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Turbocharge Your Marketing Strategy With Email Automation

13 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
People get billions of emails each day. Learn how email automation can help you stand out from the crowd and make campaigns a breeze.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect changes in the current state of content marketing.

Email marketing is big business. It offers brands an easy way to reach customers and prospects. It can also be quite cost-effective, with Litmus reporting an average email ROI of $36 per dollar spent. 

Email automation uses marketing technology software to reduce the work required to reach prospects. It lets brands send automated emails based on triggers, audience segmentation, preconfigured roles and prospect attributes.

Experts say the global email marketing industry, which had an estimated worth of $7.5 billion in 2020, will more than double by 2027, reaching $17.9 billion. 

As such, it’s not surprising that email automation providers are making a big splash, with Intuit acquiring Mailchimp for $12 billion in 2021. In fact, many major cloud platforms have acquired marketing automation in the last 10 years, including Pardot by Salesforce, Oracle Eloqua and Adobe Marketo.

How Does Email Automation Work Within Marketing Automation?

Some people use "email automation" and "marketing automation" interchangeably. According to Jacob Kobi Gamliel, head of user marketing at Wix, marketing automation allows brands to use trigger actions to engage with specific segments of your audience. Ultimately, this means marketers send automated emails based on customer or prospect actions, Gamliel explained.

Let's use an example. You have someone perusing your website. They add an item to their cart but then leave without making a purchase. 

Your marketing team has made this action — abandoning a shopping cart — a trigger action. They’ve determined that, 24 hours later, this customer will automatically get an email reminder encouraging them to check out. They may even offer a small discount to increase engagement odds.

Marketers have full control over these triggers and can build out rules for them to follow, such as email send times. Once triggers are in place, brands can sit back and relax; the automation software will take care of the hard work.

Omnichannel Strategies Within Marketing Automation

Email automation is extremely popular. However, automation software can also tie in chatbots, SMS messages, traditional mail and in-app notifications. 

When it comes to setting up triggers beyond email, Gamliel explained, “An action is triggered whether it’s sending an email, sending SMSes or launching a pop-up. These all work within marketing automation tools.”

Built-in analytics or support for third-party platforms allows brands to track responses to marketing messages across all platforms. Litmus stresses the importance of analytics and A/B testing for improving the effectiveness of marketing automation.

Many integrate marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. According to Jonathan D’Sousa, Vice President, Product at Emplifi, email responses directly relate to the customer’s views and their potential issues. “It also helps for reporting purposes, tracking ROI and identifying trends within your customer emails,” he added.

Examples of Email Automation in Action

Marketers craft a variety of email automation triggers for a range of business segments. Gamliel cited the following examples of email automation in business marketing strategies:

  • Ecommerce: Abandoned cart, related available products
  • Restaurants: Thank you for registering, order review, post-dinner feedback
  • Beauty: Thank you for registering, tell us more about your needs, class/session reminders

“Service providers can find many ways to use email automation for various thank you emails, rate the experience, share their experience for a coupon, friend referrals and more,” Gamliel said.

Brands could also use mail automation for: IT support ticketing, long-lost customer campaigns, promotion reminders, curated content emails and much more. 

D’Sousa noted that, for his company, email automation triggers personalized email responses to customer inquiries. "There are different levels of email automation that a brand can achieve,” he said. 

At first, these emails may be automated responses to customers who initiate conversations with a brand. “We received your email. We’ll get back to you,” D’Sousa used as example. However, as you collect more information about your audience, these responses can become more personalized. In turn, customers will see your brand as responsive and hands-on, increasing satisfaction.

Different Types of Email Automation

Each business needs to understand the type of customer journey they want to provide, and then tailor email automation based on that journey, Gamliel said.

“I don’t think that we need to cluster our marketing tools into different types,” he claimed. "I think it’s important to look at our entire marketing as a customer journey and provide tools based on the users’ intent and different types of marketing tactics. I would use the breakdown of the AARRR pirate model to break down the type of marketing needed to execute for customers within their journey: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referrals and Revenues.”

D’Sousa said his company’s software's capabilities can segment email automation into types. For example, receiving an inbound email, using natural language processing (NLP) to identify issues, coding into the customer’s CRM and using rules and a goodwill calculator to craft a response. The tool then decides on the next action, such as sending that response directly to the consumer for a fully automated process or sending that response to an agent for quality assurance.

Email automation is best employed alongside other forms of customer engagement, such as social media, chatbots, ticketing systems and app-based or SMS marketing. This gives consumers as many options as possible for engaging with brands, allowing them to pick the medium that best suits their needs.

Email Automation Challenges

Privacy and regulations, such as GDPR and the CCPA, pose certain challenges to the future of email automation. For example, Apple's iOS15 changes and Google's rules about how websites can use cookies will limit the ability for marketers to track and understand user behavior, according to Gamliel.

“If marketers are unable to know which email action customers or potential customers did on an email — open, click, engage — it will be more challenging to optimize the journey and the email automation,” he said.

Keeping Up Engagement 

SMS marketing platform Emotive warns that declining engagement rates can indicate an issue with automated marketing campaigns. Just because a user consents to receive emails does not mean they'll open those messages every time.

If a brand sends out too many promotional messages, they run the risk of those emails getting marked as spam. They might also find conversion rates dropping due to too few interactions with customers. 

Staying Personal With Customers

One common mistake marketers make is relying too much on automation as a way of sending out bulk emails. Brands that commit this faux pas could drive away prospects who feel like they’re just a name on a list.

Modern email automation makes it possible to add personal touches to emails. You can include the customer’s first name somewhere in the email, such as the subject line or intro. You can also add in personal details to the body of the message. 

For instance, if you run an automotive-focused business, and you know what type of car your customer has, you can reference the make or model in the body of the message, signifying that the information is relevant and personal. 

Preventing Confusion From Outdated Info

Another common pitfall highlighted by Emotive is brands using outdated messaging. It's essential to make sure all email campaigns are up-to-date. If your prices or product line change, update your emails. Re-check content each year to ensure it’s still relevant and timely. 

If you track the performance of your campaigns and refresh (or retire) the ones that perform poorly, you can reduce the risk of frustrating customers and increase your ROI.

Related Article: 10 Common Email Marketing Mistakes That Are Easy to Fix

Email Automation Benefits

Email automation can make marketing a more efficient process — that's why it appeals to so many brands.

Gamliel said, “When there are great tools today that seamlessly integrate with a website or online assets that can trigger email automation, it’s a hands down must for business owners to incorporate in their marketing strategy. It is a tool I believe needs to be implemented across every business today in order to engage with customers and grow.”

Liridona Lubishanti of marketing platform Apsis echoed the value of email automation, saying, "Marketers are multitasking masters, and part of the reason they can get so much done during the week is the rise of marketing automation." A series of carefully crafted emails can quickly form an important part of a brand’s sales funnel. 

Automation Keeps Customers Happy

Emails are less intrusive than phone calls and texts. Customers can ignore email messages or read them at their leisure. As such, automated emails as part of your sales funnel can improve customer satisfaction. 

Automation tools also reduce the burden email places on a prospect's inbox. With manual communication, there's the risk of someone mistakenly sending the same email more than once, or an overzealous salesperson sending messages too often. Automation tracks every single message to ensure it’s sending the right type of content and an appropriate volume of messages.

Automation Makes Email More Personal

Automation makes it much easier to send out personalized messages. Lubishanti explained, "Smart organizations use marketing automation emails to segment customers into groups. This allows businesses to craft different messages and content based on those different groups, which will usually be segmented based on their location, demographic or purchase history."

By personalizing messaging, organizations have a better chance of reaching customers with content that interests them. "Email automation can allow you to work smarter while it works harder," added Lubishanti. This strategy should ultimately lead to increased revenue and ROI. 

Email Automation Vendors

You will find a lot of email automation platforms on the market today. Some well-known examples include:

Learning Opportunities

  • Pardot by Salesforce
  • HubSpot
  • Adobe Marketo
  • Oracle Eloqua
  • Mailchimp
  • Sendoso
  • ActiveCampaign
  • SAS

These platforms allow brands to import mailing lists, build campaigns and set up automation triggers. They also allow you to connect with other software — such as a CRM software — to import contacts, connect with scheduling systems, monitor analytics and more.

Tips for Getting Started With Email Automation

Once you  have an email automation strategy in place, it’s easy for marketers to focus on refreshing content and improving the overall sales funnel.
Startup, however, may take a little time to perfect. Consider some of the tips below to ensure you start your email automation off on the right foot. 

Ensure Smooth Data Integration 

As mentioned previously, most email automation platforms allow for easy integration with CRM systems. The biggest challenge marketers face, however, is ensuring that integration goes smoothly. Data that’s pulled in incorrectly — or not pulled in at all — could lead to sloppy or mistake-filled email campaigns. 

Cartloop, an SMS marketing platform, highlighted the importance of getting personalization right when it comes to email. Their marketing experts stressed that it's not enough to rely on simple tags, such as {FirstName} and {LastName}, because if a user doesn't fill in these fields (or fills them in incorrectly), the lack of personalization will be obvious.

If you sanitize data before sending it through automation, you can reduce the risk of problems. 

Related Article: 6 Personalization Mistakes to Avoid for Better Digital Experiences

Find the Right Balance for Email Volume

There's no hard and fast rule for how many emails you should send to customers. And customer responses to these campaigns will depend on their demographics, interests and the types of products at hand. 

If a customer purchased an item, they’re typically eager to hear from that company. Dean Dutro, Associate VP, E-Commerce Marketing at Worth eCommerce, said people want to know "when is the product going to arrive, did they actually receive the order and how do they use the product?”

Brand’s have a window of opportunity immediately after a sale to send relevant emails that could also include up-sells or special offers to incentivize future purchases.

After that window, brands must find a balance in the number of emails they send with a goal to stay top-of-mind without causing frustration. Sticking to a schedule, such as sending out weekly promotion updates, could offer a solution. 

Guide People Through the Customer Journey

It can take a long time to turn a mailing list subscriber into a customer, and marketers must maintain interest and relevance in the meantime.  

Dutro said, "Building the relationship doesn't have to be hard, it's really about how many touchpoints you can get in, what messages are you creating for those touchpoints and sending them at the right time."

He added, "A lot of people focus on the acquisition side of things and conversion rates." However, this can be counter-productive. Instead, it’s with relationship-building where you can start to generate a profit. 

Brands that are best positioned to succeed are the ones that offer high-quality products and services and promote them through relevant and valuable marketing messages.

Keep Your Marketing Messages Authentic

According to tech research firm Radicati, 319.6 billion emails are sent each day, a number that’s expected to surpass 333 billion by the end of 2022. The average person sends and receives more than 120 business emails each day.

Another report from 2022 revealed that a 20% – 40% open rate is average for commercial emails. Therefore, if you want people to read your messages, they’ll need to stand out.

Most people don’t want straight advertisements in their inbox. They want fun, friendly content. Funny or interesting emails that mimic what someone might get from a friend are more likely to see high open and engagement rates compared to dry or promotional-only messages. 

Capitalize on this trend by including personalized messages in your campaigns. Look to user-generated content, such as photos or videos. Link messaging to topical references or current affairs. 

Some brands will need to maintain a more serious air. However, marketers can always use appropriate friendliness, personalization and relevance to provide a better, more authentic email experience. 

Get Feedback From Your Customers

Social media has allowed people to connect with brands in ways that their parents and grandparents could not. Even the biggest companies have representatives on Twitter or Facebook to answer questions and engage with audiences. 

Don’t have a social media presence? If not, getting to know your customers is still critical. Their feedback is what will help you optimize your campaigns and improve performance metrics. 

To gather feedback, you can:

  • Send out email surveys
  • Send out post-purchase review forms
  • Ask for post-interaction ratings using a star system
  • Encourage customers to send in questions or comments

The better you know your audience and what they want, the better you can serve them. 

Refresh Your Campaigns Regularly

No form of marketing is entirely set it and forget it. From PPC to social media and email marketing, it’s important to review campaigns regularly. 

Information about your brand might change. You might increase prices or introduce a new sales line. Maybe you’ve opened a new department to focus entirely on customer service. It’s essential to refresh your content to reflect these changes. 

Consider cultural and societal changes, too. Our world is constantly shifting to evolve. Our ideas about what’s “good” and “bad” in terms of marketing can change. Stay on top of these changes to make your marketing messages relevant.

Final Thoughts

Email marketing is a must in this digital age – but it doesn’t have to mean continuous work for marketers. Email automation, which you’ll often find in marketing automation software, allows you to set up triggers and target the right customers at the right time. The result is happier customers, higher performance metrics and an increased ROI.

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