Email marketing is probably the digital media channel that most businesses and consumers are most familiar with. I know that many people find email marketing painful and that spam has increased to record levels. But if email marketing is done properly, you (or your customers) should never receive an email that you didn’t request and that is not relevant to you personally.

There are 3 forms of email marketing (from my perspective):
1.    eDM – an electronic direct mail. This is usually an email about one specific topic of information that you want to tell your customers, users or clients about or something you want to ask them to do
2.    eNewsletter – similar to the traditional paper newsletter or magazine, often an email newsletter is a monthly or quarterly update. An email newsletter should have a collection of brief articles, that all click through to a relevant website landing page so your customer can click through for more information. Usually an email newsletter is used as a way of keeping a large number of people up to date on a regular basis about what has been happening within your business or organization
3.    Transactional emails – you may use transactional emails if you have an ecommerce or online business – these would be in the form of a tax invoice email confirmation of your purchase or a delivery notification. Transactional emails are also used on websites where users share information and want to be updated about changes, such as social networks when you get an email telling you that you have a new follower or from your bank confirming that a transaction has been processed.

Email marketing can be in the form of eDMs, eNewsletters, email newsletters and transactional emails

This is an example of a Solo eDM where Ticketek is communicating one specific topic (a concert) asking the customer to do something (buy now)

Email marketing provides an opportunity to test and refine

Email is the easiest way to test new messages, products or services on a sample customer group. You simply take a small portion of your customer database and separate them from the rest of the email list and send them a slightly different email. Sometimes the design is different; sometimes the subject line is different. Sometimes it could be the promotion or offer that you differentiate. Sometimes it’s as simple as a different image. Click here for more information on testing through email marketing.

Regular testing helps you learn more about your customers and constantly improve your marketing as well as your products to provide a better service to match your customers needs. The happier your customers are, the more successful your business will be.

Email subject lines, email content and email reporting provide almost unlimited testing opportunities. Design A/B sample tests, language, brand message or tagline tests, multi-variant content tests. Email gives you the perfect reason to segment your database and endeavor to send only relevant content and information to your customers.

Building an email customer database

Email is the key to customer database building. A newsletter subscription on your website allows you to collect valuable customer data:
•    Title
•    Name
•    Email
•    phone number
•    address
•    post code/ state/ country
•    gender
•    interests and whatever other information you can legitimately link to your business needs.

The rule of thumb in online marketing is that the fewer data fields you ask for, the better the likelihood that a prospective customer will finish the form. However, asking for too few data fields might mean that the information is so vague you’re not able to get any insights from the type of customers and prospects you’re attracting. You are a consumer too, so when creating your online subscription form, ask yourself, would I think this type of business needs all this information?

If you’re an eCommerce business, you will need a users address to mail them their purchase and their phone number to call in case of a problem. But if you are a social network, is the address necessary? Make sure that the information is relevant.

Email gives us an excellent opportunity to monitor our customers’ behaviour and interests by the content they click on – to do this, you must make sure that your email campaign tracking and reporting is set up correctly. Email also allows us speak with our customers directly and give them information that is relevant to them.

Data collection and privacy

However, email also demands of your business a certain amount of consideration about privacy and this is a legal issue that you must be spam compliant.

Your customer data is very valuable to your business, and will become a key differentiator between you and your competitors, but it is also of great personal importance to your customer. Personal details collected must have the consent of the individual, this is done using an opt in tick box, bot-proof captcha widgets (where you enter a word or random numbers into a box to prove that you are a real person) or secure certificates. Click here for an example of a legally spam compliant email subscription opt in.

You also have an obligation to ensure that the way you collect this personal information, via your website, is secure – using a secure domain represented through an https: domain URL and if you’re an eCommerce website, you will need an SSL certificate (Secure Sockets Layer) – this will be a requirement of setting up your payment gateway. You must also make sure that your customer data is stored securely and cannot be made available to third parties or compromised. This might mean security firewalls or software but if a physical machine is in place (a computer or server), this may requires additional systems in place to ensure your customer data is password protected.

If you have an ecommerce business and are collecting credit card details and other online transactions, your obligations are even greater. If you are not familiar with PCI compliance, you should probably start investigating immediately as it will be mandatory by most banks in Australia in 2013.

So now you have the basics you need to know about email marketing and the different types of email communications that you can use to talk to your customers. Now, what are you going to talk to them about? A website content strategy coupled with a well thought out email communication strategy and calendar of when you plan to talk to them is probably your next step.