One of the most difficult aspects of email marketing is how to balance the scale of customer contact (with mass mails sometimes being simultaneously sent to hundreds of thousands of recipients) with the need to ensure personalization. Research has shown that subscribers respond very positively to the latter, and so it’s a priority for any email marketer serious about maintaining high open and clickthrough rates, and – most importantly – a high conversion rate.
But how is it possible to keep emails personal and relevant when you’re dealing with such a massive volume of customers? The answer, increasingly, is email marketing automation. With the right email marketing automation platform and/or tools, you can remove a lot of busywork from the equation and focus on getting the kind of results you want.
Table of Contents
Products Recommended in this Article
- Best overall email marketing automation platform: Hubspot
- Easiest to use: MailerLite
- Best for e-commerce: Drip
- Best customer service: ActiveCampaign
We are reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. This does not affect our opinion of the products linked, which is 100% impartial and unbiased.
What is Email Marketing Automation?
Email marketing automation is, at its most basic, a set of triggers activated at various stages of a customer’s journey with your company. It can be, depending upon the options offered by your platform, as simple or as complicated as you’d like it to be.
Email marketing automation differs from traditional mass mails in its level of personalization. A new customer will get a welcome email (or a welcome email series), while one who’s abandoned their shopping cart will get an email reminding them of this. They can be personalized on an even more intimate level, with emails tailored to individual shopping habits or even important dates like birthdays.
Don’t be thrown off, then, by the ‘automation’ part of this equation. Automation does not mean that such emails are impersonal; indeed, the whole point of such automation is to make the emails as personal as possible.
Why is Email Marketing Automation Important?
As we’ve already touched upon, it’s a matter of scale. It’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to manually write out thousands of personalized emails for everybody on your mailing list. Automated email marketing makes this kind of personalization eminently possible, however.
It’s not an exaggeration, in fact, to say that it’s almost a requirement in contemporary email marketing. You can be sure that your rivals are making use of it; so, then, must you.
Another benefit of email automation is that you have more time to spend on focusing your overall strategy, as well as perfecting the text used in your various emails. This extra attention to detail will, ideally, be reflected in higher open/clickthrough rates, and, ultimately, more conversions.
Is a Drip Campaign the Same Thing as Email Marketing Automation?
Simply put: no. A drip campaign is a static series of emails that are sent out at predetermined intervals, no matter the individual customer’s needs, preferences or habits. This makes them extremely impersonal since every customer is going to receive the same series of emails.
Emails sent via an automation platform, however, have a workflow that responds to a customer’s actions, preferences or habits. A loyal customer who makes regular monthly purchases might have an email sent out with an invitation to an exclusive event for VIP customers; conversely, someone who’s not opened one of your emails in some time might receive a different email that will attempt to draw them back into the fold with a one-time discount.
In essence, then, email marketing automation is much more sophisticated than drip campaigns – and much more effective.
What should you Look for in an Email Marketing Automation Platform?
Now that we have an idea of what email marketing automation is, it’s a good idea to think about what is desirable in a platform that provides it. However, if you’re a newcomer to the field, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out what features are the most useful.
In order to assist you in this, here are a list of features generally considered to be important to any email marketing automation tool or platform.
Best Email Automation Tools
This sounds extremely obvious, but the first step in being an automated email marketing platform is having tools that facilitate automation in the first place. At a basic level, this means the ability to automatically send out emails based on certain triggers.
Many email platforms will lack the ability to do this, and would better be described as mass-mail or drip-campaign platforms. Be sure to ascertain the precise nature of any platform before you sign up.
There are no small number of email automation tools and platforms out there, and it can be a little tough to choose from any given option. Some of the top choices include:
With an amazing suite of tools that are usable across all of your major marketing channels, HubSpot is quite simply the best one-stop email marketing automation platform for most of your needs. It may be beaten in one aspect or another by some of its competitors, but it is quite easily the best overall platform for your needs.
Simplicity is at the heart of what makes MailerLite the most accessible platform for beginners. Its drag-and-drop template design makes getting your mass mails ready to send quick and easy, even if you’re no expert in graphic design. It lacks the robustness of some other platforms like HubSpot, but for beginners, it’s a great choice.
Seamless integration with your ecommerce platform of choice makes Drip great for automated workflows that trigger based on your customers’ shopping habits. Simple, effective, and unrivaled when it comes to ecommerce.
ActiveCampaign may lack some of the more sophisticated options offered by its competitors, but when it comes to fast and reliable customer service, there’s no one else who’s even close. If you have any problems at all, a helpful and informative customer service agent will be in touch in a matter of minutes to help you with your problem.
It’s been mentioned once or twice, but it bears repeating: personalization is key in any email campaign that aims for maximum conversions. It’s also the difference between less effective forms of email marketing (like generic mass mails or drip campaigns) and those that yield results.
Personalization doesn’t simply mean using the subscriber’s name in the subject line (although that is always worth doing). It can mean paying attention to their purchase history and habits, reminding them of regular product purchases, and relating to them on a level that goes beyond a traditional buyer-seller relationship (sending a soccer fan an email themed around that sport, for instance).
Whatever personalization means for you and your company, the best email marketing automation platforms will provide tools to facilitate it.
Being able to send out automated, personalized emails is only half the battle. In order to fine-tune future campaigns or individual emails, you need to be able to see how they performed. Analytics tools provide the means for you to do this, and any email marketing automation platform worth its salt will have them.
Real-time analytics are particularly useful when it comes to measuring KPIs and putting that data to use as quickly as possible. With that in mind, always prioritize any platform that is able to provide real-time data.
List Segmentation Tools
Personalization is rendered much more difficult without dynamic segmentation tools, and so the best platforms will provide this. By placing subscribers into newly-built lists on the fly, your platform of choice can ensure that they are sent emails as and when necessary. Segmentation also helps mitigate the #1 reason for mail list unsubscribes – receiving too many emails.
Customizable Email Templates
The whole point of an automated email marketing platform is to save you and your company time, and one of the most efficient ways of doing that is to provide you with attractive, modular and easy-to-use email templates.
Not everyone is a graphic designer, and so it’s important that you’re able to make your emails look as good as possible even with limited experience. But it’s also important that such templates have a high level of customizability, so you can make them look bespoke and tailored to individual subscribers. When looking for the right platform for you, then, it’s a good idea to check out the kind of email templates they have on hand.
Around 4 in every 5 people check their email on their phones, according to research. This means that it’s crucial that emails are correctly optimized for display on smartphone screens. This includes making sure the subject line is not too long (check out our guide on creating the perfect subject line), that the font is readable, that images are correctly sized and displayed, and that the most crucial information in the email is displayed above the ‘fold’ (the point where viewers need to scroll to see more).
If you have automated email marketing tools that can take care of this for you, it will save a lot of busywork. It’s therefore a good idea to make sure your platform of choice has tools that can assist you with mobile optimization.
The capacity to send transactional emails that are linked to your ecommerce store (or ecommerce platform, e.g. Shopify) is extremely important in this day and age. It will not only help you in sending pertinent and timely transactional emails, but also in fine-tuning future marketing campaigns using the information generated on your ecommerce platform.
Email Marketing Automation: Best Practices
Finding the perfect email marketing automation platform is one thing; using it correctly is another thing entirely.
Once you’ve chosen your platform and you’re ready to make a start, here are some things to bear in mind in order to get the most out of it.
Be Sure to Segment your List
The foundation for any effective email personalization starts with smart list segmentation. And when it comes to segmentation, more is more – age, gender, location, purchase history, engagement level, income bracket, even the device used to view the email – all of these can be used to segment your list and create increasingly specific and personalized emails.
The very best email marketing automation tools will do a lot of this for you. This is often achieved by integration with your ecommerce and CRM (customer relationship management) platforms, meaning that segmentation can happen automatically and dynamically. When this is done properly, you’re able to send out mass mails that are still personalized with a great degree of granularity.
Segmentation can even be done with the participation of the subscribers themselves – and, indeed, should be. By allowing subscribers to tailor their own email preferences (e.g. by choosing the frequency and content of emails they receive), you can further segment your list and ensure that subscribers are seeing the kind of content they want to see.
Make Use of Automated Workflows
With list segmentation in effect, it’s time to make use of those individual segments. Judicious use of automated workflows can ensure that this is done in the most efficient way possible.
There are many ways in which automated workflows can be used. Let’s look at some of the best.
You may have a subscriber’s email address, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ready to part with their hard-earned money. In order to get to that stage, you may need to cultivate a relationship with them.
An automated workflow that’s designed to welcome and nurture new subscribers is perfect for this. The email series can be personalized from the very first email (perhaps by drawing attention to the fact that the subscriber has used a competitor before, for instance) and does not need to focus on trying to close a deal or make a sale, but on developing a relationship.
This makes for a personalized relationship from the get-go. It also frees up your team to focus on other priorities, rather than spending too much time sending out follow-up emails.
Customer feedback is immensely important both in (a) figuring out what customers want and (b) gathering recommendations that can be used to draw in other customers. We live in an age where reviews are of huge importance – 90% of customers read at least one online review before using a business – and so if you’re able to generate positive reviews from your own subscribers, that’s hugely useful for persuading other potential customers to roll the dice on you and your product or service.
Automated workflows can be used to solicit such reviews. For instance, if a customer bought a hoodie from your company two weeks ago, an email could be sent out asking them to rate and review the hoodie in question. If it’s a positive review, that can be shared on your website or social media as proof of the quality of the product. And since 88% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, that’s a substantial boost to your reputation.
Bringing Old Customers Back
The sad truth is that sometimes, some customers will simply slip away. Maybe they feel like your brand doesn’t represent their needs or desires anymore. Maybe they’ve just straight forgotten about you. Whatever the reason, an automated workflow targeting, say, customers who’ve not made a purchase in 6 months, can be just the nudge needed to bring them back into the fold.
Such emails don’t need to be invasive (after all, they haven’t unsubscribed from your list) or needy. They can be a one-time discount offer that entices people back in, or even something as simple as a reminder of how the product or service can enhance their life – and how losing it will be detrimental.
At worst, the subscriber will unsubscribe from your mailing list. And that’s actually a good thing, because it will increase the overall health of your list.
Use Analytics Tools to Optimize
One of the strengths of email marketing automation tools is that they allow you to use powerful real-time analytics to gain meaningful insights into your mail campaigns – and use those insights accordingly.
Many automated platforms can do this for you, by analyzing how different subscribers are responding to different approaches and re-segmenting them accordingly. This means that you don’t even need to lift a finger when it comes to re-categorizing your subscribers in the most efficient manner.
That said, it is a good idea to look over your analytics data yourself. A few KPIs that you should be paying attention to when looking over analytics include:
Open, Clickthrough and Conversion Rates
The bread and butter of email marketing campaigns, each one of these can give you different information on what your campaign is best at – and where it’s falling down. Are subscribers opening you emails but not bothering to click through on your CTA? Are they clicking through, but not taking that final step towards becoming a conversion? If so, why not?
By analyzing this information and figuring out the various stumbling blocks for different subscribers, you can tweak future campaigns and ensure healthier open/clickthrough/conversion rates.
Hard/Soft Bounce Rate
Your emails can’t be read if they never make it into the inbox. By looking at your soft and hard bounce rates, you can figure out why your emails aren’t getting delivered – and ensure the health of your mailing list by pruning email addresses that are of no use to you.
A hugely important metric that you’ll want to measure closely, the ROI on email marketing is traditionally high – and you can use the feedback generated to justify the ongoing use of your chosen automated email marketing platform (or not).
By measuring the number of new subscribers, as well as the number of people who unsubscribed, you can get a good idea of how effective your email campaigns are. If people are unsubscribing, why? What was the last email they received, and did anything about it cause them to cut your company off? By figuring this out, you can prevent it from happening in the future.
Check out our dedicated guide on email marketing KPIs you should track.
There is, inevitably, much more to the effective use of an automated email marketing platform. However, the tips outlined in this article should provide a solid foundation for any business looking to optimize its email marketing output. By making smart (and liberal) use of list segmentation, putting effective automated workflows into place, and carefully analyzing all the relevant data generated by your campaigns, you put yourself in a great position to make optimal use of email marketing. And it will do so in a way that doesn’t tie up your team with the need to personalize thousands of emails.