What Is Email Automation and How Does It Work?

MarTech Platforms, MarTech Processes

What Is Email Automation and How Does It Work?

As various technologies and tools rise to prominence and then fall from grace, the dominance of email remains unflinching. It’s not only the preferred means of communication today, but also consistently tops the list of best-converting marketing channels.

Email automation allows marketers to schedule targeted messages or send them when a user performs a specific action on a website. It is a very effective method to nurture existing leads, but it can also be used to engage with new customers and regularly interact with past customers, reminding them about your brand and informing them about new deals, promotions, etc.

There is a long list of benefits of using email automation.

While newsletters and one-off campaigns will always have their place in your email-marketing strategy, the smartest companies set up automatic email campaigns that trigger based on a user’s actions.

These automatic emails are timely, personalized and hyper-relevant to the reader. As a result, they are opened and clicked more frequently and drive visits and revenue for your business.

What Is Email Automation?

Email automation is the process of sending emails to an individual or multiple people at a specified time in the future. Marketers can automate the delivery of emails based on a number of conditions, such as time and day (e.g. 4pm on Monday), actions of contacts in their database (e.g. when a contact views a specific web page) and rules defined in workflows (e.g drip and lead-nurturing campaigns). Automated emails eliminate the manual process of having to send emails to people on an individual basis at a given time.

How Does Email Automation Work?

Each email-automation tool is going to work differently, but the basic flow can be illustrated this way:

email automation

Here’s an example of how email automation works:

  1. A person visits a website and downloads an ebook, fills out a form, etc.
  2. They are added to the email-marketing database.
  3. They are placed into different audience segments based on their location, interests, behavior, etc.
  4. The marketer creates an email campaign. They set the rules/triggers, create the drip campaign, schedule the emails, etc.
  5. The person receives emails based on the conditions and campaigns set by the marketer.

Email-Automation Best Practices

Email-marketing platforms are powerful tools that can grow your business regardless of your industry. However, like with any formidable tool, it comes with specific dos and don’ts. Consumers today don’t want to get irrelevant commercial messages. They already get plenty.

Below are some of the most common email-automation best practices.

1. Send a confirmation or welcome email

When someone signs up to your newsletter or fills out a contact form, send a confirmation or welcome email. The confirmation email reassures them that you’ve received their signup, and the welcome email helps foster the newly formed relationship.

2. Send emails based on time zones and analytics data

As many marketers have no doubt experienced, most emails are opened within the first 24 hours of receiving them.

If you want your emails to be opened, look at the time zone your contacts are in and your analytics data to identify the best time to send emails. Looking at research conducted by email-automation tools like Mailchimp on the best day and time to send can give you a headstart.

3. Segment contacts based on location, behavior, interests, etc.

Another surefire way to improve open rates, click-through rates (CTR) and overall engagement is to personalize emails.

The way to achieve this is via segmenting contacts by location, behavior, interests, purchase history, lifecycle stage (e.g. lead, MQL, etc.) and many other attributes.

By doing so, you are able to target specific contacts and personalize the emails so they are more relevant to the recipients and thus are more valuable to them.

For example, sending an email to contacts living in Melbourne about your upcoming Melbourne event will be more effective than sending it to every contact in your database.

4. Quality in, quality out

How effective your email automation really is at helping your leads convert and driving your sales really depends on the quality of the contacts in your database.

Running email automation only for the relevant, valuable contacts is the easiest way to improve and maintain high open and click-through rates, user engagement and, ultimately, high conversion rates.

Rather than adding any contacts to your database, it is worth asking users for a double opt-in. This is a way to ensure you only have contacts that really want to hear from you regularly.

Unresponsive contacts, on the other hand, can be displayed opt-in boxes from time to time, which helps to prune away uninterested people. This can be done by displaying a message similar to what CXL does:

cxl email automation
This way, your database is a self-cleaning, quality source of leads.

5. Don’t always go for the sale

This may seem counterintuitive, but email marketing, just like other areas of marketing, does not have to be all about selling. Constantly asking for the sale may seem intrusive and spammy.

Instead, make sure your emails present real value to their recipients. Your email-marketing activities should be more about educating your audiences (and even entertaining them) than about asking contacts to buy or download something all the time.

Naturally, the CTA at the bottom of the email should still be there, but the sale shouldn’t be the main goal of every email.

6. Make it easy for people to unsubscribe

Respect your subscribers’ time and decisions. Allow them to easily unsubscribe whenever they feel like it. When people don’t want to hear from you again, don’t make the process unnecessarily hard.

This point is intrinsically tied with ensuring your database only contains high-quality contacts. By cherry-picking only the audiences that would be genuinely interested in your messages, you minimize the risk of unsubscribes in the first place.

7. Test, test and test

There are many things that can go wrong when sending automated emails. Testing allows you to catch any broken links, images and tracking tags before the email is sent.

Also, testing can help hone your email to perfection in terms of load time, or scan your subject line for potential improvements.

With testing, you can learn how to streamline your content. Knowing what links your users click can give valuable, strategic insights for future emails. This way, you can fine-tune your content to improve your CTR – adjust the length, design or layout to find out what works best for conversions.

On top of that, some email automations enable spam testing. Because spam filters can defeat even your most elaborate content, some marketing tools automatically run your email against major spam filters, identify when it’s getting flagged as spam and give you actionable advice to tackle it.

8 Popular Use Cases of Email Automation With Examples

There are many ways email automation could come in handy from a marketer’s perspective. Have a look at the most popular use cases of automated emails below:

1. Welcome email

Your visitors may not come to your website to buy something straight away, but since they have already expressed interest in your services or products, they are most likely to do so in the future. Communicating with them on a regular basis is a good way to remind them of your brand the moment they decide to convert. What better way of implementing it with email automation?

Subscribing to your newsletter is a small step towards conversion, and there are several tactics that a marketer can take to help people convert without distracting them too much.

To give your subscribers the feeling that they would be missing something by unsubscribing, offer them some incentives like discounts towards their first purchase or other bonuses.

An example welcome email from Banana Republic with a 25% discount towards the first purchase.

2. Transactional email

Transactional email typically informs users about the progress of their orders and delivery, but its name is a bit misleading. Such types of email messages can also be triggered by a number of other specific actions on a website or mobile app, not only connected with transactions (purchases, invoices and receipts).

Examples of automated transaction emails include emails informing about the password-recovery process, shipping progress, account notifications or social media updates.

email automation amazon
An example transactional message from Amazon.

3. Lead-nurturing and drip campaigns

According to research, 96% of visitors to your website aren’t yet ready to buy. However, since they have shown interest in your product or services, they are perfect candidates to continue communicating with to try to get them to buy later on. A great way to do this is to get them to subscribe to your email list.

For a user, subscribing to your list is a much smaller step towards conversion than immediately handing over money to you, and therefore people are much more likely to do it.

With an email-automation tool, you can set up a series of lead-nurturing emails or drip campaigns (read this post to better understand the difference) to regularly remind people about your brand.

  • Lead-nurturing campaigns are designed to convert leads into customers over a series of automated emails. Such a campaign could start with very mild, general emails that showcase the benefits or focus on various use cases of your product. Over a period of a couple of weeks, the messaging can change to a more salesy tone.
  • Drip campaigns can be used for different, non-sales-oriented purposes such as onboarding new clients. The goal of these emails, instead of selling, would be to get new customers to use the new software.

Check out this post from Moosend for some drip-campaign ideas.

Lead-nurturing and drip campaigns can be used for different purposes. Some CRM systems like Salesforce or Highrise allow you to mark certain leads for nurturing. Then, the platform sends messages to these leads through an integrated email-automation tool like Zapier.

Key points to remember when doing drip campaigns:

  • Keep people engaged with your brand over a period of time and help slowly turn them into customers.
  • Educate, don’t sell.
  • Provide something valuable – e.g. send your recipients email courses.

4. Newsletters informing about new content or products

If you run a company blog, email automation can be a convenient way to inform your audiences about a new product or content you’ve created: blog posts, videos, etc. This is a way to grow your blog’s audience and expose your new posts to people who are most likely to interact with them.

According to Neil Patel, email subscribers are also much more likely to share your content on social-media channels.

Newsletters can be used to create an aggregated list of popular articles from other companies. Moz does this with its newsletter.

5. Anniversary emails with a special offer

Send out emails to people on their birthday (if they have provided this kind of data) or when they’ve been a customer for a year, or other milestone, and reward them. Add an offer – e.g. 15% or a fixed amount off your recipient’s next purchase.

email automation example
Image Source: Campaign Monitor

6. Product-related emails and updates

Keep your followers up to date about current events, new product launches, newly introduced product features, services, webinars, etc. Email is a great channel to keep your audiences informed about your product, to remind them about your company and to educate them about the different ways of using your product.

microsoft email automation
Microsoft communicates to participants of its Insider Program through a series of automated emails.

7. Research and feedback

Automated emails are also a great way to send out customer surveys, customer research, product feedback, etc. This will help you understand your customer’s pain points and needs and use such insights to further improve your product.

It may also turn out that your product is completely not what your customers were expecting it to be, meaning you might need to adjust your marketing messages.

Sending out short surveys to your customers will help you come up with ideas for new features and prioritize development pipelines. Surveys let you know what your customers would like to achieve with your product, and why they bought your product in the first place.

8. Product engagement and customer retention

If people haven’t used your product since they signed up or purchased it, the emails can showcase the features of the product and educate the audience. Such messages can also help increase the perceived value of the product in the eyes of the customer. By realizing how useful the product is and fully understanding it, people will more likely convert into regularly paying customers during the trial period.

If the client hasn’t started using the product at all, you can encourage them to do so. You can also ask them if they need help and provide more reasons for using the product.

If your clients have abandoned their cart before checking out, you can send them automated reminder emails to fight cart abandonment.

Losing existing customers can cost your business lots of money, but retention is relatively cheap compared to acquisition. According to Bain & Co, a 5% increase in customer retention can increase a company’s profitability by 75%.

Sending customers email campaigns about their expiring subscription, space running out or unsuccessful recurring payment increases the chances of that client staying with you or upgrading their plan. Dropbox utilizes such emails to inform subscribers that they are running out of space (and encourages them to upgrade to the premium, paid account).

dropbox email automation
Dropbox automated “Upgrade your Dropbox” reminder email.

It is a good practice to send emails to people before the trial ends or give them a couple of days’ grace period before requiring them to upgrade to the paid version.

Popular Email-Automation Tools

email automation platforms

Email-automation tools come in various shapes and sizes. While most of them share a number of the same core functionalities, they may differ by some smaller, nifty features for specific use cases. Because the competition is fierce, specific platforms are trying hard to differentiate.

For example, Moosend offers weather-based automation that allows you to send automation emails depending on the weather of the user’s location – especially useful for eCommerce stores that sell products like umbrellas, sunscreen, etc.

Email-automation tools can be used individually or integrated with CRMs. Tools like HubSpot and Marketo also include email-automation software, but are more complete “marketing-automation” solutions rather than just email-automation tools.

For a more complete list of the leading email-automation solutions, read this post from OptinMonster.

Last Words

Email marketing is a very personal, inexpensive way of reaching your target customers. It is effective for informing people about your product or service and keeping them engaged regardless of the platform. Email allows you to reach mobile users just as it reaches desktop users – mobile accounts for 46% of all email opens, followed by webmail at 35%, and desktop opens at 18%.

Email-marketing automation has been getting a lot of attention recently due to increasingly challenged cookie-based targeting and various limitations imposed by new privacy regulations. Email-based campaigns simply pay off; when implemented properly, they allow your company’s messages to land in the same inbox as your customer’s personal messages, something that cannot be overestimated in the age of ad-blocking and ever-present banner blindness.

Bottom line: If you haven’t done so already, it is high time to get interested in email automation for marketing purposes. Personalized email is more relevant and thus more effective than any other kind of marketing communication. Automated emails can be triggered by specific customer actions, and made to appeal to their interests, driving online and in-store sales with discounts and promotions.

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