a virtue: don’t try anything fancy – no clever formatting, no irrelevant attachments. Then monitor responses carefully. It’s cheap, it allows you to test offers and price points, and you can do it yourself.

Design your email

When creating an email message …

  • Text is generally preferable to HTML (even though the latter lets you use colours, different typefaces, hyperlinks etc). The snazzier graphical content might work for you if your target audience is consumers, but a corporate or technical readership will probably prefer something that looks a bit simpler – hype-free, concise, fact-filled. And because HTML can in theory include embedded viruses, some company email systems will automatically reject incoming HTML messages (or convert them to plain text, which means all your effort in producing a good-looking function-filled message will go to waste).
  • If you are intending to use HTML because of the flexibility and richness of content, fight the urge to go overboard on graphical content. Avoid using multiple fonts, size and colours. Never ever include moving images, video clips or music. This kind of thing can easily overpower the sales message, or simply put off the reader before they have a chance to get to the message.
  • Pick a succinct and informative subject line. This is how most people filter email – they won’t bother reading the message immediately (maybe not at all) if they don’t see instantly that it has some value to them.
  • Write short paragraphs – aim for no more than two or three sentences and no more than 40 words per paragraph. Email works best when it’s compact.
  • Don’t include any more than one or two hyperlinks in the body of the message.
  • Where possible, use a close and a signature that thanks people for their time and has a link to a real person (phone number and/or email address).

Email etiquette   

Whether you solicit new partnerships or seek to maintain and build relationships with current businesses, the key is to prevent misunderstanding and not give offence. You need an appreciation of B2B etiquette; otherwise your actions can be taken for rudeness or incompetence, leaving the other party with a poor impression of your company.

This isn’t rocket science, of course. You’re in business yourself; just think how you would react if you’d received whatever it is you plan to send. But consider these points:

  • Keep it simple and practical. Do not write a lengthy email and do not use jargon or an overly colloquial style.
  • Keep the signature neat. For your signature block, do not use cute quotes (unless it happens to be the slogan of your business, and if it’s too cute you might want to revise it anyhow).
  • Watch your tone. Don’t speak in terms of how great you think your company is. Speak from the point of view of the other business to say “Look what we can do for you.”
  • Size does matter. Don’t tie up people’s email by sending large, unsolicited attachments. If you have to send a large file, give advance warning and allow the recipient the chance to reject it. If they don’t have broadband it might be polite to find out the best time for you to send it, such as before or after regular working hours. Or send it in segments. And be aware that some company email systems are set up to reject any overlarge messages and/or attachments (because they clog up the system and because they might contain viruses or malware).
  • Use discretion. Something that might seem funny to you might be patently offensive to someone else. Even if the person on the other end has no problem with what you’re sending, other people in their office could glance at the offending message. If you’re that inclined to show or tell the person what you have, ask for a non-business email address you can send it to where they can review it with more privacy.

Test and Measure

Message testing is highly desirable, though sometimes it’s just not practical.
If you have the time and enough target recipients it makes sense to develop two or three versions of the message with different content and a different call-to-action element. Then try out the alternatives on a small proportion of your list, say 10-15% of the total, and assess the response rates. Use the version that generated the highest return with the rest of the list.

How to measure response? You need a link to your website or a dedicated telephone number for the recipient to call. Either way, you must log the responses to those telephone numbers by qualifying each call or by measuring the call stats in the period following the email campaign. If you use a link to your website, you’ll need a ‘landing page’ that welcomes the new visitor, provides content that’s integrated with your opt-in message, captures sufficient information to add detail to your contact database, and incidentally counts the number of unique hits.

And what’s a good response rate for a campaign? A tough one; industry averages range from 1% to about 20%. Expect something in single figures. Obviously the response will vary according to the market, your offer, the kind of response you are seeking, and the quality of your mailing list. The increasing use of email also means that response rates are falling for most campaigns apart from those that trade on an existing brand loyalty.


Let Them Opt Out

Opt-in or permission-based email (the terms are interchangeable) means recipients have confirmed their interest in receiving email and have signed up to receive communications about a subject of their interest.

Anything else is spam, and it’s probably illegal.

Your email messages must be clearly identified as coming from a specific and approved vendor or source.

You must always give recipients of your email marketing a way to opt out of receiving further messages from you. The opt-out option should be obvious, and it should be easy to use. A PS on a mailing will usually be adequate, especially if it’s no more complicated than “click here to be taken off the distribution list”.


Signing Them Up

If customers have consented to receiving information from you in the past, the law says you can send them information on other things you think they might be interested in. So you need to encourage them to opt in in the first place.

  • Use incentives – offer a small but worthwhile extra discount to anyone who signs up to receive your email updates. Or emphasise that some offers will be made exclusively through your email marketing. Advance notice of new phones or changing tariffs might also attract your audience.
  • Include tickboxes on your other marketing material – “tick here to receive information from us”. This could appear on advertisement coupons, invoices, your website, anything that represents a point of contact with the individual.
  • Your website is a particularly powerful way of getting people to opt-in, because the fact that someone has arrived there implies a familiarity with internet-based marketing. So your website should highlight the benefits of subscribing to your email service with a short online form to use there and then.
  • When signing someone up, request as little information as possible. That will make it easy for them to opt in. Name, company and email address will do.


It is an offence for a UK company to send email or SMS text messages unless:

  • there is an existing customer relationship with the recipient
  • the recipient has previously given their permission to receive material
  • the recipient has a simple means of refusing such communications both when the details are initially collected and with each subsequent communication sent.

Offenders face a maximum £5,000 fine for each breach.
Loopholes are emerging, though. Only personal email addresses are covered by the laws – so while is probably included, companies could still send spam to a business email address such as As for, that one would probably be regarded in law as a personal email address.

The “existing customer relationship” means that spam is acceptable where email addresses have been obtained in the course of “a sale or negotiations for a sale of a product or service”. But only mail marketing “similar products and services” is acceptable.

Guidance published by the Information Commissioner suggests that although there must be some form of communication whereby the individual knowingly indicates consent, this does not necessarily mean that a box has been ticked – consent could be inferred from an individual subscribing to a service, so long as they are aware that in doing so they will be agreeing to receive direct marketing by electronic means and they have been given the opportunity to refuse such communication.

To avoid falling foul of the regulations …

  • Be wary of the distinction between a personal address and a business address – they can often be the same, but you might not be aware of that.
  • If you are collecting email addresses to be used for marketing purposes, make sure this is stated explicitly at the time
  • Once informed, the user should be able to refuse permission for their email to be used for marketing purposes (ie opt-out)
  • Email addresses should not be harvested and used for marketing purposes without the recipients’ knowledge
  • Recipients should be able to refuse permission for further marketing messages to be sent to them at any time.
  • If you’re mailing someone with whom a customer relationship exists, make sure the content relates to similar products and services (and there should still be an opt-out opportunity).
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