How does email automation work

Boasting a 60% market share, Mailchimp are the king of the jungle when it comes to email marketing. So how does email automation work if you want to grow your audience.

What we will cover

One of the things we get asked a lot is “how does email automation work?”, and although it can be quite in-depth when we talk about CRM’s and customer journey mapping, its simple to get started yourself with a few easy to use tools baked into mailchimp.

So what’s so good about Mailchimp?

It’s a fair question. After all, there are plenty of other email marketing providers out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, there is one very good reason for following the crowd on this one.

Mailchimp has been designed with SMEs in mind and is completely free for up to 2,000 subscribers. Despite this, it still manages to offer a surprising number of features – enough for you to decide whether email marketing is feasible for you.

If you are attending our upcoming Email Marketing Training course, we will take you through setting up with Mailchimp, including creating signup forms and building and segmenting your audiences (aka ‘your list’)

For the purposes of this article though, we are going to dive straight into automation – because we all like features that make life easier!

Why automation works

Automation may seem a strange way to build a meaningful connection with our audience but it does help solve a common dilemma most businesses have about subscriber engagement.

How much contact do people actually want?

There’s a fine line to be walked here. Send too many emails and those existing and potential customers will likely mark you as a spammer and avoid your emails like the plague.

On the other hand, if they never hear from you again after subscribing they will probably lose interest altogether and that fuzzy relationship you’re aiming for will never take off.

But how can Mailchimp automation help you to know when to connect with your subscribers and when to leave them alone? By using triggers, segments and tags, that’s how.

Happy Birthday!

Who hasn’t received at least one automated email on their birthday? 

This is a simple example of one type of trigger event that you could set up with Mailchimp. Mailchimp actually have some pre-set birthday email triggers that are ready to go with a little bit of tweaking.

In fact, Mailchimp have set up several similar trigger events and placed them in six different categories:

  • Tags. More on these in the next section!
  • Subscriber Activities. These are triggered by something a subscriber does (e.g. subscribe to your list or join a group)
  • E-Commerce. For online stores, triggers can be set up when a subscriber abandons their shopping cart, buys a product or performs some other action
  • Date-based. Birthdays, anniversaries and other regular events
  • API. This allows you to trigger email sequences from outside of Mailchimp. That one takes a bit of techie knowhow.
  • Featured. This category includes a selection of the top trigger events from the other five

In addition to these pre-set options (which are all fully editable, by the way), there is a custom automation feature which gives you total control over your audience, triggers, email design and sequencing.

If you already have a Mailchimp account and a subscriber list, the best way to learn is by doing. If you click ‘Email’ from the ‘Automate’ menu dropdown and then click the ‘Custom’ modal in the top right corner, a custom workflow will be set up for you.

You should see four editable settings in front of you. Two of them (Trigger and Schedule) are easy to figure out but the third, ‘Filter by Segment or Tag,’ may need some further explanation.

Carving up your list

Segments and tags are two different ways to slice up your audience and they are the key to successful automation with Mailchimp.

A segment is a fundamental division of your subscriber list. You create one in Mailchimp by setting parameters based on subscriber data, identity or behaviour. The options to segment your audience are practically limitless but here are three examples to get your cogs spinning.

You could create a segment based on:

  • Subscribers who are based within 50 miles of Totnes
  • Subscribers whose birthdays are in March
  • Subscribers who were added to your list after January 1st 2020

If that wasn’t enough, you can also combine these parameters.

And then there are tags.

As the name suggests, tags are labels you apply to your subscribers. Tags are a relatively new feature on Mailchimp but have ramped up the power of their email automation significantly. 

Whereas before you would have had to mess around with custom fields to segment your audience based on, for example, a course they attended, now you can simply stick a ‘graduate’ tag on their profile and use this when setting up an automation workflow.

Before we move on to the email itself, the fourth option (Choose Post-Send action) enables you to instruct Mailchimp to automatically edit, move or tag subscribers once your email has been sent. 

For example, you could create a mini-course via email and then get Mailchimp to tag your subscriber as a ‘Graduate’ after the final email in the series. Then you could set up future email series’ catered only to subscribers with this tag.

Creating your first email

Once you’ve adjusted these four settings, you can click the ‘Design Email’ button on the right-hand side.

There are plenty of custom templates to choose from and an intuitive ‘drag and drop’ content creator for adding your logo, text, images, buttons, layout elements and all sorts of other bells and whistles – go knock yourself out!

If you need help with this stage of the process, we cover all this and much more in our upcoming Email Marketing Training course.

Managing your workflow

Once you’ve clicked ‘Save and Return to Workflow’, you should see an ‘Edit Settings’ button at the top of the next page.

Clicking that will bring up a host of workflow configuration options where you can customise how your email appears in your subscriber’s inbox. For example, you will be able to specify the name subscribers will see when they receive your email and the email address that their replies will go to. You can also add a catchy subject line and personalise it using merge tags (for more about these, sign up to our Email Marketing Training course).

From the Workflow Configuration page you will also be able to track the success of your automations with daily email digests and, if applicable, through linking with your Google Analytics, ecommerce, Salesforce or ClickTale accounts.

Moving up a gear

Once you’ve mastered setting up a single-step automation (e.g. sending out an annual birthday message or welcoming a new subscriber), you will probably want to investigate multi-step automation.

This is just a case of adding more emails and triggers to your workflow but this is only available via one of Mailchimp’s paid plans.

All of a sudden it isn’t “how does email automation work”, but how many automation’s can I have working!? If you need any help getting to grips with it then just join us for our next training session or find out a bit more about email marketing.

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