Centerbridge Partners acquires IBM's marketing and commerce software offerings to form Acoustic, a standalone next-generation marketing and advertising technology company.

  Learn more


What is email marketing?

Email marketing refers to the promotion of products and services using electronic mail. Organizations use email campaigns to grow their customer base, increase cross-sell opportunities, promote brand and generate sales.

Email marketing has existed for a while, and it continues to be a viable way to reach customers. Most organizations spend at least some of their advertising budgets on email — and investment continues to rise each year. Worldwide, email marketing spend is projected to reach $15 billion by 2024.¹

Email marketing essentials

Email marketing is about engaging with customers through their inbox. So, building an email list is pivotal. Consumers may share their email with a business in several ways — when they buy a product, sign up to read a brochure, subscribe to a blog, join an online community or forum, or take a survey.

Since consumers opt-in to receive emails, response rates tend to be higher. A company is six times more likely to get a response from an email than from a tweet. A message is five times more likely to be seen in an email than on Facebook.²

There are two types of marketing emails:

  • Transactional. Related to a customer action — confirming an order, a password reset, a reorder reminder — and often used to cross- or up-sell.
  • Direct. A message is sent directly to a customer with the purpose of promoting products and services.

Email messages provide business and product information, discounts and promotions, or exclusive content. They usually include a call to action or link. The customer can click-through to learn more or buy something.

Email marketing is cost-effective and inexpensive. It outperforms all other marketing channels for return on investment. With every dollar spent, organizations see an average return of $44.³

In some cases, marketing emails may be impacted by spam filters from internet service providers (ISPs) or consumer laws around consent and privacy.

Why it’s important

Email marketing helps promote brand and increase sales. It can build relationships with prospects, leads, current customers and even past customers because it gives you a chance to speak directly to them, in their inbox, at a time that is convenient for them.⁴

Email marketing enables organizations to:

  • Use cross-sell opportunities. Emails are ideal vehicles for cross-sell and up-sell content.⁵ For example, an email receipt for a mountain bike may include a promotion for a helmet or bike shoes.
  • Leverage mobile. Two-thirds of all emails are read on smartphones and tablets. What’s more, mobile users check their email three times more than non-mobile users.² Email presents an opportunity to engage with this fast-growing market.
  • See what’s working: Marketers can measure responses and engagement. For example: what are click-through rates for one campaign versus another, how does delivery timing affect response rates, how many users are clicking to unsubscribe. This rich analysis helps inform marketing tactics.

Manage marketing costs: Almost everyone has email, enabling marketers to reach a large audience for little or no cost. It beats out expensive media such as TV or print ads — even social media, where sites like Facebook and Instagram charge fees for ads or promotional content.

Key features of effective email marketing

Consumers want personal and relevant experiences. Marketing emails are no exception. Beyond the automation, data and technology, email should be as people-focused as everything else. 6 And ISPs like Gmail are screening for it. Their algorithms reward email marketers who engage their readers and penalize those who don’t. If an email is deemed to be less than engaging, it may not be delivered to a user’s inbox. Organizations can use analytics and marketing software to help ensure their messages are welcomed by recipients.

Segmentation and personalized content

To deliver personalized content, marketers need to leverage all the knowledge they have about their customers. It includes analyzing data like demographics, age, location, purchases, usage history and whether individuals accept or ignore previous offers.

It helps marketers get the right content in front of people. They can segment audiences and craft messages for different prospects, instead of using one size fits all. Even addressing someone by name can improve click-through rates.

Send time optimization

It’s compelling to send a personalized message to a customer based on their demographic and buying history. More important still is delivering that message at the right time. Delivery automation tools help marketers send messages when customers are most likely to be checking their email. Integrating timely delivery with strong customer data and predictive models can increase click-through rates.

Artificial intelligence

AI technology mines terabytes of data to analyze consumer behavior. It uses segmentation logic, marketing rules and algorithms to monitor activity over time. AI can follow all the ways customers interact with a brand and rank the fastest path to a purchase. The technology learns through each interaction and delivers the right content to each visitor, based on their previous activities.

Multichannel campaigns

Email is often part of an overall campaign strategy that includes other marketing channels. Data analytics and campaign automation pull everything together. The idea is to offer consistent messages across touchpoints: whether a customer receives an email or goes to a website. First, by building fuller user identities. Then, using the insights to present relevant messages and offers — over email, mobile, social media and more.

A centralized approach aids the process. Marketers can use a single platform to personalize and manage content for inbound and outbound customer engagements across all channels.


¹ "Email marketing: Market analysis, trends and forecasts," Global Industry Analysts, Inc., Jan 2019

² "The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2018," Hubspot

³ "2016 year in review," Campaign Monitor

⁴ "Six reasons why email marketing is important for your internet marketing," Inbound Rocket, Sep 2018

⁵ "2018 marketing benchmark report: Email and mobile metrics for smarter marketing," IBM Watson Marketing, May 2018

⁶ “The art of emotional honesty in email marketing,” James McLachlan, IBM Watson Customer Engagement, 25 May 2017