Content Marketing Blog

Your complete guide to successful drip email campaigns

Welcome to our ultimate guide to running successful drip email campaigns. If you use marketing automation software – or plan to – drip email campaigns are an excellent way to justify the investment and get some tangible results to show your boss.

We’ve split our ultimate guide into three sections:

  1. 6 drip email campaign FAQs
  2. 6 opportunities to use drip email campaigns
  3. 6 drip email campaign tips (from people who should know)

6 drip email campaign FAQs

To get started, let’s run through some of the frequently asked questions related to drip email campaigns.

1) What are drip emails?

Drip emails are a series of ready-to-send emails that go out at set intervals rather than in one hit. Recipients are enrolled in drip email campaigns either manually (someone ticks a box and they start receiving the emails) or automatically (based on activity that can be tracked by marketing automation software).

An example is probably helpful at this stage. Here is a neat little infographic courtesy of Pardot, the marketing automation platform owned by Salesforce.

Using Prospect Marketing To Take Leads Through The Sales Funnel

As you can see in this flowchart, which email the recipient gets next and how long they stay in the drip campaign depends on what they do. Even if the enrolment is manual, the rules for what to send and when to send it will be set in your marketing automation software.

2) How do you send drip emails?

To run a proper drip email campaign you need some form of marketing automation software. Most email platforms these days offer some basic automated features. MailChimp, for example, which is a hugely popular email solution for small and growing businesses, offers a range of automation solutions supporting goals such as related product offers, welcome emails for new subscribers and basket abandonment emails. More on all that later.

If you use one of the big, full service marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot, Marketo, or Pardot, then you’ll be able to set up complex workflows, use lead scoring and leverage dynamic content to feed you drip email campaigns.

3) Are my competitors already sending drip emails?

Probably not. While email remains a hugely popular marketing channel and lots of money is going into automation, most brands are not yet leveraging its full potential.

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018, 83 per cent of respondents said email was their preferred channel for business communication. Sales teams rate email second only to the phone for getting hold of prospects. Furthermore, half identified marketing automation as their number one marketing priority.

However, a recent study from SmartInsights, a provider of digital marketing training, revealed that only 8 per cent of marketing believe they are making full use of their automation software. While more people have it and more people want to use it, leveraging it properly remains a challenge. For brands that can master more sophisticated features, like drip emails, there is still a chance to get ahead of the competition.

4) What are the benefits of drip emails?

If setting up drip email campaigns can give you an edge over the competition, what exactly does that edge look like? Here are three benefits drip emails can bring to your business:

First is time. According to SmartInsights, 30 per cent of respondents rate the time saving as the top benefit of setting up drip emails. It would be possible to simulate a drip email campaign manually if the numbers were small enough. But it would take a lot of time. One of the main selling points for marketing automation is that it’s a force multiplier for your marketing team. With it, you can send more emails – not only that, emails that are better targeted and more personalised – than would otherwise be possible.

Second is the chance to make better use of your content. We create a huge range of different content assets for our clients, so we know the importance of maximising the value of each piece. Automated, targeted emails can help get your best content in front of the right people at the right time.

Third is money. A study by MailChimp revealed that automated emails could improve sales by 16x. And that a series of emails – a drip campaign – outperformed one-off follow-up emails by 75 per cent. The reason drip emails can have this sort of tangible and significant impact on your bottom line links back to the other two benefits: saving time and making better use of your content.

In a lot of cases, without drip campaigns these emails just wouldn’t get sent. This is especially true if your organisation is operating at scale with tens or hundreds of thousands of customers and prospects.

But to be really effective, drip emails need high quality, relevant and engaging content. The drip emails in Mailchimp’s study were timely but they also offered value. These are the key drivers when pushing prospects over the line and convincing them to buy.

5) How do drip emails help with lifecycle marketing?

First a quick definition: lifecycle marketing refers to the tactics and channels you might use to target different stages of your customer lifecycle. How you get your brand introduced to a new audience will be different to how you close deals.

Like all content marketing tactics, drip emails can be effective throughout the customer lifecycle. As soon as you have captured an email address from a prospect or customer, drip emails can help you move them on to the next stage.

This usually works by using their activity to send them relevant, timely and helpful content. For example, some of the 1,000 people who downloaded your latest ebook will sign up for a webinar on the same topic if they get a timely email about it. At scale this requires a full service marketing automation platform with triggers and workflows. More on all that later.

6) Will people open my drip emails?

Like any digital marketing tactic, email can be done really well and it can be done really badly. Just as timely, relevant and useful email is an excellent way to build loyalty, nurture leads and drive more sales, the opposite is also true. Peppering your email list with badly thought out, spammy messages will have them clicking the unsubscribe link before you can say “GDPR”.

Getting email right requires a bit of experimentation. Deciding the best time to send emails, how long to wait between sends, how to decide if recipients stay in drip campaigns and what to do when they engage, will depend on your circumstances. But industry benchmarks are a good place to start. This table is from Ultimate Email Benchmarks for 2019 from Marketo, a marketing automation platform popular with enterprises.

Your complete guide to successful drip email campaigns

All of these metrics are important, but one to pay particular attention to is the unsubscribe rate. This is especially true for drip emails. A common misconception with drip emails is that they’re like chapters of a book, with the recipient reading each message and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next one.

Lucky you if that’s the case. The reality for most marketers though is that each email in a drip campaign is a new opportunity to catch the attention of recipients and trigger a response. Opening, clicking and engaging with your content are all wins. But ignoring your email isn’t a defeat. It’s just draw. You live to fight another day. A defeat is an unsubscribe.

Unsubscribes are bad for two reasons. First, you’ve lost permission to email that contact for good. If you’ve set up multiple unsubscribe options you might be lucky and have them opt out of only certain types of messages. But for the most part, unsubscribe costs you a lead and all that work finding them and getting their email address has gone to waste.

Second, unsubscribes can upset your email provider. The same is true with hard bounces (bad email addresses), soft bounces (undelivered emails) and spam complaints (what they sound like). Different platforms deal with especially bad metrics in different ways. You might find your emails getting downgraded to lower tier servers (more likely to hit spam filters) or you might find your account restricted or blocked entirely.

We’ve got a tips section later on in this guide, but the key here is to be careful where you get your email addresses. Don’t buy lists from third parties and email them cold. And if you’ve got emails in your own database, make sure they’ve been used or reconfirmed recently. Database hygiene is one of the best ways to avoid red flags.

6 opportunities to use drip emails

Okay, so we’ve covered some of the basics with those FAQs. Now let’s look at some of the different scenarios where you can put drip emails to good use.

1) Related content drip campaign for ebook readers

It sounds obvious, but you can’t send drip emails without email addresses. But despite it sounding obvious, you’d be surprised how many email strategies are running right now with no plan to capture new email addresses.

If you already have the email address of every possible customer for your product or service you can stop reading right now. You are the king / queen of email marketing. For everyone else, don’t just think about what clever drip emails you can send, put some time into filling the top of your email marketing funnel.

Often a good way to capture new email addresses is to put a valuable piece of content, like an ebook, behind a simple web form. Once you have your gated ebook and you start getting downloads, you can feed them into a drip email campaign.

It depends on the topic, but usually, ebooks are a mid-funnel conversion goal. So, your drip emails should at least start with “helpful and useful” rather than “buy this now.” If you blog regularly, recent or popular blogs on the same topic as the ebook can be a good source of content for drip emails.

2) Basket abandonment drip campaign   

This is probably the most common drip campaign and one that can have a quick and direct impact on your bottom line. Usually, a basket abandonment email drip will attempt to rekindle a sale that wasn’t quite closed.

Let’s say, for example, you have a four stage checkout process on your website. At each stage you will lose a certain proportion of your visitors. Maybe they got distracted, didn’t have some of the information you were asking for or just ran out of time.

If you have their email address, you can use drip emails to send them reminders and see if you can convince them to come back and complete the purchase.

3) Product drip campaign for engaged website visitors

Basket abandonment drip emails target people right at the bottom of the funnel. But you can also use drip emails to get at website visitors earlier on in the customer lifecycle. For this campaign, you’ll need marketing automation software that can track users around your website.

If you have that, you can create a workflow that enrolls people in a drip campaign if they visit certain pages or engage with particular pieces of content. Let’s take product pages as an example.

It’s likely that you have blog posts and landing pages dedicated to products you sell. People spending time reading these blogs or watching the video demos on your landing pages are showing you what they’re interested in. They might not be ready to speak to sales, but a series of drip emails with product-related content will help some of them get to that point sooner.

4) Newsletter subscriber welcome drip

It might sound strange sending drip emails to people who just signed up to your regular email newsletter. But everyone likes to think they’re special.

Rather than just adding new subscribers into the next newsletter send, consider warming them up with some drip emails. The advantage for you is that you can resurface and reuse some of the content you’ve already created and sent out.

New newsletter subscribers will have missed months or years of some truly epic content. A drip email of your greatest hits gets more value out of your archived content and also shows the best of what you can offer in the future.

5) Sales nurture drip campaign

When you work in marketing it always helps to make friends in sales. If you’re helping the sales team close more deals then they can be a useful ally when it comes to negotiating a bigger budget.

A good way to ingratiate yourself with your deal-hunting colleagues is with a simple sales nurture drip campaign. Sales people are always super busy, running from one meeting or demo to the next, with proposals to write and contracts to chase.

Often, this can cause them to neglect the less immediately-closeable section of their pipelines: the leads that aren’t quite ready yet or are more difficult to pin down for a conversation. These leads can be nurtured in the background if they are enrolled in a workflow and receive helpful, useful drip emails.

Often these drip emails will feature mid or bottom-of-funnel content. Usually the aim is to reinforce what the sales person has been saying, perhaps with product videos or webinars. And to provide the social proof prospects need to part with their money with case studies or testimonials.

6) New client onboarding campaign

Brands are getting a lot better at marketing to different parts of the sales funnel. But one of the most neglected funnel stages is after a prospect becomes a customer.

That’s not to say customers get ignored once they buy your product or sign up for your service. But what often happens is that a different team assumes responsibility and marketing takes a backseat. This can be a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to leveraging the powerful tools and tactics marketing has been using.

Drip emails can be super powerful for customers. Take the onboarding phase, for example, when you’re trying to make a good first impression and combat the challenge of buyer’s remorse. An automated series of emails that helps new customers get more value from your product can be a low touch way of providing a smooth and consistent experience.

6 drip email campaign tips (from people who should know)

To wrap things up we’ve had a look for some top tips from experts on how to run truly effective drip email campaigns.

1) Avoid Gmail’s Promotions tab (CampaignMonitor)

If you have a personal Gmail account you’ll know that the default view filters some of your emails out of your “Primary” inbox and into “Social” and “Promotions”. Campaign Monitor, a marketing technology business, has some excellent tips for staying in the much-more-likely-to-be-read primary inbox.

Gmail uses a number of signals to figure out where to put an email, including a scan for spammy keywords, such as “free”, “low risk”, “urgent” or “winner”. Editing and testing your emails to avoid getting flagged as a promotional email can therefore improve your open and click rates.

Our tip: even if you predominantly target business emails remember that similar rules are likely to apply for filtering out promotional or overly spammy messages. Double-checking your copy for these red flag phrases is worthwhile whoever is in your email list.

2) Be brave and clean your list (HubSpot)

Every marketer has a moment of weakness every now and again and allows themselves to get carried away with an ego-boosting top level metric. When it comes to email, newsletter subscribers or total opted-in contacts are common culprits.

HubSpot, the popular marketing automation platform, urges marketers to be brave. Yes, it’s great to be able to point to a subscriber graph that keeps going up. But just like website traffic, not everyone who gets your emails is useful to you.

Mixed in with those thousands of engaged prospects and happy customers are unattended inboxes, competitors and people who never even look at anything you send them. HubSpot recommends that rather than waiting for subscribers to opt themselves out, you should use open rates and click rates to be proactive and remove dormant subscribers.

Our tip: Rather than opt them out entirely, something you can try here is to set up a separate list for subscribers who haven’t been engaging. This is a good list to test edgier types of content to see if you get a response.

3) Write them in one session (Crazy Egg)

We said earlier in this post that drip emails are not like the chapters of a book. Recipients don’t need to open and read all of them for the campaign to be effective. But keeping a consistent style and tone is still important.

Crazy Egg, which provides website heatmaps and other optimisation tools, recommends writing them all in one go. This will be obvious for drip campaigns that will run constantly with new recipients auto-enrolled by workflows.

But it’s also good advice for one-off drip campaigns. Writing all the emails in the same session will improve the experience for users who read each one. And it will also help extract maximum value when your creative juices start flowing.

Our tip: Writing drip emails in batches is a good approach. We also recommend looking back at previous drip email campaigns for ideas and inspiration. There are often opportunities to reuse and recycle good emails you’ve already created.

4) Don’t neglect your regular marketing emails (MailChimp)

One of the biggest challenges for marketers is deciding which of the plethora of tools and tactics they should invest their budget, time and resources in. In our industry, there is always a shiny new toy to play with.

But it’s important that you don’t forget about the rest of the really reliable, fun, older toys you used to like playing with (end of analogy, we promise).

MailChimp points out that while drip emails can be of great value, they shouldn’t replace regular marketing emails. A weekly or monthly reminder of who you are and what you’re good at might not be as fancy as an automated workflow, but it is still a very effective nurture tool.

Our tip: Use engagement with your weekly or monthly newsletter to auto-enrol recipients into workflows for your drip emails. This will help identify the warmer leads on your newsletter list and move them further down your sales funnel.

5) Don’t be nervous about sending promotional emails (Marketing Sherpa)

Email marketing is all about finding the right balance for your audience. One of the big variables to consider is how often people are getting emails from you.

The tolerance for promotional emails – special offers, vouchers, flash sales – will vary depending on industry, geography and what else you’ve been sending. But you shouldn’t be afraid to include promotional emails in your drip campaigns. You want your emails to be helpful and useful, but they also need to drive measurable actions on your site.

According to Marketing Sherpa, a publisher of marketing case studies, research papers, blogs and other similar resources, your audience could be more open to receiving promotional emails than you think.

More than 85 per cent of respondents said they were happy receiving marketing emails from organisations they do business with on a monthly basis. Almost two thirds are okay with weekly emails pushing deals and special offers.

Our tip: Promotional emails should absolutely be part of your drip email campaigns, but you need to earn the right to send them. You do that by creating and sharing regular, high quality, super relevant content that doesn’t push your products or services.

6) Drive more opens on the same emails (Drip.com)

Returning to the reuse and recycle theme, Drip.com, which provides CRMs for the ecommerce sector, has a great subject line hack.

When you set up a drip email campaign you need to decide on the rules. On each send, how do you determine who stays in the drip? And for the people who stay, do some of them get a different email next time based on whether or not they opened or clicked?

In Drip.com’s example, simply changing the subject line of an email and re-sending it to the recipients who didn’t open it the first time generated more than 7,000 additional opens. You can use rules in your drip campaign workflow to automate this tactic if you create both versions of your email at the start.

Our tip: If you’re A:B testing two subject lines for big sends like a regular email newsletter, you can set up your workflow so that it swaps the emails and re-sends them to the unopened portion of each segment (resend email A to unopens in segment B and vice versa).

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Adam Barber
Adam Barber About the author

Adam is one of Castleford's founders and remains actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business. He started out as a writer and still contributes regularly to our blog, covering SEO, CRO, social media and digital strategy.

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