Marketing automation is an essential tool for many obvious reasons. Chiefly being that once set up, it can continue to return on investment with little maintenance required. Automations, also known as flows or series, may include emails, SMS and even push notifications. They provide brands a way in which to fine-tune communications with their customers to bolster investment in the brand; be that fiscal and/or social.
All automations are set up in a series of events strung together by time and user actions. Actions may include subscribing to a newsletter, abandoning a cart, purchasing an item or even an anniversary. These actions start the flows, but can also be within flows as well in the form of conditional splits. So before we dive into the various types of flows, let’s cover the parts of a flow: timing, conditional split, dynamic content and tagging.
Timing is an aspect of an automation that designates when the next step in the flow takes place. As an example, when a user starts a cart and then leaves the site, an automation is triggered, but the flow would wait two hours until that first email is sent.
One of the most powerful tools to arrive on the email marketing scene, the conditional split, divides customers within flows based on certain qualities. Conditional splits activate based on customer behavior, or customer profile attributes, and send customers on different paths within the automation. The result may be different emails, tagging or even whether or not they exit the flow. The key here, at least for emails, is to make the content unique and strategic to each split group. For example below, where we split based on if there was a purchase or not. The purchase group was already willing to make the purchase regardless of a deal, therefore the prospect group would likely receive an email with an incentive while the purchase group would not.
Dynamic content is anything from text to images that change based on the user. This content is unique to a user or a segment of users, thus adding a layer of personalization to your emails. The content could change based on name, gender, location, purchase behavior and a handful of other parameters.
Tagging is a great way to segment your audiences based on their behavior, be that purchase behavior or general email interactivity. Depending on their actions, we can update existing tags or create new ones at specific trigger points in a flow. In the example below we are viewing the tail-end of a sunset series, where the customers who have not interacted with the emails are tagged as Unengaged. This tagging could then become the basis of a targeted segment for future marketing campaigns via email or even for paid media.
Email Automation Types
Standard Welcome Series
The welcome series is the very first touch-point with the customer. This flow is also the longest and most complex of those discussed within this blog post. It presents the opportunity to start the customer’s journey through your brand’s story, and how your brand stands out from competitors. It is a great place to further illustrate the benefits of being in the brand’s ecosystem; from products to social media. Throughout this flow the goal here is to slowly nurture a relationship and expand your product offerings to the customer in an organic manner.
At the beginning of the flow we generally place a conditional split to divide the customers right away between those who have made a purchase (subscribed via check-out) and those who have not (subscribed to email). We call these the Prospect Welcome Email and the Purchaser Welcome Email.
1a] The Prospect Welcome is used to introduce a user to the brand by providing a bit of back-story. Additionally, it seeks to validate why the brand is what the customer seeks and what they are to expect next. Oftentimes the prospect welcome email will include some incentive, which is what many customers have been trained to anticipate within e-commerce these days.
1b] The Purchaser Welcome, aka Thank You email, is used when users enter your mailing list via checkout. This email has many uses, one of its strongest being to nurture brand loyalty by thanking your customers for choosing your brand. These can be particularly effective when dynamic content is used to further personalize the email. Now that you’ve thanked the customer, it is time to make them feel more invested in the brand by asking for a product review. This is a great situation as it makes the customer feel appreciated and you can discover what works and what does not work for the product. Included in this email could be testimonials from other customers to help validate the product as well as a focus on getting involved on various social media channels.
2] Next up is the E-commerce email where you can position your products or services on a stage to highlight best-sellers, staff picks, under-sellers, deals and much more. Some brands have a large assortment of products and this can incite a sense of purchase paralysis. Alternatively, many shoppers have limited time to peruse what your brand offers. This is where the e-commerce email steps in to save the day. Also known as a cross-sell or up-sell, this email helps to package up your products into easily digestible collections and display them so that they are effortlessly viewed, and thus clickable for the customer. You may also want to mix into the copy the customer needs, and identify how your brand solves those needs.
3] Next there is the Re-engagement/Incentive email. This is a way to further cross-sell to previous customers who have not made a purchase or interacted with the brand in a set amount of time. An underlying message here is to express a term called future pacing where you use specific words to help a lead imagine themselves in a future where they are experiencing your product/service. Cite the benefits of right now, a few weeks/months from now or even years. Taking on a slightly more bold approach, you could also paint a picture of what things would be like without your product(s). Like many of these emails, a second option is possible where you send a reminder where you could showcase more testimonials from users or media outlets. In the place of an email an SMS message may be used as a simple reminder, perhaps even including an incentive.
4-5] The Sunset portion of the flow can be included within the Welcome series, or stand-alone as its own flow. It deploys as a way to clean up mailing lists and provide re-engagement to passive users. This is essentially the last chance for them to remain an email marketing user. We create sunset emails, of which there can be one to two in the flow, to eliminate customers who may not be engaging with the brand. These customers often skew your email metrics and potentially harm your email domain score. Note that the second part of this portion (email #5) could be an SMS message in place of an email.
An anniversary email can come in two forms, both of which could be deployed: 1) birthday anniversary and 2) purchase anniversary. These flows act as re-engagements to remind/incentivize users in a fun way to interact with the brand. As it is an anniversary, the email is sent 365 days after the event takes place. Given the fact that birthdays are not readily known for the customer, the purchase anniversary flow is the more popular version used.
Make online shopping easier and more organized via an abandoned browse email by saving what people were looking for on your site for them. This particular email automation deploys when a user has viewed products, but has yet to add those products to their cart. A close relative of the more well-known cart abandon flow, the strategy behind the two is very similar. These emails are one of the strongest methods of nurturing customers to take the final step towards a purchase. It reminds them of what they are interested in and then reinforces that affinity to make a purchase. Abandon emails are also great for showcasing similar products that the customer may not be aware of yet, but are in-line with what they are seeking. Another strategy is to add SMS into the automation as a reminder message to follow the email for those who have not added to their carts yet.
Cart Abandonment Series
People are busy, and thus distracted, that is why abandoned cart automations can be a game-changer for your brand. While welcome emails are the most-opened, abandon cart emails are, without-a-doubt, the most profitable. In this scenario when a customer adds products to their cart, but then leaves the site for whatever reason, an email is sent with the items they left in their cart. The intent here is to gently nudge them to complete their checkout process. Usually the initial email is followed by another email for those who did not complete their order. This is similar to the first email, but adds more urgency, and perhaps a little FOMO. SMS can be inserted into this flow in place of the second email or as a third reminder. There are other ways to not only aid the customer along to purchasing, but to increase the order value as well, learn more in our article How to Increase Your Cart Value.
Re-order / Replace / Upgrade Reminder
For brands selling products that customers purchase on a recurring basis a re-order automation may be a much-needed asset to your email portfolio. This flow alerts customers that they may be running short on a particular product, and therefore it’s high-time to order a replacement/refill. This is a great way to express to your customers that you’re there for them by sending a reminder based on the average replacement/re-purchase timeframe of a particular product. Going one step further you could recommend similar products or upgrades to potentially expand the customer’s purchase scope. As an example, suppose that your brand sells a body care product that typically lasts a customer three months. You could then automate a replenishment email to send every 10 weeks. If they did not re-purchase at the three-month mark you could even follow-up with a second “did you forget to re-order?” email. Then if the user purchases the same item, or an item in that category, they restart the flow and the cycle continues. Additionally, SMS can be inserted into this flow as a reminder message.
Purchase Frequency Series
This particular flow has a lot of potential for customer retention, as well as increased product exposure. It also has the potential to morph into a loyalty program, thus a one-two punch marketing-wise. In the loyalty program scenario the higher the buying power (higher value purchase or more consecutive purchases) the more perks become available, encouraging more product acquisition and brand engagement. In its most basic form this flow could play out as such:
- If the customer has made one purchase they receive a product review email with product care or product set-up information included. By this logic this email could replace the Welcome Purchaser Email found in the Welcome Series.
- At two-three purchases they receive a company suggestions/feedback email with product care advice.
- Finally, with four or more purchases they would enter a VIP program, where users are segmented and receive special promo codes/gifts/perks. There are numerous other rewards program ideas, fortunately we have a blog post for that as well, read more here on that topic.
Back-in-Stock and Price Drop Alerts
Loyal customers rely on your brand, so it is up to you to keep them informed and make the interaction effortlessly seamless to keep them returning. A key way to do this is through back-in-stock alerts so that they do not miss out on replenished inventory. When a product is out of stock make sure to quickly post a notification sign-up form (example below) so that an automation can be triggered to notify the customer when the product is back in stock. Using SMS is also a great tactic to employ as a follow-up reminder/back-up method to alert your customers so that they do not miss out. Additionally, adding a price drop notification email into your automation portfolio is another way to keep your customers informed and appreciative of your brand. Similar to the Back in Stock email, a user would sign up to be notified when a product’s price fluctuates by a set dollar amount or percentage.
A great strategy to not only learn more from your customers but to further personalize your messaging is to create a multi-step form (landing page) asking for buying preferences, i.e. age, clothing by gender, how much customers would be willing to spend on a product, what products fit their interests most et al. In this scenario we send an email to users who have been highly engaged (via open and purchase data) and ask for their buying preferences. This may be followed/incentivized via promo codes.
As always, test your emails to see what works best. Test frequently; from subject lines to images and colors to shapes. The more you test, the more refined and precise your marketing becomes. Additionally, understanding Best Practices as well as How to Analyze Email Data are two key factors in fully-harnessing the power of not only a/b testing but your overall email productivity.
Email marketing is an expansive, and ever-growing, landscape. As such, the boundaries of what you can do are constantly evolving. From more complex graphics such as GIFs to increasingly advanced dynamic content and conditional logic options, the future is an exciting place for this marketing channel. We hope that you find your niche and optimize email automations into what works best for your brand.
Foghorn Labs is here to help you along the way. Reach out to us if you are interested in having us become a part of your email and SMS marketing strategy.