Email is one of the most valuable marketing tools at your disposal—but understanding when to use email marketing is another story.
Does that company announcement about your new sales director warrant an email, or is it best left as a quick social media post with a press release?
How many times should you send emails about your 40% off sale before people start scrolling for the unsubscribe link?
People love to get emails from their favorite brands for one major reason: They’re in control of the relationship and you’re not.
Don’t let that frighten you—we promise it’s a good thing.
Brands can value the relationship with their consumers by sending emails at the right time. Here’s how.
When to use email marketing really matters
Understanding when to use email marketing involves taking a step back and looking at the broader picture. Consider how your audience uses email and what type of communication is welcome.
1. Email is personal—it’s not like social media
Most consumers—nearly 60%—prefer to hear from brands through email over other channels like SMS and social media.
Why? Because if they feel a brand sends too many emails, or doesn’t send interesting content, they can just click unsubscribe and make the emails stop.
Part of understanding when to use email marketing involves treating email like private communication between two people rather than blasting the same promotion to everyone through email.
Remember that when you send an email, your subscribers will likely get a push notification on their phone—so not every announcement or topic warrants an email campaign.
2. Consistency is important, but don’t be overbearing
When Marketing Sherpa asked people why they unsubscribe from brand emails, 45% said they receive too many emails—either in general or from a specific company.
It’s important to send emails consistently so that people remember signing up for your list. However, too many emails contribute to a cluttered inbox and get annoying—fast.
You can solve the problem right away by directing subscribers to a preference center when they click unsubscribe. Ask them if they’d like to adjust the email frequency instead of unsubscribing completely.
You can also prompt new subscribers to adjust their email preferences right away and include a link to the preference center at the bottom of every email.
JoAnn Fabric gently asks subscribers to adjust their email frequency instead of cutting all communications.
3. Different segments of your audience require different email topics
In that same Marketing Sherpa survey, a whopping 91% of people say they unsubscribe from mailing lists because the content is either too generic, too promotional, or not relevant enough.
Dividing your list into different segments—based on demographics like age, gender, behavior, and interests—can help you personalize your email content.
You can prompt subscribers to select their favorite topics when they sign up, or include a preference center link at the bottom of each email. Here’s what JoAnn’s looks like:
4. Schedule your emails to send at proper times
If you’re using a reputable email service provider for your email marketing, you should know which time zone each subscriber lives in.
You wouldn’t want to send an email to someone at three in the morning, right? It would end up buried by the time they wake up.
Instead, schedule your emails to publish at a preset time based on where they live.
5. Track your email performance and adjust your frequency
In general, you want your unsubscribe rate to stay under 0.2%. If it’s creeping up to 1% or more, that calls for a closer look at your sending practices.
Sending too many emails could also trigger spam filters or get you sent to the Gmail promotional tab instead of the inbox. Monitor your deliverability, opens, clicks, and unsubscribe rates to figure out when to use email marketing at the right frequency for your audience.
Source: Campaign Monitor
When to use email marketing to build meaningful relationships with your audience
Most of all, understanding when to use email marketing involves setting goals.
Since every email should only include one topic, and each subscriber requires personalized content, let your goals dictate when and how you send your emails.
When to use email marketing for demand generation
If you have a comprehensive, high-quality content marketing strategy, you’re bound to collect a large chunk of subscribers who don’t qualify as a genuine lead.
Some people may simply enjoy your blog posts and want to read more of your content in their inbox. Consider creating a demand generation strategy for these subscribers.
Less is more here. Focus on promoting your best content about once a week—and make sure it’s super relevant to the interests of your audience. You should also consider sending freebies to these subscribers (when possible) to help them learn more about what products or services you offer.
Snappy Eats sent this email to someone who signed up for their mailing list pre-launch but never made a purchase.
When to use email marketing for lead generation
Email marketing is especially beneficial for generating leads because you have a direct line of communication with your audience—there’s no fighting with social media algorithms.
Use popups and widgets to encourage visitors on your blog to sign up for your mailing list. You can also use gated content, webinars, podcasts, and videos to collect email addresses and provide a download link to the content.
Take special note of where and when someone signs up for your mailing list. Which blog was it? Which e-book did they want to download? Understanding what did the trick will give you vital information about what type of content they like and which stage of the sales funnel they’re at.
When to use email marketing for nurturing leads
Not everyone who signs up for your list is ready to buy straight away.
Watch which of your subscribers have made a purchase and which haven’t so you can figure out what emails to send them.
For lead nurturing, create an automated welcome email and onboarding campaign to help introduce them to your brand.
We’ve found that welcome emails generate 50% open rates on average—which is huge. After your welcome email, stagger onboarding campaigns a day or two apart for the first week or so.
When to use email marketing for engaging current customers
Nearly 70% of people prefer to communicate with brands through email after making a purchase.
Of course, this includes sending transactional emails such as shipping confirmations. You can also send emails a week or two (depending on the product) post-purchase asking your customer to fill out a review or answer questions to help other shoppers.
However, you can also keep your customers engaged in between purchases to keep their attention away from competitors.
Here’s a great email from Me Undies encouraging subscribers to join their “community” by following the brand on social media. Plus, it’s full of reviews for social proof.
Source: Really Good Emails
When to use email marketing for boosting conversions
While it may feel tempting to only send promotional emails, your subscribers won’t appreciate it.
More than 80% of customers say the key to winning their business is treating them like a person rather than a number. And 19% of people say they unsubscribe from mailing lists because the brand is always trying to sell them something.
Think of your email content as more editorial than promotional. You’re using it to create a relationship with your subscribers—not just sell them stuff.
Tip: Use a ratio of about 70% editorial and 30% promotional.
When to use email marketing for brand awareness
Email is an incredibly valuable tool for building brand awareness, but many companies aren’t using it to its full advantage.
Develop a consistent tone and voice for your email campaigns so you always sound familiar to subscribers. Use one of your brighter brand colors for links and headings in your emails. Incorporate your logo into different graphics and headings.
Consider sending emails from one specific person at your company, like the head of sales or marketing, so subscribers can identify one single face and name.
The following is an excellent brand awareness email from Good Eggs that helps subscribers learn more about their products.
Source: Really Good Emails
We aren’t going to lie: When to use email marketing isn’t always a black-and-white decision. While there’s no fixed answer, we’ve given you a few tips to help figure out what’s best for your brand:
Set your goals straight
Treat email like private communication
Run plenty of tests and track your metrics to nail down good sending frequencies for different segments
You might be wondering when’s the right time to send people your best content. We’ve got the guide for you—read it to learn more about how segmentation can help.
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