Email marketing is a smart way for businesses to nurture leads through the buyer journey, build brand awareness and engagement and increase customer retention.
It’s impossible (and impractical) to run every email marketing campaign manually. Instead, email campaigns can be automated through drip sequences, saving companies tons of resources and time.
In this piece, we’ll explain what a drip sequence is, provide a step-by-step guide to creating one and break down six examples of effective drip campaigns (and why they work).
What is an email drip campaign?
Email drip campaigns are sequences of automated emails that are sent at a specific time, usually after a certain pre-set trigger has been activated.
In most instances, the intention is to move the subscriber to the next phase of the marketing funnel. If they’re an existing customer, email drip sequences can help move subscribers through the sales funnel through upselling and cross-selling.
For example, one of the most popular email sequences is the welcome email drip campaign, which is automatically sent to readers that:
Subscribe to your newsletter
Register as a user
Purchase a product or service
After that, the new subscribers will receive a number of different emails in a varied cadence, usually with the goal of nurturing them towards taking an action, be it making a purchase, signing up for a free demo, joining a webinar, etc.
An email drip campaign can range from simple to complex depending on:
Your product(s) or service(s)
The audience you are targeting and the problems they’re trying to solve
The audience’s position in the marketing funnel (i.e. their level of intent)
For example, if you sell a commodity product that most people need (like iPhone cases) your welcome email sequence will likely be on the shorter side – two or three emails.
That’s because your customers already know they need to protect their device and that an iPhone case will help them do this. They don’t need to be nurtured through a complex journey.
Their first encounter with your product might also be after they make their first purchase, in which case the welcome emails will point to cross-selling or upselling opportunities.
When your customers are both problem and solution aware, and if your product is relatively inexpensive, it becomes more about staying top of mind and upselling than educating customers and getting them to buy.
If you sell a more complex or higher priced item, such as (for example) proteolytic digestive enzymes, you might need to take a different, more educational approach to your email drip campaign as the buyer journey is longer.
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How to create an email drip campaign
Creating good email drip campaigns often takes some trial and error. It may feel a bit disjointed at first, but as you find out what resonates with your target audience and refine your workflow, building drip sequences becomes a repeatable and scalable process.
Follow the steps below to set up your first or next email drip campaign. Make sure you take your time in steps 1-3, as it’s key to clarify exactly who your audience and customers are, as well as your specific campaign goals, in order to maximize success.
Step 1: Select your audience
Except for certain triggered automations such as welcome sequences or abandoned cart emails, your drip sequences should be tailored to a specific audience.
This takes time and effort, but getting to know your audience’s pain points on a deep level will make the rest of your creation process much smoother.
Additionally, the more personal and relevant you can make your drip sequences, the more likely people are to take action on them.
Keep in mind the channel where your subscribers entered. Someone who converted on a lead gen social media ad to download a white paper, for example, is probably not as far along in the journey as someone who converted on a pop-up form to learn more about a case study on a specific product.
Each one should be in a different drip sequence.
Step 2: Choose your drip marketing campaign objectives
What result are you trying to achieve with your email drip sequence?
To get the highest ROI, choose a specific goal before building your sequence and map out where it fits into the customer journey.
It won’t always be transactional or a true “conversion”, especially if you sell higher priced items that require much deliberation and multiple decision makers, such as enterprise software or real estate.
Here are some examples of non-transactional objectives for drip sequences:
Teach subscribers how to make the most of a new feature
Help subscribers understand the complexities of a certain issue
Qualify (or disqualify) subscribers and help them see why your product or service is a fit for them
Step 3: Set up your marketing automation triggers
While different automation tools will have different processes for setting up your email automation triggers, there are some things to keep in mind no matter what platform you’re using.
First, the trigger starts with the email marketing landing page or opt-in form. Whether it is a pop-up window or its own landing page, if you don’t get this part right, you won’t have any subscribers. Be sure to set expectations with your copy here.
Email opt-in forms are a transaction. Informing potential subscribers about what they’ll be receiving in exchange for providing their email address sets expectations before they join your email list, which in turn boosts email engagement.
After building your triggers, the most important thing you can do is test them internally to make sure everything is working and to catch any typos or grammatical errors you may have missed.
Once they’re up and running, your email metrics (which we’ll cover briefly below) will help inform you of any changes you need to make in your sequences.
Step 4: Craft your email content
Your drip email campaign content will be determined by your campaign objectives and your customers’ problems that need solving.
Subject lines are the first thing people see and can make or break your open rates, so make sure yours are compelling. They should be short so they don’t get cut off, relevant, personalized and clearly state what’s inside the email.
Many email marketing tools come with pre-made drip campaign templates. These can be a great starting point when designing your emails, but make sure all your drip sequences have your business’s own branding and that it’s consistent so they’re easily recognizable and memorable.
Below are some more best practices when creating content for your drip sequences:
Make it skimmable. Your email content should be skimmable and easy to read. Shorter can be better, but don’t shy away from longer content if it’s helpful or necessary. Just be sure to format it in a way that keeps people scrolling (e.g. breaking up big blocks of text for people who read emails on phones).
Use a clear CTA. A clear but non-intrusive call to action (CTA) that leads your subscribers to the next step of their customer journey helps boost conversion rates. This is especially true for promotional emails where the goal is for the subscriber to make a purchase.
Conduct A/B testing. Doing this for both your subject lines and CTA button texts can provide helpful data on what resonates with subscribers and what tweaks need to be made to optimize future drip campaigns.
Include an unsubscribe link. These are both required by law for businesses according to the CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR and decreases the chances of subscribers reporting your emails as spam.
Here’s how these best practices could translate to a drip campaign:
Subject: Welcome to [brand name], [name]
Thank you for starting your 7-day free trial!
Here are some links to help you get started:
Reach out to customer support at any time if you have questions, or just respond to this email.
Subject: [Name], you have [days] left on your trial
Your trial ends in [days].
Thanks for trying [product]! To make the most out of your time left:
Get [discount] if you subscribe before your trial ends.
Step 5: Monitor your email drip campaign
There are a variety of metrics to keep an eye on when it comes to email marketing. They all tell a different piece of the story and are impacted by different variables, so keep context in mind when reviewing your drip sequence performance.
Your marketing team will most likely be responsible for your email marketing strategy, but it’s important to get feedback from other parts of your organization as well. For example, your emails may be converting well and driving a high volume leads for your sales team.
Check in with them to ensure the leads are high quality and leverage sales reps’ insights to optimize the campaigns as you collectively learn more about your audience.
6 email drip campaign examples and why they work
Guides can be helpful, but the best way to learn is often by example. Below are six effective drip campaigns that address different stages of the customer journey.
1. Welcome drip sequence
The welcome email is the first email that a new subscriber or lead receives when they sign up to your email list. It can also be the first email a new customer receives after making a purchase.
These emails play an important role for two reasons:
They set the tone for future interactions with your brand
They’re a make or break moment as, based on the content, subscribers usually decide whether or not they’ll continue engaging with your emails or product
The welcome drip sequence is incredibly important for businesses that offer a free trial or freemium model whose end goal is to turn new users into paying customers. In this case, getting them to sign up is only half the battle.
Subsequent onboarding emails focused on getting them to use your product consistently so that they turn into a paying customer is an important next step.
Below is a great example of a welcome email done right:
Smartsheet, a collaborative and work management tool, uses drip campaigns to educate its users on how to use the product.
This welcome email offers educational material, useful resources and the opportunity to directly contact the team. These three things help eliminate any doubt regarding how valuable the tool is and instills confidence that they’ll be met with support should any issues arise.
The language is informal but also not too relaxed, signifying a professional yet friendly attitude.
This type of email could be followed by a drip sequence including:
Case studies showing results Smartsheets has gotten for businesses similar to the subscriber’s
How-to guides and tutorials
A Q&A of existing customers’ problems
A discount or other offer for a complementary product
2. Lead nurturing campaigns
To effectively build relationships and move subscribers towards a sale, engagement should be your number one goal. The selling will come, but only once your subscribers feel seen, heard and understood.
Here’s an example of a nurturing email drip campaign:
This first email is intended to engage customers. In just a few words, the writer establishes authority (“one of them brought in over hundreds of thousands in revenue”) and involves readers in the learning process.
The email continues by offering three examples of sales pages.
The following day, the second email goes out. The writer wants to show readers that they care about their opinion, which makes them feel seen and heard.
The author continues by providing educational value by explaining their workflow and includes a well-placed but subtle CTA with a link to learn more.
In the third email, the author goes above and beyond to identify with readers’ problems. They start by skillfully showcasing the problems their students are having.
By acknowledging the struggle they may be experiencing, the author shows empathy, which helps build connection.
It ends with the author promoting their latest product, which promises to solve the reader’s specific problem.
3. Promotional sequence
Promotional email sequences are the type of drip campaign you want to send when launching a new product/feature or are running a certain promotion on an existing one.
There’s no specific drip campaign template to follow when it comes to these types of emails. It all comes down to your audience and what resonates best with them.
Some businesses will tap into readers’ emotions through scarcity (like in the “while supplies last” example above) while others will simply inform you about their sale.
The most effective promotional sequences, however, remind subscribers of their problem and how the product or service you are promoting solves it.
The example above is effective because people may not even realize how bad their coffee is prior to reading this email. Drinking coffee made from “the world’s highest quality green coffees” and roasted to order is most likely a better option than what they’re currently drinking.
By highlighting the problem and providing the solution combined with a discount, Detour makes engaging with this email an easy decision.
4. Upsell or cross-sell drip sequences
Asking customers to make another purchase right after they just made one may seem like a difficult thing to do, but this is where upselling and cross-selling comes in.
Doing so in a tactful way can increase customer retention, offset customer acquisition costs and create loyal customers (assuming your products solve a genuine pain point).
Avoid mentioning additional products in any “thank you” email or purchase confirmation emails, but you can send campaigns to users on specific occasions to prompt upsells.
Harry’s, a men’s shaving company, does this well in the example below:
In this case, the new subscriber has purchased new shaving razors. After a “Thank you for your order” email, the company made sure to cross-sell relevant products that would enhance their shaving experience.
The third email in this sequence like this could be a follow-up email where you offer a small discount on these products to further lead the reader towards making another purchase.
5. Cart abandonment sequences and re-engagement emails
For ecommerce businesses, setting up a cart abandonment email (as well as abandoned checkout) campaign is a foolproof way to recover otherwise lost revenue from interested shoppers.
Here’s an example from luxury bean bag brand Moon Pod:
The shopper has left two items in their cart and not only is Moon Pod reminding them to return, they’re also offering 10% off as an incentive.
If the shopper doesn’t engage here, the next email in the drip campaign could up the ante and increase urgency. For example, Moon Pod may choose to increase the discount from 10% to 15%, or put a time limit on how long the offer lasts to incite action.
Always personalize your abandoned cart emails with the customer’s first name to help establish a connection. To get ahead of any questions, encourage customers to reach out anytime by replying to the email.
For ecommerce and non-ecommerce businesses alike, re-engagement emails can also be a great alternative to abandoned cart emails to try to win back inactive subscribers. In this email, Nord VPN is trying to re-engage a user after they’ve let their subscription expire.
If the reader doesn’t bite, NordVPN may follow up with an email a few days later noting that the deal is expiring soon (i.e. the five day countdown is nearing an end).
Re-engagement emails also help you separate truly inactive subscribers from those that may engage again. This process is part of good email list hygiene, as the fewer inactive subscribers you have, the better your email health and email deliverability will be.
6. Renewal sequence
Renewal reminders are helpful for upselling customers from a free trial to a paid plan. It’s also great for establishing trust with paying customers by reminding them that they can expect an upcoming charge.
This example from NordVPN is brief and straightforward. It outlines the product benefits (which helps tap into the pain points and problems it originally solved for the user) and has one simple CTA to avoid distractions.
Feel free to include contact details for your support team or information on lesser known features that you know the customer may be interested in based on past behavior and user actions.
Email drip sequences can be an effective way to build brand awareness, improve the customer experience and drive predictable sales based on past campaign performance.
By analyzing the customer journey, you can design different types of drip campaigns that offer relevant content that moves subscribers smoothly through the buying journey.
The best email drip sequences are refined based on performance and customer behavior, so make sure to consistently optimize your emails as your business and audience evolves.
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