Email Marketing Automation: What It Is and How It Can Save Your Time and Money

Email Marketing Automation: What It Is and How It Can Save Your Time and Money
05 March, 2024 • ... • 58 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

Chances are you have already heard about email marketing automation. But did you know how powerful it is, exactly? This marvelous method can help you cut costs, increase ROI, and, ultimately, grow your business while also freeing up your resources for other tasks. In this guide, we’ll explain what email marketing automation is and give you plenty of tips on using it to supercharge marketing at your business. Let’s dive in.

What is email marketing automation?

Email marketing automation is a method that allows marketers to send personalized, targeted email campaigns based on predefined user actions, behavior patterns, or events using specialized software. These actions or events are called “triggers” in email marketing, so automated emails are also known as triggered emails. Some common types of triggers include joining a mailing list, leaving items in a shopping cart, browsing a product page, and more. 

Once a marketer defines the triggers and sets up automated campaigns, software runs these campaigns automatically. Thus, automation facilitates email marketing management and increases efficiency, saving time and effort on crucial processes such as scheduling campaigns. Plus it also boosts customer engagement due to enhanced personalization.  

Depending on your campaign type and goals, you can automate individual emails or whole email series. One of the most common examples of email automation you are likely familiar with is the welcome email that new customers receive shortly after opting in to a mailing list. Here’s what it typically looks like:

An automated welcome email from a non-alcoholic drinks brand Bark & Bitter
Source: Really Good Emails

Other types of automated emails include abandoned cart emails, upsell and recommendation emails, and feedback request emails. Also, there are more complex examples such as automated sales funnels — i.e., elaborate email sequences that follow the sales funnel logic. 

As opposed to simple email marketing tasks like sending to less than 500 recipients, email automation requires a specialized solution called an email service provider, or ESP. These solutions allow marketers to set up various triggers, customize emails, create email chains, and analyze campaign performance. That’s why it is essential to choose the tool that answers the specific needs of your business (more on that later). 

But why do you need automated campaigns in the first place? Let us look at the main benefits of email automation more closely.

The importance of email marketing automation in today’s digital landscape

According to research, 91% of marketers who use automation report the experience as successful. Moreover, email remains the top most automated channel — and the popularity of email marketing automation is still increasing. In 2023, 63% of marketers reported using automation in this area, as compared to 40% in 2021. Here’s what makes it so attractive to businesses of all sizes. 

Better efficiency and productivity

One of the best things about email marketing automation is that it saves tons of time and effort. By automating repetitive tasks like personalizing email content and scheduling campaigns, you can delegate a lot of tedious work to software and improve your efficiency and productivity. This frees up much-needed resources for more creative, strategic tasks such as analyzing your campaigns’ performance and brainstorming new content ideas

Access to more analytics and metrics

Having enough data points is key to properly assessing the performance of your email campaigns. So, it’s no wonder that 37% of marketers surveyed by Ascend2 and partners named improving data quality as their primary goal for using marketing automation. 

With any email automation software, you can track crucial email metrics such as open and click-through rates, conversion rates, and more. But the best marketing automation platforms for email also provide analytics for both individual emails and the entire automated chains. For example, you can see at which point in the automation sequence subscribers disengaged and how many of them did. This wealth of data helps marketers to pinpoint the campaigns’ strengths and weaknesses and find growth opportunities. 

Improved lead generation

While email automation is not directly involved in the lead capture process, it enhances the performance of landing pages, social media ads, and other lead generation practices. Instead of monitoring your lead capturing and reaching out to new leads manually, you can set up triggered automated campaigns and monitor the performance using your ESPs analytics reports. 

Moreover, you can make lead generation more efficient by offering incentives such as gated content or welcome discounts, capturing lead data early on, and better personalizing your email communications.        

Enhanced customer engagement

Automation software allows marketers to produce and deliver highly personalized campaigns for nurturing leads, improving conversions, and re-engaging dormant subscribers, and email personalization is a proven way to increase customer engagement. In fact, most people nowadays expect brands to tailor marketing messages to their needs and tastes. By segmenting your email list based on characteristics such as demographics or behavior patterns and setting up relevant triggers, you can send laser-targeted, ideally timed messages that your customers are more likely to interact with. 

Besides increasing engagement, automated email campaigns also boost brand awareness and customer loyalty, improve customer experience, and help foster brand-customer relationships.      

Increased sales and revenue

Email campaign automation is a powerful method to help businesses grow revenue because targeted, timely, and relevant messages increase conversion rates and drive more sales. Per the 2022 Retail Ecommerce Benchmark Report by Bluecore, automated emails proved remarkably effective at driving first purchases. Abandoned cart campaigns, in particular, drove 24-49% more first purchases than other campaign types across several product categories, including home goods, health & beauty, and more.        

Additionally, automated email workflows are an efficient way to guide customers through the buying journey without putting in extra work. By nurturing leads with content marketing, promotions, personalized offers, and more, you can successfully convert them into loyal customers and increase their lifetime value (LTV).   

Cost-effectiveness

Finally, email automation makes email marketing — which is already one of the most cost-effective digital marketing channels out there — even more cost-effective. As email automation saves time and effort, businesses need fewer employees in their email marketing departments. Also, better campaign optimization and efficiency ensures higher ROI, which means you essentially get more value for your money. In fact, according to research by Omnisend, automated emails generated 31.5% of all email marketing orders while accounting for just 1.8% of email sends in 2022. What’s more, email automation makes it easier to upscale because you can reach larger audiences without significantly raising spendings. 

That said, cost-effectiveness can vary depending on the email automation solution you choose to go with. Later in this article, we’ll explain this in more detail. And before that, let’s take a look at some impressive email automation examples.

Email marketing automation examples

Let’s see some of the best email marketing automation examples. The emails below illustrate the most common automated email types. They also showcase some top brands across several industries and can serve as a source of inspiration as well as a template for your own automated campaigns.

Welcome emails

Welcome emails are among the most frequently automated, and they also have the highest open and click rates among other automated campaigns. When a person opts in to your email list, it triggers a welcome campaign, and a new subscriber gets a pre-designed email or email series in their inbox within a pre-defined time frame.   

These emails typically include a brief welcome message, a concise product description, and an outline of the customers’ next steps in interacting with the brand and its product. Also, many welcome emails contain information on what to expect from further emails and provide links to the company’s website.     

The email below is a great example of a neatly designed, informative, and heartfelt welcome message that has all the essential elements a welcome email should have: an introduction, a video tutorial for the product, and a company progress timeline:

A welcome email from Hearth Display containing a brief welcome message, a video clip that demonstrates how to use the product, and a company progress timeline
Source: Really Good Emails

Abandoned cart

Abandoned cart emails are e-commerce’s secret weapon for increasing sales. As mentioned earlier, they can drive up to 49% more first purchases than other similar email campaigns. Also, abandoned cart email flows generate the highest revenue per recipient. This is likely because abandoned cart emails are triggered when the customer leaves items in their cart, and the intention to buy is very high at this point. 

Oftentimes, a gentle reminder is all it takes to seal the deal. In other cases, a personal discount or a free shipping offer might be necessary. Also, leveraging FOMO is a powerful way to make your abandoned cart emails more persuasive. 

In the email below, Elizabeth Arden employs two techniques at a time, highlighting a discount offer and adding a countdown timer to enhance the effect:

An abandoned cart email from Elizabeth Arden featuring a limited-time discount offer, a countdown timer, and a product image. The CTAs read “Check out with 20% off” and “View your cart”.
Source: MailCharts

Post-purchase

After the customer has converted, they enter into the post-purchase stage of the buyer journey. At this point, there are several email types you can follow up with. Transactional emails such as order confirmation are very common, for example. 

But you can also leverage automation to send upsell and cross-sell emails that increase sales and the average order value. Both these email campaigns are typically triggered by completing a purchase and come with an offer to upgrade to the next-level plan or buy similar products that a customer might like, based on their previous purchase. 

This email from Quizlet is an example of an upsell email. After signing up for the free plan and using it successfully, a customer is offered an upgrade with a free trial period to test the waters:

A post-purchase (upsell) email from Quizlet offering to switch to the Quizlet Plus plan and highlighting the benefits. The CTA reads “Try it for free”.
Source: Really Good Emails

At this stage, you can also send product feedback emails. Also triggered by completing a purchase, these emails are designed to collect customer reviews while their impressions are still fresh. Such reviews are vital to businesses for several reasons — particularly, filling product pages with useful information and gleaning valuable insights about the products at the same time.

A post-purchase (feedback) email from Vuori containing an in-mail feedback survey (star rating scale) concerning a recently purchased product
Source: Really Good Emails

Re-engagement

On every email list, there are some dormant subscribers — i.e., those who’ve stopped interacting with your emails but haven’t unsubscribed. Oftentimes, you can reawaken these “sleeping beauties” with a targeted re-engagement, or win-back, campaign. 

Triggered by the contacts’ inaction for 3-6 months or more, these campaigns usually contain a “we miss you” message, a reminder of the perks a customer may lose, and a discount offer. 

In the example below, only the first two components are present. That is because re-engagement campaigns typically include more than one email, so the brand might be saving up a discount for the next one.

A re-engagement email from FabFitFun containing a list of perks customers who unsubscribe will miss out on. The CTAs read “Reactivate me”.
Source: MailCharts

Birthday emails

Birthday emails are great for nurturing relationships and increasing customer loyalty at practically any stage of the buyer journey. That’s why sending birthday greetings is so common in marketing — especially with automated birthday flows. 

As a rule, such emails are triggered when the customer’s special date approaches. They typically contain warm or humorous birthday greetings, and may also include personalized special offers such as birthday gifts and discounts. These offers often bring conversions, too: according to recent research, birthday flows have an 11.96% click-to-conversion rate. 

The example below opts for a simple “Happy birthday” message and focuses on incentives: there are not one but two of them in one email. Also, the colorful design instantly catches the eye and gets the recipient in a celebratory mood.

A birthday email from Nintendo containing an exclusive limited-time discount offer, a mystery birthday present, and a birthday gift (free wallpaper). The CTAs read “Start shopping”, “Check it out”, and “Download”.
Source: Really Good Emails

Feedback emails

You needn’t necessarily tie your automated feedback campaigns to a purchase. Instead, you can send them to collect insights about your product whenever you need, picking the customer segments most relevant to the goals and objectives of your survey. 

The possible triggers for such campaigns include using the product for a certain period of time, upgrading to the next-level plan, visiting a website or a store, and more. Typically, feedback campaigns only contain a feedback request and information about the survey. But you may also include an incentive to secure more CTA clicks.    

In this email from Miro, the feedback request is direct and straightforward. As the survey doesn’t require much time to complete, the brand doesn’t offer any additional perks. In this case, the right message is just enough. 

A customer feedback email from Miro featuring a direct and concise feedback request. The CTA reads “Take the survey”.
Source: Really Good Emails

How to automate your email workflow: A step-by-step guide

Now that you know how powerful email automation is, what campaigns you can automate, and why do that, let’s zoom in on how to set automated workflows. 

Choose the right automation tool

To set up automated email workflows, you need specialized software. Today, there is no shortage of email marketing automation software on the market. But the exact functionality usually differs depending on the tool. So, the first step to automating your email workflows should be picking the tool that fits your requirements. 

When choosing the best email marketing service to suit your needs, consider the following: 

  • Availability of the email automation feature. Most professional ESPs offer email automation, but the majority of them only include it in their paid plans. In Selzy, however, email automation is included in the free plan. That means you can start automating your emails right away and only switch to a paid plan when you are ready. 
  • Ease of use. Email automation is typically not a beginner-level feature. And the complex interfaces some platforms have don’t make it easier for people with no experience. Luckily, there are beginner-friendly tools, too. For example, Selzy has a clear interface and tutorials to help you create automations from scratch. Plus, you can always contact Selzy’s support which is available 24/7.
  • Variety of triggers. Email automation depends on the triggers for various marketing occasions. So, the more triggers an ESP allows you to set, the better. Plus you will also need data from your website for most triggered campaigns, so make sure the ESP allows integrations with website analytics tools. 
  • Robust analytics. Analytics helps you assess your campaigns’ performance and pinpoint areas for improvement. When choosing an automation tool, make sure it provides the key metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. Beyond that, you will need metrics such as bounce rates, delivery rates, and more. The best automation platforms also allow you to check the performance of the whole sequence as well as each individual email.  
  • Automation templates. In email marketing, automation templates, or recipes, are pre-designed automation sequences for popular stages of the buyer journey such as onboarding, post-purchase, and others. Having them at hand makes it easier to start out with automation because you can use basic templates and edit them as you gain more experience.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Last but not least, the platform has to be cost-effective. As a small or medium-sized business, you’d want to start with a tool that includes automation in its free plan, or at least offers a free trial to allow you to test the waters. When choosing a paid plan, consider your email list volume and the monthly email sends limit. The best plan should allow for the most contacts and email sends for the minimum price, provided it meets all of your other requirements.

Tip 

When choosing an email automation tool, consider your industry, because some ESPs are better suited for certain businesses than others. For example, real estate email marketing services have professional templates for real estate agents that other tools might be lacking. Likewise, if you sell online courses, look for functionality and templates the edtech industry typically needs, etc.

Once you’ve chosen the right tool, you are ready to start creating and running automated email campaigns. In the following paragraphs, we’ll give you an overview of the main steps of the process. In essence, these steps are more or less the same in all email automation services. However, some details differ across platforms. In this article, we’ll use our platform as an example. To learn more on how to automate emails in Selzy, please consult the email automation tutorial

Register in Selzy for free and start automating your campaigns with up to 1,500 emails.

Сreate an automation

Proceed with creating a new automated chain. Here’s what it looks like in Selzy:

Selzy Automation dashboard screenshot

You can use one of the automation templates for webinars, Black Friday, countdowns, and more, or start from scratch:

Automation templates in Selzy including Blog greeting, List countdown, and more, and an option to start from scratch

Important 

You need to have a custom email address on your own domain to work with email automation. If you don’t have one, set your email up first.

Set up automation triggers

If you are starting from scratch, begin with defining conditions aka triggers as each automated campaign requires one to activate. 

The exact triggers depend on your campaign type and the capabilities of your ESP. Typically, they include, but are not limited to: 

  • Signing up for an email newsletter 
  • Clicking a CTA link in an email 
  • Viewing a page on a website 
  • Adding products to a shopping cart without checkout 
  • Making a purchase

Here’s what setting up automation triggers looks like in Selzy:

Setting up automated chain triggers in Selzy. Presets displayed include “Add to list”, “Subscribe to list”, “Add a new tag”, and “Edit a custom field” (upcoming feature).

Pick the email list segments

One of the main points of automated campaigns is that they are precisely targeted. You don’t want customers who are already at the post-purchase stage to receive welcome campaigns, for example. To ensure that each customer group gets only the relevant campaigns, you need to segment your list — i.e., divide it into groups based on certain characteristics. 

For email automations, the main characteristic is the customer journey stage. If you have a CRM integration, you can use contact data from your system to help you segment your base. For more tips on segmenting an email list in Selzy, check out Email Segmentation 101 on our blog.  

Create or edit the emails

Creating content for an email campaign, especially if there is more than one email in it, might seem daunting. But with Selzy, you don’t have to craft emails from scratch. Using a wealth of email templates most commonly used in automated workflows, you can put together a decent campaign without wrecking your brain for ideas. Just choose the email template you need, edit it, and set additional parameters such as UTM tags.

Editing an email in Selzy with options to select a from email, write a sender name, subject, and email body

Monitor and optimize

At this point, you’ve done the bulk of the work. Now, your job is to monitor the performance of the automated campaigns and optimize accordingly. Use your ESP’s analytics to track key metrics such as open rates, CTRs, engagement rates, and conversions to make data-driven decisions and get better results. 

You can also test different variations of the emails in your automated chains to enhance the campaign’s overall performance. The typical elements to test include subject lines, copy, images, CTAs, and more. Tweak your emails, compare how different versions work, and pick the winning version or make further changes if needed. Remember that you might need to optimize even those campaigns that were initially performing well because audiences change, other conditions change — so, your automated workflows may bring different results.

Final thoughts

Email marketing automation is a powerful method for improving your email marketing and increasing its efficiency. Its multiple benefits include higher productivity and ROI, improved lead generation and customer engagement, increased sales and conversions, and more. Also, email automation makes your email marketing remarkably cost-effective — especially when you go with the right automation tool. 

Examples of workflows you can automate with a software solution include: 

  • Welcome campaigns
  • Abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase campaigns
  • Re-engagement (win-back) campaigns 
  • Birthday emails
  • Feedback campaigns, and more 

Among the most notable examples of automated campaigns that yield impressive results are abandoned cart, welcome, and even birthday emails. All these can be automated and run on autopilot, requiring minimum effort on your part and freeing up your or your employees’ time for other tasks.   

While harnessing the power of email automation might seem intimidating at first, it’s really no rocket science. With tips and best practices in this guide you are all set up for success.

Article by
Natasha Zack
I’m a professional journalist with 10+ years of experience. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with various kinds of media — print, online, broadcast. Currently, I write copy for brand media and teach English part-time. I also have my own edtech passion project dedicated to teaching English via Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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