Michael O'Neill

Drip emails are a form of digital communication in which recipients are sent pre-written, pre-scheduled messages in their inboxes based on certain actions or triggers.

If a site visitor signs up for your company newsletter, he or she may be cycled into your drip email campaign and receive a welcome email. The trigger was the newsletter signup, and the result was a welcome email.

Other examples of triggers could be adding products to an online shopping cart or downloading an eBook.

The key to a successful drip campaign is to match the appropriate email to the actions users take. Beyond this first interaction, email subscribers receive subsequent follow-up communiques relative to whether they open or ignore your emails.

It’s a drip of information released at customized intervals, as opposed to blasting subscribers with overly salesy, nonpersonalized emails.

How it works: Lead scoring, prospecting and buyer journeys

The benefit of drip emails is that they provide your marketing and sales team with a trove of user behavior data.

How many people are actually opening your emails? Which buyer persona do they most resemble? Which types of subject lines perform best? Is more personalization needed at each stage of the drip lifecycle?

Answers to these questions can be gleaned from the success (or failure) of each email, which is determined by a binary Yes (email was opened) or No (email was not opened).

Depending on the data, you can categorize leads with more precision and better understand the journeys prospects take to find, engage with and, hopefully, purchase from your brand.

This information can then be used to help you more strategically allocate resources across your inbound marketing team and your sales department.

The power of email drip marketing

Drip emails stand out because they allow you to target both existing and new leads. Traditionally, leads receive certain emails only after they’ve filled out an opt-in form – but what about all of the emails you created before that signup?

A drip campaign allows you to craft, schedule and automate emails in rotation so that subscribers can still receive emails that may pertain to them regardless of when they signed up. This fact enables you to maximize the return on every email you send without having to manually curate and send each one – you just pull from your existing queue of relevant emails.

Lead nurturing also dovetails with drip emails. Because drips are defined by user segments and contextual relevance, they evolve along with the maturity of your leads. Got a new, reluctant lead with no purchasing authority? Start them out with top-of-funnel emails that intro your brand and provide valuable industry news.

Have a lead that’s farther down the sales funnel and potentially a month away from signing on with a vendor? Slate them nearer to the middle or bottom of your drip funnel, as they’re more likely to want pricing information, product comparison guides and contact with sales reps.

Example 1: SEMrush’s “Get your team certified” exam

In this example, the trigger was passing the SEO Toolkit exam. SEMrush took this action as a sign that other members of my team would be interested in the same.

In the middle of the email, there are three routes one can take, depending on his or her interests and skill sets. And at the bottom, the CTA clearly encourages forwards, which we can understand to be a pertinent metric SEMrush will be tracking via this drip.

Not only do I receive praise, but I also get to allow my team to select which exam they would prefer to take – kind of a “choose your own adventure” interactive feature that stands out among normal, templated blocks of text found in emails.

Example 2: Uncle Dan’s Outfitters email opt-in

After providing your email address, Uncle Dan’s Outfitters sends out an onboarding email.

Right away there’s a gracious, welcoming tone, strong visuals that embody the brand and a narrative of comradery and adventure.

You also receive a discount (another trigger) and multiple ways to “make the most out of your experience.”

Example 3: Brafton’s “Want help creating the perfect blog content?” product drip

Fine, we’ll toot our own horn for a little bit.

While our HTML open rate and click-through rate were pretty standard, what jumped out immediately when looking at the data was that our macro conversions jumped considerably.

And for a product-focused email (in this case our blogging services), a macro conversion is a significant achievement. This email was about 2.5 times more successful than other product drips we had used in the past, and it may be due to the fact that blogs are of the most immediate interest to our subscribers.

Example 4: Brafton’s “8 types of infographics” eBook

We send out plenty of emails to garner eBook downloads. This one in particular performed well above average.

The unique click-through rate and clicks to open ratio were double the norm. We generated more forwards and downloads than any other eBook email in our history. Yeah, it was that nice.

What worked? A few things:

  • A simple, clickable call to action.
  • Data points in the subject line, body copy and graphic.
  • A question-based intro with a quick-hitting answer.
  • An asset that was created with the audience in mind.

What NOT to do

While it’s great that you can automate away the rote task of manually sending emails, you still need to closely monitor who is actually receiving your emails. A few no-nos include:

  • Sending more than one email per prospect per day. Email drips are supposed to be targeted and attuned to the needs of your leads – and no one needs several emails a day.
  • Resending the same content to the same subscribers. Hard pass. If you’re repurposing content, fine. Just be sure your email recipients aren’t being miscategorized in your campaign, thus receiving duplicate emails and content that’s old news to them.
  • Overlapping with sales. If you’re nurturing a lead via email, your sales team better not cold call them on the same day. Because a lead may be sitting in the queue of your sales team, unbeknownst to you perhaps, a rep may jump the gun and reach out, rendering your drip campaign a redundant overkill.

Email automation and best practices

Drip campaigns are only as good as the automation that powers them – they’re supposed to save time, after all.

Through automation, you can nurture leads with targeted content without tying up human resources or having to make continued, direct decisions with each email sequence. Once communication channels are set up, your auto-generated emails do the rest, potentially kicking off subsequent nurture, upsell or retention campaigns.

The proof is evident: Companies that employ email drip marketing report 80 percent more sales at a 33 percent lower cost.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Segment email lists into distinct campaign types – and then refine even further (e.g., re-engagement drip, promotional drip, educational drip, etc.)
  • Include clickable features and customization options in your emails. This allows recipients to receive the exact type of emails they want, thus keeping them engaged.
  • Track relevant metrics like unsubscribes, forwards, open rates, bounce backs, clicks and more to benchmark and adjust your drip campaigns.

Tools, templates and tactics

There are plenty of email marketing automation platforms, along with pre-generated templates in which you can drop your copy once and then schedule the timing of your emails.

Some of the most popular are:

  • Constant Contact
  • MailChimp
  • Drip
  • Knowtify
  • HubSpot
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Marketo
  • Pardot

The tone you strike is determined by the precise type of drip campaign you’re pursuing. A warm, welcoming email works for a new top-of-funnel lead in an engagement campaign.

A more personable, direct and transparent format of “We tried this tactic once and it totally backfired: Here’s why” translates well to an educational campaign – you’d be surprised how successful your email marketing can be when you admit weaknesses or expose vulnerabilities. Most likely, your leads suffer from those same faults.

As many as 50 percent of your leads are not ready to purchase from you; so build trust in them through targeted drips, not just promotional product pushes. For many businesses, it takes only one or two profitable lead conversions to meet sales quotas, so the more specific you can be at the micro level, the better.

Understanding your subscribers like never before

Just how powerful is an email address?

Well, it holds the key to a lot of additional prospect information that could prove lucrative to your company. That includes revealing data on demographics, purchase history, previous email opens, preferred content types, position in the buyer journey, likelihood of opening future emails and so forth.

This level of detail can help refine buyer personas that exist outside just your email marketing. It will also supply you with more targeted, customized content ideas for your website and social feeds.

Your email marketing is but one component of your larger go-to-market strategy, so leveraging user behavior and list segmentation across all of your marketing channels just plain makes sense. And segmented email campaigns generate 100.95 percent more click-throughs than nonsegmented campaigns, aka it works. Why not replicate this success?