Email marketing

How can email marketing work for startups?

Paul Ford Startup Tips

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Cultivating a tech brand and a strong user base via social media is generally a key point of focus for any startup founder. However, well executed social media marketing should ideally complement customer engagement via email. People use email daily, it works. According to global management consulting firm McKinnsey & Co, email marketing is 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined as a way to acquire new customers. Email underpins everything in sales and social media marketing, and founders should consider the right approach to making it work for them as a priority.

The overarching strategy when it comes to customer engagement email should always be to send wanted email with the right content to the right people at the right time.

Marketing and transactional emails, which include receipts, password resets, notifications, social alerts and promotions, help a startup connect with and engage an audiences and ultimately, grow their business. Furthermore, when these types of emails are not delivered into the inbox, the results include lost sales, churn and poor customer service.

This may seem basic, but you’d be surprised at the number of businesses who try to cut corners and see their email enter spam boxes as a result. According to ReturnPath’s 2013 Email Intelligence report, 22% of opt-in emails never make it to the inbox.

When starting out, it’s important to resist the temptation to buy email lists from the web to grow your email list. Focus on building your email list authentically and obtain permission from users through well designed opt-in pages. Also, provide multiple opportunities to sign up on desktop and mobile, and insist on opt-in confirmations to ensure that people do not receive emails for campaigns that they didn’t sign up for.

The mantra ‘content is king’ applies to any email strategy. Keep your audience top of mind and craft a message that speaks to your customers, bringing them relevant information. Additionally, personalise messages to authenticate your relationship with users by including their first name at the start of the email or even in the subject line, as well as sending links that are specifically relevant to them. According to Adestra’s subject line analysis report, businesses can see as much as a 20% uplift from personalising messages.

The subject line is also an important factor. The right approach is simple: create a compelling, short subject line which is relevant to customers. Most studies concur that emails with 6-11 word subject lines have the highest open rates.

As smartphone penetration continues to increase, more and more email is opened on mobile devices. In the UK, for example, almost half of all email is opened on iPhones and email opened on iPad grew by 55% from 2013 to 2014, according to SendGrid data. Bearing these trends in mind, founders should almost always use responsive-design templates for email to engage users effectively, no matter what device they’re using.

Analysing open, bounce and click-through rates to assess the performance of your startup’s email campaigns should be an ongoing priority. If the figures don’t look good, then consider amending the content or even cleaning your lists of redundant address by launching a re-confirmation campaign, for example…

Aside from marketing email, startups should also spend time fine tuning their transactional email strategy. Transactional email includes any automatically generated email, such as password resets, unsubscribes, confirmations and receipts, and they are critical to the success of a mobile app or ecommerce platform. If these emails don’t reach the inbox, customer satisfaction will drop and users won’t receive the notifications they are expecting.

Email is the backbone of any startup and with the right email strategy, founders will have more engaged users. This, plus improved email deliverability, will also have a positive impact on other areas of the business, such as social media marketing and sales. Once startups start to scale, getting email deliverability right should continue to be a key focus, as any dips in performance will mean thousands of users are not getting the emails they expect.


Paul Ford is VP of product & marketing at SendGrid, one of the world’s leading delivery & transactional email services. He will be at LeWeb’14 Paris in just two weeks: meet him there!

Top photo: © TijanaM via Shutterstock