From building a community on Discord to creating content on TikTok, new and emerging marketing channels are worth experimenting with as a startup. But there’s one tried-and-true channel that your business shouldn’t ignore: email. Building an email marketing strategy creates a direct link between your company and your current or prospective customers that forges connection, loyalty, and trust, one email at a time.
Email marketing for startups can propel product growth by keeping subscribers informed about new releases, educating them on how to get the most of your product, and serving as a two-way communication channel where they can seek support. A survey of 1000 small business owners and decision-makers found that 64.1% used email marketing. Learn how to build an email marketing strategy that turns subscribers into sales, from growing your newsletter list and selecting an email marketing platform to crafting compelling campaigns and following email marketing best practices.
Email marketing for startups is a growth strategy that uses email to send educational, promotional, brand, and sales content to prospective and current customers who have opted-in to your email list. Startups can use email marketing techniques to drive customer acquisition, improve customer retention, and build better brand recognition.
For early stage startups with a limited budget and minimal marketing capacity, email marketing can have a significant ROI—driving significant sales from a single send out. A 2022 survey of over 2000 marketers found that email marketing brought in $36 for every $1 spent for companies in the software and technology industry. By starting email marketing early on and sending subscribers useful content, you can grow your newsletter list and build an audience that pays dividends down the line.
Email marketing provides a direct communication channel between a customer and email subscriber, bypassing an algorithmic intermediary on social media. Businesses can use this open line of communication for any number of marketing and customer initiatives—telling subscribers about your company, requesting feedback on your products, or revealing more about your company and the people behind it.
Compared to marketing channels like paid advertising, email marketing is relatively inexpensive. Email marketing platforms generally charge based on the number of emails your company sends. In the early days, as you build your subscriber list, your marketing costs for sending email will be low. However, costs do increase as your mailing list increases.
As your list of email subscribers grows into the thousands or tens of thousands or more, you’ll likely want to segment your list—dividing it into more specific groups like “free users” and “paid users” or “product 1 users” and “product 2 users”. Mailchimp, a popular email marketing platform, found that open rates were 14.31% higher and clicks were 100.95% higher for segmented campaigns compared to non-segmented campaigns. Email marketing allows you to send more personalized and tailored content to specific groups, rather than sending a generalized message to everyone on your list.
People who subscribe to your list generally expect to hear from you at a regular cadence —whether that’s once a week or once per month. By continuously sending relevant content, your email list will build familiarity with your business. If they’re not in need of your products or services today, regular reach out and communication builds consideration for tomorrow.
Your email marketing strategy should include a mix of content—from educational and informative to brand building and social proof. However, a strong email strategy also includes a promotional and sales email that provides a clear call to action (CTA): try our product.
By including a CTA in your emails, linking to the sales or product page on your website, you can track the effectiveness of your emails and see whether they convert subscribers to sales.
Email marketing is an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and lean into creativity, opting for a unique strategy rather than replicating that of your competitors. However, there are email best practices you should follow that will lead to better results and reduce the risk of having your emails marked as spam.
Comply with laws and regulations related to spam, privacy, and data protection. This includes obtaining consent from subscribers before sending them emails, providing an easy way to unsubscribe, and protecting subscribers’ personal information. Be aware of email marketing guidelines to be in compliance with regulations like GDPR and CAN-SPAM.
A 2021 study found that a majority of email views—41%—come from mobile devices, followed by 39% on desktop. With a growing number of people checking their emails on mobile devices, it’s important to optimize for mobile. Ensure that you select a responsive email design that adjusts to different screen sizes.
A/B testing, a common feature of many email marketing platforms, involves sending different versions of your email to a small sample of your subscribers to see which performs better. The winning version is then sent to the rest of your email list. This strategy will help improve your results over time.
Segmenting your email list involves dividing your subscribers into groups based on their interests, demographics, behavior, or cohort.This allows you to send targeted emails that are more relevant to each group, rather than a one-size-fits-all message.
Find the balance between maintaining a regular cadence for your email marketing campaigns, but not overwhelming your audience with too many emails. If you send an excess of emails, they may be marked as spam by subscribers, affecting the deliverability of all your emails. Consider sending emails exclusively when you have something valuable to share with your audience.
Remove inactive or invalid email addresses from your email list every few months. This helps ensure that your emails reach the right people and can improve your deliverability and open rates. A large email list is a vanity metric; instead focus on how engaged your list is.
Crafting an email marketing strategy for your startup starts with considering your objective for this marketing channel: what does your business want to accomplish through email?
One goal might be customer retention, supporting existing users by sending educational content that helps them get the most out of your product. A different objective might be sales and conversions, sending free users discounts or persuasive copy that gets them to upgrade to become a paid user. Another might be brand building, helping customers forge a connection to your company and its overall mission. In some cases, it might be all of the above.
Your marketing objective will shape your email marketing strategies—from who you send emails to where you capture subscribers, what kind of emails you send them, and how often you send them to
How you speak to subscribers should be personalized, based on their relationship to your business and product. Though you might have a single list with a wide range of subscribers, it’s worth considering how you might segment your list and tailor your message for the most effectiveness.
Here are a few groups to consider when you’re crafting emails:
Building an email list is an effective marketing strategy with significant ROI by converting a percentage of email opens into sales. Prioritizing the growth of your list, by capturing emails from as many places as possible, should be key to your email marketing for startups strategy.
Here are a few potential email capture points to consider:
Sending a continuous barrage of promotional emails to subscribers is a poor email marketing strategy. Instead, focus on a multi-pronged approach that includes a variety of email types that engage your audience—from educating them about your product to building brand awareness.
Here are several kinds of emails to include in your marketing mix:
“How often should I send emails to subscribers?” is a common question when starting email marketing for startups. But the truth is, there’s no definitive answer. Some sources suggest emailing at least once a month to keep subscribers engaged, but advise that sending emails too often can lead to readers tuning out or unsubscribing. Other experts suggest that email frequency should depend on your industry—with bloggers and publishers recommended to send daily while B2B businesses should opt for monthly sendouts.
However, they all concur on one thing: your emails should be consistent. Avoid ad-hoc sendouts and embrace regularity. Whether you’re opting for a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly cadence, send emails at a regular cadence that your readers will come to expect.
With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to decide between the dozens of email marketing platforms on the market. Should you go with the well-known name or the most cost effective choice? Should you choose a simple platform or one with a slew of advanced automation features? Will you need design customization features or is your business content with out-of-the-box templates?
Choose a platform that’s simple and effective to start, but can scale with you as you grow.
If you land on the web page of a popular email marketing platform, you’ll be bombarded with dozens of features—from customer journeys and priority support to segmentation and A/B testing. Some features will be essential for your startup, while others will be nice-to-haves or features you’ll never touch.
Here are 10 features worth reviewing before choosing an email marketing platform:
Complete your own research into which email marketing platform works best for you—including chatting with other entrepreneurs and marketing teams about their preferred platform.
Here are five popular email marketing platforms that have a wide variety of the features mentioned previously.
Mailchimp is a popular email marketing platform that’s known for its user-friendly interface and extensive features. It offers drag-and-drop email design, customizable templates, and list segmentation tools to help businesses create and send targeted email campaigns. Mailchimp also offers audience insights, A/B testing, and integrations.
ConvertKit is an email marketing platform specifically for bloggers, podcasters, and other content creators. It offers easy-to-use email templates, automation workflows, and segmentation features for building an online audience. ConvertKit also offers customizable landing pages, integrations, and analytics.
MailerLite is an email marketing platform for small businesses and entrepreneurs. It offers easy-to-use email design tools, customizable templates, and list segmentation features to help businesses create targeted email campaigns. MailerLite also offers A/B testing, automation workflows, and integrations.
ActiveCampaign is an email marketing platform that offers advanced automation and personalization features. It offers drag-and-drop email design, customizable templates, and list segmentation tools to help businesses create targeted email campaigns. ActiveCampaign also includes comprehensive automation workflows, integrations, and machine learning features to help businesses personalize their email marketing efforts.
HubSpot is a popular all-in-one marketing platform that includes email marketing as one of its many features. It offers easy-to-use email design tools, customizable templates, and list segmentation features HubSpot also offers comprehensive automation workflows, and CRM integration.
While one-off emails can be useful once in a while, these standalone messages should just be one portion of your overall email marketing strategy. Instead, spend time developing cohesive email marketing campaigns—designing a series of emails to achieve a specific goal, such as nurturing leads, driving sales, promoting a new feature, or maintaining long-term engagement with your audience.
Start building your email campaign by identifying your target audience. This includes their demographics, interests, pain points, and customer cohort By understanding who you’re talking to, you can create more relevant and engaging email content.
Whether it’s to generate leads, increase sales, or drive web traffic, your email campaign should have a clear goal. Set specific and measurable goals that you can measure against at the end of your campaign.
Your subject line is one of the most important elements of each email your startup sends. Craft something that’s attention-grabbing, relevant, and concise. Consider brainstorming multiple options and using A/B testing to see which resonates most strongly with your audience.
Workshop the messaging in your email until it’s clear, persuasive, and to-the-point—whether that’s highlighting the benefits of a new product line or requesting feature feedback. Tailor your messaging to each email campaign’s goals and target audience.
Include a prominent compelling call-to-action (CTA) within each email you send. This could be to click through to your website with a clear goal, like upgrading from a free to paid subscription or downloading a PDF resource.
Email is a particularly effective marketing channel because it’s simple to assess your results—you can judge the success of a single email or campaign, based on metrics like click-through rate and conversion.
Here are key metrics to judge the success of your email marketing efforts:
Use this data to iterate on your email marketing strategy, reducing the number of emails you send if your unsubscribe rate soars or duplicating a tactic used in a particularly high conversion email. With the right email marketing strategy in place, your startup can effectively reach and engage with your target audience, build brand awareness, and drive conversions.
Email marketing is just one way to supercharge your startup’s growth in 2023. Check out all of DigitalOcean’s resources for startups and SMBs in The Wave, our startup resource hub, for more company-building advice to help your startup thrive.
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