Woman looking at laptop screen that has the initial step of composing an email on the screen.
PHOTO: sitthiphong

Email automation is a strategy supported by marketing technology software. It enables marketers and brands to send automated emails based on triggers, audience segmentation, pre-configured roles and prospect attributes.

The global email marketing industry is estimated to be worth $7.5 billion and is projected to reach $17.9 billion by 2027. Intuit, a global public technology platform that makes TurboTax, QuickBooks, Mint and Credit Karma, acquired email automation provider Mailchimp for $12 billion this month. Mailchimp also serves as a customer engagement and marketing platform.

Email automation often serves as a capability within marketing automation platforms. In fact, more than a few of the major marketing cloud platforms have acquired marketing automation platforms in the last 10 years, including Salesforce-Pardot, Oracle-Eloqua and Adobe-Marketo.

How Does Email Automation Work Within Marketing Automation?

Some use "email automation" interchangeably with "marketing automation." With marketing automation, marketers build recipes that trigger actions to specific audiences based on customer and prospect segmentations, according to Kobi Gamliel, head of user marketing at Wix. Email automations include email triggers or campaigns sent automatically to pre-configured roles. Ultimately, this means marketers send automated emails based on customer or prospect actions, he added.

Marketers generate the email’s content, and the software system sends the actual email. Marketing automation software allows marketers to build in pre-determined times to send these emails and incorporate a variety of sending rules. Marketing automation has become synonymous with sending automated emails.

Email is one of the channels triggered by marketing automation tools, according to Gamliel. He cited the example of a business owner operating their ecommerce business and creating a recipe of different actions that lead to certain triggers. This increases engagement with their brand and ultimately increases conversions.

“The merchant can decide that the trigger is an abandoned cart or a price drop and pre-set that every time these two activities are happening,” he said. “An action is triggered whether it’s sending an email, sending SMSs, launching a popup. These all work within marketing automation tools.”

Many integrate email automation with marketing automation tools and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Email responses correspond with the view of the customer and their issue, according to Jonathan D'Sousa, vice president, product for social commerce cloud and service cloud at Emplifi. “It also helps for reporting purposes, tracking ROI and identifying trends within your customer emails,” D’Sousa added.

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Examples of Email Automation

Marketers tailor many different email automation recipes for different types of business segments. Gamliel cited the following examples of email automation that businesses incorporate in their marketing strategies:

  • Ecommerce:
    • Thank you for registering
    • Abandoned cart messages
    • Price drop alerts
    • Back to stock notifications
    • Order funnel (order completed, order is ready, order is being delivered, order arrived, product review)
  • Restaurants: Thank you for registering, review order/experience
  • Beauty: Thank you for registering, tell us more about your needs pre-first phone call, class/session reminders

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

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 noted. “Initially, email automation may be automated responses that customers receive when they initiate conversations with a brand.”

He cited an example: “We received your email. We’ll get back to you.” Email automation allows marketers to send automated personal milestone messages, discount codes or confirm customers' enrollment in a loyalty program.

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Email Automation Types

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

“I don’t think that we need to cluster our marketing tools into different types,” he added. "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 the type of marketing needed to execute for customers within their journey: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referrals, Revenues.”

D’Sousa said his company’s capabilities can break down email automation into types: for example, receiving an inbound email, using natural language processing (NLP) to identify the issues, coding it into the customer’s CRM, using rules and a goodwill calculator to craft a response. The next actions: sending that response directly to the consumer, for a fully automated process, or sending that response to an agent for quality assurance.

Differences Between Email Automation and Email Marketing

Is email automation a part of an email marketing strategy? Email marketing is not part of email automations, according to Gamliel. In marketing there are different types of tactics: SEO, paid Ads, social media and email marketing and marketing automations, which are separate.

“Email marketing is campaign-based emails that are sent to large groups of subscribers as opposed to email automation which is triggered and sent to a specific user or a group of users that falls under a certain criteria,” Gamliel said. “I would also emphasize that both of these overall actions require different types of professional experts. Being an email marketer doesn’t necessarily mean you are also an expert in marketing automation or email automation.”

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Email Automation Challenges

Privacy and regulations such as GDPR and CCPA pose certain challenges to the future of email automation. For example, upcoming Apple iOS15 changes and the difficulties to use cookies on website activities per changing Google rules will limit the ability to understand the user behavior and then provide a customized email automation experience based on specific activities, 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 added.

Email Automation Benefits

What are some benefits of email automation as it relates to marketing strategy?

SMBs need to take advantage of automated workflow processes both from a management and growth perspective which will make their business more efficient. “When there are great tools today that seamlessly integrate with a website or online assets that can trigger email automation,” Gamliel said. “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.”

Email Automation Vendor Examples

Some email automation vendors include:

  • Act-On
  • SDL
  • Oracle-Eloqua
  • Salesforce-Pardot
  • Adobe-Marketo
  • ActiveCampaign
  • HubSpot
  • SAS marketing automation
  • SAP marketing automation
  • Mailchimp
  • Sendoso