Hey, email marketers — Take a load off and embrace automation

As far as email automation best practices go, contributor Len Shneyder outlines four you should keep in mind before putting up your feet and letting the machines take over.

Hey, email marketers — Take a load off and embrace automation

As email marketers continue to find themselves busier than ever with increasing responsibilities and competing priorities, efficiency is becoming a lifeline for many of them.

More and more, automation is proving to be the email marketer’s knight in shining armor. It’s an efficient and systematic way of sending promotional and transactional emails without having to actually press a “send” button.  That’s almost like setting up automatic payments for credit cards and your mountain of bills.

Sending automated emails ensures you’re not missing fleeting opportunities, provides more relevant and personalized content to your users and — most importantly — saves you heaps of time.

Email automation, thy name is efficiency

Email automation goes by many names: nurture, drip, triggered messages and so on. Whatever term you use to define marketing automation, one thing is clear: It’s about doing more with less and driving outcomes and long-term strategies to improve customer lifetime value (LTV).

In the case of email, we think of this as a series of emails that are launched based on a discrete or unique set of circumstances that could be initiated by a customer or a marketer to a specific segment that exhibits a set of similar characteristics, making them ideal for this type of automated campaign.

Currently, most email automation is achieved through artificial intelligence (AI) tools, yet surprisingly, a survey by GetResponse found that only 5 percent of email marketers considered themselves experts at it. From GetResponse:

Just 5% of respondents say they’re experts, while the majority rate themselves as Basic or Intermediate. This is understandable, as email marketing is complex and constantly evolving.

This is at odds with Servion Global Solutions’ projection that AI will drive 95 percent of customer interaction by 2025.

Email automation has been at the heart of business-to-business (B2B) marketing for a decade. B2B marketers look at email automation as a form of lead nurturing.

For B2C marketers, a welcome series could constitute simple, basic and pervasive automation. Think of a new customer opting in to receive emails from a retailer. The first message could be a welcome email urging a recipient to give the marketer more information in the form of a preference center or a small discount to incentivize a quick conversion. A follow-up email could be part of the series if no action happens — or a different email if an action is taken — and so on and so forth. Email automation can be used to build out sophisticated action trees all punctuated with unique messages and content depending on which action or inaction occurs.

Before you can truly take a load off and start reaping the benefits of email automation, you need to start by considering what kind of data about your recipients would be valuable for an email automation program and how you’re going to go about gathering it.

Knowing where this data lives will also be crucial in getting your automated email program up and running. Most effective email automation programs rely heavily on a well-segmented list. Once you’ve established that, you can start identifying and gathering the data you deem useful from a business value standpoint.

Leveraging preference centers to obtain more data to optimize automation programs can turn simple journeys into more sophisticated ones with insight into geography, frequency, type, gender and content preferences. Combining these insights with things like past purchase history, clicks, email opens and other conversion information can yield highly personalized experiences.

By increasing personalization through automation or other forms of outreach, brands can improve their stickiness: According to research, 82 percent of customers feel more positive about brands after receiving personalized content.

Hey, email marketers — Take a load off and embrace automation

So, what all can you accomplish through an automated email program? Typically, the most common goal of email automation is to increase recipient engagement. However, engagement in and of itself is a broad term. Engagement could be with an older, inactive segment or with seasonal buyers that you’d like to prompt to transact more often.

Setting a goal and then building a strategy for the desired outcome is the first step to establishing a good automation program through your email marketing. Below are just some of the use cases that email automation can provide to elicit greater levels of engagement:

  • Nurture campaigns with an eye on upselling.
  • Welcome emails.
  • Anniversary emails.
  • Email signups and onboarding.
  • Holiday ramp-up series.
  • Re-engagement and sunsetting policies.
  • Subscription expiration.
  • Product updates/new product releases.
  • Product reviews leading to similar purchase emails.
  • Net promoter surveys and other kinds of sentiment analysis.

Establishing an automated email program that can take care of some of the above items frees up a lot of time for you and your team. You’ll no longer have to worry about performing mind-numbing manual work like combing through email lists and scheduling communications.

Rather, you can focus your faculties on other priorities that require more attention and brainpower, such as creating high-quality, personalized content that users will actually read and engage with — the real meat of any good automation program. For an email marketer, automation is creative liberation that empowers you to build experimental, engaging experiences.

Best practice

As far as email automation best practices go, here are four you should keep in mind before you prop your feet up on an ottoman and let machines take over:

    1. Don’t automate for the sake of automating. Automation is great, but it’s a quality-over-quantity equation. Automating every piece of your email marketing program will not solve all of your problems. You simply can’t account for every unique moment or unforeseen event. Instead, start by automating one portion of your program and sprinkle in more automated ingredients as you gain more insights and experience.
    2. Create a strategy. Everything you do requires a strategy that describes how you will achieve an outcome and the kinds of measurements required to understand when that outcome is achieved. Once you have this, you can back into the tactics and technology necessary to bring that vision to fruition.
    3. Remember that content is king. Email automation can’t make up for shoddy content. While it can help deploy content more quickly and efficiently, creating engaging content still requires that human je ne sais quoi. You should be constantly tweaking and improving your content flows so that your emails stand out in the inbox.
    4. Establish performance monitoring. It’s a data-driven world, and we all live and die by key performance indicators (KPIs). Learning what’s working and what isn’t by monitoring performance metrics and adapting your strategy around these insights is key for an email automation program that delivers consistent, long-term results.

      To close

      Email automation is about more than just streamlining email; it’s about boosting the efficiency and success of your entire marketing strategy. A wholly optimized email strategy is accomplished through a close relationship between email data, metrics and automation.

      The bottom line? Embrace automation; don’t run and hide from it. Test the waters, start small and work with the data you have. You can always get more elaborate based on the results you start seeing and your company’s evolving business needs.

      Only by accepting automation’s saving graces can you start curating a personal brand experience through email that customers actually look forward to and that reaches them when and where they want to be reached.

      Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

      About The Author

      Len Shneyder is a 15-year email and digital messaging veteran and the VP of Industry Relations at SendGrid. Len serves as an evangelist and proponent of best practices, and he drives thought leadership and data-driven insights on industry trends based on the massive volume of email SendGrid delivers on behalf of their customers. Len represents SendGrid on the board of M3AAWG (the Messaging, Malware, Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group) as Vice Chair in addition to Co-Chairing the Program Committee. He’s also part of the MAC (Member Advisory Committee) of the EEC (Email Experience Council) where he serves as the organization’s Vice Chair. The EEC is a professional trade organization focused on promoting email marketing best practices. The EEC is owned by the DMA (The Direct Marketing Association of America), a nearly 100-year-old organization where he also sits on the Ethics Committee. In addition, Len has worked closely with the ESPC (Email Sender & Provider Coalition) on issues surrounding data privacy and email deliverability.

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