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How to Develop Successful Email Drip Campaigns

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Email drip campaigns are an easy way to connect with customers and grow your email list.

  • A drip campaign is an automated set of emails that are sent based on a certain schedule or user actions.
  • The benefits of drip campaigns include boosting engagement, promoting products and increasing brand awareness.
  • There are six main steps to creating your own drip campaign, which include identifying your audience, planning your campaign and analyzing your results to optimize future campaigns.
  • This article is for small business owners who want to improve their email engagement rates and reach more of their target audience by email.

Email marketing is a great way to engage with and learn about your customers. Drip campaigns make that easy by automatically sending out emails based on certain actions or schedules. You can use drip campaigns for anything from welcoming new customers to converting new leads into return customers, and they are easy to set up and use.

Read this guide to learn what drip campaigns are, the benefits of using them, how to set up your own campaign, and examples of successful drip campaigns.

What is a drip campaign?

A drip campaign, also called automated marketing or an automated email campaign, is a series of emails that automatically send based on a set schedule or user action. The purpose of drip campaigns is to deliver the right information to the right person at the right time. For example, anyone who signs up for your email list receives a welcome email, while a visitor who's been perusing your products page for a few days but hasn't yet made a purchase receives an email with pricing information.

Drip emails are written ahead of time and can be personalized with the recipient's name and other information targeted to the recipient. According to research from email marketing software provider Emma, relevant, targeted emails produce 18 times more revenue than non-targeted emails, since users are more likely to click the links in the emails; drip campaigns produce a 119% increase in click-through rates over regular campaigns.

Key takeaway: A drip campaign is an automated set of emails that are sent based on a set schedule or user action.

How does a drip campaign work?

Drip campaigns are simple and easy to use, especially if you decide to use an email marketing or marketing automation service to create your campaign. You'll set a trigger, such as a user abandoning their online cart or signing up for your email newsletter, for a prewritten email to send automatically to your users who take that action. 

You can segment your email list however you see fit and assign different triggers to different groups to make sure your email content is targeted as specifically as possible.

"Drip campaigns are a great way to stay top of mind with your current and potential clients," said Sir Sanju Ganglani, founder of AskUsForAnything.com. "It allows you to send content that is relevant to their interests and prompt either purchases or referrals."

Drip campaigns are a great way to save time, connect with customers and target all of your emails appropriately to each customer. These are some of the many types of drip campaigns you can use:

Welcome emails

Welcome emails introduce a new subscriber to your brand and your online or email community. You can also use welcome emails to provide a discount code as an incentive for them to sign up. Welcome emails give a personal touch to your business and let customers know what to expect from your emails.

Onboarding emails

Onboarding drip emails are similar to welcome emails in that they are sent early on in a customer's journey with your business, but they provide more hands-on information about your business. For example, onboarding emails might make users aware of anything important about your company or product, explaining how you stand out from competitors in the market and providing contact information in case the customer encounters any issues.

Shopping cart abandonment

Shopping cart abandonment is when a visitor places an item in their online shopping cart and then leaves your website without making the purchase. You can utilize drip campaigns to automatically send an email to the visitor anytime this happens, reminding them of their intent to buy something.

Subscription renewal

Using a drip campaign to remind customers of an upcoming subscription renewal can help establish your company's validity and make your customers feel valued. Be sure to thank your customers for their business and make it easy to unsubscribe if they wish.

List building

You can send out a drip campaign targeting new visitors to your website that asks them to opt in to receive emails from you. This is an easy way to build up your list with customers who are genuinely interested in your business and likely to engage with your content.

Key takeaway: Create several kinds of drip campaign emails tailored to different actions your audience might take. Make these emails relevant and targeted for the best results.

Benefits of an email drip campaign

Drip campaigns have many benefits if you implement them properly.

"The benefits of a drip campaign is that you can create a path that can lead to a customer following an action point, even if they didn't open the first email you sent out," said SEO consultant Daniel Foley. "Constant messaging can be a deciding factor in the behavior of your customers – doing it right can mean that your brand will be stuck in their subconscious, therefore allowing you to make the most out of the opportunity."

These are some other benefits email drip campaigns can offer:

Boosting customer engagement

Drip campaigns can have a positive effect on customer engagement by providing an easy and consistent flow of communication between your business and the customer. This is why email targeting is so important – if a customer feels that you know them and are speaking directly to them and their interests, they are much more likely to engage with your email content.

"A drip campaign is critical to establishing a connection with your subscribers," said Charlie Camisasca, owner of The eCommerce Boardroom. "The email inbox is an intimate place, and as a result, you can really boost lifetime customer value through email marketing."

Promoting content

If you have pertinent content, like blog posts or newsletters, drip campaigns are a great way to get that content in front of your customers. You can include content that explains your products, showcases your employees or answers frequently asked questions.

Nurturing prospective leads

You may have customers who are possibly interested in making a purchase from you but need more information and some lead nurturing before doing so. A drip campaign that is triggered, for example, by a potential customer spending significant time on a certain page of your website can nurture leads by providing the prospective customer with the information they are seeking and nudge them through the sales funnel toward a purchase.

"It's through walking [your audience] through the whole procedure that you will be able to build trust and credibility with them," said Sandra Matthews, marketing specialist at The Product Analyst.

Increasing brand awareness

Sending emails consistently can keep your company top of mind and make it easy for your existing customers to refer your business to their connections looking for your services. This makes more potential customers aware of your business and increases your reach.

Recovering disengaged contacts

You may have several contacts in your email list who don't regularly engage with your emails. You can target content to them with an engagement-driven drip campaign. For example, sending a message with the subject line "Hey, we miss you!" directly to those customers can potentially reengage them.

Reminding customers of their abandoned carts

Many customers will place items in their online shopping cart, then leave your website without making a purchase. You can trigger promotional emails based on this action to send the customer a reminder of what they left in their cart, redirecting their attention to the pending purchase.

Customizing based on the customer

One of the biggest benefits of drip campaigns is how much you can customize and tailor them to your target audience. You can use all kinds of information – including demographics, user behavior and clicks – to determine how you will create your campaign, and then utilize your analytics to determine how well that campaign worked.

Automatically moving customers through the buying funnel

Drip campaigns can be a highly effective way of converting leads without being overly salesy or expending too much effort, because they can automatically send the customer the information they're looking for at each step of their buying or knowledge journey.

"Using a drip campaign allows you to acclimate the potential customer," said Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review. "Most people need to see an offer several times before they'll bite. A drip campaign does this perfectly."

Saving you time

A major feature of drip campaigns is that they are set up ahead of time and sent out automatically, which means you have very little maintenance to do.

"You can create a drip once and let it deliver the well-crafted emails to the right people at the right time, without manually having to deliver the emails," said Tarah Darge, head of marketing at TimeToReply.

Key takeaway: There are many benefits to using drip campaigns, such as increasing brand awareness, engaging customers and giving you a better understanding of what your customers want to see from you.

How to develop a drip campaign

Now that you understand the many ways you can use drip campaigns and their benefits, here are the five simple steps of creating your own campaign.

1. Identify your audience.

The most important part of a drip campaign is having a targeted, defined audience to receive the emails. The first step of sending a drip campaign is to decide which triggers and groups you will use for your campaign.

Drip campaigns are based on two main types of triggers: an action or a piece of demographic information. An action trigger would be a user subscribing to your emails and you sending a welcome or onboarding email, for example, or a user making a purchase and you sending an order confirmation or receipt. A demographic trigger could be a user's birthday, prompting an email that wishes them happy birthday from your company and gives them a discount code.

Targeting is a great way to personalize your drip campaigns and provide your customers with the information they need at the right time, which can go a long way to make them feel valued and ensure return customers. Focus on targeting customers based on visit frequency, clicks and user behavior.

2. Determine your goal.

The second most important aspect of creating a successful email drip campaign is knowing your goal. A defined goal makes it much easier to plan the remaining aspects of your campaign and stay focused throughout the process. It's a good idea to use the SMART method when setting a goal – making them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.

3. Write your email.

Now that you know your audience, you can use that information to craft your email copy. You want your email to be helpful, grab their attention and have a clear call to action (CTA). Think about what you want the user to do, or what you want to accomplish with your email. Do you want the recipient to make a purchase? Do you want to share information about a product? Make sure your message is clear and true to your company's brand and voice.

4. Plan your campaign.

To ensure the success of your drip campaign, it's helpful to plan it out from beginning to end. This includes setting a goal, deciding how to segment your contacts and determining how you will measure the success of the campaign. These are the main factors to think about when planning your drip campaign:

  • How many emails you will send, and in what order
  • Whether your triggers match your message
  • How you will measure your success (what types of analytics you will use and what numbers you will track)
  • Who your audience is and why
  • The goal for your campaign

5. Launch your campaign.

When you have determined your audience and goal, written your copy, and decided which numbers to track, you are ready to send out your campaign. To do this, you can implement your own drip campaign software, or use email marketing or marketing automation software.

6. Analyze your campaign.

You should analyze your campaign both during and after its implementation to get an accurate view of its performance. Use the analytics you decided on when you planned your campaign, pinpointing areas where the campaign performed well and where you can improve the next time you send it out.

One of the easiest ways to capture key analytics is to tag links in your emails with UTM parameters, which ensure information is passed on automatically to Google Analytics.

Key takeaway: There are six steps in creating a drip campaign, starting with identifying your audience and ending with analyzing your campaign.

Successful drip campaign examples

To help you better understand what a successful email drip marketing campaign looks like, here are three examples.

Netflix's win-back campaign

It happens often: You had a happy customer, then something made them decide to leave, unsubscribe or no longer do business with you. This is where reengagement tactics come in and you can launch a campaign to earn back the customer's business. One company that does this well is Netflix, with its simple, clear and effective win-back campaign.

The campaign starts with an acknowledgment of the customer's choice and a clear CTA to resubscribe, as well as easy-to-find contact information. But the thing that often wins customers back is what Netflix does over the next few months, which is to send automated emails with its latest movies and shows to entice customers to return.

At the bottom of each email, Netflix includes a brightly colored CTA that users can click to easily rejoin the service.

Patagonia's weather-based recommendations

Patagonia provides an excellent example of how to use demographic information about your audience – in this case, their locations – to your advantage when sending drip campaigns. In this campaign, Patagonia sent emails featuring products based on local weather patterns, meaning someone in Minnesota in February got recommendations for down parkas and mittens, while someone passing the winter months in Miami got swimsuits and sandals in their email.

The emails had clear CTAs, like "shop warm hats," to make it easy for customers to enter the buying journey.

Zulily's cart abandonment notification

According to Shopify, 60% to 80% of online shopping carts are abandoned before a customer makes a purchase, which means that your business could be missing out on a lot of potential sales. A cart abandonment reminder drip campaign can reduce your abandonment rates.

In this email, Zulily includes an image of what the customer was shopping for, with a CTA that makes it easy to return to the cart and reminds them the product may disappear if they don't purchase it soon.

If the customer still wants the product, this inspires a sense of urgency, making them eager to return to their cart.

Key takeaway: A successful drip campaign has a clear purpose and an easily identifiable call to action.

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski,
Business News Daily Writer
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Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.