What is Automated Email Marketing and How Can It Help My Business

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Marketing Automation and Email Workflows are Less About Making Life Easier and More About Targeting The Right Prospects With The Right Key Messaging at The Right Time.

Marketing automation has become a buzzword in digital marketing, but few people understand what it means, and even fewer have successfully implemented it into their marketing campaigns. Marketing automation is a series of emails that go out over a length of time following an action by a visitor on your website. This action could be a download, the number of pages viewed or a numerical qualification based on a number of website actions. 

Email workflows are the central part of a content marketing strategy. They control the automation by setting up triggers—customer actions or information in a prospect database—and automatically crafting and sending targeted emails to your potential clients. With services like MailChimp or HubSpot, you can build a custom workflow and add or edit triggers to send increasingly tailored and efficient emails to your clients.

At its best, marketing automation allows companies to gently and personally nurture every prospective client or existing client. This is because workflows allow for customized emails to arrive at just the right time in the sales cycle. It's not a strategy to bombard or bother customers: It provides a way when correctly implemented, to send consumers timely information that is of great interest to them.

Unfortunately, marketing automation, all too often, is seen as a cure-all, when in reality it focuses on clients in the middle of the sales funnel. To effectively use marketing automation, you must remember that you need a steady stream of customers coming in at the top of the funnel—new leads to nurture with your carefully designed workflows.

At its worst, this leads companies to purchase lists of leads and hope that these poorly qualified potential customers will, somehow, be revived by a robust marketing automation strategy. That is wishful thinking and offers little more than the prospect of a few short-term gains if that. You've probably encountered this approach in your inbox, although you had a different word for it: spam.

We're going to take you through the basics of designing a workflow, the types of options you'll have with services like MailChimp, and a bit more in-depth understanding of when marketing automation works, and when it doesn't.

Designing an Email Workflow

Typically, a workflow centers on action triggers by potential customers, like subscribing to your blog or clicking a link on your site. For action-triggered workflows, automated timing systems can send out follow-up emails based on your settings. For example, if you send a welcome email one day after they sign up, you can add a follow-up email to appear at the one-week mark.

Conversely, absolute-date workflows are automated based on specific dates, such as a birthday. Not only can you send emails on those specific dates, but you can also create a workflow that sends out emails about that absolute date, like the week before and then the day before a client birthday.

Email Workflows in MailChimp

With MailChimp, there are several workflow options you can select to find the right fit for your marketing campaign. Subscriber events are one of the most common, with emails sent following a new subscriber sign-up or other click related to an email or newsletter, like other links embedded in the content.

Subscriber event workflows can trigger an immediate email response, or wait some specified number of hours or days. Common themes for subscriber event emails include welcome messages that may provide additional information or offer a unique “new subscriber” coupon or deal, as well as educational offerings if your company offers a product or service that consumers may need to learn more about before or after purchase. MailChimp's “Welcome” series of emails allows you to include up to five emails in a workflow that will provide ongoing interactions with your clients.

Date field emails, as discussed above, can help connect with potential customers around anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays. There are other options, too, like the first day of college, various appointments, or one-time special events. Date field emails are great ways to build momentum before events occur, like sending your clients a steady stream of school supply offers in late summer. You can also trigger emails based on changes to dates in the customer database.

Goal events are action-triggered events that contact customers when they visit an individual page or take action on your website. You can specify whether an email should be sent on the first visit, or after a certain number of return visits. 

Ecommerce360 and Mandrill on MailChimp

Ecommerce360 events send emails when a subscriber makes a purchase from your website; you will need to have Ecommerce360 installed to track the buying behavior of your customers. This can be an effective strategy to reward your best customers by sending them special coupons after individual purchases or a cumulative amount of spending. You can also use a specific product purchase as a way to send follow-up offers for similar products that a consumer may also want.

Mandrill can be used for personalized, one-to-one e-commerce emails, or automated transactional emails like password resets, order confirmations, and welcome messages. Create highly customized messages to send to recipients based on a specific action you’re tracking.
— MailChimp

Not all Ecommerce360 emails need to be straightforward sales offers. You may also choose only to send information about how to get the most out of a recently purchased product, or thank them for their business.

Mandrill events send emails according to subscriber activity from Mandrill emails. Obviously, this functionality is only possible after you've sent email through a connected Mandrill account. These emails could include things like homework assignments to be sent in a series after the client opens the receipt for the purchase of an online course.

Of course, there are also fully customized workflows that operate based on parameters MailChimp customers specify. Custom workflows are great when you want to follow-up with clients after an address change or any alteration in other client values.

MailChimp is just one of many platforms available to help you with your marketing automation. HubSpot is another leading option, with other major companies include Marketo and Pardot. Choosing the right one for your business depends on your needs and your technical savvy—some are more user-friendly than others, although the more technical programs often offer greater customization.

Best and Worst Practices in Marketing Automation

Before considering how to implement workflows in a marketing automation program, you'll need to establish success in generating top-of-the-funnel leads. This point, as noted at the beginning of this article, cannot be overemphasized. At each stage of the sales funnel, best-practice marketing builds on itself, so your marketing automation strategy will be defined in large part by the quality of leads that arrive in the middle of the funnel, where marketing automation plays a critical role.

The best way to generate leads is through a robust inbound marketing strategy. Buying leads yields low-quality targets, and believing that marketing automation will squeeze substantial revenue out of existing leads has limited returns. With few exceptions, most companies work with a tiny fraction of the overall market. Seek out new, untapped customers through your inbound strategy and let your marketing automation work on those that stick around.

Generating leads is an ongoing practice—most businesses lose about 23 percent leads every year to canceled subscriptions, job changes, address changes, and other factors. Whichever strategies you employ for lead generation (blogging, social media, paper mailings, etc.) make sure they're both robust and sustainable.

This is an important point: Just because marketing automation uses tailored email messages doesn't mean your entire digital campaign should focus exclusively on email. The best marketing campaigns blend all platforms, using each to boost the presence of the other. For instance, your social media accounts can link to blog posts on your site, which can offer sign-ups for notifications of new posts or various email lists.

At this stage, you're probably realizing that a comprehensive digital marketing strategy is an investment of time and energy. That's certainly true. But at the same time, a quality strategy will yield incredible dividends compared to simpler, worst-practice methods like single-channel marketing and list buying. If you're going to invest your time and money, make sure you're doing it right, even if your strategy is a much smaller or simpler version than what Amazon or iTunes might employ.

Great Marketing Automation Is All about Your Client

The days of marketing being nothing more than an opportunity for companies to boast about their achievements are long gone. To be an effective digital marketer, you need to be able to tap into your clients' interests and develop tailored content. That's one of the great benefits of marketing automation, which allows you to develop automated workflows to provide uniquely crafted messages without the burden of creating hundreds or even thousands of personalized emails.

Sophistication in your strategy will yield increasingly tailored emails, which elicit better responses from your clients. Simple time-triggered events, email click-throughs, or website visits probably don't provide you with enough information to shoot off a tailored and efficient email. A more robust workflow takes into account all the information you have about a client—demographics, purchase history, geographic location, and other factors.

With quality software, it's even possible to take advantage of client actions on other platforms, like social media clicks. It's just one more way that marketing automation, which may have started as little more than automated email workflows, is taking into account the entire picture of your client.

Setting Up Marketing Automation and Effective Email Workflows for Your Business

Not sure if you're ready for marketing automation? One great way to think about it is to figure out what your biggest marketing challenge is at the moment. Marketing automation is the best solution for businesses that are generating lots of high-quality leads but struggling to keep up with them. Marketing automation is the perfect way to scale-up your efforts and keep more leads in the funnel.

To successfully implement a marketing automation strategy, you'll want to keep in mind the limitations of automation. After all, it is not a lead generation strategy but a way to scale-up lead management and incorporate all of your client information and actions into your interactions. You'll still need to create engaging and informative content as part of your inbound marketing campaign to attract the leads you want your automation to nurture.

The same focus on the customer is critical for how you create your workflows. While the ultimate goal is to convert a lead into a sale, you'll need to make sure that your workflows align that path with the one your client wants to take. In other words, you don't want to design workflows that send your lead too many emails or irrelevant content because you think it helps push them along in the sales cycle. You'll need to understand the right time, and information to provide that will make your client happy and interested, and let that serve as the motivation to get closer to the sale.

The Big Picture: The Role of Marketing Automation in a Digital Marketing Campaign

Hopefully, by this point, we've been able to shed some light on what an excellent marketing automation strategy looks like, what it can help you achieve, and what it can't. While email workflows are at the center of marketing automation strategy, your customers should remain at the center of your marketing campaign. Well-designed workflows can help you scale up your email marketing and integrate all information and actions of your leads. The result is that you develop a more efficient lead management strategy, and your customers—in a well-executed campaign—receive more engaging content in their inbox. No workflow is capable of generating leads, and a lack of sophistication in designing your workflows will yield only minimal return on investment compared to traditional email marketing campaigns.

There are no shortcuts to a great marketing campaign. You need great content on various channels to attract high-quality leads, a thorough email workflow to serve as the base of your marketing automation, and a staff of salespeople to help close the deal if face-to-face sales are part of your business model. Obviously, you'll also need a product or service that consumers want to buy. But at the end of the day, it's an exciting if challenging opportunity: Modern digital marketing requires you to put forth your best effort in every facet of your business, and, for consumers, they benefit from a sales cycle that focuses on their wants and needs every step of the way.


About Michael Conway and Means-of-Production

My firm builds Squarespace websites, Houzz profiles, and content marketing and advertising solutions for architects, interior designers, design-build contractors and landscape design firms. Our all-in-one tactics attract the right clients with exceptional architectural photography and brand messaging that sets you apart from the competition. Contact me for a free-of-charge consultation and marketing review. It takes about 40 minutes and you'll be provided a list of actionable improvements designed to solve your specific marketing problems. 

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