Getting your content into customers' inboxes is incredibly useful, but there's a fine line between marketing messages they want and marketing messages they skip.

It looks as if 2014 will be the year of email marketing if recent research is to be believed. Econsultancy’s Marketing Budgets 2014 Report was just released, and it turns out at least 40 percent of digital marketers plan on investing more in email services over the course of the next year. If that’s the case, businesses need to step up their games to cut through the noise in people’s inboxes and connect with customers.

As Brafton recently reported, email marketing is a great way to acquire new customers – in fact, it’s almost 40 percent more effective than social media. However, there’s a fine line between spamming users’ inboxes and offering them valuable content with links to your website. That’s why it’s important to understand the concept of graymail.

Why ask to send spam?

By this point, you ought to realize that marketing emails should only be sent to people who have requested them. Unfortunately, graymail can fall into this category: It refers to commercial messages customers asked to receive, but which they ultimately regret seeing in their inboxes. There’s a fine line between genuine email content and graymail, but savvy marketers will be able to generate effective messages that provide value to customers. How can you accomplish this?

  • Don’t hide your content. If people believe your emails are enticing, but don’t provide value, they’ll stop clicking on them. According to YesMail Interactive’s 4Q13 Email Trends & Benchmarks study, marketing emails in the tech industry have some of the lowest bounce rates (1.1 percent), but a terrible click rate (1.6 percent). This means many recipients weren’t convinced that there was anything of value past the initial email link.

  • Don’t beg them. As Brafton reported, when companies confirm users want to opt into emails, their click rates are three times higher. Trawling for every possible email address will result in lists of leads who never even open your marketing messages. Social media marketing lets you target the users more likely to do business with you in the first place, so keep in mind the same principle and only request the email addresses of readers who are in your target pool of customers.

  • Give them content. Emails should include more than just links to your blog or landing pages – they should provide value on their own. You’re going to have a case of graymail on your hands if there isn’t anything inherently useful in your customers’ inboxes.

Solid content marketing should involve many different channels, and email is only one of them. However, that doesn’t mean email messages are any less important than what you post to social media or publish on your blog. The minute content seems stagnant or uninteresting, graymail has set in. Send your future customers fresh messages, and keep them front and center – you’ll see stronger results from your email channel.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.