What is email marketing?

Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you probably have a good idea of what email marketing is just from the name. And you’d be right; email marketing is just that – marketing messages sent via email.

But the art form is evolving – and to predict the future, we first need to go back a little.

B2B email marketing campaigns – then and now

Email marketing has progressed in two main ways:

  • The emails themselves (how they’re written and how they’re built),
  • And the list of recipients (how it’s obtained, segmented and nurtured).

In the ‘old days’, email marketing was only employed by a few forward-thinking marketers and salespeople. The copy followed a letter correspondence-like format. It was regular, intimate, and effective.

Then the deluge came.

Once everyone got on board, businesses would purchase huge lists of contacts – usually vaguely related by demographic or interest. They’d blast a sales message out and see what came back. Open rates could be slim and conversions even more so.

Then, the people decided (rightly) that they have the right to a SPAM-free email experience.

Filters were introduced to our inboxes, then government regulations like the GDPR introduced huge deterrents to businesses who obtain customers’ details or contact them without express permission.

Today, email marketing hasn’t slowed down – but the way we do it has changed. The approach has gone from a shotgun blast to more of a gentle hug – and new technology means we can get be a lot more targeted to the individuals within our audience.

We’re now splitting our audiences into smaller, much more interesting segments than ever before. We can split audiences by the actions they take, as well as being able to segment by demographics. Basically, we’re trying to recapture that early email magic, and achieve the relevance and intimacy that those first email marketers enjoyed.

Email marketing stats

We all love a good stat. In fact, the only thing better than one is a bunch!

Here are a few email marketing stats from Hubspot’s Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2019:

  • 93% of B2B marketers use email to distribute content.
  • 83% of B2B companies use e-newsletters as part of their content marketing program.
  • 73% of millennials prefer communications from businesses to come via email.
  • 80% of business professionals believe that email marketing increases customer retention

Explaining the different types of email marketing

We generally split email campaigns into two different ‘types’:

  • Single email campaigns – one email sent around a promotion, topic or trigger. They can occur regularly, but won’t be linked to each other. There are two types of single emails:
    • One-off campaigns,
    • Action-based emails
  • Email sequences – a series of emails sent at predetermined intervals in a particular order. These emails will normally interlink thematically, like separate parts of the same story. There are two types of email sequences:
    • General email sequence
    • Nurture email sequence

Which you’ll use will depend on your audience and your offer. B2B businesses will need a different approach to their B2C counterparts as the sales cycles are typically longer and more information needs to be shared. That’s why email sequences are a great addition to any B2B email marketing strategy.

Let’s dig into each type in more detail.

One-off campaigns: like your monthly newsletter, new product announcement, or an alert for special EOFY pricing.

It’s important to still segment your data and tailor your emails to each segment. You don’t have to create completely new emails for each, but choose a section or portion of the email to personalise, such as the introduction or one of the pieces of content you’re promoting.

Action-based emails: triggered by an action the contact takes – e.g. clicking a link in another campaign or visiting a page on your website.

A prospect takes a specific action which is linked to an email delivery – for example, enters their details to unlock an ebook download. You might then send one email to deliver the ebook, one a day or two later to remind them to download it and then another in a week to see what they thought and suggest something else.

B2B email marketing campaigns: Action-based emails

General email sequence: a predetermined suite of emails that you send out to your contacts over time regardless of their behaviour.

A prospect enters their details through your website and is added to your system as a ‘cold’ lead. The idea of this campaign is to pique their interest by sending them content they might be interested in.

B2B email marketing campaigns - General email sequence

Nurture email sequence: You can take the single action-based email a step further by applying the same logic across an entire sequence. This is similar to a general sequence campaign but with an added layer of personalisation which comes from the actions your prospect takes.

For example, if the reader visits a certain page on your website, or clicks a certain link in a previous email, they might trigger a series of emails with more information about the topic they’ve clicked on.

B2B email marketing campaigns: Nurture email sequence

Building up your contact list

Of course, an email is no good if nobody is there to read it.

You’ve got to start somewhere – so don’t let a small list of contacts stop you from developing campaigns and sequences.

However, you must include email list building into your overarching email (and marketing) strategy, because sending campaigns to the same people week in week out isn’t going to get you the results you want.

We encourage all of our clients to focus on building up their customer and prospect databases. Ideally, you want a lot of contacts, each with a lot of data – name, business, locale and one or two other qualifiers unique to your objectives.

We’ll get in-depth on how to build a good contact list in a later post (but get in touch if you just can’t wait).

Here are a few quick ideas for building up your contact list:

Starting your B2B email marketing strategy

Knowing your audience is essential when you’re developing your strategy.

Emails sent with the wrong tone of voice or with the wrong kind of content won’t resonate with your audience and will severely hamper the effectiveness of your campaigns.

You also need to think about timing for all elements of your email marketing. Random emails every couple of months isn’t going to help you build your empire – you need constant conversation.

So before you write an email, decide: what do you want to achieve?

Your email marketing is a sub-segment of your overarching marketing strategy, and as such should feed into your wider marketing and business goals.

Step one: decide on your structure

Every business is different, but we think a combination of regular single campaigns, longer email sequences and action-based emails is a strong mix. You don’t have to build these all at once – you’ll do them over time, starting with the most important, and add functionality and content as you go.

The exact structure will depend on your industry and audience – as well as your internal goals and the resources you have on hand (or what you’re able to outsource).

Step two: write your email copy

Once you have the structure worked out, it’s time to write your emails.

If you have a copywriter on hand, give this job to them. If not, you might think about giving it to an agency. Your emails need to reflect your brand’s tone of voice and personality, while still getting across all the essential information and leading the customer to act in a certain way (by downloading a guide or purchasing a product, for example).

There are a few schools of thought on how you should write and what you should write about. We think a safe bet is to stay true to your roots, and focus on telling simple stories that you can then relate back to your product or brand. Businesses we talk to tend to think that because we’re writing for B2B, we need to fill our emails with technical jargon and marketing-speak. Don’t forget that B2B buyers are people, too – they laugh, they like to be entertained and they see right through you when you try to be too clever.

Hot tip: Space out your amount of ‘sell’ over the course of the email sequence, going from a 0 in the first email to a 9 or 10 in the last. Try to have some thematic or stylistic elements consistent through the sequence, or at least appearing near the beginning and coming back at the end.

Step three: optimise

The journey doesn’t end when you press ‘send’ – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. You need to constantly review and refine your email sequences.

Look through the data and let it tell you what’s working and what isn’t. It’s important to adjust your structure, copy and visuals – as well as the timing of the sequence – based on the performance of the emails.

Hot tip: You can optimise as you go by split testing elements of your emails. Split testing is where you send two different versions of an email to a segment of your list – the one that performs best is then sent to the rest of the group. Your email software should let you do split testing fairly easily. Test your subject lines, pre header text, send time and ‘from’ name – and test different content against each other using the ‘conditional content’ feature in your email marketing platform.

Copy components of great B2B email marketing campaigns

Stories: people love to hear stories, and if you can reveal something about you or your organisation, that’s win-win. Businesses are full of interesting stories. but often, our clients don’t see them because they’re too close. A story can come from anywhere – so keep an ear out, and announce to your staff that you’re actively looking for tales to tell.

Offers: There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned offer to get people clicking through.

Teases: You want to become a welcome presence in peoples’ inboxes – and one way to do that is to build excitement for your next email. Use a ‘PS’ to promote what you’ll be talking about next time, or weave it into the body copy if you can.

Subject lines: Too often we see subject lines treated as an afterthought, when really they’re one of your most important elements. Nobody will see the email you’ve crafted if your subject is boring.

‘One-percenters’: Don’t forget the essential micro-content – pre-header copy, ‘from’ name and unsubscribe copy (a bit of humour here may stop contacts un-subbing).

There’s your guide to creating B2B email marketing campaigns that work – courtesy of your friends at The Marketing Project. If you liked this, please let us know – we always love getting feedback on our guides!

But before we go, we have a few gifts for you to take on your way…

The email marketing strategy B2B checklist

We’ve created a take-away PDF email marketing strategy checklist for you to refer to when you want to create killer B2B email marketing campaigns. It covers the whole process from start to finish – and we’ve added the glossary on there too so you’re never lost for words.

Download your email marketing strategy B2B checklist to share with your team.

B2B email marketing glossary

Email list: the list of contacts you’ll be sending emails to.

Data segmentation: Splitting up your recipient list into groups based on the data you’ve collected on them – for example, locale. You can segment this any way you like, but ensure you have the same information for every contact otherwise it gets messy.

Tagging: You can tag your contacts to segment them further or more specifically. For example, if you deal with both government and private organisations, and want to speak to each separately, you can tag them as such.

Personalisation: the act of showing each reader information that’s unique to them based on what you know about them (for example, saying ‘Hi Holly’, or giving me a Melbourne-specific deal).

Email campaign (single): Any singular email sent in isolation. These can be regular or one-off.

Email sequence: A co-ordinated and linked sequence of emails sent in a specific order, working towards an end goal.

Action based autoresponder: An email that’s sent based on an action – for instance, someone entering their details to download an ebook will then receive an automatically triggered email to download the ebook. Another example is a ‘forgot my password’ email.

Hard bounce: An email that comes back to you because the email address is invalid. Remove these from your database, or they’ll skew your results.

Soft bounce: An email that temporarily can’t be delivered. It could be because it’s too large or your recipient’s email server is down.

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