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Which Email Type Is Best for Your Business?

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Read Time: 10 min
This post is part of a series called Email Marketing Jumpstart.
Grow Your Email List with a Giveaway Buzz Piece
How to Write Great Subject Lines for Your Marketing Emails

The key to developing an email strategy is planning and writing emails. That can feel like a daunting task.

Fortunately, you don't have to come up with ideas for your emails from scratch. Instead, you can pick a specific type of email that fits with the goals of your email strategy.

Which types of email should you send to your customers? Image source: Envato Elements

This process is a bit like a novelist choosing a genre. Every genre—be it romance, thriller, or western—has its own conventions or formulas that most writers of that genre follow. These conventions make it easier for novelists to write because they know the basic structure their stories should follow.

So it is with emails. There are various types of email you can use in your marketing. Each type of email has its own conventions. When you create your email strategy and write your emails, you'll follow these conventions. That way, you won't be staring at a blank page trying to come up with ideas. You'll have a template ready, and all you have to do is fill in the blanks.

There are four types of marketing email you can use in your email marketing strategy. These are:

  • basic communication messages
  • promotions and offers
  • newsletters and digests
  • relationship-building emails

Let's take a look at each of these. We'll cover the basic formula for each email, which types of business each email works well for, and the advantages and disadvantages of each email type.

Essential Communication Emails

When you're considering your email marketing strategy, there's an aspect of email marketing that's so obvious that it's easy to miss:

Every email your business sends out to customers, potential customers, or contacts in your business network is a marketing email.

These basic communication emails include:

  • purchase confirmation messages
  • emails pitching to a client
  • terms and conditions updates
  • emails where you're chatting with another business owner

In short, any communication with clients, customers, or people who could send customers your way.

Why is every email a sales email? Because every email you send:

  • Projects your brand image. That's because it's written in the voice of your brand and will include branding elements such as a logo or a link to your website.
  • Strengthens your relationship with the customer. Sending an email to a customer puts you at the top of their mind. The more contact they have with you, the stronger the relationship.

It's vital that every email you send out is written in a positive, professional voice and has correct spelling and grammar. Sloppy writing in your emails indicates to customers that all might not be well in other aspects of your business.

All emails you send out project a brand image and build a relationship. Many of the emails you send are an opportunity to make sales. What do I mean by this? Let's look at a couple of examples.

First, let's say you're an agency wrapping up a project for a client. You're submitting the final invoice. If you're not thinking from a marketing perspective, in the body of your email you'd probably write something like:

Final invoice attached. Many thanks.

That's short, sweet, and professional. It does the job. But it means you're missing out on potential opportunities. Here's how you could make a few small changes that mean you're marketing your services.

It's been great working with you on this project. I've attached the final invoice. Let me know if there's anything else I can help you with.

What's the difference here? First, you're dropping a feel-good compliment. If you've enjoyed working with a client, why not let them know? Second, you're opening the door to work with them on another project. You're not using high pressure sales tactics. You're just making yourself available.

Do you see how simple this can be?

To take a second example, let's say you're an online retailer. A customer has just made a purchase, and you send over confirmation of their order via email. You could just send out a standard confirmation email. Or you could add a short note:

Customers who bought this product also purchased...

Again, this isn't a high-pressure sales tactic. It's just adding a marketing element to a basic communications email.

Advantages of Basic Emails 

Every business sends out emails. It's part of what we do every day. Being conscious of the marketing elements in all your emails is good business practice.

Disadvantages of Basic Emails 

It's vital to recognize that all your emails are a form of marketing. But if you stop your email marketing strategy there, you sell yourself short. You also need to email a list.

Promotions and Offers

In these emails, your aim is to make sales. You write the email to let customers know about your products and services and to give them an incentive to buy now.

Promotional emails may include:

  • new products or product lines
  • your latest discounts
  • a discount coupon or code
  • products that are of special interest to the customer you're emailing

These emails are typically image-rich, showing customers the products they might like to buy. They should always include a call to action, such as "click here to buy now."

Promotional emails usually work best for businesses that sell a wide range of products. That way, they can vary their promotions. However, they can work for service-based businesses, if used alongside other types of email.

Advantages of Promotional Emails 

Businesses use promotional emails because they work. Telling your customers about your latest offers and products will mean they're more likely to make a purchase.

Disadvantages of Promotional Emails 

Send out too many emails, and you risk annoying your subscribers. Then they will either ignore you, mark your messages as spam, or unsubscribe.

However, there is a way to combat these disadvantages. To keep your followers engaged, you must make your emails relevant to them.

In other words, promotional emails work best if they're personalized to the customer receiving them. An email can be personalized based on a customer's past purchases, on their browsing behavior in your online store, on links they've clicked in previous emails, or on preferences they selected when they signed up to your email list.

Why is personalization so effective? Because you're showing potential customers products that are relevant to their needs. As we've mentioned in a previous article, emails are more likely to get opened and acted upon if they're relevant to the recipient.

Almost all marketing professionals recognize this. A 2011 survey by Emailvision found that 97% of online marketing managers believe that sending "well-targeted, personalized emails" is either important or very important in securing the best response rate.

Yet the same study found that only one in five of those questioned personalize all the emails they send. On top of that, 85% of respondents said they weren't fully using all the available customer data provided by their email campaigns.

If personalization is so effective, why aren't marketing managers doing it? Because it takes time and energy. So if you make the effort to personalize your emails, your email marketing will be a cut above what most businesses are doing. Your extra effort will pay off in improved results.

Newsletters and Digests

The aim of promotional emails is to get your customers to take action. You're trying to drive immediate sales.

Newsletters and digests, on the other hand, share information. You share information that's relevant and helpful to your subscribers. In turn, they come to feel like they know your brand and trust your company.

Newsletters can include:

  • News about your business or organization. It's a good idea to share big wins you've achieved for your clients, as this shows potential clients what's possible for them.
  • Links to blog posts.
  • Upcoming events.
  • Answers to questions your customers frequently ask.
  • New product lines.

Most email newsletters are structured a bit like the homepage of a news website. They have several "stories," each with its own headline and a link to click to find out more about the story. They're typically image-rich and branded with your company's logo and colors.

Advantages of Newsletters

Newsletters are great because:

  • You can share a wide variety of information. You're not forced to limit your email to a single idea or call to action.
  • You can monitor what your customers are interested in. By seeing the links your subscribers click in your email, you gain valuable insights into the mindset of your customers. This can help with marketing and product development.
  • They're highly formulaic. Once you've put together your first newsletter, you can follow the same structure for future newsletters.
  • You develop a habit of regular communication. Instead of emailing only now and again, the commitment to a monthly newsletter weaves regular email contact with customers into the fabric of your business.
  • They keep you top of mind for customers. Subscribers hear from you every month, so you're the business they'll think of when they need your product or service.
  • You don't have to write them from scratch. Instead, you can link to content you've already created on your website or blog.

Disadvantages to Newsletters

With so many advantages to newsletters, what's the problem?

In three words: too much information.

We live in an age of information overload. Most of your subscribers are already overwhelmed with information. Email newsletters can give a smorgasbord of information, and your readers won't know where to start.

Email newsletters don't have a clear call to action. So you run the risk of just being ignored and readers not interacting with your business at all.

Relationship-Building Emails

As is clear from their name, these emails are about building an ongoing relationship with your client.

These emails are:

  • From an individual (rather than a business), so they work well for freelancers, bloggers, or microbusinesses.
  • Frequent—often daily, at least to begin with.

Rather than being designed with a logo and brand colors, these emails look like a regular email. They usually tell a small story from the life or business of the person writing the email. They also contain a valuable piece of advice that's relevant to subscribers. Email marketer Sonia Simone calls these valuable pieces of advice "cookies". As she puts it:

Cookie content makes the reader glad she took a few minutes to consume it.

As well as this valuable information, there's at most one call to action in every email—usually with a link to an article or a sales a page. Alternatively, this call to action can be a question to your subscribers. Because they feel they know you well, many of them will reply—which gives you a valuable insight into what your customers want.

Advantages of Relationship-Building Emails 

They get subscribers in the habit of opening your emails and clicking the links in your emails. Because you provide something valuable in every email, your subscribers look forward to hearing from you.

Because you're emailing so frequently, your list will moderate itself. Those who love your emails (and so are your ideal customers) will stay subscribed. People who wouldn't make ideal customers can unsubscribe themselves.

Disadvantages of Relationship-Building Emails

With these emails, the more frequently you write, the better. That means you'll have to work hard creating a lot of valuable emails.

Combined Email Strategy

Most businesses will do best using all of the above email types in their email strategy. Here's an example strategy:

  • New subscribers get a relationship-building email twice a week for two months. This gets them into the habit of opening your emails.
  • After that, they receive your monthly newsletter.
  • Once a customer has made a purchase, you send them occasional promotions related to that purchase.

How might you use these four types of email in your email marketing strategy? Let us know in the comments below.

Learn more about jump starting your email marketing in our multipart, foundational series on the subject.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2014. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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