Dangerous watersOne of the most frequently asked questions at HubSpot regarding email marketing is whether or not it properly belongs in the category of Inbound Marketing.

That is, can email marketing be done in a way that feels to your prospects like something that (1) they volunteered to receive and are happy to see in their inbox, and (2) provides real value to them. 

Or is email marketing just spam?

Email Marketing Can Be Inbound

When it is done right, email marketing can absolutely be considered a valid part of Inbound Marketing. Using the criteria above, what email marketing needs to do is simply provide value to the customers who already want to hear from you.

How do you know if a contact wants to hear from you?

This one is pretty simple: If a person asks to receive email from you, or signs up for email communications from you, then it's pretty clear that this person is interested in receiving emails from your company.

Of course, you still need to provide them with a simple way to unsubscribe from email communications with you, which is one very good reason to always use an established Email Service Provider (ESP). A good ESP will ensure that all your emails comply with the current laws and regulations forbidding spam.

And what's the best way to ensure that your valid contacts won't unsubscribe from your emails?

Provide real value in your emails

This is where a lot of businesses get tripped up. It's too easy to focus on what you, the marketer or business owner wants your email contacts to do, or to know about, rather than focusing on what the potential customer might actually want to do or know about.

You might very much want people to sign up for a demo, or to contact a salesperson at your company, for instance. But what percentage of your leads is really going to be ready to take this step?

Usually, only a very small percentage of your contacts at any given time is going to be ready to buy. So an email that tries to force them into that category will only serve to alienate and annoy the vast majority of your subscribers.

If you are alienating and annoying your email subscribers, then you can be pretty sure that you're not providing value -- and that your email communications are quickly veering off into treacherous outbound marketing waters.

Whenever you're composing an email to send to your leads, ask yourself what are they likely to really want at this stage in the buying cycle? Perhaps it's more information about the kind of product or service you provide; perhaps it's more information about you as a company. Keep trying to put yourself firmly in your customer's shoes, and try to give them what they need at every opportunity.

Image by JA Coulter

Originally published May 26, 2011 11:01:00 AM, updated January 13 2014