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.

A well run automated email campaign will deliver communications that are relevant, timely and customised to the actions that your customer or lead has either taken (or even not yet taken). Automated email campaigns have been proven to increase engagement, website traffic and conversions.

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!?

7 email automation examples

Here are seven examples of the types of automated email campaign you could be running right now:

  1. Welcome Campaign

A welcome email is one of the more basic automatic email campaigns that e-commerce businesses are using and so it is a great place to start to experiment with the possibilities. All you need for a welcome email campaign is to sign up to an email marketing service (e.g. Aweber, Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, etc.), design a sign-up form using one of the templates they will offer and add it to your website. People who enter their details will automatically be added to your mailing list.

The second part of setting up your campaign is to design a welcome email and to set it so that it is triggered whenever a new lead is added to your list. All of this can be done from within your email marketing service and once it is set up you can forget all about it.

Once you are happy with your welcome campaign, you could look into integrating your e-commerce software with your email marketing service so that new leads get offered a discount voucher which they can redeem off their first order. There are programs which specialise in integrating different software platforms or you can use your email marketing service’s API to set up a custom integration.

This is something that Vu Online can help you with if you are struggling.

  1. Feedback or Survey Email

Automated emails are the perfect way to receive – and control – your feedback. By integrating your email marketing service with your e-commerce platform, you can trigger an email to be sent whenever anyone on your list purchases a product.

This email will contain a survey or request for feedback and can either be directed to an email of your choice or fed into a CRM system. Positive feedback can be used on your website as testimonials while critical feedback will help you to improve your service and interact with some damage limitation (refund, discount, upgrade or another benefit to reduce the chance of public criticism).

  1. Birthday Offer

So far we have looked at behaviour triggers but email automation can be smarter than that. The fields on your email marketing list should be set up to record dates and these can be used in multiple useful ways.

If you have recorded a customer or lead’s date of birth, this can be popped into a field and your email marketing service set to trigger an annual email. This email will, of course, wish the recipient a happy birthday and could include a special birthday discount offer or a free gift.

  1. Meeting or Event Reminder

Birthdays are not the only date that can be useful for triggering an automated email campaign. If your business includes any sort of meeting or appointment facility – or you are running a special online or real world event, integrating your calendar/diary software with your email marketing service enables you to send regular reminders without lifting a finger.

  1. Renewal Reminder

Retaining just 5% of your customers can increase profitability by up to 75%. If you sell anything which required subscription or membership renewal, be sure to set up your email marketing system to send out a timely offer to stay loyal. Even if they decide not to renew, you can continue to offer discounts to entice them back, a practice followed by Graphicstock among others.

  1. Email Series

Another popular use of email marketing campaigns is the email series which is simply a case of creating a series of emails and setting them up to generate periodically. This can be anything from a report broken into sections to a fully automated educational course. Numbering your parts can increase customer appeal as they anticipate the next in the series or visit your website to catch up one they missed.

Eric’s Tips does this effectively with internet marketer Eric Holmlund’s extensive series of video tips popular with those looking to make money online.

  1. Non-Action Triggered Emails

We have looked at how automation can be triggered by actions, dates and frequency settings but what about emailing prospects who signed up and then did…nothing at all?

With a little bit of coding wizardry, the email marketing gurus have even found a way around this problem. The first step is a slight variation to the welcome email. As well as generating the email, you can set up your campaign so that a separate ‘Subscribed’ field in your list changes from ‘No’ to ‘Yes.’

All that is then required is to set up a separate campaign that periodically checks that field for prospects labelled ‘No,’ and sends a tempting follow-up email to keep you top of mind.

These are just some of the ways in which email automation services can maximise the efficiency of your e-commerce operation. If you need some help setting this up or information about other digital marketing tools and techniques that can support your business, we would be happy to take your call.

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