Introduction to Email Marketing Automation

Despite the hundreds of other marketing methods and channels available nowadays, email marketing is still one of the most effective. While once-off campaigns, regular email blasts and newsletters will always have a place, email marketing is constantly evolving, and email marketing automation is where it’s at right now. 

Most digital marketers have recognised the need for better segmentation and personalisation, and are setting up automatic email campaigns, triggered by user’s actions. Why? Because these types of emails are hyper-relevant, personalised and timely. This means that open and click-through rates are much higher, driving more site visits, and ultimately more revenue for your business. 

Before we get too deep into the nitty gritty, we should cover exactly what email marketing automation is. 

What is Email Marketing Automation?

Once-off campaigns or regular newsletters are emails which you create and send to a whole list of people in one go. Automated email campaigns on the other hand are set up once and automatically sent to specific individuals once they meet certain requirements or complete trigger events.

Think of every ‘welcome’ email you’ve ever gotten for subscribing to a blog or signing up to a mailing list. It would be a waste of time for someone to manually send out those thousands of emails. Instead, these are automated emails triggered by the completion of certain action – completing a sign up form. 

The beauty of email marketing automation is that you only need to set up the email once. After that, the mail will send automatically as people meet the trigger requirements, without you having to lift a finger. Essentially, doing your marketing for you.  

Email marketing automation works on a basic tigger/action system – when a trigger action occurs, an automation sequence is started. This sequence can contain a single mail, or multiples. There are very limits as to what you can achieve. 

Now you have a rough idea of what email marketing automation is, we should cover what it is not:

The automated emails a customer receives when placing an order do not count as email marketing automation. Technically, it is an automated email, but these transactional emails are not “marketing”, strictly speaking. While it is possible to market your business with these mails, by offering a discount voucher, etc, their primary goal is notification, rather than engagement. 

Why Use Email At All?

Of course, one of the most common questions is “why bother using emails at all”. An understandable question, given the many other marketing methods and platforms available. Things like Facebook ads, SMS marketing, native advertising and retargeting, email marketing can seem a bit old school, 

It is old-school. Email has been around for more than 40 years, and yet it’s still one one of the best lead generation channels available.

email marketing automation

With all of this in mind, how can you get started with email marketing automation. 

Essentially, you want to create a system which sends relevant and engaging emails to your customers, and does so automatically. To do this, you should know what types of automated emails you can send. They generally fall into one of two categories:

  1. Event-based trigger emails
  2. Drip-feed content

They can be used independently or together depending on your end goals. For example, an event-based trigger email can be used to enroll a user in a drip-feed, delivering relevant content to them at regular intervals. 

Trigger Emails

Just what it says on the tin, trigger emails are emails triggered by your subscribers’ behaviour – or lack thereof. Trigger emails are the most common type of email marketing automation, because they remove a lot of the more tedious work of creating and sending everyday messages. Some common trigger emails include:

  • Onboarding or welcome emails. 
  • Abandoned cart emails. Though we mentioned before that order confirmation and other transactional emails don’t count, abandoned cart emails are different because their goal is to re-engage visitors.
  • Refer-a-friend emails – for instance, offering coupons or other specials.
  • Milestone emails, for birthdays, join-date anniversaries, or other specific special milestones. For example, Modcloth sends out an automated email on a subscriber’s 6-month anniversary with a coupon code. 

You can also set up automated emails to be triggered by a user’s actions – known as behavioural email marketing. This encompasses all of the above points, and more – including bonus emails, rewards emails and others.   

Drip-Feed Emails

Drip-feed emails deliver sequential messages based on a specific time frame. These can be a good source of extra revenue, and are excellent for educating customers and building brand loyalty. Drip-feed emails are most commonly used to move leads through the sales funnel by delivering relevant and timely information of a set schedule. 

However, this only scratches the surface of what drip-feed emails are capable. Below is an example from InsightSquared, of a drip-feed campaign sent to a relatively cold prospect list, inviting them to book meetings with the company. 

email marketing automation

Dylan Rush, account executive for InsightSquared clarified on the above drip-feed email:

“We were working through this huge list from a sales-specific event. It wasn’t a great list; everyone on it was pretty cold. So I created a 3-email drip […]. The initial email asked if the person was free for lunch Wednesday, with a GIF of the InsightSquared dashboard. This email was sent on a Sunday. The second email was automated to send on Tuesday to anyone who did not reply; it asked “are we still on for tomorrow?” If they didn’t respond, they received a third email on Thursday, saying “sorry that yesterday didn’t work out, happy to reschedule.”

This is an unusual type of approach, especially the “Are we still on for tomorrow?” which creates a heightened interest, and possibly even some panic – especially if the recipient doesn’t have anything on their calendar. It can be slightly risky though, as once they click, you need to have something really click-worthy waiting for them.

Taking the Next Steps with Email Marketing Automation

Making the most of your email marketing automation is more than just knowing what types of email you can send, or even brainstorming possible campaign ideas. You first need to understand the basics so that you have a solid foundation to build on. Once you have that, you can begin creating your first automated email campaign by following these tips:

Segment Your Subscribers

Too many marketers begin their email marketing campaigns by blasting one mail to every subscriber on their list. But they should remember, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Luckily, every major email marketing platform offers some kind of segmentation option. This allows you to divide your subscribers into different lists, based on specific criteria. Ideally, they should be segmented on criteria which aid in personalisation, such as:

  • Industry
  • Company size
  • Location 
  • Products or services purchased or not purchased
  • How they learned about your company
  • Whether or not they’ve opened previous emails

When you segment your subscribers based on actions they took or other identifying elements, you greatly increase the chances that they’ll click through and take the actions you need them to.

Personalize Your Messages

Honestly, it should go without saying that blasting a message to everyone and anyone, paying no heed to personalisation, is a sure-fire way to end up in someone’s SPAM folder. At best, you’ll get a ton of unsubscribes, eventually. Even the most basic forms of personalisation, such as including their name or basic location, or the products and services they’ve been looking at, can go a long way to building a relationship. 

Of course, there’s also a fine line between personalised and creepy – even if you have the information, you might not want to use all of it at the same time. No one wants to get an email that says,

Hey Simone, we noticed you looking at Glasswares page a few minutes ago. Those products are in stock at a store near you in Cape Town, South Africa.” 

Connect Your Emails to Customized Landing Pages

Another thing that too many marketers do is to concentrate on getting the perfect email ready, only to deliver readers to a wonderfully lacklustre landing page. Make sure you tailor your landing page to your email campaign, creating as seamless a transition between them as possible. This is so your email seems like it might match your landing page in terms of design, content, and call-to-action. This helps your readers feel far more comfortable about clicking, and helps create greater familiarity between your brand and products.

Split Test Your Emails

Many times, marketers reserve split testing for things like their landing pages or calls to action. But what about emails? Any platform you select should offer you the power to A/B test your emails to work out which one generates the best number of clicks and conversions from your audience.

Analyze Your Results

When you split testing your emails, you’ll need to take the time to properly analyse the results. You should look for certain KPIs (key performance indicators) that let you know if the email was successful. They’ll also let you know what you can do better next time. These include:

  • Delivery rate: What percentage of the emails you sent actually arrived in your subscribers inbox? Low delivery rates mean that your server could be blacklisted. If this is the case, you’ll need to contact your web host or ISP to find out why.
  • View rate: Of the emails that were successfully delivered, how many were viewed by recipients? Many email clients have a “preview pane” that allows their users to filter out and delete unwanted messages. Did yours pass the “view” test?
  • Open rate: Of those who received and previewed your email, how many actually opened it? This is one of the more important KPIs, and one where your subject line usually does all the heavy lifting.
  • Click-through rate: Of those who did all of the above, how many clicked your call-to-action? High click-through rates mean that your subscribers found your email enticing enough to click. This puts your landing page squarely in the spotlight, putting the email part of your marketing on the back seat.
  • Conversion rate: Of those who received, previewed, opened and clicked your email’s CTA, how many ultimately took the action you wanted? This could be signing up for a webinar, or requesting a free trial or estimate, or any other measurable action that you want them to take.

Automated emails can help grow your business, without having to put hours of your precious time and effort into creating and sending email campaigns. It takes a bit of time and effort, but the results can be dramatic.