Automations. Flows. Triggers. Drip campaigns.
Whatever term you prefer to use for them, creating automated emails is absolutely necessary for any brand that wants to reach customers. Automated emails will lead to better engagement than ad hoc emails due to their personalization and relevance to your subscribers. In this piece, I will break down which types of emails you should focus on as you get started and also which ones you need while you’re scaling. To simplify, I’ve created four different categories:
- Level 0 = Table Stakes
- Level 1 = Necessary for Growth
- Level 2 = Necessary for Scale
- Level 3 = Necessary to Dominate
I'll go over which types of emails fit into each category and then illustrate how these emails can be applied to your brand with real-life examples.
Level 0 = Table Stakes Emails
Table stakes emails are absolutely necessary, no matter the stage of your company.
Confirmation (Double Opt-in)
As new users sign up for your emails, you will need to confirm that they’ve sent you an accurate email address and that they want to receive your emails. Double opt-in is a necessary step to take in order to keep your list clean and improve deliverability by ensuring your list is full of valid, engaged emails. If you send emails to European subscribers, it’s also the law. Don’t try anything too special with this email. Keep it simple and focused on the main purpose: getting subscribers to confirm their email address. Subscribers expect this and will likely convert a majority of the time, assuming you send it immediately after they have signed up.
Welcome Series: Primary Products and Features
The first email to your subscribers will likely be the most engaging email you send. Expect high open and click rates as your subscribers have just recently signed up and are excited to see what you have to offer. Whether you are in e-commerce, SaaS, fintech, or any other industry, this is the time to show off your best products and features. Use an easily digestible template and try to get some clicks onto your site. For a good example of this type of email, let’s take a look at this one from Truecaller. Here we see three main features with nice imagery and simple explanations (from ReallyGoodEmails.com):
For another example, here’s a welcome email from WildSam that gives a concise summary of what they do, what they sell, and the brand’s identity (from ReallyGoodEmails.com):
This email should be all about the products left in the customer’s cart, not about you. Don’t overdesign this one, as elaborate design features may distract from the email’s sole purpose. Be clear about why your customers have received it, and it will convert to revenue better than any other email since it is a personalized message to a very interested customer.
For example, Dot & Bo has an abandoned cart email that’s lengthy but effective. It combines a few good techniques: showing the exact product in the customer’s cart, a discounted price, and other items that may be of interest, as well as a referral program. Although not all of these categories are necessary for this type, Dot & Bo does a nice job combining them effectively (from ReallyGoodEmails.com):
Level 1 = Necessary for Growth
This category describes emails that you don’t necessarily need on day one but will help drive engagement and revenue as you gain a little momentum.
Welcome Series: Founder/Employee Note
I was hesitant to include this email in level one, as some founders can turn this email into a story about themselves, which isn’t always relevant to the reader. Still, founder’s notes can be effective in explaining their vision for the company and why today is a great time to be subscribed to this email list. Like all emails, don’t overdo it, don’t make it too long, and remember to benefit the reader. Also, keep in mind that sometimes a founder’s note might not be the best representation of your brand; someone like a head of customer service or a product manager can also speak really well on behalf of your company.
As an example, I chose this founder’s note from Finimize because it really is about the reader. It’s personalized (e.g., “You’ve been reading Finimize quite a while”) and focuses on the features that help the reader, not just on the founder himself (from ReallyGoodEmails.com):
Browse Abandonment (Reminder)
Some brands call this type of email a reminder or page abandonment email. The gist of the message is, “Hey! Remember this cool product you looked at? It’s still for sale!” Sometimes this email is just as effective as a cart abandonment email despite the user showing less intent to purchase since they have only viewed a product and not added it to their cart. In some cases, this email can even drive more revenue due to greater scale, as more people browse products than add them to their cart.
Level 2 = Necessary for Scale
These types of emails really elevate your brand from a startup to a well-established one that expresses a sophisticated understanding of customer needs.
The product recommendation email can be complex and intimidating for some brands due to its analytical nature, but it is highly effective. The simplest way to use this type of email would be in the post-purchase series after a customer has explicitly shown their preferences. You could also send a recommendation to site visitors who are frequent browsers but don’t purchase often.
In order to effectively deploy product recommendations in emails, you’ll need to run some analyses to find complementary products. Typically, you will find a correlation between certain products that are purchased together. Many CDPs and ESPs can do this analysis for you if you lack the internal bandwidth, so check with your account manager to see what’s possible for your company.
Keep in mind that you can also effectively market to customers based on what they’re not interested in. For example, if you run an organic foods market, and a user has never clicked on a coffee product, show them some tea!
In the example below, Vivino, the world’s largest wine marketplace, uses this tactic super effectively. They send you an email focused on a wine that is of the same style of the one you scanned with their mobile app. I never added this wine to my cart, or even browsed it on the site, but I’ve exhibited behavior that suggests I would like it (created by the author):
Winback: 90-180-Day Reminders
This email series is designed to reduce customer churn. Even if you send a daily or weekly email, it’s nice to personalize a message to customers who haven’t ordered anything in a while. Note also that the 90-180-day window is just a basic guideline. To determine the best timeframe for your business, analyze your customers to understand the typical order frequency and average order value.
This email from Typeform is meant for those who have not engaged with the brand in a while. They use humor and humility in this very simple message to explain why the reader is receiving the email, giving it a personalized and relevant feel.
Discount to Reorder
If your brand uses discounts to incentivize ordering, sending an email with a discount enclosed soon after a first purchase is a great way to get the customer to make a second order. If your business is subscription-based but also sells ad hoc items, you might find this strategy particularly useful as a customer in the subscription program is unlikely to shop for ad hoc items without a prompt. You can expect this email, which is going to your most engaged audience, to perform almost as well from a revenue standpoint as an abandoned cart email.
Depending on your business model, you may consider running a referral program. This program can best be managed through email by sending referral options to your customers shortly after a successful order. This referral messaging can also be included in your regular marketing emails.
Level 3 = Necessary for Domination
Finally, this last category is for those who have a robust email program, a team focused on CRM, and are entering the forefront of their industry.
Welcome Series: What to Expect Going Forward
Once you’ve established the basics of a welcome series (featured products, founder’s note), it’s time to think about how you will wrap up the welcome series to your customers. An email describing what to expect going forward is one of the best routes.
People typically unsubscribe from emails for one of three main reasons:
- They are receiving too many emails
- They are not receiving relevant content
- They are receiving unexpected content
If a subscriber has gone through the welcome series and hasn’t purchased anything, it’s time to set expectations. Explain that they will be receiving emails at a particular frequency, with information like news, promotions, or other types of email that you send consistently. By clearly telling a customer what they can expect to hear from your brand and how often they can expect to hear it, you proactively pre-empt subscribers wanting to opt out. If customers know what they’re getting when they sign up, you can limit the factors that drive unsubscribing.
Post-Purchase: Education of Brand/Product
If your product isn’t naturally intuitive to use, you may want to follow up with directions. Not only does this help the customer to make use of the product, it gives you a chance to show off a fun email design and make the customer feel excited about their order.
For example, Cirkul, a subscription water company, has a unique bottle that requires some basic education before use. This email has a video embedded as well as some brief descriptions of the product that is on its way to the consumer (created by the author):
Recurring Email With Your Core Offering
If you’re in e-commerce, this email may contain your newest and best-selling products. If you’re in content, this email may be a bit like a newsletter. Whatever your core offering is as a company, figure out how to automate its production and get it out to your customers on a recurring basis.
No perfect formula exists for email marketing. Ultimately, the most important factor is to have your subscribers feel that the emails they get from you are relevant, personalized and effective. You can do this in a variety of ways, but it’s important to go through the categories above and ensure your company is on the right track.