Email newsletters are a great way to send out your team’s latest announcements, but they have a major problem: new subscribers only see new emails and never get the first emails you’d sent out to your list. All they’ll see is the stuff you send after they sign up.
Often called drip campaigns but known by many other names—drip marketing, automated email campaign, lifecycle emails, autoresponders and marketing automation—the concept is the same: they’re a set of marketing emails that will be sent out automatically on a schedule.
Perhaps one email will go out as soon as someone signs up, another will go out 3 days later, with one more going out the next weekend. Or, the emails can be varied based on triggers or actions the person has performed like signing up for your service or making a purchase, which is why they’re also sometimes called behavioral emails.
Setting up drip email campaigns might seem daunting, so in this chapter we’ve broken down what drip campaigns are, when they’re effective, and how you can use them to cultivate a customer from a disengaged user. Then, in the next chapters we’ll dive into the apps and tools you need to make your drip campaigns successful. Let’s get started.
What is a drip campaign?
Marketing automation company Pardot shows an overview of a drip campaign.
Drip campaigns, as mentioned above, are automated sets of emails that go out based on specific timelines or user actions. They enable you to stay in touch with groups of people based on events like when a user signs up for an account or how often that user visits your site.
Each time a drip email is sent out, it comes from a queue of already-written emails—there’s no need to write and send each one manually. They can even be personalized with your contact’s name, company info, and more.
Put simply, drip marketing is all about giving people the right information at the right time. If someone just subscribed to your blog newsletter, for example, a drip campaign could send a welcome email right away, and two days later, an email that shows off some of your most-read content.
Or if a potential customer has been hovering around your “premium upgrade” page for a few weeks but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger, a drip campaign could send them an email with five reasons to purchase the premium plan.
The beauty of drip emails is that this all happens automatically based on triggers and user segments that you define.
But do drip campaigns really work? Yup: According to research collected by the team behind the email-marketing suite Emma, relevant targeted emails produce 18-times more revenue than globally-broadcasted ones. Perhaps that’s not so surprising since they also found that people who read your drip emails are far more likely to click the links in them, with a 119% increase in click rate from drip emails.
That’s huge, especially considering that you can reuse content, and everything is sent out automatically. You can have specific drip campaigns for educating users, rewarding your best customers, helping people who hit a certain page on your site, and more.
Most importantly, though, is that you can pin-point user groups with drip emails, segment your email list, and reaching the right people when they’re ready to buy. You can segment your list based on demographics, purchase history, and which emails that user has opened in the past, leading to more conversions and fewer unsubscribes.
Like any good thing, you don’t want to overdo it. Too many drip emails will only annoy your customers. But a thoughtful set of drip emails can be the perfect way to remind people to buy your product, teach them how to use your tool once they’ve purchased it, and get new subscribers up-to-speed on your email newsletter.
And the more specific your segments, the more likely you are to get interaction and interest from your subscribers—we’ll do a deeper dive into building segments later in the post.
When should you use a drip campaign?
“Drip marketing” is a blanket term that covers several different marketing strategies. But the goal remains the same: keep users engaged with your product.
Let’s look at 10 use cases where setting up an automated drip campaign could help you get relevant information to targeted readers, and convert them into customers. You might want to try a few of them with your users, or perhaps they’ll spark your imagination for other ways you could use drip campaigns for your product or service.
Zapier sends new users a nurturing drip email to help them brainstorm automation ideas.
Leads—a term you may remember from our Introduction to CRM Apps—are prospective customers, people who you think just might buy your product in the near future. They just might need a bit of hand-holding, or nurturing—sticking with them until they’re ready to purchase your product. Lead Nurturing can take many forms, like educating users on your service, helping them use certain features, or offering them free trials.
The folks behind marketing automation app Drip say that when brands nurture leads, they get 50% more sale-ready customers; Emma noted that nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases.
You can’t personally hand-hold every user through discovering and purchasing your product, but drip emails can do that work for you. You can use welcoming, onboarding, engagement, or abandoned shopping cart drips—along with other drip email campaign ideas which we’ll look at below—to nurture your leads and get them ready to turn into paid customers.
Meditation app Headspace welcomes new users with a playful drip email and a brief explanation about what they offer.
You’ve done a great marketing job and attracted many new people to sign up for a trial or request info about your products. But how will these new users learn about your product, and why it’s so outstanding?
That’s where welcome emails shine—they act as an immediate intro to some of your company’s top content, and as a primer on using your product.
If someone subscribes to your newsletter, you could use a welcome drip to send that use some of your most-shared blog posts automatically. Or, if you get new trial-level signup for your service, try a drip featuring case studies on how other customers are using your product.
At the very least, welcome emails are an excellent way to say, “Hey there, nice to meet you!”
The stats show that users expect and like welcome emails when they sign up for a new service or newsletter. Experian’s white paper on welcome emails shows that these autoresponders enjoy an average 58.7% open rate, while regular emails sit around 14.6%. When that welcome email is sent instantaneously (i.e. right after the user signs up), the open rate jumps to 88.3%. So craft a great welcome drip campaign, and you’ll receive the fantastic engagement welcome emails and then keep the momentum going with follow-up messages.
Cloud storage app Box employs drip campaigns to teach people how to use their product.
Pageviews and trial users are nice, but eventually you need your users to sign up or purchase something from you. That’s where an onboarding drip strategy would come in: in conjunction with welcome scenarios or scheduled newsletters, which introduce the customer to your brand and your values, onboarding emails offer targeted “sells”—or small goals in getting them using and paying for your product—to that customer.
These “sells” could be downloading your company’s mobile app, signing up for a webinar, or purchasing a premium subscription. Chris Hexton, the CEO and co-founder of email marketing app Vero, shared some helpful advice on Unbounce’s blog about getting your users to that activation
For another example, Hexton points to Dropbox’s effective drip campaign that targets users who haven’t downloaded the desktop app, and prompts them to install. Vero also breaks down how Trunk Club uses automated (but personalized) emails to reach out to unengaged trial users and put the premium service at top of their mind.
Abandoned shopping carts
Online clothing retailer Gilt delivers automated drip emails to users who put an item in their cart, but did not buy it.
You crafted enticing newsletters, offered flash sales, and finally coaxed your user into clicking that gilded “add to cart” button. Then: your hard-earned sale vanishes. Huh?
Actually, ditching a fully loaded shopping cart is more common than you think. Mark Macdonald, the content manager at eCommerce empire Shopify pointed out that around 67.45% of shopping carts are abandoned (check out that link for a great breakdown of how that affects your bottom line, too).
But with an automated drip campaign, you can re-engage those wavering customers and lead them back to the “buy” button. Whenever users leave an unpurchased product in their cart, use a drip to follow up and confirm that it’s still available.
You don’t even need to be selling physical products for this to work. With an app, for example, use a specific sales page—perhaps one that breaks down the benefits of your pro-level plan compared to the basic one— as a trigger, and send some follow-up info to anyone who visits that page but doesn’t convert.
HubSpot—an inbound marketing suite that offers everything from email automation to analytics—featured research on its blog showing that when cart-abandoning users do return to make a purchase, 72% of them do so within 24 hours of abandoning the product—that’s likely due to automated solid prompts from the seller, designed to pull the customer back in.
So perhaps wait a bit after the potential customer visits the page, then send a drip at a time when they’re likely to see the email and act on it—maybe at lunchtime or in the early evening.
Your drip emails then have a pretty good chance of closing the sale. According to SaleCycle, abandoned cart emails average a 46.1% open rate, a 13.3% click rate, and $5.64 per email in extra revenue.
Music streaming service Spotify suggests new music based on your listening history.
“You might also like” isn’t just for Netflix bingeing—recommendation engines are a cornerstone of nearly every giant online retailer (ahem, Amazon). The more a company knows about you and your buying habits, the better they can predict what you will and won’t like. With that info, they can send you targeted drip emails that contain products or coupons specific to your purchasing tendencies.
For example, if you buy a Keurig coffee brewer online, that retailer might send you a coupon for 20-count K-cup packs or other Keurig accessories because they already know you own it. They could even recommend your favorite K-cup flavor just about when they think you’ll run out of it, making a guaranteed sale.
The same goes for an entertainment app like Spotify—its team knows what music you listen to, and they can create targeted drip campaigns that email you whenever a frequented artist releases a new single or when a new band in your favorite genre signs on with Spotify. Airbnb goes even further. Vero dissected Airbnb’s automated emails that go out based on your browsing habits and found that when Airbnb knows more about where you want to travel, its emails get more personal and in turn, more useful.
You don’t need to be a billion-dollar business to put that knowledge into action, though. Try targeting user segments with drips based on which aspects of your service they use most or what kinds of content they’re most interested in.
It’s easy to see why Amazon and others put so much work into their recommendation emails, especially when you look at the potential returns. David Selinger, CEO of RichRelevance—which provides a recommendation engine infrastructure for some of the nation’s top online retailers—said that his software could increase revenue by 3-15%.
Whether your user extended their subscription or it’s about to run out, you can leverage drip campaigns to engage customers during the renewal process.
For automatic renewals, try using an autoresponder that alerts users that their account is about to be charged. You can load these notification emails with contact information for your customer care team, or links to pages where users can update their billing or shipping information. If your subscriptions don’t autorenew, craft your drip campaign with a clear call to action, prompting users to re-up with your service. And for the users that do renew, be sure to send them a drip thanking them for staying with your service and perhaps prompt them to share your product with their friends.
Fairfield uses drip campaigns to confirm user reservations and show off some of the hotel amenities.
You’ve closed the sale or convinced a user to stick with your product for another year with a renewed subscription. But your drip email work isn’t done. You can also use a drip campaign to confirm your user’s purchase renewal—just set up a “thank you” autoresponder that goes out right after they hit the “purchase” button. In that confirmation drip, you could include some links to your product’s newest features to re-engage them with your brand.
It should be a no-brainer to send your users an email receipt after they make a purchase, but you can also leverage that communication with related products and upsells. And with confirmations for things like plane tickets and hotel rooms, send a quick email a day before the event to put any important confirmation codes at the top of the user’s inbox. Then, perhaps, that same drip can send another email a few days later, asking them to review your product or service and offer a coupon for future purchases.
RunKeeper sends users who have not logged a workout in a while a re-engagement drip email.
The math here is pretty simple: the more often someone engages with your site, the more likely they are to convert into a paying customer. Engagement emails are a type of drip campaign that invite the recipient to return to your site and look around, triggered either by some on-site activity or a general lack of activity.
Social sites are a great example of how to use activity-based triggers. If someone on Twitter mentions you in a tweet, Twitter can send you an alert-style email, encouraging you to visit Twitter and respond. Messages like this can be a big boon for engagement. Vero’s Hexton highlighted LinkedIn’s use of autoresponders for skill endorsements in an article on Marketing Land, in which he argued that these drips are effective because they give you a warm, fuzzy feeling and encourage you to go endorse someone else.
But it doesn’t have to be just happy feelings; guilt can work as well. If you don’t log an activity in fitness app RunKeeper for a while, they’ll send an automated “We miss you!” email. It’s a subtle way to remind you that you should work out, combined with a touch of nostalgia for the app they hope you’ll use while exercising.
You might need to tweak your strategy and experiment if you’re still seeing less-than-ideal engagement with your email marketing efforts. Sendloop suggests offering incentives, changing up your schedule, and rewriting your call to action.
People like to know what they’re getting with emails. So if you can offer a planned set of drips—say a six-week course on how to double your blog traffic—subscribers won’t just flow in, they’ll interact with the content at an incredible rate. Send stuff at random, and they may just ignore it.
Setting up a drip campaign that acts more like a multi-part crash course is simple, mainly if you’re repackaging old content, and it provides a steady flow of traffic from a super-engaged audience. Plus, once the last email goes out and the user knows your product from front to back, you can close the deal on a premium-level subscription.
When you produce great content and people actually anticipate seeing it in their inbox, you have a major win. The numbers back that theory up, too: Vero says that course emails—or emails that are part of a series—have an open rate 80% higher than regular emails and a 300% higher clickthrough rate to boot.
When we’re talking about automated emails, there are opportunities everywhere—even when a user is about to slip away through the “unsubscribe” button. Instead of cursing that email address and blacklisting the IP address from your site, use an autoresponder to take one last shot at pulling the user in.
Along with a little “we’re sorry to see you go!” message, you can use your automated drip campaign to push other channels like Facebook or Twitter. Remember: Users aren’t necessarily unsubscribing because they hate your brand—they might just prefer to interact with you in a different way.
Many marketing-savvy brands are using this tactic, and Vision6 put together a roundup of some of the best unsubscribe emails. My favorite comes from Bonobos, which directly asks the user if they were sending too many emails and offers to decrease its communications to once a week or month.
Drip marketing is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies around. By providing a steady stream of valuable content to your leads, you can nurture them through the buying process and turn them into customers. If you’re not using drip marketing in your business, now is the time to start! Check out our other articles for more information on creating an effective drip campaign to help you reach your sales goals.