How to Nurture Leads with Drip Email Marketing

How to Nurture Leads with Drip Email Marketing

Growing your email subscriber list doesn’t necessarily equate to increased customer engagement. In fact, as your email list grows, it gets harder to send truly relevant emails to your entire subscriber list at once. 

Why? Because your customers are all at different stages of their buyer journey and bulk messages are not as effective as personalized messages tailored to their specific needs.

A drip email marketing campaign, also known as autoresponders, automated emails and lifecycle emails, is a sequence of emails that go out to segments of your audience in response to a unique trigger. The trigger might be a set amount of time or an action taken by your lead or customer. 

The ability to target customers based on their behaviors or stage in their journey allows you to connect with them in a more meaningful way, ultimately leading to increased engagement and sales. 

In this article, we’ll explore a seven-step process that outlines how to plan and set up your drip email marketing campaigns effectively so that you can achieve your desired outcomes. We’ll also show you eight drip email campaign examples that you can glean insights from.

Table of contents

  • What is drip email marketing?
  1. 1. Identify your target audience
  2. 2. Map out your customer journey
  3. 3. Identify your objectives and goals
  4. 4. Plan your drip sequence
  5. 5. Write your message
  6. 6. Start your campaign
  7. 7. Analyze and optimize
  • Drip campaign examples
  1. 1. Lead nurturing
  2. 2. Welcome/onboarding emails
  3. 3. Recommendations
  4. 4. Abandoned cart emails
  5. 5. Re-engagement
  6. 6. Order confirmation
  7. 7. Milestone emails
  8. 8. Alerts

What is drip email marketing?

Unlike cold emails, drip emails are usually sent to someone who has already engaged with your content or brand and are used to nurture them to becoming a customer, or returning as one.

In this article, we’re going to show you exactly how drip email marketing campaigns can be used in many different parts of your business, which we’ll explore in-depth in the next section.

Regardless of the type of drip email sequence you choose to use, following a step-by-step process will help you to get the best results.

1. Identify your target audience

Before sending any kind of marketing email, you need to know who you’re talking to. Many drip campaigns are triggered by user action or user information, which makes knowing your customers essential. 

Ask yourself:

  • Who are your leads? 
  • What makes them a prospective customer? 
  • What problems are they trying to solve with your product? 
  • What are their pain points and priorities? 

By creating detailed, factually-based buyer personas, you’ll be able to build campaigns that directly address their biggest concerns and desires. 

Once you’ve identified your target audience, segment them into meaningful groups. 

Depending on your business, typical segmentation criteria could include:

  • Industry 
  • Company size
  • Sign-up source
  • Engagement history
  • Interests 

There’s no need to go overboard; too much segmenting can make your drip campaigns needlessly complex. Just break your list down into logical groups to a level where any messages you send will feel relevant to that group.

2. Map out your customer journey

Each lead follows a journey or a series of touchpoints from the moment they come into contact with your business to the moment they become a paying customer. 

For example, a customer journey might look something like this:

  1. Visit your website or landing page via Google, a paid ad, or a direct or indirect referral 
  2. Browse your website and look at product or service pages, blog posts and other resources 
  3. Sign up for your email list
  4. Visit your site again, look at pricing information and give you their contact details
  5. Purchase a product or service
  6. Recommend your business to friends 

By knowing your customer’s journey, you can identify what campaigns and specific messages would be most effective at each stage, enabling you to deliver the right message at the right time. Sending the same message to brand new leads as existing customers would be a mistake, as their motivations are completely different.

For example, if a lead has only just become aware of your business, it’s unlikely that they’ll be ready to buy immediately. Instead, they’ll probably be best served by a lead nurture campaign that focuses on education and value, and as they become more aware of your product, you can adjust your campaign to focus on case studies, demos and incentives to buy now. 

An existing customer, on the other hand, would most likely respond better to requests to leave feedback, share promotions on social media, or see additional product recommendations. 

When you’re mapping out your customer journey, think about what’s motivating your leads and customers and how you can help them meet their goals. Just as with your buyer personas, the map should be based on real data as opposed to guesswork. Talk with existing customers and find out which route they took to glean valuable insights for the future.

3. Identify your objectives and goals

Just as you took the time to understand the customer and their journey, take some time to understand yourself and your goals. What results would bring the biggest benefits to your business? 

For example, you might want to increase the number of leads that convert. Alternatively, you might have plenty of leads, but you’d like to increase the amount they spend with your company. Or, you might have found that referrals tend to convert well so would like to increase the number of referrals you generate. 

Decide what action you want your reader to take at the end of each drip campaign, then come up with a plan to get them there. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, and why, it becomes much easier to set goals. 

You may have heard of SMART goals which state that each goal should be:

  • Specific  
  • Measurable 
  • Achievable 
  • Relevant 
  • Time-bound 

Your campaign goals should meet these criteria, too. For example, you need to decide in advance what metrics you’ll be tracking to measure success. These might be a combination of email-specific results (open rates, click-through rates or CTR, reply rates, etc.) and business results (conversion rate, churn, revenue, etc.). 

4. Plan your drip sequence

While a drip email marketing campaign is automated, it still needs careful planning if you’re going to meet your goals.

You need to establish rules for your campaign. Consider the following as jumpoff points:

  • Clearly define what triggers you’ll be looking for
  • Identify how many emails you’d like to send
  • Characterize the purpose of your emails
  • Detail how the campaign will end

Whatever triggers you choose, they have to line up with your goals. Revisit your customer journey map to see what triggers you might be able to identify for each touchpoint. What information will you need to successfully deliver the most relevant content?

Don’t make things unnecessarily complicated. If an automated email campaign relies on a complex combination of triggers and rules, things can go easily wrong, such as a lead inadvertently ending up in two different campaigns with conflicting or repeating messages.

When it comes to the number of emails and how often you send them, there are no definitive rules. Some find that starting off with a higher frequency, usually at the point when a lead is most engaged (i.e. directly after a purchase) and slowing down as time passes gets the best results. 

Others find that you get better results by doing the opposite: starting slow and subsequently increasing the frequency. This works best when you’re building up excitement for a special event, such as a product launch. It’s not unusual for companies to send several emails on a launch day to make sure people don’t miss the deadline. 

Others have found success with daily emails, such as using a free 7-day course as a lead magnet that goes into a lead nurture sequence. 

Ultimately, you have to see what works for you and your audience. If you don’t send enough emails, you risk being missed in their inbox and forgotten. Too many emails, though, can come across as aggressive and annoy your potential customers, possibly getting your emails marked as spam and hurting your deliverability. 

A/B test to find the right frequency for your business and your customers. 

5. Write your message

Whether your mission is to educate or to motivate, each message should have a clear purpose that corresponds to the reader’s specific needs at that point in their customer journey.

Similar to the number of emails you should include in your campaign, when it comes to email length there are also no hard and fast rules. Generally, shorter messages are seen as better, especially when you’re trying to keep a distracted reader’s attention. 

Of course, there are always exceptions, as long messages may be necessary and appreciated for important topics, such as a rebranding announcement or a new partnership. The best rule of thumb is to make each email as long as it needs to be to serve its purpose, and not one word longer. 

You should also tailor your campaigns based on what you know about your audience. For example, if someone signed up to download your “effective CEO” checklist, you can send them messages that refer to the challenges faced by the C-suite. Alternatively, you could send personalized recommendations based on their previous purchases. 

Finally, each message should contain a clear call to action (CTA) showing the recipient what they need to do next. A lead should never be left confused by your message. This might be as simple as replying to say hi, clicking a link to download valuable content, or using a code to get a discount.

6. Start your campaign

With a plan in place and all your messages written up, you’re ready to get started. 

In Mailigen, it’s easy to set up an automated sequence. Select which kind of trigger you want to use to start your drip email campaign, confirm settings (such as sender details), then create a workflow with the messages you’ve just written.

7. Analyze and optimize

At the end of your drip email marketing campaign, check the primary metrics to see if you achieved your objectives. Don’t get too distracted by vanity metrics or those that are secondary to your main goals. For example, if your primary goal was to see conversions increase and you were successful, you shouldn’t be unduly concerned if unsubscribes went up as well.

What if the email metrics are low and you didn’t hit your goal? It’s likely you can improve performance with a few small tweaks. For emails, poor open rates can often be resolved with small changes to the sender name, subject line and email preheader or message preview. CTR and reply rates can also be improved with clearer and more relevant messaging. 

Even after you’ve generated and qualified your lead, bear in mind that nurturing them takes time. Just as you can’t plant a seed and expect a beautiful flower by the next day, you won’t immediately see results. 

If you’re not seeing any positive results after enough time has gone past (such as beyond the typical sales cycle length for your business), you might have to revisit your plan. Do your messages match up with your customers’ unique situation? Have you got the balance right between educating and selling? Are you sending too many messages? Not enough? 

Adjust, retest, reanalyze and enhance. Repeat this sequence frequently to refine your campaign and achieve or surpass your targets.

Keep in mind that even if you do create the most effective campaign possible, you may still need to adjust it in light of local and world issues. Anyone who was using automated email sequences before the COVID-19 pandemic knows the importance of adjusting messaging to speak to the current climate. Be aware of any changes that may affect your prospects and keep testing with new variations.

Email drip campaign examples

A thoughtful set of targeted emails can significantly improve or enhance a customer or leads experience with your business. Now let’s look at several examples of drip campaign sequences that can help you drive up customer engagement and nurture leads. 

1. Lead nurturing

Drip marketing campaigns are fundamentally about nurturing leads. 

Very few leads will be ready to purchase the instant they land on your website, especially if you’re selling high-ticket items. They may show some interest in your product or service by downloading an ebook or clicking into a product, but often aren’t quite ready to buy yet.

Rather than hoping they’ll come back when they are in fact ready, adding them to a lead nurture sequence can be a great way of keeping their attention and ensuring you’re top of mind during their decision-making process. 

A lead nurture sequence will typically mean educating the lead about your product or service over multiple emails. These emails should provide important information about why your business is better than the competition and how it can solve their specific problems. For example, you could dedicate each email to answering questions commonly raised by customers or send out ebooks or whitepapers that outline how existing customers overcame similar problems by using your product or service. 

The content should be varied, depending on your product and your lead. A short video may work better for leads at the top of the sales funnel, while a free trial may work better for leads that are almost ready to buy. 

While the overall aim is to get a lead to convert to a paying customer, the immediate goals should be to build trust, add value and educate. Even if you don’t convert every lead to a customer, you can still earn respect and become a thought leader in your space with enriching content. 

Here’s an example of a lead nurturing email from Ramit Sethi via Growth Lab:

Drip email marketing example Ramit

In this email, Ramit does a good job of capturing the attention of his readers from the outset by showcasing somebody that recently unsubscribed from his list and pasting their reason for leaving. Subsequently, he acknowledges that his email list is not for everybody and writes, “If you don’t like that, scroll to the bottom of this email to remove yourself.” 

By doing this, he is taking an opportunity to double down on who he believes his target audience is and offering an out to anybody who does not freely fit into that definition. If you’re still reading after that intro, perhaps you’ll feel more empowered to do the work that an unsubscriber wasn’t willing to do or was unable to carry out. Banking on the reader feeling re-inspired, he then provides actionable steps for his readers to take right away, further empowering them to engage with his materials and ultimately sign up for a course.

2. Welcome/onboarding emails

A warm welcome email to your new customers or subscribers is a great way to make a strong impression. It’s also a huge opportunity to educate them on how your business works, get them excited about joining your community, complete their profile, begin using your service and even cross-sell your products. 

It doesn’t have to be anything complicated; for some brands, a simple greeting to new subscribers might be enough. Still, why not use the opportunity to do more than just say “hi”? For example, if they’ve signed up for your newsletter, you can use your first email to share your most popular value-packed posts and spell out any additional benefits they get from signing up, whether that’s a coupon code for a hefty discount or access to a helpful community.

Welcome emails benefit from the personal touch. Consider adding a message from the founder along with a photo of the team. It’s much easier to establish a long-term relationship when you use your name, rather than sending a generic message from a no-reply address. 

When you’re welcoming someone who’s signed up for a trial version of your product, it makes sense to onboard new users with a series of messages that will help them get the most out of the trial. To start, give them a tour of your best features and make it clear how your product can solve their problems. 

Then, as the trial draws to a close, explain what they need to do to carry on using the service and reiterate why continuing to use your product can help them achieve their goals. Depending on your product, you could include an offer or some other incentive to sign up for the full version. 

By properly onboarding your trial users and giving them all the information they need to succeed, they’re more likely to convert to paying customers and less likely to churn. 

Notion uses their welcome email as an opportunity to not only welcome new customers but to explain in detail how their platform works:

Drip email marketing example Notion

Strategically, they ask their new customers to immediately open a blank page in Notion and follow the steps laid out in the email to familiarize themselves with the platform. They know that more users will engage with the platform if they learn it right away, so they take this opportunity to provide a tutorial-style welcome to help drive the onboarding process.  

3. Recommendations

To create a truly personalized experience, you can use a drip email campaign to offer recommendations tailored to your customers’ unique activities and behaviors.

Companies like Amazon and Netflix have teams of data scientists and algorithms all dedicated to making the best recommendations for what to buy or what show to watch next. While they do have hefty budgets and large teams, you don’t need either of those resources to send great recommendations to your customers. All you need is basic data and some foresight.

For example, you can analyze your existing customers’ purchasing behavior to see if there are any behavioral patterns that stand out, such as frequently buying two items together or sequentially. Common sense says that someone who’s bought hiking boots might be interested in hiking socks or other items from your outdoor activities department, but knowing specifically which items are often purchased together removes any guesswork from the equation.

Based on what you find, you can set up a campaign that initiates every time a customer buys one of those products without the other. In the drip campaign, alert them to why the items go well together and point to existing customer feedback or testimonials explaining how the products enhance each other.

You’re not just restricted to recommending products. You can also suggest relevant actions a lead could take, such as downloading related content, signing up for a webinar, or upgrading their subscription. 

Here’s an example of a recommendation email from Netflix that does just that: 

Drip email marketing example Netflix

They don’t even write any custom content; rather, they simply draw attention to new movies and TV shows that have recently been added to their platform and strategically place “Play” or “+My List” CTAs directly beneath it. Simple recommendations with clear-cut CTAs are sometimes all you need to boost engagement.  

4. Abandoned cart emails

On average, online shopping carts are abandoned at a rate of 69.57%. There are several reasons why customers abandon their carts at the last minute—the item is too expensive, they want to see if they can get it cheaper elsewhere, or they simply got distracted and forgot to checkout. 

Whatever the reason, a gentle automated reminder might be enough to persuade a prospective customer who has left their items in the cart to make the purchase. 

You can use a drip campaign to follow up with your leads and let them know the item is still available. Offer them a good reason to tap the buy button, whether that’s limited stock or a discount code.

This doesn’t have to just apply to e-commerce products. You can use the same principle to reach out to leads who have visited a pricing page or started the sign-up process but haven’t yet converted. 

Here’s an example of an abandoned cart email from Peel:

Drip email marketing example Peel

They start with a headline asking “Still Thinking it Over?” before gently pushing the customer to not wait too long and to place an order today. They then conveniently show the item that’s in your cart and add a CTA button that makes it easy to return to your cart and complete the purchase right away.

5. Re-engagement

While drip campaigns are ideal for nurturing new leads, you can also use them to reestablish a connection with past customers. As 36.5% of shoppers will spend more on products if they’re loyal to a brand and 59.3% of shoppers that have great experiences will refer their friends and family, existing customers should never be ignored.

In fact, you should proactively and consistently reach out to your existing customers, especially those who have been inactive for some time. 

Identify common reasons for customers to become unengaged, then think about what incentives you can offer to return. Maybe it’s time for them to upgrade to a newer, better version of the original product they purchased and you can offer an upsell. You might also now offer a new or different service that fits their needs in an improved way. 

When should you consider a previous customer as inactive? It depends on their buying cycle. If they’ve bought a high-ticket item, they might only make a purchase every few years. On the other hand, an exercise app provider might get concerned when someone hasn’t logged in for a week. Make that decision based on your business model, identify the reason for inactivity and offer a compelling reason to re-engage.

If the customer doesn’t respond to your re-engagement campaign after some time, you should absolutely consider unsubscribing them from your list. Let them know before you do this in case they do in fact want to stay. This is critical as low open rates could end up hurting you. 

Here’s an example of a re-engagement email from Bodyspace acting as a check-in on inactive customers: 

Drip email marketing example Bodyspace

It starts off with a note about how the customer hasn’t logged a workout in a week and then shows an image of the customer’s blank workout calendar to further drive their inactivity home. It ends with an incentive to join a workout challenge wherein the registration deadline has been extended. This works to pressure the customer to act now, whether it be to sign up for the challenge or get back to their solo workouts ASAP. 

6. Order confirmation

An order confirmation lets your customer know that their order was successful and tells them what to expect next. 

When a customer has just made a purchase, they’re at their most engaged as they’ve just handed over their hard-earned cash. This is an ideal opportunity to collect feedback, make recommendations, or strengthen your relationship.

Here’s an example from CD Baby:

Drip email marketing example Bodyspace

CD Baby’s order confirmation email uses humor to great effect, ensuring that customers remember them and potentially share the email with friends.

7. Milestone emails

Celebrating special occasions with your leads is an opportunity to increase engagement and make a sale. 

Birthday emails are a popular example, with companies sending out discount codes as a birthday present. However, that means requesting and recording your lead’s date of birth which they may not feel comfortable handing over. 

Other important milestones to celebrate are the anniversary of signing up as a customer or the anniversary or making a first purchase.

It doesn’t always have to be a cause for celebration, though. If you’ve ever donated money to Wikipedia, you’ve probably received a similar email to this:

Drip email marketing example Wikipedia

Wikipedia is simultaneously celebrating a customer’s donation anniversary while asking for continued support. It’s a tactic used by many companies that rely on recurring donations to reach their goal, whether that be to remain ad free like Wikipedia or for another purpose. They even note in the email itself that most people will ignore it, but as a non-profit, swaying even a small percentage of past donors to donate again is a win. 

8. Alerts

As with order confirmations, think about the other transactional emails you typically send out to leads and customers and consider how you can make full use of them. For example, an alert regarding an approaching payment due date or subscription renewal deadline can be a hidden opportunity. 

For example, if a customer’s subscription is about to expire and they haven’t renewed yet, you could enter them into another nurturing sequence, helping them to get the full value out of their subscription and prompting them to renew. Then, if they do decide to renew, you can strengthen your relationship further with a thank you message. 

See how Sparktoro took a simple credit card charge notification email and used it to demonstrate their values:

Drip email marketing example SparkToro

By alerting customers that their card is about to be charged, Sparktoro is making an intentional choice to stand out from the crowd. Most businesses choose not to alert their customers of an upcoming charge in the hopes that it will go unnoticed. For many businesses, complacent customers that give money are just as celebrated as engaged customers that give money. 

Sparktoro, on the other hand, places a higher value on customers that are actually using and benefiting from their product and write “…if that’s no longer the case, you shouldn’t have to pay!” This leap of faith may cost them some revenue, but it will most likely boost engagement and strengthen their customer base. 

Final thoughts

As part of your email marketing strategy, drip email campaigns are a fantastic way to send relevant and highly targeted messages to your email list. Whether you’re nurturing leads or making the most of your transactional emails, a drip email campaign can provide valuable content when your prospect needs it most. 

A successful campaign has to be properly planned out. By knowing your target audience and their journey, then aligning that with your goals and objectives, you can plan an effective campaign that brings in more leads and happy customers.


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