Promotional and nurturing marketing – What’s it all about and when should small businesses use it?

As a small business owner, you’ve no doubt heard you *should* be emailing prospects. Even with the glitz of Insta fame and an endless deck of tweets every minute, it’s no wonder email marketing remains a staple for small businesses given its ability to cross devices, time-zones and connect with your audience.

But when should you promote yourself and when should you keep your prospects warm, nurturing them towards a purchase?

Here’s what you need to know about promotional and nurture marketing, their differences, and some advice on when it’s best for your business to use them.

Let’s remember the purpose of marketing

We’re not about teaching you to suck eggs, but it’s vital to remember that marketing isn’t sales, and sales isn’t marketing. So, what is the point of marketing?

In a nutshell, marketing is all about your business getting close to its market – your customers, prospects, suppliers, and competitors.

We’ve written before about how sales can be involved in engaging with prospects in a marketing-friendly way, but that is for when there is an opportunity for your sales team to target.

Marketing is at the beginning of the machine. It is finding interest in your business and leading them down a path towards purchase.

But, intrinsically you will know from your own buying experiences that you’re not always ready to buy. Other times, you may want a gentle reminder about why you considered purchasing an item.

That’s where email marketing comes in.

The different types of email marketing

Email marketing can serve many purposes, that’s why it’s worthwhile stepping back to understand the different ways it can support your small business.

  • Cold emailing – A dying form given GDPR and one we do not recommend, where you buy data to email about your business
  • Educational emailing – Different from nurturing, here you are simply talking to your database about a topic to help them learn
  • Conversational emailing – Where you ask questions to your database (think the famous 3 word email)
  • Promotional emailing – Emailing your database about an offer, new stock, new items or to drive purchases
  • Newsletter emailing – Monthly or quarterly emails around your business, industry news and any offers you may have
  • Nurturing emailing – An automated email campaign where you educate your database on issues which lead them to realise they need your product / service
  • Transactional emailing – This can cover autoresponders from form submissions on a site (thank you emails) and order confirmations.

And don’t forget that it’s still the most valuable form of marketing for small businesses. In a 2020 report by Litmus, there were two key takeaways about email marketing:

  • 94% of marketers see email as one of their 3 most effective marketing channels
  • 78% of marketers say email is vital to their business’ success

The benefits of email marketing are quite simple, too:

  • Create inbound emails and calls
  • Engage your customers
  • Educate your database
  • Maintain brand awareness
  • Push people to your website
  • It’s easy to measure its impact on leads, opportunities and won deals

Promotional vs nurture email comparison

Now the stage is set, let’s give a clean overview of how promotional and nurture emails stack up against one another:


  Promotional Nurture
Purpose To raise awareness about a product, service, offer or stock update that relates to your business To stay front and centre of your database, educating them about the topics they care about to build a relationship
Targeting Segments of your email database who have engaged with product pages or expressed an interest in your business Segments of your database who have submitted a form for content or a newsletter or who said they’re not ready to buy
Format Use of imagery with clear messaging about the offer – typically built in HTML or an email builder Plain with a business branded email header, short and directing to blogs, infographics, videos and other content
CTA To call, reply to email, visit store or website to purchase / request more information To download or view more content, reply to the email or complete a form
Frequency Can be triggered by lead scoring (i.e. visiting a particular page multiple times) or when an offer is appropriate Bi-weekly, then measure response rates after 3 months to then either maintain pace or slow down
Author The business Marketing
Systems Campaign Monitor, ActOn, DotDigital, Mailchimp HubSpot, Marketo, Keap, Eloqua

Some pointers on the above…

  1. Segmenting your database of contacts is crucial.

For example, you don’t want to send a promotional email to a contact who is at an opportunity stage in your sales funnel, highlighting a price that is a fraction of what they’re about to pay.

  1. Promotional marketing is the easier of the two in the sense that it is cheaper (i.e., you can get a free trial for a Mailchimp account) and it is all sizzle.

Nurturing marketing is more about the steak, it’s about the content inside the email which will pay off down the line.

  1. Don’t do one or the other.

Do both, but please remember to segment and ensure that there isn’t a massive overlap in targeting.

  1. Using systems like HubSpot and Marketo is vital to an effective nurturing email campaign.

It’ll help you attach an ROI to the campaign based on deals generated, you can have it evergreen, always-on, fed by form submissions, and will ensure your brand is positively thought of.

After all, a measure of your business and its reputation is what people say when you’re *not* in the room.

Examples of when to use promotional marketing

Here are some examples of promotional marketing that small businesses conduct:

  • Promoting a limited run

What better way to create urgency than to highlight that your stock or services are running low.

That is what is known as a ‘burning flag in the sand’, meaning that you’re building necessity to purchase or, psychologically, your prospects will have the fear of missing out.

Your call to action here is simple. Call up or buy online or in store before stocks go.

Running this campaign would be simple. Identify people in your database who match the core buyer personas, and then send out the mailer from your email system.

  • Free consultations

This is not all too dissimilar from our first example.

Perhaps more relevant to a B2B small business, this type of promotion is where you prove the expertise, authority and trustworthiness of your business by giving away your time for free.

Think of it as proof of concept. If you are a remote personal assistant agency, offer a consultation of what you can help with, and prove this with something like an ROI calculator or time saved.

Segmentation would be simple. Just identify anyone in your database who has responded to (opened or clicked) an email before, and perhaps visited your site more than 3 times in the last 3 months, and you’ve got a warm list of contacts who are likely to take you up on your offer.

Examples of when to use nurture marketing

Here are some examples of nurture marketing that small businesses conduct:

  • New eBook

If nurturing is all about educating with a purpose, then what better way to identify people in your database who are considering a solution like yours than with an eBook?

This can either work in the sense of you have a 6-8 email campaign with blogs which speak of sub topics that are covered in your eBook, and lead to downloading the eBook, or it could be post-eBook download where you send out information about your product which relates to the eBook.

Whichever you choose, buyer personas are crucial here. If you’re a print house, you’re not going to want to target the finance manager of an office about how the Internet of Things has revolutionised the industry. So, please be mindful about who you target in your database.

  • Event attendance

Events, whether physical or digital in the COVID-19 world, still prove a tremendous source of leads for businesses.

It follows that you should locate the people in your database who are likely to attend, and raise awareness of your attendance. How you do that is by looking at the event agenda and build out content and emails that relate back to it.

If you are attending the Good Food Show as a supplier, you’ll want to talk about who is in presence, some great recipes, new products on offer, and some trends around the food you supply. Doing all this, as well as pointing out where your stand is, will drive footfall to you.

Closing thoughts

Email marketing truly is a source of inspiration for small businesses.

It is perhaps the most cost-effective means of promoting your business, educating your database and generating sales.

While there are clear differences between promoting your services and nurturing your contacts towards a sale, when the two are used in lockstep, with clearly segmented data, you can power a machine of marketing to keep your phone ringing, inbox full, and revenue ever-growing.

And that’s best for business.