9 Ways to Make Your Email Marketing Automation More Effective

How do you craft an automated email that’s timely, but not creepy? We have answers.
Mae Rice
August 14, 2020
Updated: November 10, 2020
Mae Rice
August 14, 2020
Updated: November 10, 2020

If you go shopping on the Bombas website, then get distracted and abandon your digital cartful of socks, the direct-to-consumer brand doesn’t shrug and move on.

Instead, it fires off a timely email.

“NO BOMBAS LEFT BEHIND,” it declares in large font, layered over an image of an item you left in your cart.

In smaller letters, it explains that for every item you buy, Bombas donates an item to organizations serving the homeless community — so if you finish your purchase, it’s a “win win.”

Karla Fernández, a journalist and entrepreneur, recently tweeted a screenshot with an applause emoji, writing that the email is “funny, to the point, and serves a purpose without being annoying.”

It’s also a case-study in email marketing automation: sending customers emails triggered by their digital behavior. It’s a fresh, time-sensitive form of email targeting, based not on who the customer is — their gender, say, or their age bracket or purchase history — but what they’re doing at the moment.

“I’ve always been a huge proponent of automation,” Luz Ramirez, Bombas’ director of retention, told Built In. “It really is meeting the customer where they are.”

Most companies have the staple email automations — a welcome email right after a customer shares their email address, or a thank you email after a purchase — but abandoned cart automations, in particular, pay clear dividends.

Even if only a few people go through an abandoned cart series, those emails “have such high conversion rates that you’re bound to start making some revenue,” Sam Lagerstrom, customer success manager at email automation software company Drip, told Built In.

So, how can companies build out and optimize their email automation systems “without being annoying?” We asked three experts in the field.

 

Start automating email early in your company’s life cycle, even if the first automations are simple

luz ramirez email marketing automation

 

Luz Ramirez

Director of Retention at Bombas

 

I do think automations from the get-go can be very helpful, once you have some customer information and you see a need. The data kind of tells you when you need it. We really look at our customer funnel, and see where in the customer journey they are dropping off — where they’re converting a little less or having more friction — and then we add automation there, to see if that helps. So for example, at Bombas, we have a two-email abandoned cart series, and we were seeing customers open and click through even the second email at high rates. So we tested adding a third message to that series. We thought, maybe our customers just need more time to think through their purchase. We ended up seeing a 23 percent lift in total revenue, just from adding that third email.

It’s never too late or too early to do email automation, though. Just make sure that your data is in a good place before you start — without good data, automations are very difficult to do.

sam lagerstrom email marketing automation

 

Sam Lagerstrom

Customer Success Manager at Drip

 

The cost of email marketing is just so much lower than a lot of the other things that you can do. It’s not a substitute for customer acquisition — you still need to find people somehow. But if you’re spending all your money on acquisition, and then retargeting new prospects with Facebook Pixel and spending a lot of money on Google AdWords — that’s just going to add up really fast. Why not get some ads out, have an email capture on your website. If a customer gives you their email, that’s a pretty big step toward conversion. If you only have time for a few basic automations, that is still so, so valuable.

monica converse email marketing automation

 

Monica Converse

Director of Growth at Bloomscape

 

Email automation could feel overwhelming, but there are ways you can incorporate it that are not very heavy lifts. It can be as simple as creating separate email welcome streams for people who have and haven’t made a first purchase. I think any brand can start early, and then you can get better and smarter as you grow in scale, about adding more things into that journey — whether that’s unique landing pages with different offers, or addressing different customers differently, based on their interests and purchase history. Maybe they only ever buy low-light plants, or pet-friendly plants, and you want to recommend more of the same. The sky’s the limit.

 

Look for key features — not just a low price — in your automation software

Converse: We’re in the process of onboarding Iterable right now as our new service provider, and they offer a lot of turnkey ways to build flows. We’re able to create experiences that include things like lookalike audiences, and retargeting on other channels for a specific consumer segment that we’re going after. It’s very easy to get your channels — like email, or SMS — into silos. But the right software can help you think about the customer experience more holistically, and think, “Hey, this is a conversation, and maybe sometimes we’re talking to a customer in different channels.”

Lagerstrom: Having really dynamic email trigger capabilities is incredibly important. You want to know that you’ve got the data you need to scale and trigger emails intelligently, stored in a way that makes sense. Maybe you’re a SaaS company that wants to set up a pricing page abandonment email — like someone’s gotten far enough to look at what we cost and play with our calculator, but then they left the page. You should be able to do that.

The other key thing is the ability to dynamically populate emails. In some software, you can throw in someone’s first name dynamically, but it doesn’t go much beyond that. If you can show and hide whole sections of emails, based on events and properties and tags, that makes your life a lot easier. You can start sending segmented emails within one email, instead of crafting 10 at the same time.

Read More About Email MarketingThe Secret to Better Email Marketing

 

Automation and personalization aren’t mutually exclusive, but emails should probably involve one or both

Ramirez: We typically see a higher revenue rate [on automated emails] because they’re meeting the customer at the point where they are. The batch-and-blast kind of email — on that end, audience segmentation is really key to getting that to work well for the customer. It should never feel like you’re receiving a company’s full catalog; we want to make sure that you are receiving something that is relevant to you based on your past actions.

We’ve done a ton of testing around our automations and what kind of messaging works for our customers too. We see that personalization works really well within automations. We’re surfacing your own data to you. So you left something in your cart, and we’re showing you exactly what you left.

Lagerstrom: A lot of people will do mass emailing because the perception is, “I just want to reach everybody right now.” And automation is that slow trickle. But the people who rely on mass emails — you get the cash in the moment, because you’re reaching people’s inboxes. But the cash grab is just not always worth it long-term.

 

Consider creative automations

Lagerstrom: One thing that we’ve been talking about automating, at Drip, is what we call “the fulfillment gap” — the time after purchase, before you actually receive what you bought. That’s the perfect time to send automated emails based on whatever someone bought, and educate them about it. Bloomscape does this really well. When you set up these automations, it works for you for a really, really long time.

Converse: We have an after-ship series that fills customers in on where their plant is on its journey, with alerts like, “Hey, plan to be home at this time, it’s coming your way!” We also send unboxing videos that show you how to welcome your fully grown and potted plant into your home.

In general, at Bloomscape, we have a two-fold opportunity. We give our customers information about specific plants they’ve purchased, and also to match their experience level. We may send someone specific information on trimming, best watering practices for a plant they bought, or a reminder when it’s time to re-pot their monstera. That email might also be accompanied by tips from our in-house expert, the Plant Mom, or links to plant care products that we’re rolling out. We get amazingly high engagement around emails that equip our customers to be the best plant parents they can be.

 

Don’t pressure customers to buy...

Lagerstrom: Make sure you’re nurturing your customers along the funnel, not forcing them down it. Sometimes, a brand that has a huge average order value — let’s say they want you to buy a paddleboard for $1,000 — tries to hit you with, “There’s only one left and you can only get a 10 percent discount for the next five hours.” But as the customer, you need information, you need education, you need to know about their return policy, you need to know maybe that they donate part of your proceeds to the environment because you’re a socially conscious consumer.

Focusing on sales, instead of educating the customer, often doesn’t create lifetime customers. We’ve seen so much more success with: “Hey, call this phone number, because it looks like you were interested in this paddleboard. Let us know what your hesitation is.”

Converse: I think it’s all about responding to customer behavior in a way that’s conversational, instead of hammering someone with “Convert! Convert! Convert! Spend! Spend! Spend!” That can feel icky. If you’re trying to create meaningful interactions, you’ll approach it differently. The messaging can be a little more open-ended — like, “Hey, we saw you were interested in this.”

If it’s a pet-friendly plant, maybe you invite them to shop the category, or read a blog post from someone who just decorated their home with plants in a pet-friendly way. You can engage with someone in a way that’s not just, “Buy right now.”

 

...or creep them out

Lagerstrom: I’m a huge fan of a “browse abandonment” series. There actually aren’t that many people who implement it — it can get into a little bit of a creepy domain. It’s easy to just set up a trigger and say, “Hey, if someone’s visited this webpage and left, send them this email.” But then, if you’re not careful, you might send someone 10 automated emails in 15 minutes.

On Drip, one feature that helps with this is filters. You can have an email you send after someone visits and abandons a specific webpage — and then add a filter, like, “Only email if they’ve done that 10 times in the past 10 days,” or “Only email if they visited four different products on this page.” Then you’re really reaching someone when they’re getting close to purchase, and the emails land a little bit better.

It’s also about tone. If your subject line is, “I saw you on my website today” — or some people use the eyes emoji and say “Come back!” or “Waiting for you!” That can be a little bit too much. You have to make sure that the email is valuable to the consumer — which could just mean it’s cutesy, or funny — and it’s not purely a tool for you.

 

Content-wise, don’t overdo it

 

Ramirez: I think on the creative end of it, less is more. It depends on your end goal, but in general, you don’t want a heavy automated email. Something like an abandoned cart email — you want to keep a very simple format.

Lagerstrom: In terms of email content, the first thing I would say is check out Really Good Emails. They have a fantastic library of how other companies do their emails. So, don’t reinvent the wheel entirely. Don’t steal from other brands, but if you see that there’s a pretty standard practice welcome series, you can use that for inspiration and layout guidance. And if you’re a company that advertises, and you’ve got a top-performing ad that just converts like crazy — clearly that copy’s doing something, right? So take that copy and infuse it in your emails too.

 

Track key metrics, like open rates and (obviously) revenue

Ramirez: Before you’re even testing an email, really define what you’re trying to do. For an abandoned cart, conversion rate from the cart is important to us. But for some automations that are just trying to draw people further into a program, click-through rate would be important, and time on site would be important. Not every automation has the same success metrics.

Lagerstrom: At Drip, we like to monitor open and click rates. Those are probably the most important: Are you even getting eyes on the emails? We also really like to do split testing, or A/B testing, on email content. Before you scale, that testing and learning portion is just so, so important. In split tests, we especially watch the revenue generated from emails. So if we’ve got a more sales-y call to action in the email, we’ll definitely notice a revenue lift, but we also want to make sure it feels like it was a natural point of purchase.

 

Never stop testing

Ramirez: For us, it’s really important to always be testing. It sounds bad, but testing never ends. We test different pieces of different emails — the copy, the timing, the personalization, including or not including recommendations. Sometimes, we test like 10 or 20 versions of an email. Not all at once, but over a long span of time.

We work really closely with our creative and copy teams and our insights team to say, “OK, we have these products with all these features — how can we align this to our customers’ needs?” Then we have a really big brainstorm, where we dream up all the kooky things that we can test out. It’s not only about the quantitative side — we also want to make sure that our brand feels approachable at all times. We want to sound like the friend who loves socks more than anyone else.

Converse: Testing is never-ending, and the results are always changing. That’s the fun part about marketing and also the challenging part. What might work with one segment one day might not work the next. We’re always learning and growing.

Interviewee responses have been condensed and edited. 

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