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Digital Guide

Email Marketing

Email is arguably the most important communications channel in the world. With a near-global adoption (basically, anywhere there’s internet there’s email!), it has long since been a favourite of marketers looking to drive conversions and brand awareness.

It’s difficult to recall a time when email wasn’t simply a common part of everyday life. But you may be surprised to learn that it predates the internet, with roots going all the way back to the 1960s. 

There have been quite a few developments along the way, however! 


1965: The very early days of email were far-removed from the personalised, sleekly designed pieces of content that flood our inbox every day. It was in M.I.T. in 1965 that a programme called “Mailbox” was created. It was very basic; users could only leave messages on a computer for another user to read when they logged in.


1969: The U.S. Department of Defense developed a way to send messages between computers to assist internal communications. Known as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), it quickly proved the value of electronic mail.


1971: Legendary tech figure Ray Tomlinson introduced something so well-known to us that it’s crazy to think it wasn’t always there; the @ symbol! It solved the issue of how to determine which specific user was the intended recipient of a particular mail. This marks the birth of email as we know it.


1978: Gary Thuerk sends the first-ever mass marketing email campaign! He messaged 200 ARPANET users inviting them to a product demo. In interviews, he has claimed the campaign led directly to over 12 million USD in sales. Now that’s serious ROI!


1991: The internet as we know it takes flight and email is opened up to people around the world.


1992: The release of the Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (Mime) protocol allows files to be attached to emails for the first time!


1993: Microsoft releases Internet Mail, later to be renamed Outlook.


1996: Hotmail was released in 1996 as the first free web-based email service, followed by Yahoo Mail in 1997. The use of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) to build becomes commonplace, allowing for more creative and attractive designs. Previously, emails were only written in Plain Text.


1998: The U.K. introduces the Data Protection Act, making it mandatory for all marketing emails to include an opt-out option. The word “spam” official enters the dictionary!


2003: The U.S. passes the CAN-SPAM Act, giving its citizens the right to request that a brand stop emailing them.


2004: Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is introduced. This was the first comprehensive attempt to eliminate spam through IP validation. DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) followed in 2007, designed to prevent “phishing” and “spoofing” scams.


2007: Originally developed for internal purposes, Google releases Gmail to the public, removing the “Beta” status in 2009.


2008: Spam accounts for almost 93% of all emails received


2009: “Responsive emails” were introduced. This allowed emails to be read on a multitude of different devices.


2010: Hotmail Sweep and Google’s Priority Inbox are released, both with the goal of de-cluttering our inboxes.


2012: Over 40% of emails are first read on mobile devices. This figure has increased year on year ever since. It’s currently over 60%!


2016: The global percentage of emails received considered to be spam fell to below 40%, thanks to better filtering software across all email providers.


2018: GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is introduced in all E.U. member states. This fundamentally alters the legal requirements for brands collecting, storing and processing consumer data.


2020: Power to the people. With control firmly resting in consumers’ hands, brands need to personalise their email campaigns if they want to connect and convert.



  • There are 3.9 billion email users in the world, set to grow to 4.3 billion by 2023. That’s over half the world’s population! (Statista, 2020)
  • Almost 294 billion emails are sent everyday.
  • ROI from email remains very strong. DMA estimates its 42:1.
  • Only 55% of marketers believe their emails are relevant to their customers, highlighting the importance of personalised content and offers.
  • 23% of consumers say that they have opted out only to receive another email from the same brand. This suggests that many more brands are about to feel the weight of consumer privacy laws in 2020 if they do not take precautions.
  • Customers obviously like when you say hello, as welcome emails typically have an open rate over 80%.




Artificial Intelligence

No longer the stuff of science fiction, software companies are finding practical ways to use Artificial Intelligence to optimise marketing campaigns. Specifically, it’s machine learning that’s powering these advancements, finding patterns and trends in the vast amounts of customer data that brands now hold.

2020 will see A.I. impacting on email in the following ways;

  • Subject lines

Algorithms that can predict the right combination of words (and perhaps the occasional emoji) have been on the scene for a couple of years, but they are steadily improving all the time.

There are plenty of marketers who remain sceptical about a machine’s ability to produce more compelling copy than an experienced writer.

But if A.I. could potentially increase your open rates by a couple of percentage points then it’s got to be worth trying, right?

  • Next-best-action decisioning

By analyzing the behavioural patterns of customers within different segments and at various stages of the lifecycle, the goal is to identify the right piece of content to “unstick” the sales funnel.

This isn’t something that you can start doing overnight, however. Realistically, it’s going to take several months before there’s enough data in the system for it to make accurate predictions.

  • Optimal send times

With a move towards individual-relevance in all aspects of marketing and customer engagement, the next step is personalised send times.

Again, this kind of machine-learning is based on identifying trends in the data, but on a personal level. 

Commonly known as Send Time Optimisation (STO), this is a feature of the more advanced email platforms on the market.




When we looked at the history of email marketing earlier in this article, we mentioned Gary Thuerk. If you’ve already forgotten him, then the 12 million dollars worth of sales he generated (from 200 emails written in ALL CAPS) might jog your memory!

What Thuerk did back in 1978 would now represent a serious breach of consumer privacy laws. In fact, it was the first instance of spam.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was passed in 2018. It governs the way in which brands collect, store and process data belonging to E.U. citizens. More recently, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) came into effect in January 2020. Before long, these kinds of privacy laws will soon be commonplace around the world.

Fundamentally, it means that customers need to actively and knowingly give consent for you to send them marketing emails. Transactional, or non-promotional, emails like receipts are viewed differently.

With severe penalties in place for brands who fall foul of these laws, compliance has become a major headache for marketing officers. They are turning to purpose-built compliance software for help.

Those who have embraced the challenge, however, and built the concepts of privacy by design into their marketing strategy are actually seeing some benefits. By openly acknowledging the rights of individual customers and allowing them to control their personal data, they are actually forming stronger connections.

You can learn more about how leading email marketers are flourishing under GDPR.


Everyone wants to build a massive list of email subscribers, but volume doesn’t necessarily mean success. We always recommend to our clients that they focus on the quality of their lists.

In the long term, better lists make it easier to assess the success of your campaigns. A large percentage of disinterested recipients, who are never going to open an email from you, distorts the analytics.

If you want to grow your lists the right way, here are three aspects to focus on.



When are you currently triggering the opt-in request? If you’re springing it on visitors as soon as they land on your website then you are likely to be missing out. If you think about the psychology of the consumer at that moment then it’s obvious why.

You are distracting them from their goal. 

They’ve arrived on your website, let’s say from a display ad or the search engine results page, with the intention of doing something. It might simply be to browse, or they could be ready to buy. Either way, give them space and time to do that first.

Our clients have the best results when they wait until the visitor has had a chance to explore the website, some even wait until they’ve 3 or 4 pages deep. Now, this tactic requires the ability to set behavioural triggers for your onsite message (or “pop-up”).

Alternatively, you’ll often see brands using a permanent email subscription box on every page. This gives visitors the chance to enter their address whenever the mood takes them. It’s a passive approach and can definitely work, but sometimes customers need a little nudge to convert.


Value exchange

When was the last time you opted-in for marketing communications? Can you remember why?

At a root level, it was because you believed that you would get something worthwhile in return. That might be interesting content or the occasional discount. 

The “value-exchange” is what a brand promises to deliver the consumer in return for them giving consent. A compelling offer is the key to persuading more people to sign up.


Use double opt-in for subscription lists

What is the double opt-in subscription method and why do marketers use it?

This is a way of keeping your email lists “clean” and making sure that everyone on it genuinely wants to hear from you.

Basically, it works like this; 

1) Someone enters their email address through the usual sign-up form

2) Rather than adding that address straight to your marketing list, an email is sent to the person asking them to confirm their interest

3) Only when they have done so (usually through a link in the email) they are  considered to have given consent

This prevents people from being added to email lists in error, or by a third party without authorisation. 

There’s no doubt that initially, this will mean fewer opted-in email subscribers. The data tells us that your conversions won’t suffer negatively at all, however. And of course, your actual engagement rates will go up. 



Despite commentators predicting its demise, email remains a vital cog in marketing and engagement strategies.

With a low barrier to entry and global adoption, there’s no sign of email slowing down either. Take a look at the chart below. It’s clear that marketers are still heavily reliant on it as a channel.



At Xtremepush, we’ve watched mobile marketing grow from a neat addition to full-scale priority for enterprises. And email still has a huge role to play in this, for a couple of reasons you might not initially think of;

  1. Email is the “key” to a Single Customer View

I mean key as a piece of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). With customers using their email address to log in across mobile apps, mobile and desktop websites, accounts and so on, it is essentially our online passport. It’s a way for brands to identify and track users across all devices and channels to create a holistic picture of their behaviour.

    2. You have total freedom

What does email have over Twitter, Facebook push notifications and pretty much every other channel you could use to connect with a customer who’s not on your website or in your app? You are not bound by someone elses creative rules.

The emails you send are uniquely yours, and although yes, there are best practices to follow, you can shape it however you please.

    3. It’s right for every stage of the customer journey

Email is perfect for engaging the customer at every point in their relationship with you. Whether they are a prospect, a new customer, a loyal follower or a firm advocate, an email can help nudge them towards the next stage.




Even a decade ago, the ability to include your customer’s name in the subject line of an email was beyond the reach of most marketers.

That’s something we now expect from the most budget-friendly email service providers out there.

Personalised marketing has moved far beyond this, however! Currently, the aim is to ensure every message (whether it’s via email or another channel) is contextually-relevant to the recipient. In other words, the content reflects their individual interests and behaviour.

We’ve highlighted its importance a few times already, so let’s now look at practical ways to personalise your email campaigns (aside from Send Time Optimisation, which we mentioned earlier).

  • Segmentation

Ok, this is level one, nuts and bolts personalisation.

Customer segmentation is a non-negotiable and something that every email marketer should be doing. The alternative is generic, impersonal campaigns and you hardly need us to tell you that’s a bad idea!

Whether you are segmenting people based on their location, onsite behaviour, lifecycle stage or interests, it’s a perfect way to target users and share the perfect type of content with them.

  • Dynamic Content

If you are sending recurring (daily, weekly, monthly) email campaigns that take up more of your time than you’d like then dynamic content is the answer.

A few simple lines of code (or “snippets”) written into your email template is all that’s needed to fetch your most recent articles, for example, or latest deals for inclusion, without you ever having to do a single thing.

Whether the recipient is interested in sports or politics, menswear or baby clothes, dynamic content means the same email will be tailored individually for them.

That’s what personalisation at scale is all about!



  • Email frequency capping

If there’s one thing consumers detest more than generic, impersonal content it’s being bombarded with messages.

Over-messaging is definitely something you want to avoid.

If you only have one channel, let’s take email since it’s the focus here, then managing the frequency of touches is relatively simple. The once-a-week newsletter isn’t going to cause too much offence.

But of course, we are in the age of multichannel marketing and the likelihood is that you’re connecting with your customers across a number of channels. 

If you’re using an array of point solutions, with siloed customer data, then you might not even realise how many times you’ve messaged an individual customer. 

Ideally, you want to be able to set a per-customer frequency cap that holds across your entire engagement stack. It’s still possible to orchestrate it in such a way that priority messages (transactional or service, for example) would still get pushed through.

  • Real-time/right-time emails

You know the old saying, “there’s no time like the present”. Real-time engagement means delivering an automated message as soon as an onsite or in-app event-hit has been triggered. 

For email marketers, the most common use-case to employ real-time capabilities is abandoned cart recovery campaigns. Xtremepush is an official Google Tag Manager partner, so you can use any existing events you’ve set up to trigger an email. So when a customer leaves a basket at the checkout, you can send them a personalised email reminding them of what they are missing out on. 

Another classic example, would be the “welcome” email, sent as soon as the customer has created an account or signed up for your service. They could be automatically enrolled in an onboarding series at this point too, provided you have the right email orchestration tool.