Marketers spend a lot of time thinking about right message, right time, right platform. But what about right type?
When you’re looking at individual email’s subject lines, content, and visuals, plus action-based email journeys or time-based email playbooks, it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. When this happens, you run a risk of creating an imbalance in the types of emails you’re sending on a weekly, monthly, or even annual basis.
In this blog, we’ll explore the 10 most common types of email marketing and when to use them. Plus, we’ll include some best-in-class examples along the way.
Why you need to create a balance of email types
Everyone loves a blanket statement. “No one likes to be sold to, emails should be educational!” “No one wants to read these days, emails should be short and sweet!” “Emails should have an 80:20 text:image ratio!”
While having a clearcut set of rules to adhere to would make marketers' lives easier, the truth is a lot more nuanced. People don’t mind being sold to every now and then, especially if there’s a big launch or discount involved. Sometimes emails need to be on the longer side to get the message across, and many subscribers will, in fact, read the whole thing. Some emails require more images, and less text.
In short, success is not about finding one email type or template, it’s about creating a balance of different email types. Subscribers are more likely to engage with your email content if they are receiving a range of different types of emails. To strike the right balance, every marketer needs to take a bird’s eye look at every email they send and identify which types are missing.
These are the 10 most common types of email marketing to consider as you look at your overarching email marketing strategy. Remember, no matter the type, your emails should only ever be sent to people who have opted in to receive emails from you.
1. Welcome and confirmation emails
As the very first email a new subscriber or customer will receive, welcome emails are incredibly important. A welcome email may be a one-off confirmation of subscription (in the case of a newsletter subscriber, for example) or a series of emails that educates a new customer or subscriber to your marketing list about your brand and answers some FAQs.
Customers and subscribers anticipate a welcome email more than any other type, which means they tend to generate the highest open and click-through rate, so use this space wisely and give them a teaser of what’s to come to keep them coming back for more.
From purchase confirmations to delivery notifications, webinar registration confirmations to login reminders, transactional emails are automated, one-to-one emails that are triggered by specific customer actions.
Unlike some other types of emails, transactional emails are all about practicalities. Customers want timely, clear, concise communications, without distractions or fluff.
If your transaction email includes a CTA (like a link to a webinar or a tracking code for a delivery), ensure it is clear and prominent, as the customer will be seeking it out above all else.
Since transactional emails are sent according to an individual customer’s actions, it’s near-impossible to map out their timing or frequency on a customer journey calendar, so just keep them in mind as you explore your other email types.
3. Lead nurturing emails
We recently surveyed marketing experts across a mix of industries to find out which channels and tactics were most effective for nurturing leads to conversion. Email won out by quite some margin, with 45.7% of respondents placing it as the top-performing channel.
Lead nurturing emails are usually sent after a new lead signs up to your marketing email database, or takes a specific action on a landing page, like downloading an ebook or using a gated tool. They are usually sent in a time-based sequence, making Ortto’s Playbooks an easy-to-use option.
Your lead nurture emails should be specific to the action of the lead tool. For example, if you’re a gourmet grocery delivery service and your new lead came to your after downloading an ebook of healthy recipes, you may want to nurture that lead with a series of emails that looks like this:
Thanks for downloading the [x] ebook, here’s a bonus recipe
Pro chefs share the 8 essentials every at-home chef needs
Here’s a 20% off code for your next order
Our customers love us. Here’s why.
As you can see, lead nurturing emails move leads through the funnel into a sales readiness, nudging them to conversion. This means the series will include a mix of informational and promotional emails, with each providing value to the lead and giving them more information about your brand.
Newsletters are the most predictable of all your newsletter types. They are sent at a regular cadence, to a specific list of people who have opted in, and are likely to stick to a similar template.
Within the newsletter email type, there are several subtypes. The first subtype is the ‘Destination', where the newsletter itself contains exclusive content. The ‘Digest’ allows you to repurpose and share content you’ve already created, and the ‘Hybrid’ brings these two formats together, with some original content (like an editor’s letter or a short piece of content) and some shared content from your blog or YouTube. Choose your player and your frequency (weekly or monthly is common) and be consistent.
Often a lead will join your newsletter list before they agree to receive marketing communications from you. Tempting as it may be to cram your newsletter full of marketing messages, remember that’s not why they signed up. A sprinkle of genuinely useful, education brand-focused content is fine, but the majority of your email should offer real content and value to your subscriber.
Whether you’re an ecommerce or a SaaS company, sending out a series of post-purchase emails may be beneficial to keeping your customer engaged. It all comes down to your products and offerings.
For ecommerce, a post-purchase flow is best reserved for big-ticket items, or products that need some explaining. For example, let’s say you’ve just purchased a treadmill and it’s arrived at your home. You’re ready to run, but you’re not sure where to start. A post-purchase flow could share a beginner-level workout, playlists from influencers, tips for keeping your treadmill clean, and a ramp-up training schedule to get you started.
For a SaaS company, the post-purchase flow is better known as the onboarding email journey. In this series of emails, you’ll want to guide your new user through a series of product actions to help them get accustomed to your product and lead them to value realization. For more, visit our blog on SaaS onboarding.
In either case, the post-purchase email or series of emails should be designed to help your new customer quickly realize the value of their purchase. The sooner that happens, the sooner they’ll be on their way to advocacy status.
6. Product updates
Every single product or collection launch, feature release, or store opening feels like a huge milestone to celebrate when you’re deep in the process of making it happen. But if you’re bombarding your customers with an email every single time you have an update, those milestones will feel like annoyances in their eyes.
Instead, look at different ways you can communicate product updates without being overbearing. This will largely depend on what your business looks like.
If you are a SaaS that moves fast and launches a bunch of features each month (Ortto definitely falls into this category!), consider sending a product update wrap-up each week or month, in addition to the occasional dedicated product announcement for major releases or hotly-demanded features.
If you’re an ecommerce company with regular product drops, try to focus on just one key collection each month or focus on seasonal drops. This doesn’t mean you can’t promote your product to customers through abandoned cart series or editorial newsletters, it’s just about saving those big moments for, well, the big moments.
Product update emails should focus on the why, the what, and the how. Why did you launch this product or feature now? What exactly is it? And how can your customers use it? Go beyond an instructional how-to and provide real use cases or, in the case of a physical product like clothing, show your customers some styling options.
In some cases, product updates will also include teasers, waitlists, pre-sales, or calls for beta testers to generate buzz before the launch even happens.
7. Seasonal or promotional emails
We’re going to bucket these two together because they have a very similar format and frequency. Seasonal emails refer to all those emails that are sent once a year on a dedicated day. Think Mother’s or Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Holidays, the start of summer, or back to school. Promotional emails are all about dedicated sales periods. These may be connected to seasonality, for example, a Black Friday or Cyber Monday deal, or end of financial year sale.
Your seasonal and promotional emails are likely to be light on text, and heavy on promotion. Get to the point and share exactly what the offer is, how it can be redeemed, and how long it lasts.
Remember to create some urgency with countdown clocks and clear-cut copy. Make your call to action clear and prominent, and give any terms and conditions upfront.
These emails will coincide with the holidays your company celebrates and your promotional periods, making them easy to map out on a calendar. Avoid sending other product or promotional emails during this time to keep the focus on the moment and avoid email overwhelm.
Whether it’s a webinar, an in-person event, or an invitation to participate in a new loyalty program, beta test, or product test program, invitations should be sent to a considered and relevant list of subscribers.
For example, if you’re sending an invitation for an in-person event, make sure you’re only sending it to people who live within a reasonable distance of the event. If it’s a webinar on B2B marketing, ensure you are sending it out to only your customers in the B2B industry to ensure relevancy.
In an invitation email, you’ll want to design a visually-appealing email that clearly and quickly communicates the essentials like:
What is the event or program?
When does it take place?
Why should this subscriber attend or participate?
How do they register?
What happens after they register? (set expectations around confirmation emails, when they will receive more information, etc.)
Invitations will coincide with your event calendar, making them an irregular email type. If you are narrowing your audience down to just the most relevant subscribers, this email type is unlikely to lead to overwhelm.
9. Co-marketing emails
Co-marketing emails will likely be a fairly infrequent email type on your calendar. They occur only when you are running events, sweepstakes, integrations, or other promotions with another brand or brands, with the obvious drawcard being you can leverage your partner’s audience to increase your reach.
The content of the email you send will be largely dependent on the type of partnership and the agreement you have with your partner/s. Let’s say you’re running a sweepstake with two other brands. In this case, your email will largely focus on the sweeps itself — the entry mechanism, what your audience could win, and details like when the winner will be announced. You will want to make it very clear to your audience that the promotion is in partnership with other brands, and share logos or other visuals to bring their branding to life alongside your own.
In any co-marketing agreement, it’s important to put your best foot forward and aim to generate a strong open and click-through rate on emails sent. Try our free AI subject line writer tool to predict the open rate of your email and find higher-performing alternatives.
10. Re-engagement emails
There’s a good chance you have a portion of your subscriber list who have not opened or clicked on an email for months. A re-engagement email or series of emails will help bring them back into your world. In some cases, it may nudge them to unsubscribe, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To maintain good email deliverability, a smaller list of subscribers who are engaged will send better signals to mailbox providers than a huge list of subscribers who do not engage with your content.
A re-engagement email could include some updates from your company, a chance to provide feedback or change email preferences, or an offer or deal. If the subscriber does not open, click, or take any other action, you may want to send one final follow-up that directly asks them whether they want to hear from you anymore. If no action is taken on any of your emails, it’s best to stop pestering them. You shoot your shot, and move on!
11. Cart abandonment emails
Abandoned carts are, unfortunately, just part of doing business online. They are so common that customers have almost come to expect a cart abandonment email reminding them what they left behind. Your cart abandonment email falls into a similar category as transactional emails — they are a 1:1 communication that is triggered when a customer takes an action (abandons their cart), meaning they will be firing away automatically in the background while your other emails send.
If you’re an ecommerce company, an abandoned cart email will include the exact products that were abandoned and a reminder to check out. At this stage, you may want to answer a few FAQs about things like shipping and return policies. If the customer does not check out, a follow-up email containing a discount code could get them across the line. This is likely where the sequence will end, you don’t want to drive the subscriber away by cramming up their inbox.
If you are a SaaS company, your abandoned cart flow may be more around answering FAQs and offering help. You could start by asking them why they didn’t finish checking out, and then send some helpful follow-up information to answer their questions or, if you’re a B2B SaaS with a sales team, set up a meeting to get them across the line.
Whatever you choose, remember, the cart abandoner is almost there, but there’s something holding them back. Find out what that is, and you’ll have a much better chance of nudging them across the line. Check out our abandoned cart email blog for more examples, statistics, and best practices.
12. Review and feedback emails
Feedback, both positive and negative, is priceless. You can act on negative feedback to stop a customer from churning and fix a problem in your user experience or product offering, or use positive reviews as social proof to win more customers.
Review and feedback emails take many different shapes, including:
When asking for feedback, consider giving those who complete the survey (especially if it’s on the longer side) a discount or offer to thank them for their time. You will also want to follow up on any negative feedback directly to solve your customer’s problems and prevent them from churning. Keep loyal customers happy by thanking them for their feedback, offering them some exclusive merch, and encouraging them to engage with your brand on social media or on popular review sites.
The timing and frequency of feedback and review emails will largely depend on the type of feedback you’re acquiring. Something like an NPS survey is likely to be sent after a customer has been with your brand for a certain amount of time, and shown a certain level of engagement, so it falls into the one-to-one triggered-by-action email category.
Larger feedback forms on upcoming launches or to gather intel or user testing requests may be sent to a specific list at one time and will be slotted into your email calendar. In either case, consider how these emails are being sent and avoid back-to-back feedback requests.
Each of these 12 different types of email marketing should be a part of your overarching email marketing strategy. The key is to create balance between types and ensure you are considering the frequency of those automated 1:1, action-triggered communications like transactional, cart abandonment, and feedback requests as a part of your overall send load.
In a platform like Ortto, you can see an activity field for individuals to get a sense of how many emails your subscribers are receiving on a weekly or monthly basis and can easily change the frequency or activity triggers for automated email journeys and playbooks to ensure you’re not bombarding your subscribers.
What gets measured, gets managed. Embed these three customer feedback popups into your site, store, or app to generate more customer feedback.
“We were looking for a solution that was really easy to use, didn’t require a tech team, and would have a robust integration with Salesforce so we could trigger sales communications in a smarter way. Nobody else out there has what Ortto has.”