12.5 min

What is Email Marketing and How It Works? 2023 Guide

Learn how to connect with your audience, build relationships and grow your business through effective email marketing strategies.
Email Marketing - main blog image
Written by
The Storyteller
Published on
March 6, 2023

Table of Contents

Email marketing is a crucial aspect of digital marketing today, but it has a rich and intriguing history. From the very first email sent to the sophisticated automated campaigns we have today, email marketing has come a long way.

What is Email Marketing? Your 101 guide to email campaigns.

Email marketing involves sending commercial messages to a group of people via email. It is often used to build relationships with customers, promote products or services, and drive sales.

Email marketing campaigns can be automated or sent manually, and can include a variety of content, such as newsletters, promotional offers, and personalized recommendations.

Email campaigns can be automated or sent manually - photo of a laptop

How Does Email Marketing Work?

Email marketing works by building a list of email subscribers who have opted in to receive messages from a business. This can be done by offering a sign-up form on a website or social media page, or by collecting email addresses at events or in-store. Once a list has been created, businesses can send targeted messages to their subscribers using an email marketing service or platform.

Send targeted messages using an email marketing tool - envelope illustration

Humble Beginnings. A Brief History of Email Marketing

The first email was sent in 1971 by computer engineer Ray Tomlinson, who worked for ARPANET, a predecessor to the modern-day internet. He sent an email to himself, testing the viability of sending messages between computers.

But it wasn't until the mid-1990s that these email marketing services started to become a popular way for businesses to reach out to their customers.

In the early days, the email marketing strategy was simple, with companies sending out mass emails to large groups of people. There was little personalization, and the emails were often seen as spam.

Evolution of Email Marketing Strategy

As the internet and email technology evolved, so did email marketing. In the early 2000s, email marketing became more sophisticated, with companies using segmentation to target specific groups of customers.

Personalization also became more prevalent, which started with email marketing and businesses using customers' names and other personal information to make emails feel more personalized.

the first email was sent in 1971 - old computer illustration

In the mid-2000s, triggered email campaigns were introduced. These are automated email campaigns that are triggered by specific customer behaviors, such as a purchase or abandoning a shopping cart.

Triggered email campaigns are highly effective, with research showing that they can generate up to four times more revenue than traditional email campaigns.

In recent years, email marketing has become even more advanced, with the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. AI-powered email marketing allows companies to use predictive analytics to create highly personalized and targeted campaigns.

Machine learning algorithms analyze data such as customer behavior, preferences, and purchase history to make accurate predictions about what products or services a customer is likely to be interested in.

email service providers evolved - infograph

Types of email marketing campaigns (+ examples)

Email marketing campaigns can take many different forms, depending on the goals of the business and the needs of the audience. Here are some of the most common types of email marketing campaigns, along with examples of each:

Welcome emails

Welcome emails are sent to new subscribers when they sign up for your email list. These emails are a great opportunity to introduce your brand, provide valuable content, and set expectations for future communications with email clients. A good welcome email can help build trust with your subscribers and increase engagement from the outset.

Example: A clothing retailer sends a welcome email to new subscribers that include a discount code for their first purchase, along with styling tips and links to their best-selling products.

Promotional emails

Promotional emails are designed to drive sales or click through rates by promoting a specific product, service, or event. These emails can take many forms, from flash sales and limited-time offers to new product launches and special events. Promotional emails should be targeted to specific segments of your audience and include clear calls to action.

Example: A software company sends a promotional email to their email list announcing a new feature and offering a discount for upgrading to the premium version.

Newsletter emails

Newsletter emails are a great way to keep your audience informed and engaged with your brand. These emails can include a mix of curated content, original content, and promotions from other marketing channels. Newsletter emails should be sent regularly and include valuable information that is relevant to your audience.

Example: A health and wellness blog sends a weekly newsletter to their subscribers that includes recipes, workout tips, and links to their latest blog posts.

engage your existing customers with newsletter / photo

Abandoned cart emails

Customers who have added items to their online shopping cart but have not completed the purchase receive abandoned cart emails. These emails are designed to remind your customers about the items they left in their carts and encourage them to complete the checkout process. Abandoned cart emails can include personalized recommendations, promotions, and other incentives to help drive sales.

Example: An online retailer sends an abandoned cart email to a customer who added a pair of shoes to their cart but did not complete the purchase, offering a discount on the shoes and related items.

Re-engagement emails

Re-engagement emails are sent to subscribers who have not opened or engaged with your emails in a certain period of time. These emails are designed to encourage subscribers to re-engage with your brand and stay on your email list. Re-engagement emails can include exclusive offers, reminders about the benefits of your brand, and other incentives to engage subscribers and encourage engagement in future campaigns.

Example: A subscription-based email service provider sends a re-engagement email to a subscriber who has not opened their emails in six months, offering a free trial of a new feature and highlighting the value of the service.

Event invitation emails

Event invitation emails are sent to promote and invite customers to attend a specific event, such as a webinar, conference, or product launch. These emails should include all the relevant details about the event, including the date, time, location, and registration information. Event invitation emails should also include compelling copy and visual elements to encourage attendance.

Example: A marketing agency sends an event invitation email to their email list promoting a free webinar on digital marketing trends, including details about the speakers, topics, and registration process.

Abandoned cart email campaign / phone illustration

How to Write a Great Email Newsletter (+ examples)

Writing a great email newsletter is an essential component of any effective email marketing campaign. A well-crafted newsletter can help build engagement with your audience, drive traffic to your website, and promote your brand's message. Here are some tips for writing a great email newsletter:

Define Your Goals

Before you start writing your newsletter, it's important to define your goals. Do you want to drive traffic to your website, promote a new product or service, or share informative blog posts? Whatever your goals may be, make sure your newsletter aligns with your marketing strategy and helps you achieve your objectives.

Choose a Compelling Subject Line

Your email subject line is the first thing your subscribers will see, so it's important to make it attention-grabbing and relevant. Use clear language and avoid spammy words to increase the likelihood that your subscribers will open your email.

Example: Instead of "Amazing Offer Inside!", try "Get 50% Off Your Next Purchase - Limited Time Only"

Subject line is the first thing your customer see - envelope illustration

Create a Clear and Engaging Layout

A well-designed newsletter layout can make a big difference in the success of your email campaign. Use clear headings, bullet points, and images to break up your content and make it more digestible for your subscribers. Make sure your newsletter is mobile-friendly, as many people read emails on their phones.

Example: A newsletter from a food blog includes clear headings for each recipe, along with mouth-watering images to entice readers.

Provide Valuable Content

Your newsletter should provide value to your subscribers. This could be in the form of informative blog posts, exclusive promotions, or entertaining content. Make sure your content is relevant to your audience and aligns with your brand's message.

Example: A newsletter from a fitness brand includes a workout plan for the week, along with tips for healthy eating and links to informative blog posts about fitness.

Include Clear Calls-to-Action

Every email should include a clear call-to-action (CTA) that encourages your subscribers to take action. Whether it's to read a blog post, visit your website, or make a purchase, make sure your CTA is clear and prominent

call to action button / illustration

How do I build a good email marketing campaign following best practices?

A good email marketing strategy is one that resonates with the target audience and drives engagement. Here are some key elements that make a successful email marketing campaign:

Build a quality email list: Don't buy email lists or send unsolicited emails. Instead, focus on building a quality list of subscribers who have opted-in to receive your emails.

Segment your list: Instead of sending the same email to everyone on your list, segment your list into different groups based on factors like location, interests, or behavior. This will help you send more targeted and relevant emails.

Use clear and compelling subject lines: Your subject line is the first thing your subscribers will see, so make it count. Use clear and compelling language that entices them to open your email.

Personalize your emails: Use your subscribers' names and other relevant information to make your emails more personal and engaging, you can even use name in the subject line.

Keep your emails mobile-friendly: More than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices, so make sure your emails are optimized for mobile.

Test and optimize: Use A/B testing to try out different elements of your emails, such as subject lines, calls-to-action, and email content. Use the data to optimize your campaigns for better performance.

Build your email campaign following email marketing best practices

Email Marketing Metrics

To measure the success of an email marketing campaign, businesses can track several metrics, such as:

  1. Open Rate: The percentage of recipients who opened the email.
  2. Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of recipients who clicked on a link within the email.
  3. Conversion Rate: The percentage of recipients who took an action, such as making a purchase or filling out a form.
  4. Bounce Rate: The percentage of emails that were undeliverable and returned to the sender.
  5. Unsubscribe Rate: The percentage of users who unsubscribed from future emails.

By tracking these metrics, businesses can gain insights into the effectiveness of their email marketing campaigns and make improvements for future ones.

use your email service provider to track important metrics / illustration

What is the difference between single opt-in and double opt-in?

When it comes to building an email marketing list, there are two methods for collecting subscribers: single opt-in and double opt-in. Understanding the difference between these methods is important for determining which approach is best for your business.

Single Opt-In

Single opt-in is a method of collecting email addresses where subscribers provide their email addresses and are immediately added to your email list without any additional confirmation.

This method is quick and easy for subscribers to sign up, but it can also lead to higher rates of fake or invalid email addresses, as there is no additional confirmation step.

Double Opt-In

Double opt-in is a method of collecting email addresses where subscribers provide their email addresses and then receive an email confirmation asking them to verify their subscription.

This confirmation email typically includes a link or button that the subscriber must click to confirm their subscription. Only after the subscriber confirms their subscription are they added to your email list.

collecting customer data illustration

The main advantage of double opt-in is that it ensures a higher quality email list, as only those who are truly interested in receiving your emails will take the time to confirm their subscription.

This results in a lower rate of fake or invalid email addresses and a higher engagement rate from your subscribers.

Another benefit of double opt-in is that it helps you comply with anti-spam laws. For example, in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires businesses to obtain explicit consent from subscribers before sending them marketing emails.

Double opt-in is an effective way to ensure that you have obtained explicit consent from your subscribers.

Which Method is Right for You?

The decision to use single opt-in or double opt-in ultimately depends on your marketing goals and the needs of your audience. Single opt-in may be a good choice if you want to quickly grow your email list and prioritize convenience for your subscribers.

However, if you value high-quality leads and want to ensure compliance with anti-spam laws, double opt-in may be the better choice.

It's worth noting that some subscribers may find the double opt-in process to be an inconvenience, and it may result in a lower number of subscribers overall. If you do choose to use double opt-in, make sure the confirmation email is clear and straightforward, and consider offering an incentive for subscribers who take the time to confirm their subscription.

your digital marketing strategy depends on the needs of your audience

Email Personalization Tools

Email personalization is a powerful technique in email marketing that can help businesses improve engagement rates, conversions, and customer loyalty. Personalized emails have been found to generate six times higher transaction rates compared to non-personalized emails.

However, manually personalizing emails for each subscriber can be time-consuming and inefficient. This is where email personalization tools come in.

Email personalization tools are software applications that use data and automation to personalize emails at scale. These tools allow businesses to send personalized emails based on subscriber behavior, demographics, preferences, and other data points. Here are some of the top email personalization tools available:

  1. HubSpot is a popular marketing automation platform that includes email personalization features. With HubSpot, businesses can personalize email content based on a variety of criteria, such as subscriber behavior, demographic data, and previous interactions with the business.
  2. Mailchimp is another well-known email marketing platform that offers email personalization features. Mailchimp's personalization options include merge tags, which allow businesses to insert personalized data into email content, as well as conditional content, which displays different content to different subscribers based on their behavior or preferences.
  3. ActiveCampaign is a comprehensive marketing automation platform that includes advanced email personalization features. With ActiveCampaign, businesses can create personalized email campaigns based on subscriber behavior, demographics, and other data points. The platform also includes a visual automation builder that makes it easy to set up personalized email sequences.
  4. Campaign Monitor is an email marketing platform that offers a range of personalization options. The platform includes a drag-and-drop email builder that allows businesses to create personalized emails based on subscriber data. Campaign Monitor also includes dynamic content, which displays different content to different subscribers based on their behavior or preferences.
  5. is a standalone email personalization tool that uses machine learning to create personalized email campaigns. The tool analyzes subscriber behavior and preferences to create personalized content for each subscriber. also includes A/B testing features that allow businesses to test different email variations to optimize engagement and conversions.

Email personalization tools can help businesses improve the effectiveness of their email marketing strategy. These tools allow businesses to personalize emails at scale, based on a variety of criteria such as subscriber behavior, demographics, and preferences. There are many email personalization tools available so choosing the right one depends on your business needs, budget, and the level of personalization required.

email service providers / image


Email marketing is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes. By sending targeted and relevant emails to your subscribers, you can drive engagement, build relationships with your target audience, and ultimately increase sales. By following the best practices outlined in this post, you can create effective email marketing campaigns that deliver results.

Remember to always put your subscribers first and focus on providing value in every email you send. With the right strategy and approach, email marketing can be a valuable and rewarding channel for your business.