Once upon a time, personalization was the key to crafting stand-out emails. Yes, calling people by their first name was considered revolutionary… and if you think about the available technology, it really was unique to receive an email addressing you directly.
However, this is not so much the case anymore. Today, personalization isn’t quite enough — now that the average consumer receives over 120 emails per day . Today, to send a truly effective marketing email, you must not only personalize your recipient’s name but also his or her behavior and actions.
Consumers no longer respond to being identified; they respond to being known and understood. Email marketing automation is the key to bridging this gap.
Email automation— sending emails triggered by consumer behavior —is rooted in your visitor activity. This alone allows automated emails to drive engagement, conversions, and revenue that basic email marketing simply cannot.
What is Email Automation?
Email marketing automation is the process of scheduling and sending triggered emails to subscribers based on specific behaviors or actions. Automated emails are typically created and set up once and then sent to consumers and customers when they perform the triggered action.
As opposed to email newsletters or one-off email campaigns, email automation, well, automates the email marketing process. It also centers your email marketing around the customer and their timeline as opposed to yours, making automated emails more timely, relevant, and effective.
How effective, you ask? One study by the Direct Marketing Association found that triggered emails delivered a 75% higher open rate and a 115% higher click-through rate than standard marketing emails. Research also shows that these types of email campaigns can also generate 4x more revenue and 18x greater profit margins .
In short, email automation engages your customers — and benefits your bottom line — better than any other type of email marketing.
How Does Email Automation Work?
First and foremost, email marketing automation depends on successful identification. If you don’t know who’s visiting your website, browsing your products, or abandoning their shopping carts, you can’t send automated emails that convert.
Some of this identification comes from naturally submitted information, such as when a visitor subscribes to your newsletter or submits an online order. But what happens when a visitor doesn’t submit their email, such as when they’re simply browsing your website or leave behind some items in their cart? How do you identify them then?
Marketers have historically used tracking cookies to identify their website visitors, but today’s online shoppers typically use multiple devices when browsing. Also, frequent history clearing makes cookies practically useless.
A common way that brands figure out who’s shopping their site is by encouraging them to sign in to their online account. However, since 25% of shoppers take the time to do this, this method isn’t reliable.
To gather accurate browsing data, consider investing in a third-party solution like Wunderkind. Wunderkind recognizes your website visitors based on what device they’re using and matches them to an email address in real-time—allowing you to accurately automate your first touch or follow-up email.
Successful identification goes hand-in-hand with data collection. Outside the intentional email submission, there are a few ways to capture email addresses. However you decide to gather emails, keep your opt-in process as frictionless as possible—meaning, don’t ask for more information than you need.
The first method is with an exit-intent popup form that opens when someone goes to exit your website. If they choose, visitors can quickly submit their email to join your list, get a discount, or receive updates.
The second method is to collect emails through a service chatbot. Visitors typically tap into chatbots when they genuinely need something, meaning that they’d already intended to engage with your brand. Also, chatbots naturally collect visitor information as they assist them, leading to a more authentic exchange of information.
Regardless, “the initial conditions in which you ask someone to join your email list are critical,” shares Ryan Urban, CEO at Wunderkind. “You have this golden opportunity … to give your relationship with this customer a real sense of value. Instead of cookie-cutter email captures, target your prospects with opt-ins that honor their exact onsite intent.”
Email Marketing Automation in Action
Let’s talk for a minute about email marketing automation from a recipient’s perspective. Shopper Sam is browsing your website and decides to buy a scarf. Her purchase triggers your email automation workflow, and Sam receives an order confirmation email. The next day, she receives another email offering a discount code and/or asking her to leave a review for her purchase (the content of this email is up to you). Perhaps a week later, Sam receives a third email alerting her to the hat and gloves that match her scarf—an effort to upsell her on your other products.
See how Sam’s behavior—a purchase—triggered that email workflow? This is an example of email automation. By hinging this post-purchase email sequence around Sam’s actions (versus your marketing preferences), you’re able to send highly relevant and engaging emails. From Sam’s point of view, she’s simply being reminded of what she was already considering or intending to do—become a customer.
Email Automation Best Practices
Email automation is more effective than email marketing—we’ve established this. The caveat here, however, is that it’s only more effective when done right.
Here are some tips and best practices to ensure you’re optimizing your automated email campaigns.
1. Segment early and often.
The success of your automated email campaigns depends on how well you identify your subscribers and segment them in your email software. Ensure you’ve developed whatever detailed segments inform the email automation workflows you’ve created, like user engagement for a re-engagement flow or subscription renewal date for a subscription reminder flow. Remember, these segments are all subjective to the benchmarks you set (i.e. however long it takes for someone to become a past customer is up to you). Here are some other segmentation ideas:
- Demographics (location, gender, age, occupation)
- Type of customer (new, returning, past, trial-basis)
- Engagement (opens, site visits, topic interests)
- Activity (email views and clicks, site page visits, purchases)
2. Don’t sacrifice content quality when automating.
Sure, email automation is more relevant and timely than typical email marketing, but that alone won’t engage and convert your recipients. Even the most well-timed email won’t matter if it doesn’t contain valuable content. Setting up email automation can save you precious time and effort, but don’t neglect your email subject lines and content in the process. Every email—whether manual or automated—should have that human touch. You’re marketing to people after all.
3. Start small and scale with your customer activity.
Don’t automate for the sake of automation. Too much automation can leave your emails sounding robotic and your customers exhausted by yet another inbox notification. As you introduce email automation, allow your customers to lead the charge. Identify one or two email processes that you’ve already manually established, such as new email list subscribers and purchases. Develop one or two-email workflows for each of those processes and keep an eye on your customer activity. Focus on tweaking those content flows until you’ve met your engagement, conversion, and/or revenue goals. At that point, introduce new processes as your demand increases. By following your customers’ lead, you’ll know how to add automation where it benefits them (and you!) the most.
4. Test, test, and then test again.
Educating yourself on all things email automation doesn’t ensure a smooth workflow. Before officially turning on your automation flows, test your emails internally as well as with a small portion of your recipient list. Pay attention to the content and timing of each email and make sure every detail—from personalization to subject lines—is exactly how you’ve set it up. Then, you can press Send.
5. Beware the “set and forget it” mentality.
Your email automation activity can uncover interesting and important insights that can help you iterate on your efforts. As you would with everyday email marketing, you should keep track of opens, clicks, and other basic email metrics. However, to truly understand the results of your email automation, you should also be tracking data like site visits, conversions, new customers, and revenue — data that everyday email marketing can’t always deliver. It’s this data that won’t only set your email automation apart but also help you optimize your efforts to best engage your recipient list.
Email Marketing vs. Marketing Automation
Email marketing is a piece of the proverbial marketing automation pie. If I drew a Venn diagram comparing email marketing and marketing automation, email automation would be where the two circles overlap.
Both email marketing and marketing automation work to engage new and existing customers. Both also primarily utilize email (hence this guide on email automation). But that’s about where the similarities end.
Email marketing and marketing automation differ in six distinct ways.
Email Automation Tools
When first launching your online brand, it can seem manageable to send emails to your prospects & customers on an ad-hoc basis. After all, what’s more personal than writing emails to customers yourself? While this may seem like the more personal thing to do, it quickly becomes unmanageable as your customer base grows. It also becomes unnecessary when employing an email marketing program that can trigger personalized emails based on the specific actions customers have taken on your site. In order to maintain this personalization while achieving the scale you’ll need with your outreach, you’ll need to employ an email automation tool. Below, we outline a few of the best options out there.
- Oracle Eloqua
- Salesforce Pardot
To effectively execute an email automation strategy as we’ve discussed in this post, your email automation tool should have the following:
- The ability to set up advanced email workflows based on intricate customer behaviors, and the ability for one subscriber to be in multiple workflows at once
- Advanced statistics—beyond opens and click-throughs—that allow you to examine the efficiency and performance of each workflow
- The ability to see statistics per contact (i.e. how each person on your email list interacts with each email and what actions they take)
- An e-commerce integration, which is necessary to power those post-purchase, abandoned cart, and page visit emails … just to name a few
Every tool in this list meets the criteria above. The best part? These email automation tools make your job a bit easier, freeing up time to focus on other revenue-driving activities.
Emarsys is a B2C marketing platform that offers solutions in personalization, automation, and email marketing. Its real-time marketing automation features equip you to automate one-off sends like your welcome email as well as multi-step campaigns that respond to customer activity.
You can set smart triggers to react to customer actions, whether said actions occur on your emails, website, or social media. you can expand sequences to include multiple branches and channels.
Emarsys also offers an intuitive Visual Content Editor that helps you design the most effective, creative email content. Its Inbox Preview tool allows you to check out your emails through the lens of various devices, apps, and browsers to ensure customers can engage successfully. Lastly, the platform’s analytics reflect everything from campaign performance to customer engagement to real-time highlights.
Oracle Eloqua is Oracle’s marketing automation platform. It equips marketers to track customer engagement and activity throughout all stages of the buyer’s journey—from email to web to social media and search.
Eloqua integrates with over 700 applications, allowing you to combine this tool with your e-commerce platform if needed. The Campaign Canvas also provides a drag-and-drop interface for developing targeted campaigns across multiple marketing channels.
Additionally, the software provides unique targeting and segmentation features that track online and offline customer data and organizes customer profiles within one interface. This data then informs specific triggers and real-time messages you can set up within the software.
The only drawback about Eloqua is its long implementation process. This is due to the lengthy software customization process—a benefit for email automation veterans, but not so simple for those who are just getting started. Of all the tools on this list, Eloqua isn’t the best for beginners.
Pardot is Salesforce’s B2B marketing automation tool. It’s particularly powerful for those who also use the Salesforce CRM.
It offers an intuitive email builder with plenty of responsive templates. In terms of automation, Pardot provides a visual, drag-and-drop platform for building, testing, and sending your targeted campaigns. You can also set up customized autoresponders for web forms and landing pages.
A unique feature of Pardot is it’s personalized messaging, with which you can set up different email copy that changes based on subscriber engagement. The tool also offers automatic segmentation—allowing you to swap subject lines, paragraphs of copy, or images based on which segment of your list is receiving each email.
Like Eloqua, Pardot has a lengthy onboarding process. This plus its B2B focus means that the platform may not be the right email automation tool for everyone.
Drip is an email marketing automation tool that works for both beginners and experts. In terms of email automation, Drip offers two main features: Rules and Workflows.
Rules allow you to set commands or actions based on triggers, and these triggers can come from anywhere—your email list, website, e-commerce platform, social media, etc. You can also apply filters if you don’t want the trigger to apply to everyone. You’d use Rules to send a one-off email (like welcome or seasonal emails), add someone to a campaign, or add a new subscriber to a certain list.
Workflows take automation a step further. Where Rules trigger a single action, Workflows trigger an entire sequence of actions. You’d use Workflows to send abandoned cart, post-purchase, or re-engagement emails, for example.
In addition to these automation features, Drip offers a library of pre-written and pre-designed workflows. These can come in handy when starting out with email automation or running short on time or creativity.
MailChimp is a well-known name in the world of email marketing. It’s a common choice due to its inexpensive subscription plans and friendly UX. The software also offers a variety of integrations.
MailChimp offers a variety of automation options including welcome, onboarding, abandoned cart, and re-engagement emails. The software also provides “pre-made” automation workflows and suggests certain triggers, which simplifies the process.
The drawback, however, is that these workflows don’t have much depth. You can’t connect the workflows, and you can’t create parallel sequences based on “if” settings. For example, let’s say you released a re-engagement workflow and wanted to send one follow-up email to those who opened the initial email and another email to those who didn’t open it. You couldn’t do this in MailChimp.
If you’re getting started with automation or running simple workflows, MailChimp may be the email automation tool for you.
Wunderkind isn’t an email service provider like the other tools in this list, but it still plays a powerful role in powering your email automation efforts. Wunderkind is the key you need to unlock the identities of your site visitors, especially if your visitors didn’t come from your email (where it’s easier to track visitor IDs).
Powerful marketing automation incorporates multiple channels—including email, web, search, mobile, and social media. Wunderkind identifies and follows your visitors and customers as they browse and engage with your brand on all these channels and more. Wunderkind’s email automation tool helps you craft a consistent, uninterrupted journey for each consumer, allowing you to set up email automation that engages with them at the right time.
In short, Wunderkind helps you identify visitors, collect consumer data, customize your customer interactions and commitments, and ultimately convert more visitors into leads and customers through email automation.
Email automation is an incredibly important and impactful tool for businesses of all kinds. It takes the relevance and creativity of email marketing a step further and engages your subscribers, site visitors, and customers in unique ways. Moreover, it helps you avoid treating every consumer the same — a marketing strategy that’s practically dead and gone. By developing email automation workflows and following the email automation best practices we discussed above, you’ll be meeting leads and customers when your brand and products are top-of-mind.