The basics needed to start an email marketing campaign are:
1. A list of people to send the emails to
Ideally this will be built by potential customers subscribing to receive emails as described in the previous section.
It is also possible to buy lists of people who have opted in for email communications but this should be done with caution. In some countries, notably Germany and Canada, it's illegal to send unsolicited bulk marketing email, the potential customer needs to explicitly give permission to be sent to (using double opt-in in the case of Germany).
In other countries like the UK it is legal to send unsolicited email to business email addresses, but not to private ones. In others like the US it's legal to send unsolicited marketing email as long as the email complies with CAN-SPAM rules (e.g. it has the correct name and physical address of the sender and has an easy unsubscribe mechanism).
It's also against the terms and conditions of most commercial email marketing systems to use purchased email addresses. Even in cases where it's legal and allowed by the email marketing system there is a significant risk of emails sent to people who haven't explicitly signed up for them being marked as spam and damaging the ability of the sender to get their valid emails delivered in future.
2. A system to send the emails with
There are three types of system commonly used for email marketing:
- A standard email system such as Outlook or Mac Mail. Using a mailing list and the bcc feature it's possible to send mail to large numbers of people using standard email systems and this is still often done by some smaller businesses. However, compliance with anti-spam legislation (such as providing quick and easy unsubscribe functionality) is difficult and time consuming with these systems. And if the email address used gets a significant number of spam reports it can easily be blacklisted and thus prevent normal emails from the same system reaching their intended destination. So this is definitely not recommended.
- A self-hosted commercial email marketing system. A number of systems can be bought which can run on your desktop or hosted on your website which provide email marketing functionality. These systems give you complete control over your email marketing and have all the necessary features to create subscription forms, send emails, manage unsubscriptions, track opens and clicks, etc. However they can be complex to install and maintain and most lack the advanced functionality of the bigger hosted email marketing systems.
- An externally hosted (software-as-a-service) email marketing system. This is the most common way of handling email marketing. With this approach, the functionality is provided by a system running on an external website which you pay a regular fee to access (often depending on the number of subscribers or emails sent). The external systems handle all the functionality and delivery of emails and typically have more advanced features than you'd get in self-hosted software. They also have staff dedicated to managing relationships with the receiving email system providers and spam blacklists to ensure high levels of deliverability.
For most people wanting to get started in email marketing an externally hosted email system is usually the best and simplest route to go down. Systems range from those providing simple sign-up, email sending and admin facilities to those allowing advanced automation alongside shopping carts, website integration, landing page tools, etc.