Creating an email marketing plan can be challenging for small business owners. They often don’t have the time to plan for much more than announcements and promos.
But to keep your subscribers engaged, you’ll need much more than that. Ideally, your emails will be something that they look forward to reading, so that they’ll keep your business in mind even when they’re not yet ready to buy.
In other words, you shouldn’t send out the same types of emails all the time. This guide lists the different types of email campaigns you can send out to keep your subscribers engaged, and even drive up sales.
If you need a refresher on email marketing, it’s best that you go through the following guides first:
- How to Create an Email Marketing PlanDavid Masters01 Jul 2014
- How to Create an Effective Autoresponder SequenceDavid Masters11 Aug 2014
Or browse through our best email marketing templates, if you need professional designs that will improve your results:
10+ Types of Effective Marketing Emails
There are two broad types of marketing emails that you’re going to send out: engagement emails and transactional. Simply put, engagement emails are more about storytelling, while transactional emails are directly related to making and closing a sale.
You’ll quickly see from the examples that these two types aren’t mutually exclusive. In some cases, an engagement email might have a transactional element to it. Keep this in mind as you go through the different types of emails listed below.
Part 1. Engagement Emails
The goal of these emails is more for branding and storytelling, rather than directly making a sale. Their purpose is to keep subscribers interested and engaged with the brand, even when they aren’t in a buying mood.
When they’re finally ready to buy or when your business has a special offer, subscribers will already have an active relationship with you even if they’ve never made a purchase before.
You can be more creative with these emails. In some cases, adding extra visuals or embedding links to audio and video can work really well.
These are the types of engagement emails you can use:
1. Welcome Emails
Welcome emails are the first email your subscribers receive after they’ve confirmed their email address. Since this is their first interaction with your brand in their inbox, make it memorable and worth their while.
The welcome email should make your branding clear. In the example below from Warby Parker, new subscribers can learn about the brand’s story, get a free trial of the product, or look for a store near their location.
The large “hero shots” of the product and the company trivia at the end of the email quickly give the reader an idea about the aesthetics and voice of the brand.
Because the welcome email is high-engagement, it also works as a great transactional email. The above Experian study also found that welcome emails have higher transaction rates and revenue per email than other transactional emails.
This is why it’s typical for welcome emails to also offer discounts or free shipping to new subscribers, such as in the example below from cosmetics retailer Sally Beauty.
2. Tutorials and Tips Emails
You should also send instructive and educational emails that help subscribers in a way that’s relevant to your business. These usually come in the form of how-to tutorials and tips. They can be simple or in-depth—depending on what your products do and what your subscriber needs.
Instruction emails are a great way to familiarize your subscribers with your products or services. This can be especially useful when it’s unclear how your business can help them solve a problem or attain a goal.
Teaching them something new can also help them make quick positive changes in their lives that they can associate with your brand. For example, BeardBrand, which sells beard grooming products, sends a 5-day grooming tutorial to new subscribers.
Each installment of the tutorial includes multiple videos. Some even include links and reviews to the products used in the video. In an example of mixing transactional elements to engagement emails, the 5-day tutorial ends with an offer of a free mustache comb to go with the subscriber’s first order.
3. Customer Stories
Customer stories are generated from interviewing or studying your customers. These stories could be about their success with your products or services, their personal stories, and tips to other customers like them. Their stories could also come in the form of pictures or video they’ve taken.
Because these stories come from other customers, it builds a sense of community. Subscribers are able to identify with other buyers, sharing their interests and experiences.
Udemy, an online learning marketplace, saw a 35-percent increase in content engagement when they started sharing customer stories on their blog. Apply this concept to your email campaigns, and subscribers will be looking forward to your future emails and keep opening them.
An example of this is Huckberry’s “The Rundown” email series. Sent a few times a month, “The Rundown” includes customer or employee interviews, Huckberry’s latest products, and user-generated photos of the outdoors.
4. Brand Stories
Unlike customer stories which talk about your brand from your customers’ perspective, brand stories come from you or your team. This works best if there’s a compelling personal story behind your brand. This will give your subscribers ways to identify with your brand.
Your brand’s stories can have other positive effects as well. A study published in the Journal of Brand Management found that customers who are exposed to a brand’s stories were more likely to describe the brand positively and pay more for their products.
Whipping Post, a leatherworks company, tells the origin story of their business in the welcome email. The founder writes about the first product he made and why, giving the reader an idea about the intent behind their products.
But you don’t necessarily need a Hollywood-worthy origin story for your business to capture people’s attention. Sometimes the story of how your products are made, the stories behind certain business decisions, can also help give your subscribers something engaging to look at and relate with.
Consider the example below from Casper, which includes three quick facts about their company and links to a video about how their mattresses are made.
5. Re-engagement Emails
It’s possible that some of your subscribers will not be as engaged as others. This could be because their level of interest was low to begin with, it’s been a while since your last update, or they’re just not that interested in your emails. Whatever the reason, it’s important to encourage them to reengage with your brand.
A Return Path study of re-engagement campaigns found that around 12-percent of those receiving re-engagement emails read them. If these numbers seem small to you compared to the other types of emails on this list, consider that re-engagement campaigns are meant to win back customers that are inactive or uninterested. Getting 12-percent of these customers engaging with your brand again is no small feat.
According to the study, there are two types of re-engagement emails that work well. The first is an email with “miss you” or “come back” in the subject line. An example of this is the below email from Scribd, which entices the reader with new product line.
The other re-engagement email you could use is to indicate a dollar-off discount in the subject line, which performs twice as well as those with percentage discounts.
Part 2. Transactional Emails
Just as their name implies, transactional emails are relevant to transactions your subscribers have had with your business. Unlike engagement emails, their objective is to initiate or close on a sale.
They could also be used to send or request updates on customer orders. Because of this, they are always triggered by specific customer actions and sent automatically. Engagement emails, on the other hand, can also be sent in real-time or on a pre-planned schedule rather than automatically triggered.
Here are some of the transactional emails you can use in your marketing campaigns:
6. Cart Abandonment Reminders
One type of transaction email that’s essential for any online store is cart abandonment emails. These are the emails that you send out when potential customers add items to their online shopping cart, but don’t follow through on a purchase. These could provide an opportunity to increase your potential profits since approximately two-thirds of shopping cart transactions are abandoned.
A good cart abandonment email includes a prominent call-to-action and some compelling copy to remind the customer why they should complete the sale. The email from Growlerwerks below is a good example of this. It contains not just a large “Finish Order” button, but also some copy telling customers what they’ll get as a result of their purchase (”enjoy fresh craft beer for weeks”.) It even includes a hero shot of the product in action.
7. Time-Sensitive Promotions
Time-sensitive promotional emails include an offer that will expire soon. This offer could be about the limited availability of the product or service, or it could be a discount that’s only available for a limited time.
When sending out these types of emails, the subject line has to be clear about the time sensitivity of the email. Otherwise, customers might not feel the urgency to open it immediately.
The above example from Humble Bundle announces their end of summer sale with a limited offer. If the recipient buys a game within 48 hours, they get a specific title for free. The deadline of the offer is clearly stated in the subject line, so people receiving this email have greater incentive to open the email as soon as they see it in their inbox.
8. Receipts Emails
It’s standard for online stores to send order confirmation or receipt emails once a customer completes a transaction. But rather than just reiterating the order details, there are many other things you can do to make your receipts bring in additional returns. Below are some examples of different approaches for maximizing your email receipts.
Since AppSumo sells digital products, your receipt includes a download link so you can get the product instantly. Their receipt email also asks you to review the product, since you’re likely to use and test it immediately. This approach might not work as well with physical products that need more time to get to the customer.
GoDaddy's email receipts used to include coupon codes that you can use on your next purchase, which gives you an incentive to be a repeat customer.
Another way to encourage additional purchases via your email receipts is to show customers related products that they can buy in the future, such as in this example from Image Comics.
Finally, you don't always have to use receipts to directly encourage additional sales, but you should always use it to reinforce your brand.
Drab text-only emails with just the order details are forgettable and are missed branding opportunity. For example, Pretty Little Thing uses their brand's voice in their email receipts, and makes customers feel positive about the purchase ("you're the best <3".)
9. Sales Follow-ups
If you're selling a physical product, odds are your customers have to wait a bit before they receive their orders. You can use this time to send post-transaction email updates on the status of their order, whether it's shipped, delivered, or arrived.
Just like email receipts, it's best if these emails are maximized for their branding opportunity. Don't just send order update details in plain text. You can also add the following:
- Other necessary order information (expected arrival dates, what your customer has to do to receive their order or check its status).
- contact information for customer support, in case they have any questions or concerns, and promos for future purchases.
The example below from Lazada has all of the above. It leads with the status of the shipment, lists order details, mentions important information for receiving the order, as well as a promotional offer at the end.
10. Review Requests
When a customer is satisfied with a purchase, you can email them a request to send in a review or testimonial.
When posted on your online store, social media pages, or on third-party review sites, these good reviews will serve as social proof that can help build trust and confidence among incoming customers. They even make your other emails more effective, since the presence of reviews on email campaigns can increase clickthrough rates by 25-percent.
Amazon has a simple way of soliciting these reviews—they just ask upfront how many stars you’d rate the product. The presentation of the request is visual. At a glance, users understand what is being asked of them. Once you click the image to leave a star rating, you’ll be taken to a page that allows you to both leave a star rating and a written review.
Don’t make the mistake of only soliciting completely positive or five-star reviews. Research from Northwestern University shows that conversions tend to plateau or go down when average star ratings go beyond four stars.
Using Email to Build Customer Loyalty
Once you've tested the entire roster of emails listed above, you'll see that subscribers respond to some emails more than others. Don't be surprised if they're not just looking out for discounts. After all, email marketing is really about building a long term relationship with your subscribers. That kind of relationship-building requires more planning and variety. In return, you'll get better brand recall and customer loyalty.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2017. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.