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Email marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing channels, but it's also one of the most complex and nuanced. As a CMO or marketing executive in the SaaS space, you likely appreciate the power of a good email to nurture leads, engage customers, and drive revenue. However, with ever-changing regulations, inbox fatigue, and increased competition for attention, executing a successful email marketing strategy is becoming more and more challenging.

In this ultimate guide, I'll provide a comprehensive overview of email marketing, covering everything from the key benefits and challenges to the different types of emails, best practices for executing your campaigns, and latest trends.

What Is Email Marketing?

what is email marketing infographic
A simple definition of email marketing.

Email marketing is the strategic use of email marketing software to nurture relationships and promote products or services to consenting audiences across the entire customer lifecycle.

It encompasses a wide range of email campaigns like newsletters, promotional announcements, automated drip sequences, transactional emails, retention and re-engagement series, and much more—all delivered directly to the inboxes of opted-in subscribers.

Why Is Email Marketing Important?

The numbers don't lie—email marketing is cost-effective and a money-making machine. Looking at email marketing statistics and HubSpot's State of Marketing 2024 Report, for every $1 invested in email marketing, businesses earn on average $36 in return. For 14% of survey respondents, email marketing resulted in the biggest ROI. With its proven track record of driving conversions and revenue, email simply can't be ignored.

Beyond just profitable metrics, email's widespread usage and intimate place in our personal/professional lives solidify its importance. Just consider this:

  • There are over 4.4 billion active email users worldwide, according to Oberlo
  • The average professional spends 5.6 hours per day checking their inbox, according to Adobe.

Email is simply ingrained into our daily routines and habits like no other communication platform.

Benefits Of Email Marketing

benefits of email marketing infographic
Considering email marketing? The benefits outweigh the challenges.

While the ROI statistics alone showcase email marketing's immense value, it delivers benefits that extend far beyond just revenue generation.

Here are some of the biggest benefits:

Increased Brand Awareness

One of email's superpowers is its ability to put your brand directly in the inbox of your target audiences. Each and every email deployed is an opportunity to powerfully reinforce your brand identity—its personality, value proposition, products, and resonance. With a carefully constructed email cadence coupled with intelligent list segmentation, you can keep your brand top-of-mind.

A well managed email campaign presence cements brand mindshare and affinity in a way that other channels like social media or paid ads struggle to replicate. Over time, email marketing nurtures invaluable brand equity that pays dividends.

More Website Traffic

Email campaigns are also a great source for driving more clicks and engaged visitors to your website's landing pages. When personalized emails provide relevant and valuable content tailored to each segment's interests paired with clear, enticing calls-to-action, subscribers are naturally inclined to learn more.

Tools like UTM codes allow you to precisely track and measure the website impact originating from each individual email campaign. Even beyond directly attributed traffic, greater brand awareness increases search volume around your company and product names.

Increased Sales

While supporting leads through the full marketing/sales cycle, email's most profound impact is its ability to directly influence purchasing decisions, conversions and drive revenue. Few channels can match the ROI of tactical email campaigns designed to nurture prospects by showcasing product benefits, social proof, promotions, coupons, bundles, and making the sale.

Other high-value transactional campaigns include cart abandonment sequences triggering automatically to rescue potential lost revenue, as well as post-purchase follow-ups designed to drive higher average order values through upsells, cross-sells and accessory offers. By employing these email marketing strategies, you can significantly reduce lost opportunity.

Improved Customer Loyalty

Email also provides the most powerful owned communication channel for reaching existing customers directly. Companies can send thoughtfully segmented campaigns sharing new product updates, soliciting feedback, providing educational resources, early renewals and more. When subscribers perceive these communications as genuinely valuable, it deepens brand affinity and loyalty like no other channel can.

This direct connection reduces churn by nurturing a captive audience, while improving your email open and conversion rates and continually surfacing expansion opportunities to increase lifetime customer value. 

Challenges Of Email Marketing

While email marketing provides immense benefits, it's not without its challenges. Marketers need to be aware of a few potential obstacles:

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Spam

Government regulations like CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CASL, and others have strictly defined and continuously evolving rules around email content transparency, consent acquisition practices, privacy policies, and opt-out mechanisms—all intended to protect consumers from abuse. Even unintentionally subverting these laws can lead to harsh penalties like fines, blacklisting, and complete obliteration of your sending reputation.

Maintaining email marketing best practices around confirmed opt-in, well-set up email blast marketing campaigns, list hygiene, and other preventative measures is critical for remaining compliant and maintaining consistent deliverability. However, it's also a complex undertaking requiring substantial resources and expertise to monitor ever-shifting policies across the globe.

The rise of AI-led spam also mean marketers are beginning to consider alternatives to email marketing.

Competition

With Templafy claiming that the average office worker receives over 121 emails per day, the harsh reality is that inboxes are more overwhelmed and polluted than ever before. Finding ways to captivate attention and actually get your messages opened amongst this endless daily clutter is a pretty big challenge.

It requires developing quality content that rises above industry averages with well-timed, segment-specific relevance. It also requires finding ways to maintain extremely strong sender reputations and prioritization from email service providers. Practices like optimizing engagement metrics, prioritizing personalization, and potentially incentivizing openers cannot be afterthoughts.

Design

On the surface, email marketing appears relatively simple—draft a message, use email marketing templates and send it to a list. But in reality, the underlying technical requirements for designing, coding, rendering, and delivering emails flawlessly is quite demanding. 

The vast combination of all possible device screen sizes (desktop versus mobile devices for example), operating systems, internet browsers, corporate email clients, webmail interfaces, accessibility needs, image suppression settings, coded HTML/CSS support, Outlook rendering quirks, spam filter rules and more creates an infinite matrix of variables that can break even the most meticulously designed emails.

Types Of Marketing Emails

types of marketing emails infographic
There are several types of marketing emails, from welcome emails to retention emails.

Welcome Emails

Welcome emails are the first impressions sent immediately after someone opts-in to your email list. Their goal is to warmly greet new subscribers with a first email, set expectations, provide value, and guide toward the next desired action. This could be starting a free product trial, exploring educational content/resources, connecting on other channels, or something similar.

You'll want to craft an engaging welcome series that continues nurturing the relationship with personalized and relevant messaging, incentives, and urgency around that call to action.

email example
An example of a welcome email from SurveyMonkey.

Lead Nurturing Emails

Lead nurturing emails are automated campaigns focused on engaging, qualifying, and guiding prospective buyers through each stage of your marketing and sales cycle. These sequences deliver value-driven content like educational resources, product info, customer stories and more.

For you, early nurture touches may focus on thought leadership and category education while middle and late stages dive into specific product/service use cases, social proof, competitive positioning and purchasing information.

lead nurturing email example
Sephora sends lead nurturing emails that contain professional makeup tips and product picks.

Informational Emails

Informational emails prioritize providing value and building affinity/credibility with subscribers over directly selling products or services. Their aim is to share truly helpful content that educates, raises awareness of key issues, keeps audiences informed on relevant trends/news and nurtures lasting mindshare.

As an example, this could include newsletters surfacing your latest blog posts, announcements around new product features/enhancements, industry reports, curated insights from subject matter experts, event invites and more.

informational email example
Slack's informational email includes notices of upcoming changes.

Promotional Emails

As the name implies, promotional emails overtly market your product or service. Their goal is to drive more immediate actions like trial starts, downloads, purchases, upgrades/renewals and revenue. Clear, compelling calls-to-action, eye-catching designs, persuasive messaging and incentives are all critical components.

You may promote limited-time offers, new product launches, bundles and pricing packages, features/benefits walkthroughs and more.

promotional email example
Babbel's promotional email includes a 60% off offer for their product, Babbel Live.

Transactional Emails

Transactional emails facilitate critical business transactions like account creation, password resets, purchase receipts and more. For SaaS businesses utilizing subscription models, regularly recurring transactional emails like monthly statements are extremely important customer touchpoints. They should be treated as such by delivering an optimized experience reflective of your brand voice/style while still adhering to operational requirements.

transactional email example
Udemy's transactional email confirms a user's order and provides a receipt.

Retention Emails

Retention emails aim to proactively maintain engagement with existing customers to maximize lifetime value and reduce churn. For SaaS companies operating on recurring revenue models, retention is just as crucial as acquisition from a revenue standpoint.

Retention tactics may include triggered "delight" campaigns celebrating milestones or key product usage, renewals and winback initiatives to combat potential churn, loyalty programs, and continuous nurturing via newsletters, marketing webinars, networking opportunities and consistent value-adds.

retention email example
DuoLingo's retention email encourages users to continue learning a new language through challenges.

How To Run Email Marketing Campaigns In 2024

how to run email campaigns in 2024 infographic
Your checklist for running effective email marketing campaigns in 2024.

1. Select the right email marketing platform

With so many great email marketing software options on the market, selecting the right one for your SaaS business is crucial for driving your best return on investment. Don't just evaluate based on cost—dig into advanced feature sets like segmentation, personalization, automation workflows, integration capabilities, testing/optimization tools, analytics and reporting.

The right email marketing tool will seamlessly integrate with your CRM, CMS, marketing automation tools and more. It should make tasks like building drip sequences, dynamic segmentation and behavior-based automations simple through intuitive UIs and pre-built functionality. You'll also want robust testing capabilities to optimize every element like send times, subject lines, designs and content for maximum engagement and conversions.

Remember, switching email platforms is painful, so you'll want a solution built to scale, handling increasingly complex campaigns as your database and business grows. Spend time vetting, get team buy-in, and choose wisely. Consider involving key stakeholders from sales, marketing, product, and engineering to ensure the platform meets everyone's needs and integrates seamlessly with existing systems.

2. Build your email list, and never buy it

The quality of your email list directly impacts deliverability, engagement, and revenue generation. Avoid the shortcut of purchasing lists, which often contain outdated, invalid or non-permissioned addresses. This spells a quick path to damaged sender reputation, potential legal issues, and wasted marketing spend.

Instead, focus on organically growing your email list for marketing through things like:

  • Lead magnets, checklists and other ethical incentives driving sign-ups
  • Easy opt-in checkboxes on account signup/purchase flows
  • Calls-to-action on website via pop-ups, blog and social driving to sign-up forms
  • Email list-building integrations on live chat and messaging platforms
  • Seeding physical signups at events/tradeshows
  • Enabling safe "Send to Friend" tools to reach broader audiences

The goal is creating value-driven opportunities to earn explicit consent and build an engaged audience receptive to your messages. Quality always trumps quantity when it comes to email lists, so be sure to employ some of our best email marketing tips to authentically grow your subscriber base.

3. Know your local laws and regulations

Operating an email program in 2024 requires understanding and carefully following all applicable local laws and regulations. In the US, marketers need to comply with requirements around consent, disclosure and unsubscribe mechanisms outlined in the CAN-SPAM Act.

Those sending emails in Europe must adhere to the more stringent GDPR as it pertains to data handling and consent policies. Other countries like Canada, India and Australia also have their own anti-spam laws that vary. Working with legal counsel to audit your email practices against every region you operate in is highly advisable to avoid penalties.

4. Use double opt-in forms for sign-ups

A key component of maintaining a high-quality, compliant email list is using double opt-in (also called confirmed opt-in) for all sign-ups. With this best practice, new subscribers receive a confirmation email after initially entering their address. This email contains a unique link they must click to affirmatively verify their identity and consent.

While creating a slightly higher bar for initial sign-ups, double opt-in better ensures you only have actively engaged and interested people on your list from the start. This protects your email reputation, improves deliverability, and boosts engagement rates over time as low-quality addresses are weeded out.

Looping back to your chosen software, responsible email platforms will make it easy to configure double opt-in workflows as part of your signup flows. You can automate follow-up emails reminding users to confirm if needed. Combining double opt-in with other strict hygiene practices like email validation and verification sets your program up for success.

5. Use Segmentation for relevancy

Successful email marketing campaigns don't take a "batch and blast" approach by sending the same generic messages to every subscriber. With inboxes more crowded than ever, this lazy tactic is a surefire way to get ignored, marked as spam, or completely tuned out.

To drive sales, high engagement, conversion rates and ROI, you need to slice your email audiences into highly-segmented, granular groups based on shared characteristics and behaviors. Modern email platforms offer countless ways to leverage demographic, psychographic and behavioral data to categorize your lists.

You can set up automated segmentation logic that continuously updates based on factors like:

  • Job role/title/level
  • Industry/company
  • Location/region
  • Age/Gender
  • Email engagement history
  • Website behavior
  • Purchase history/customer status
  • Declared interests/preferences

With this laser-targeted email marketing by segmented groups, you can deliver hyper personalized content, messaging and offers tailored to that precise segment's specific needs, use cases and buyer profiles. This level of relevance drastically improves your chances of capturing attention and driving action.

6. Personalize your subject lines and content

Extending from segmentation, take things a step further and personalize not just which emails people receive, but the actual content within them. Integrating your email platform with your marketing CRM software, customer databases and other data sources allows you to dynamically populate content blocks, imagery and more with unique personal details like:

  • First name/last name
  • Company name
  • Location
  • Job role/title
  • Product usages and interests
  • Past purchases/orders

Well-deployed personalization strategies make your email communications feel tailored as one-to-one conversations, rather than batch messages blasted to thousands. This helps capture attention amidst an endless sea of email newsletters and promotions. Advanced applications involve dynamically updating entire sections or versions of email content contextually at an individual level.

When people receive emails precisely tailored for their unique attributes and relationship with your brand, engagement rates skyrocket compared to generic campaigns. Test out various personalization tactics and measure the impact.

7. A/B test your content

Even the most experienced email marketers can't simply guess which messaging, designs, subject lines and send times will maximize opens, clicks and conversions for each segmented audience. To remove the guesswork and make data-backed optimizations, you need to A/B test every element of your email campaigns.

Most modern email platforms have built-in testing capabilities that allow you to define variants to test. You can take your segment lists and randomly sample out smaller test groups (usually around 20-25% of the total segment). Send each test group a different variant email with changes to:

  • Subject line copy
  • CTA email copy/design
  • Body copy and messaging
  • Images/visuals
  • Layout/design
  • Send timing and cadence

Then measure which variant drives higher engagement, open rates, clicks, conversions etc. based on your defined KPIs. The winning variant can then be rolled out to the remaining 75-80% of the segment.

By methodically identifying and optimizing the highest-performing email creative and delivery tactics for each specific audience, you can continually iterate and improve overall campaign performance. Even minor tweaks to elements like subject lines can lead to substantial lifts in ROI when executed across large volumes.

8. Regularly clean your email list

Like any database, email lists naturally degrade over time due to subscribers aging out, abandoning old email addresses when changing jobs, entering invalid addresses unintentionally, or becoming inactive/dormant for other reasons like simply losing interest.

To maintain a high-quality, engaged subscriber base and safeguard your email deliverability and reputation metrics, it's critical to regularly scrub and sanitize your email lists. This can be automated via your platform (along with other email marketing automations) by setting rules like:

  • Remove email subscribers after 12 months of inactivity (no opens/clicks)
  • Require re-opt-in confirmations after prolonged periods of disengagement
  • Suppress permanently unengaged users based on defined thresholds
  • Seamlessly integrate third-party email validation and verification services

You'll also want processes for manually auditing list quality by examining metrics like high bounce rates, spam complaint rates, low open rates or other delivery issues on a segment or campaign basis. Inactive subscribers and toxic/low-quality addresses should be systematically removed.

Proper list hygiene practices, combined with thoughtful re-engagement sequences and win-back tactics, keeps your email program's foundation strong, secure and primed to drive maximum ROI from your marketing spend.

9. Ensure unsubscribing is easy

In most regions, government email compliance regulations like CAN-SPAM and GDPR stipulate that recipients must be able to easily opt-out or unsubscribe from your mailing lists at any time. Not only is this the law, but also a common courtesy and respect principle. Not providing clear, simple unsubscribe options is a recipe for damaging your email reputation.

Make it seamless and straightforward for people to opt-out with prominent unsubscribe links featured in places like email footers, headers, account preference centers and more. Avoid unnecessarily complicated multi-step workflows for unsubscribing. Having frustrated recipients unable to find a quick opt-out path typically leads to spam complaints and smashed delivery metrics down the line.

Instead, gracefully accept unsubscribes with an easy one-click flow. You can optionally provide alternative options to completely update their global email preferences rather than totally opted-out. This allows subscribers to adjust cadence and content interests rather than receiving no communications.

Anti-spam compliance and positive subscriber experiences should be top priorities, as they preserve your reputation and ability to communicate effectively with people who remain engaged.

10. Measure success through metrics

As with any marketing activity, you can't improve what you aren't measuring. Email campaigns, from initial enrollment to long-term nurturing sequences, should have clearly defined KPIs mapped to your overarching business goals. Some common marketing metrics to track for email include:

  • Deliverability/inbox placement rates
  • Opens, clicks, click-through rates by segment/campaign
  • Conversions (purchases, leads, etc.)
  • Email-attributed revenue and ROI
  • Database health (growth, churn, unsubscribe rate)
  • Sender reputations/sender scores
  • Spam/complaint rates

Robust email platforms make visualizing and separating performance across these metrics simple. You should also integrate UTM tracking codes so you can connect the dots attributes traffic, leads and revenue back to specific email campaigns in your web analytics platform.

On an ongoing basis, dedicate resources to producing analysis reports diving deep into your email metrics and impact across the entire marketing funnel. Examine historical trends, isolate underperforming areas to troubleshoot, model projected improvements, and most importantly, double down on your highest-performing campaigns, segments and tactics to squeeze maximum returns.

The email marketing landscape is constantly evolving at a rapid pace, shaped by new technologies, evolving consumer behaviors and demands, and an ever-increasing need to break through oversaturated inboxes. Looking to 2024 and beyond, several key trends are poised to drastically change how I approach email campaigns and communications: 

Email authentication as a requirement

With concerns around malicious spam, phishing scams, and other email abuse reaching crisis levels, inbox providers and regulatory bodies are cracking down harder than ever before. Strong email authentication practices that were once considered optional "nice-to-haves" are becoming universal compliance requirements for achieving optimal inbox delivery and sender reputation status.

Rigorous authentication protocols like DKIM, DMARC, SPF, and BIMI will be essentially mandated across the board. SaaS companies that fail to properly authenticate and validate their sending domains, diligently monitor authentication reports, and rapidly adhere to evolving new standards will face significant issues getting legitimate emails delivered inboxed rather than landing in junk/spam folders.

Simply put, if you cannot definitively prove your identity as a sender through strict authentication, you'll be treated as an untrustworthy spam source by major providers and corporate domains. Having sophisticated deliverability monitoring processes, authentication strategy expertise and dedicated resources will separate the inbox winners from losers.

Using email automation to scale efforts

The most sophisticated and successful email marketing automation tools are the ones providing relevant personalized experiences tailored to each specific subscriber at every stage of their customer lifecycle journey. As the need for granular segmentation and dynamic personalization increases, manually executing campaigns will not be operationally feasible.

In 2024, we'll see an acceleration in SaaS marketers shifting to leverage advanced marketing automation platforms, AI/machine learning engines, and other intelligent tools to build out deeply integrated, data-driven automated nurture streams at massive scale. These technologies connect insights across numerous customer data sources, marketing clouds, content systems and more - giving marketers a unified insights hub for constructing hyper-targeted communications triggered by real-time behavioral data.

Campaigns like:

  • Dynamically personalizing welcome journeys based on signup source and behavior
  • Churn prevention nurture streams surfacing timely expansion and retention offers
  • Abandoned cart sequences incorporating browsing data and predictive modeling
  • Cross-sell campaigns accurately matching products to customers' unique needs
  • And many other "set-it-and-forget-it" programs

...will increasingly be powered behind the scenes through advanced martech capabilities rather than manual effort. SaaS companies still relying on batch-and-blast tactics in 2024 will struggle to remain relevant and capitalize on all possible engagement opportunities.

Generative AI for personalization

One of the most exciting and potentially game-changing email trends gaining momentum is the use of generative AI engines like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and others to dynamically create and tailor email content in real-time to be utterly personalized for each individual subscriber.

Rather than just mail merge tactics that pull in basic first name or company fields, generative AI allows entire creative sections like email subject lines, headlines, body copy, images, and design elements to be produced from scratch for laser accuracy. By ingesting first-party customer data attributes like CRM details, interaction histories, expressed interests and more into the AI models, sections of hyper-relevant email content are composed specifically for that single recipient's unique profile and relationship to the brand.

For example, a SaaS company marketing its sales enablement platform could use AI models to assemble customized product descriptions, merchandising content blocks, personalized use case vignettes, on-brand illustrations, and other creative assets for every email - all tailored to match attributes of each individual lead or customer's specific selling motions, workflows, industry, roles and more.

This effectively transforms each touch at the inbox into a 1:1 concierge experience rather than a batch promotional blast, drastically lifting engagement and driving better results. While AI personalization is still an emerging frontier, early adopters armed with this capability will have a significant competitive advantage over brands still employing legacy tactics.

Creating interactive email experiences

While most marketing emails today are still relatively static, flat pieces of content primarily optimized for the open and click, forward-thinking SaaS companies are already beginning to leverage new innovations that enable truly immersive, interactive experiences directly within the inbox environment itself.

Rather than hoping recipients will click through to websites or apps, the next generation of highly-engaging emails will allow users to enjoy seamless embedded app-like experiences involving:

  • Interactive video players and upstraledors
  • Embedded surveys, polls and other community elements
  • Gamification and rewarded engagement mechanics
  • Direct shopping and payment capabilities

By eliminating the need to immediately abandon the inbox, these rich, captivating interactions provide a frictionless journey for nurturing, educating and converting directly within the safe context of an email environment. Recipients are delighted while brands benefit from increased engagement, lower drop-off rates and streamlined conversion paths.

As consumer expectations continue to be set by companies delivering optimal experiences on the web and mobile, SaaS brands unable to extend this seamless UX ethos into their email channel will struggle to resonate. Investing in the platforms, talent and design processes to enable immersive interactivity should become a strategic priority.

Key Takeaways For Mastering Email Marketing in 2024

Email remains one of the most powerful and effective channels for SaaS marketers to generate revenue, drive conversions, and build valuable customer relationships at scale. While trends and tactics evolve, email marketing's core ability to deliver targeted messages directly to consenting audiences ensures its seat at the head of the marketing mix.

As you construct or optimize your 2024 email strategy to execute effective email marketing, keep these three key takeaways in mind:

  1. Invest in the right tools and talent to execute email marketing respectfully yet impactfully. This includes complying with regulations, maintaining healthy deliverability, segmenting audiences, and leveraging automation.
  2. Focus relentlessly on relevance by personalizing and contextualizing your email content to each specific recipients' needs, interests, and relationship with your brand. Generic batch sends get ignored or marked as spam.
  3. Stay ahead of emerging trends like authentication mandates, generative AI applications, interactive experiences and more. The most innovative email programs will continue to evolve to capture attention and drive results.

Looking for more insights to level-up your SaaS email marketing game? Subscribe to The CMO newsletter for the latest email marketing tips, tactics, and expert perspectives delivered straight to your inbox each week.

Melissa Ariganello
By Melissa Ariganello

Melissa is a seasoned social media strategist and marketer who was recently awarded the Independent Consultant Award by Women in Marketing Community Interest Company. With a deep passion for understanding the ever-evolving digital landscape, she has developed expertise in leveraging social and content platforms to drive engagement and business growth.