How to do Email Marketing in South Africa

The small business owner's guide to email marketing in South Africa. 10 tips on how to do it right!
A picture of a book that says Email Marketing on the front.
Simon P.
Business Manager

There are almost 4 billion email users globally – about half the world’s population. As a small business owner with limited resources, that’s a figure you can’t ignore. There is currently much talk about social media marketing, but this doesn't mean email has been replaced. There are still many benefits to email marketing.

This article is going to take you through the various elements you need to consider when setting up email marketing for your business.

What are the Benefits of Email Marketing?

  • Affordable – email is one of the cheapest forms of marketing and has one of the highest return rates.
  • Easy to use – for minimal cost, there are bulk emailer applications that will automate your email campaign, allow you to segment your database and create professional templates.
  • Targeted – with email, you know precisely who you are addressing. See our tips for creating a great contact list.[M1]
  • Increases brand awareness – every time you communicate, your brand lands up in front of your recipients.
  • Easy to share – content sent by email can be easily shared by recipients.
  • Measurable – the functionality built into bulk mail software allows you to track key metrics like opens and click-throughs.

10 Tips to do Email Marketing Right

Email marketing, when done correctly, can be a powerful marketing tool for your business. Here are 8 tips to get you started on your email marketing strategy.

Tip 1: First Impressions Count

The biggest challenge in email marketing is that email is a free channel. Put bluntly that means it gets abused. Readers are inundated with spam and will ignore or trash anything they don't recognise as coming from someone they know. Almost half of all email users won't even read a subject line if they don't recognise the sender. So, being a trusted sender is your most important objective out the gates.

  • Always make sure your emails clearly show they come from your business. That means displaying your company name and an employee name. No-one is interested in reading anything from and even less from!
  • Sender names exceeding 20 characters may be truncated on display, so put the most recognisable name first.
  • Keep your sender name consistent, but
  • Use a different name for different types of communications. It’s okay to use something like for transactional communications.

Tip 2: Write a Compelling Subject Line

A compelling subject line is one that inspires the reader to read further. Always keep your subject line short and try some of the following;

  • Use personalisation tokens like the reader’s name or location. In the example below, NetFlorist suggests the recipient have her name printed on a makeup bag by naming her in the subject line.  
Note how the brand name appears first in bold in the sender field.)
Note how the brand name appears first in bold in the sender field.
  • Tell readers what to expect. For example, if they requested a free workout plan, tell them “Your ab-defining workout plan is waiting for you”. And never make false promises in a subject line.
  • Choose the right time. A discount coupon for takeout will be better received on a Friday afternoon than first thing Monday morning.
  • Create a sense of urgency - “Limited rooms available” or “Order while there’s still stock”.
  • Begin with action-oriented words.
  • Make readers feel special – “For premier clients only” and suchlike.

Tip 3: Provide Something of Value

If prospective clients have agreed to be on your mailing list, they should have access to something they wouldn't have otherwise. Early access to limited offers or subscriber-only resources might prevent them from clicking on “unsubscribe”.

Segmenting your subscriber list will help provide subscribers with value that’s relevant to them. But be sensitive to making careless assumptions that can come across as offensive. Sending someone coupons for adult diapers on their seventieth birthday might not go down well.

Tip 4: KISS – Keep it Short and Simple

Long-winded, wordy emails will be deleted before they are read. So keep your content short and simple. Where more detail is required, allow interested readers to click through to a landing page on your website.

Tip 5: Make Content Interactive

Research from 2017 showed that adding videos to emails could increase click rates by 300%. Now people include GIFs (animated images), sliders and collapsible menus to emails. Basically, anything that looks good, attracts the reader and encourages engagement. Just make sure they’re optimised for mobile screens.

The Entertainer example above had an interactive countdown to the expiry of their offer.
The Entertainer example above had an interactive countdown to the expiry of their offer.
Top Tip: You don’t have to be a programmer to create interactive emails. There are email template builders available free or almost free.

Tip 6: Include Emotional Triggers

Words or phrases that elicit a positive emotional reaction from readers will stand more chance of receiving attention. Positive reactions to aim for include, excitement or anticipation, fear of missing out (FOMO), hope, curiosity or connection (belonging).

Identify a problem your readers face. If you were in their shoes, what would get you hopeful, excited or curious? What would make you feel understood and part of a broader community who shared your problem? And what would you hate to miss out on?

Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.
Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.

Tip 7: Always Include a Call to Action

Tell your readers what you want of them, by when and how it will benefit them. Then make it easy for them to give it to you – in the Entertainer example in 5) above, clicking on the “GET IT NOW” button takes you to an order form.

Tip 8: Don’t Rely on a Single Email

Email campaigns are no different from other forms of marketing. A single contact is unlikely to result in a sale. Have your campaigns follow your sales cycle by first creating awareness and helping your readers evaluate your offering. Converting comes later.

Bonus Tip: Capture Emails

To have an email list to send people to, you need to start capturing the email addresses of people who land on your website.

A great way to do that is to implement a popup like Everlytic has here:

Popups are a great way to capture email addresses of people before they leave your website
Popups are a great way to capture email addresses of people before they leave your website

Make sure that you clearly communicate the value that you will be giving the user in exchange for their email address.

“Sign up to our newsletter” is no longer a good enough value proposition. Consumers are much more protective of their email addresses than they used to be. Give them a good reason to join, like this…

Email Marketing in South Africa

We are in a unique situation in South Africa where there is a significant divide in our society between the “upper” and lower and middle classes. This means that reaching different consumers requires different tools and messaging.

Step 1: Understand Your Customer

The most important step in any email marketing strategy is to know who you are speaking to. You should be targeting your campaigns at your ideal customer base.

If you are a B2B company, your messaging will look very different from a B2C company.

For example, if your business is selling expensive gluten-free baked goods online, your clientele are going to be very different from someone who sells motor vehicle parts.

Make sure you have clearly defined who your customer is so you can tailor your messaging accordingly.

Step 2: How To Reach Them

Part of understanding who your customer is is knowing how to reach them.

In some cases, email marketing might not be the best fit.

For example, at FundingHub, the majority of our customers prefer to be reached via email and phone call. At Fincheck, the consumer-facing marketplace which is our sister company, the majority of consumers want to be reached via SMS.

Consider how your client communicates. Tailor your send times and medium of communication accordingly.

Step 3: Iterate

Stay fluid. Don’t set a rigid plan and then try and stick with it.

Email Marketing in South Africa is about being responsive to the market. You should view this as an ongoing project that will constantly need tweaking.

Signs that you are needing to change something is an email Open Rate of consistently less than 20% and a click through rate of less than 0.5%.

Tools for Email Marketing in South Africa

There are a number of free-to-use and freemium tools available to use. Here are our top 3 recommendations:


Best for: Getting started, and small companies on a limited budget

MailChimp is the OG of email marketing. It has great out-of-the-box functionality and a generous free-to-use plan before you have to start paying.


Best for: B2B companies who would also like CRM functionality built into their software.

It is on the expensive side but works excellently out of the box.


Best for: Companies looking for a custom solution, and SMS functionality

Everlytic is a South African company and has experience operating in the South African market. They have a good out-of-the-box product, and do costing based on the volume of sends so you aren’t paying a fixed fee every month.

Don't dismiss email marketing as outdated; it remains an invaluable channel. The key is knowing how to design campaigns to ensure they are read. Incorporate the suggestions above, and you'll set yourself up for success.

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