Email is 50 Years Old. Should You Still Use Email Marketing in 2021?

Banner of people partying under the clouds because why not
July 10, 2021


All the answers to your email marketing questions. Read this quick & comprehensive guide to help you understand what email marketing is and how it can massively benefit you.

Email marketing is older than most people alive today (morbid, I know), but is still far from dying. Is it worth your precious time and energy?

This post is a comprehensive overview that explores email’s viability, provides a comparison of email to ads, reviews email best practices, and finally shows you how to start sending your very first email marketing email. 

It also contains a variety of easily accessible tools to help your emails stand out from your competition. 

Does Email Marketing Work?

Long story short: Absolutely. Email marketing works.

Short story, long: At the ripe old age of 49, email is looking robust as ever. If grandparents and grandchildren both have a similar experience with one thing this era, it’s email.

269 billion emails are sent a day, and that number grows daily. Alongside the internet, it’s one of the long-standing powerhouses of the virtual world that will always be necessary, so long as virtual communication is necessary.

a representation of 269 billion emails using envelopes, each representing 1 billion emails

We’ve adopted it as a part of our lives. Our daily routines. At this rate, email is not going anywhere for a very, very long time. 

People, corporations, and heck, even scammers use it everywhere and for everything. One of these myriad uses is marketing. 

Let’s get started!

How Good is Email Marketing?

The raw truth is, it’s beyond fantastic. 

Coming from an email marketer, that may sound biased, but studies don’t lie. McKinsey & Company found that: “Email marketing is up to 40 times more effective than social media.”

"email is 40x more effective than social media at acquiring customers," represented by an email on one side of a balance, and social medias on the other

These statistics show that email marketing is absurdly potent, but it depends purely on your goals. So, what are your marketing goals? 

If you have a product, service, or value offering for an existing audience, email marketing will undoubtedly benefit you. 

One example is if you want to grow your brand or business, sharing valuable brand-related tips & tricks or special product updates could easily increase your total revenue by 15% or more. (No wonder why email marketing is a fundamental component of 87% of marketers’ arsenal!) It works like a charm. No luck involved. 

However, if you’re an independent traveler who has a bi-weekly newsletter to share your exotic experiences hunting sable in northern Mongolia, then email marketing likely isn’t for you. A simple text-based email with a few pictures will send your message. Feel free to read on if this is you, but this blog is more for those who find that email marketing will benefit their project. 

Thus far, I’ve been continuously raving about email, but please don’t leave now and dive headfirst into your first campaign with reckless abandon. Let’s take it one step at a time so you can get the best out of your email marketing experience. 

Email Marketing vs Ads. Who’s the Winner?

In the virtual world, emails are the most direct, personal form of communication—and potentially, marketing—out there today. How often do you see your name on a Facebook or Google Ad? Never. *sniff*

You don’t ever see your name on a web ad because they are generalized. They attempt to be personal, but you can only catch so many types of fish with one net. These ads will inevitably be left eating the dust of email marketing. 

Emails innately have a huge advantage over other forms of digital ads for three reasons. 

First, emails are perceived as trustworthy. Scammers aside, emails are typically seen as a form of communication—not an ad. People rely on email, trust email, and use it all the time. Emails and email service providers are practical and reliable, which makes it far easier for well-targeted email to work. Ads make a valiant effort to be noticed, but are often thrown in the “nuisance” category before a user even realizes it. (How often have you closed an ad before even looking at it?)

Second, emails are intensely personal. Emails use users’ first names, last names, email addresses, and other identifiers that establish a connection. Without being spammy, subject lines such as, “Name, how did you like your ugly Christmas sweater?” immediately grab attention and generate curiosity. Furthermore, most users don’t realize emails can be segmented based on their buying and browsing behavior, just like Facebook and Google Ads. 

Finally, emails have more room to be persuasive. Most web ads cannot take up more than a fraction of a desktop screen, yet users regularly open up full-page emails and continue to scroll. This opens up an entirely new sandbox for stories, collages, branding, and messaging to reach an audience. And in the marketing space, we know that attention is currency.

icons representing the personal, trustworthy, and persuasive aspect of emails

Emails, on average, are clicked on far more than other forms of advertising. Once you see the metrics for yourself, it’s hard not to regret having started earlier. 

This is not to say ads should never be used. If you are finding success in your ads, then don’t stop! Do what works for you.

How to get started: finding your email service provider

There are a gazillion email service providers (ESP) available. You’ve probably heard of Gmail, Outlook, Mailchimp, or SendinBlue to name a few (hey, that rhymed). Let’s discuss which one you should use and how you can get started. 

Choosing the right ESP can seem tricky because they’re all different and offer varying services based on your needs. While Gmail and Outlook are easy to use, they lack the tools to track and organize your growth. On the other hand, email platforms like Constant Contact, Klaviyo, and Mailchimp offer a handful of analytics (albeit complex) tracking features to help you gauge the success of every send. 

There is no “correct” mail service provider—just better or worse according to your needs. 

The following list of the most popular ESPs is not exhaustive, and some of them overlap:

Free / Budget-focused ESPs: Gmail, Outlook, iCloud Mail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail, yandex, Lycos, ProtonMail, Tutanota, Zoho Mail

Small Businesses ESPs: Mailchimp, Constant Contact, SendinBlue, ConvertKit, AWeber, GetResponse, MailerLite, Klaviyo, Omnisend

Medium and Large Business ESPs: Klaviyo, HubSpot, Drip, Omnisend, ActiveCampaign

Bulk Send Email ESPs: SendGrid, Pepipost, Mailgun, Moosend, Mandrill, Amazon SES, Postmark, SendinBlue, Mailjet

If you see more than one ESP that matches your need, don’t worry about digging too much to find the “perfect” fit. If you don’t like it, you can always swap to a different one within a matter of minutes. 

Once you’ve settled for an ESP, you’re ready to craft some beautiful, branded emails!

How to start emailing

Emails come in all shapes and sizes. Text-based emails are the most common for personal and professional use, as you’ve probably experienced for yourself. But marketing emails are a whole new world. 

How you conduct this process will have a different look depending on your ESP, but the four steps will always stay the same:

  1. Strategize
  2. Write & Design
  3. Implement
  4. Send

Let’s break it down.

Step 1: Strategize

Begin by deciding what it is you wish to achieve with email. Here are a few ideas to get your gears churning:

  • Nurture prospects
  • Increase sales
  • Build loyalty
  • Engage lapsed customers
  • Event update
  • Understand buyer personas

It’s no surprise that this is usually the most dreaded part of the email creation process. For now, that’s all you need to know—but here’s a little bit of information to clarify the two ways these strategies can be executed inside your ESP: 

You can either (a) create a one-off “campaign” email, or (b) build a “flow,” or series of emails. 

a "campaign" is a one-off email, and a "flow" is a series of emails

In other words, if your goal is to use email for unique, one-time events, such as new product releases or informative updates, then you’ll want to create one-off campaign emails. 

If your goal is to lead your users down a sequence of scheduled emails, also known as a “drip campaign” or “email funnel,” then plan a basic idea of what emails you want to send in order. 

Having an automated series of emails sent to every new user is a powerful feature offered by most of the ESPs for businesses listed in the “How to get started” section above.

Go ahead and plan out your strategy on paper, on your ESP, or on any medium of your choice, and you’ll be ready to move onto step 2!

“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

6 different strategy examples, including nurture prospects, increase sales, build loyalty, engage lapsed customers, event update, and understand buyer personas

Step 2: Write & Design

You may have written hundreds of emails in your life. Maybe even thousands. 

Emails for marketing, as you know by now, takes more effort, planning, and time than any ordinary emails. Before searching out for a full-time email-designer, you should know that a study done by HubSpot showed that people didn’t always prefer heavily designed emails. (Who doesn’t like pretty pictures?)

In fact, plain-text emails consistently outperformed designed emails by a small margin. However, this statistic varied by the email industry and goal. It’s not conclusive that you should not use design.

So, what does this all mean for you?

Focus primarily on having good copy. 

You can write it yourself, or you could hire an independent contractor to write it for you. Email conversion copywriting prices vary greatly, ranging from anywhere from $10 to a not-so-cool $1,000 per email.

Basic components of an email design include the subject line, preview line, body, and call-to-action (CTA). 

If you want to go in-depth on how to create a welcome email—the very first inaugural email many businesses send to their customers—here is a 6-minute read on how to do just that. 

Most importantly, be careful of the spam filter. Autopilot posted a sterling list of the top 202 spam trigger words that will get you in trouble in 2020.

Connect your list (email audience) with a consistent writing style and voice your brand uses. 

Your emails are an extension of your brand.  

The designs you choose should also match your branding if you want to differentiate yourself from any other generic text-based emails. Most ESPs allow you to customize everything from your font to the background and pictures in the email. 

You can grab your design inspiration from this is an excellent website, and then follow through with this comprehensive guide on email UX best practices.

emails are like mini landing pages for your brand. image features writing + design becoming an email

Step 3: Implement

You’ve crafted the email, and now you must prepare your list. Which one of your lists will receive this email?

Double-check all the hyperlinks are working, and that your email is responsive. Litmus test is a powerful tool to preview your email on 90+ devices. For quality control, this test (or something similar) is highly recommended.

If you have a few moments, A/B test your subject lines, body copy, designs, or CTA button so you can understand your users on a better level. Most ESPs will allow you to create variations to do this quickly. Trust me, it’s worth it. 

Finally, triple-check you are sending the right email to the right list. You don’t want to be sending your 2,000-word newsletter emails to the “exclusive discounts” list that never signed up to receive.

decide who will receive the email once you put it in your email service provider. image is of a person in a target

Step 4: Send

Depending on your ESP, you can set the email to send based on a user behavior, on a time delay, or now. 

Regardless of which one you choose, studies show that your best bet is to send your emails on Tuesday to Thursday, and between 10 am and 2 pm.

When you first send, you’ll notice that the half-life is only about 6 hours, and the opens will taper off gradually.

the best time to send your email is between 10 am and 2 pm on Tuesday and Thursday. Icon of paper airplane taking off

And… that’s it! Time to repeat the process all over again, but for your next email. 

Next steps

Depending on your ESP, you’ll have a unique set of performance-checking tools at your disposal. They are there to help you optimize every single email you send, so make use of them!

Start by checking your open rates. They vary wildly depending on your industry and purpose, but a healthy benchmark to measure yourself against is Mailchimp’s finding of a 21.33% average open rate.

Their analysis of click rates (successfully received at least 1 click) showed that the average click rate across all industries is 2.62%. 

the average click rate across all industries is 2.62% (source: mailchimp)

A/B tested earlier? Find the winner and repeat the process until, well, you’re satisfied!

Do I have to do all this myself?

No, you don’t have to do this all by yourself. Depending on your time and budget, you have options with varying degrees of work required on your end. Email marketing may seem complex, but it is relatively simple to start. 

Within minutes, you can start writing, designing, and implementing your own email. But if you want to consistently have high-performing campaigns, research, testing, and patience are required. 

Let’s explore the available options based on your time and budget:

No time, no budget: The least you can do here is to start collecting email addresses using a lead capture form (popup). When you have enough time or money to email, then you can use the list to your advantage. 

Little time, no budget: With the few hours you have, follow through with the four steps mentioned in the “How to start emailing” section (plan, write & design, implement, send). Helpful template services are available to help you quickly drag and drop elements to easily design your email. All you have to do is write the email and export it into your ESP.

Little time, little budget (under $500 per month): Within a matter of minutes, you can have any type of custom email made using Grab Digital’s services. Instead of spending countless hours painstakingly crafting fully written, designed, and personalized emails, simply fill out their “email request form,” and they will export the polished email into your ESP. You may request an unlimited number of emails, and you get unlimited revisions until you are satisfied.

Or, you could manually hire writers and designers for every email you wish to create, and then implement them yourself. 

Little time, big budget ($500-10,000 per month): If you are looking to sit back and let someone else fully manage your emails, hire an email marketing agency. Agencies typically cost significantly more than the other options due to having in-house writers, designers, and email experts. They get the job done, but are very unlikely to create a positive return on investment for small and medium businesses and freelancers. Larger enterprises often hire email marketing agencies to manage everything from strategy to send.

Big time, big budget: An excellent position to be in. You have a smorgasbord of options, which are the same options listed above (reiterated here). You can either (a) write, design, implement, and send emails on your own, (b) hire a writer and designer, and manually do the rest (c) hire Grab Digital, a competitively priced email crafting service, to write and design your emails, or (d) hire a full-service agency to manage your entire email strategy.

representation of time vs budget using bar graphs. high time low cost to do it yourself, low time low cost to hire Grab Digital, and low time high cost to hire an agency


You should use email marketing in 2021. Email marketing is unequivocally effective at increasing revenue and nurturing connections, especially if you have a product, service, or value offering. How you go about creating a high-performing series of emails is up to you, depending on your available budget and time. Regardless what direction you decide to take email, know that email inspiration, strategies, tools, and services are readily accessible to help you start sending!

Get expert email advice from our authors
Written by

Jasper is an expert email marketer. He is passionate about helping sustainably driven businesses reach their marketing goes through beautiful, branded emails.