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What is Targeted Email Marketing and How Does It Work?

January 12th, 2023 | 6 min. read

By Julia Elliott


Looking to reach a bigger audience to help grow your business, engage more users and ultimately make more money? Targeted email marketing might be your ticket. After all, 77% of marketers saw an increase in their email engagement in the last year, according to the latest report by the marketing experts at HubSpot.

But what if your email list is small? How can you get the best reach with the best audience — without spamming them? We hear these questions often at Zoe Marketing & Communications.

In our 15+ years of digital marketing, we've had deep experience with email marketing. We work with one of the industry's leading wholesale providers, and we understand the details.

In this blog, we'll share those details with you, including:

By the end of this article, you'll feel more grounded about how targeted email marketing works. And you'll be closer to deciding whether it might work for your strategy.

What targeted email marketing is, in a nutshell

Targeted email marketing is the practice of sending emails directly to folks who've shown an interest in the subject matter of those emails. In fact, these people have "opted in" to receive these emails (more on that below).

The concept: More people will open these emails, click and take action because the email content aligns with their interests.

At any point, these "subscribers," as they're called, can "opt out" and stop receiving the emails.

This tactic is powerful for two key reasons:

  1. It's literally "targeted" to your best potential customers.

  2. Email keeps growing. Experts predict 4.6 billion users worldwide by 2025. Other options are gaining steam for communication (WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc.). But email remains a must for accounts, business transactions, etc. Inboxes are ubiquitous — and potent.

Where the people who receive your emails 'come from'

Why would people opt-in to get emails from companies they don't know? How are they "opting in" to these lists? There are a few ways they do so, willingly, including:

  • Taking surveys

  • Entering contests

  • Subscribing to publications

  • Signing up for events

  • Taking another action on a website that requires them to "opt in"

And how do people know that's what they're doing? It's spelled out. Each of the scenarios above includes clear language. It lets people know that, by submitting their info, they agree to opt-in to receive emails from other relevant parties that may interest them.

How quality assurance is strictly assured

Spamming people with emails is a fast way to get blocklisted by major email servers. This is actually a good thing, and not just the internet being punitive. Blocklists, aka blacklists, are real-time lists designed to keep unwanted emails from cluttering people’s inboxes.

If you wind up on a blocklist, it hurts your reputation — and ability to send marketing emails. That's why targeted email marketing providers have thorough quality assurance.

For example, at Zoe, we partner with Site Impact, an industry leader in wholesale targeted email marketing services. Some of their rigorous benchmarks for email addresses include: 

  • Using various third-party sources to ensure emails are valid and deliverable

  • Teaming with reputable partners to add up to 400 pieces of demographic info about the person behind each email

  • Implementing federal CAN-SPAM compliance and maintaining unsubscribe lists.

This is different than buying email lists — which are lower quality, and people haven't opted in. Wholesalers, on the other hand, are highly accountable for performance. They do a lot of work to ensure they're compliant and you get compatible emails.

Why you'll need an agency to access this audience

These wholesale targeted email marketing companies work with marketing agencies or media groups that have many clients. You won't be able to directly "hire" them as an individual company.

Think of it like buying a refrigerator. You don't go to a Maytag warehouse, but rather, a retailer like Lowe's or Home Depot. In this case, it has these benefits:

  • The "retailer" has direct access to (and deep experience with) these nuanced email marketing platforms. Their targeting expertise streamlines the process for businesses.

  • The "wholesaler" can offer wider access. They're not set up to advise you on your messaging; retailers are. It's more efficient for them to work with one agency that has 40 clients vs. 40 individual businesses.

Which audience attributes you can 'filter' for

You can filter a lot. You'll start with your location and then whittle by various interests, behaviors and demographics. Depending on the size of the audience you're trying to reach, you might need to tweak the demographics — especially if you're targeting a smaller region. (Another reason why it's beneficial to work with an agency: They're skilled at this fine-tuning.)

Here's a flavor of some of the filters you can apply.


  • ZIP codes

  • Cities

  • Counties

  • Designated market areas, or DMAs (a region, such as metro Detroit or Chicagoland) States

  • Countries

  • You can also start by targeting an area, like ZIP code, and expanding the radius in miles.

Other demographics

  • Individual attributes (age ranges, gender, marital status, political affiliation, education)

  • General interests (hundreds of options — from health and fitness and home improvement to pets, music, sports, gardening, nature, travel, history, philanthropy and gaming)

  • Money (i.e., household income in dollar amounts, whether they've made donations)

  • If they have children (age ranges, total number of kids, gender)

  • Ethnicity and religion

  • Occupation (specific fields, interest in a career change, currently employed, seeking a job, etc.)

  • Living space (homeowner or renter, home value, looking to buy a home, etc.)

  • Household data (grandparents present, how long they've lived here, number of adults, etc.)

  • Tech (internet activity, if they have an ereader, Wi-Fi access, etc.)

  • Health issues

  • Vehicle information (make and model of auto, mileage, looking to buy, etc.)

What kinds of emails you can send

Any marketing/promotion email is fair game. It should make sense for your market and company/brand. And be mindful of tailoring your message to your specific target audience.

Also, keep the length and size manageable. Don't overload it with large images or more than several hundred words of copy, max. Two common email styles we see at Zoe:

Display emails

These are light on body copy — about 25-100 words, max — and focus instead on a big image (think: designed "display ad") with a clear call-to-action.

They're best for immediate action: signing up for an event, claiming a discount, buying a product, etc.

Copy-rich emails

These have more words. That could be a "narrative" style, such as an email featuring blog content (folks click to your website to learn more). Or, this type of email could have multiple sections and things to click. There can be images, but it's more descriptive.

How retargeting emails work

Targeted marketing email platforms can also retarget your emails for even deeper results. For instance, you can send new emails to recipients who:

  • Opened a previous email

  • Clicked a link in your email

  • Didn't open your email at all

The first two are key, since these folks have shown an interest in you. Your next steps to keep them engaged are:

  1. Create a new email (subject line, image, body copy) to pique their intrigue even more. "Act fast" or "don't miss out" language is a good example.

  2. Send this "retargeted" email about seven days after the initial send. That's when you'll have about 98% of your opens. And you're still top of mind for people.

  3. In another week or so, send out another retargeting email. You can tweak the body copy to keep it fresh; definitely write a new subject line.

It's possible to send additional retargeting emails, but two effectively remind people without overwhelming them. At some point, you'll need to start the process over again.

What targeted email marketing costs

Costs can vary widely, depending on the agency or media company you're working with. Wholesalers set a base rate for retailers. From there, the industry standard is for "retailers" to increase those rates at least three to four times for clients.

Agencies often charge by send, with higher rates for retargeting. At Zoe, we offer:

  • Display email sent to 50,000 emails: $1,650

  • Display email sent to 100,000 emails: $2,700

  • Display email with retargeting, sent to 50,000 emails: $2,950

  • Display email with retargeting, sent to 100,000 emails: $3,900

  • Also, for our clients with sponsored content, we can send article-focused (i.e., copy-rich) emails to 50,000 emails for $800 each, or 100,000 for $1,650 each. (Note: There's a minimum purchase requirement of three emails.)

Always ask your agency or media partner what's covered in their costs. At Zoe, for example, we also design your emails, from copy to art, with your full input and approval.

Next steps for targeted email marketing

If you want to expand your marketing reach, targeted email is a powerful tool. In this blog, you discovered some of its benefits, how it works, why you'll need an agency and what it costs.

Are you ready to explore your next steps with an agency? Talk to your advisor at Zoe Marketing & Communications. We'll put our 15+ years of digital marketing experience to work for you to growth your business and results.

In the meantime, keep working at reaching your existing email list! And learn how to avoid some simple email pitfalls with our article on the best practices to keep your email marketing out of spam filters.

Julia Elliott

For 17 years, Julia Elliott crafted strategies and stories for Zoe, along with its sister companies, Metro Parent and Chicago Parent. A deep background in journalism helped her create customized content marketing to drive client success.