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Email is one of the most successful marketing channels available in 2019. With an ROI of 4400%, it’s no wonder that B2C and B2B brands alike are scrambling to land in their audience’s inboxes. With 2.9 billion people now using email, this channel is one of the widest reaching. Marketers of yesteryear would positively drool at the idea of being able to communicate with prospects and customers instantaneously, wherever they happen to be at any moment.

Whilst having email as an integral part of your marketing mix is a no-brainer, it’s also important that you consider automating your email marketing strategy. In a day and age where the average office worker receives upwards of 121 emails a day, traditional generalised content is no longer going to garner the attention it needs to deliver results. Whilst traditional marketers have previously spent money and time on making their emails visually appealing, whilst blasting their campaigns to anyone who’s on their database, this method no longer garners the opens and click throughs brands need to get ahead.

Using email automation, marketers gain access to smart tools that help to collect and analyse useful data, target and segment contacts, and most of all deliver hyper relevant content on autopilot.

Relevance is key to standing out in modern inboxes, and delivering relevance becomes extremely accessible and far less time costly when using a Marketing Automation platform.

If you’re curious about email automation, and are looking for a guide on how to get started, then this article is for you.

What is email automation, and how does it work?

Email automation refers to automatically sending emails either as part of a sequence, or individually triggered by events, contact behaviours, or other data.

Automated emails allow marketers to prepare campaigns in advance, and have them automatically send when the time is right. Other email automation tools also make it possible to create dynamic emails which appear custom for each individual recipient, and for data reporting and analysis that helps to segment and target your audience – further increasing relevance and engagement.

Email automation is usually carried out on a Marketing Automation platform. Automation software makes it easy to create email campaigns (often with visual drag and drop editors) and pre-schedule them for publication either triggered by specific dates and times, or behavioural and profile data.

What do I need to get started with email automation?

Unless you have the resources at hand to build your own system, you’ll need to implement a Marketing Automation platform as part of your email automation strategy.

Automating your email sequences will involve the use of tools that come readily available in most Marketing Automation software. If you’re looking to reap the benefits of email automation, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and purchase the appropriate platform.

We’ve written about coming up with a Marketing Automation checklist for your unique business to help take the pain out of shopping. Check it out, here.

Besides from the obvious (software) you’ll also need an audience. The best way to get contacts is to capture them on your site, at events, and during other touchpoints between your brands and prospects. If you clearly exhibit the value of your content and communications, having people sign up to your mailing lists shouldn’t be too difficult. It’s important to remember that purchasing mailing lists is a big no no, and depending on the privacy laws of the country you’re in – it may also be illegal.

You may also want to consider having your IT team on board to help configure components to ensure a high deliverability rate for your campaigns. You can run the following components by them to check that you’ll be able to sort out the necessary aspects in-house. Alternatively, some Marketing Automation platforms have more on-hands support options. For example, Swift Digital can help to configure these deliverability components either on your behalf, or in tandem with your in-house IT team.

If you’re not sure what striving for high deliverability means, we’re referring to the deliverability of your emails – that is, whether they reach the inboxes of your audience. Emails with low deliverability often get caught in filters and firewalls, or sometimes aren’t delivered at all. That’s why configuring the below components to ensure the highest possible deliverability rate is a major priority for any business automating their email communications.

  • Custom subdomains
  • DomainKeys (DKIM)
  • DMARC Protocols
  • SPF Records
  • Custom Return Paths

Lastly, you’ll want to have a strong, detailed email strategy in mind. We’ll look further into strategising further down.

What tools should I look out for when shopping for email automation software?

Automating your email communications will massively benefit your marketing efforts, and will make achieving goals that much easier. But it pays to pay attention to the types of tools your business will need to compete against other automated email campaigns. When you’re looking for email automation software, you should ensure that the following tools are available:

  • Trigger based emails
    • Trigger based emails allow you to target the right contact at the right time. These emails are ‘triggered’ to send automatically when a contact undertakes certain behaviour. For example, you may send an ‘abandoned shopping cart’ reminder email to any contact that adds items to their shopping cart on your site, but doesn’t complete their purchase.
  • Visual journey/workflow builders
    • Building out a complicated sequence of email campaigns is much easier when using a visual builder. Visual builders allow you to arrange your emails in a flow chart of sorts; making it easy to see the big picture, and spot design flaws and touchpoint gaps which need improvement.
  • Visual drag and drop editors
    • It’s a lot easier to create a beautiful campaign or landing page when ‘what you see is what you get’. Go for an automation platform that enables you to visually build your campaigns using drag and drop functionality.
  • Sophisticated reporting
    • Besides from the obvious publication reports, what sets high quality software apart from the rest is how detailed and helpful their reporting tools are. Can you compare multiple publications side by side? Export reports as visual graphs and in other formats? Can you drill down into individual contact profiles and view comprehensive interaction histories? The more data the platform collects, and how it enables you to analyse and manipulate that data, the better the platform is.
  • Dynamic Content
    • As we’ve already pointed out, the key to email marketing in the modern age is: relevance, relevance, relevance. Dynamic content gives marketers the opportunity to create different variations of content for the one campaign. Content variables are set up with rules to display, or hide, depending on the behavioural and profile data of each recipient. Dynamic content helps you to deliver hyper-relevant campaigns which appear custom made for each individual contact – without your team having to manually create multiple communications.
  • Personalisation
    • Personalisation is another tool that helps to customise email content for each recipient. Personalisation merge fields are inserted into email copy, and when a recipient receives the email, those fields will automatically populate with the recipient’s unique data. For example “Hi [First Name]” will appear as a personal greeting for each of your subscribers.
  • Engagement scoring
    • Engagement is the be all and end all of email marketing success; as a campaign is only as successful as it’s engagement rate. Without engagement, your campaigns are unable to reach their goals. It’s for this reason that reviewing and analysing engagement is an important part of understanding your audience and improving on your strategy. Engagement scoring tools allow you to specify what behaviours and interactions garner however many points. Then those points are tallied for each of your contacts. You can use engagement scores to further segment and target your subscriber base, as well as inform you on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to campaign strategies.
  • Preference Centers
    • Preference Centers replace traditional subscription forms, and they perform much better when it comes to segmentation, and targeted, relevant content. Preference Centers take the pain out of segmentation by enabling subscribers to self-segment themselves based on their communication preferences. Instead of asking contacts to subscribe to your main mailing lists, through a preference center they have the autonomy to choose what types of communications they wish to receive. This improves their experience, and also helps you better target them with content they perceive as high value.
  • Multi-channel marketing automation
    • Your email automation efforts will be far more successful if part of a multi-channel marketing mix. When shopping for a marketing automation platform, consider choosing one which also offers automation across other channels, such as events, SMS, social media integration, and so on. This makes building out a full contact journey that much easier, and ensures that making sense of the data happens on one platform, rather than across countless applications and channels.

What are the steps for building an automated email strategy?

The first step to building any strategy is specifying a clear, measurable goal. This happens offline, mostly, and requires good old fashion team brainstorming. If you’re not sure how to align your goals with measurable results, consider looking at past publication reports for inspiration on what to measure. For example, the goal “we want more customers” can be made more measurable when framed like so: “we want this campaign to garner 50% more conversions via the Call To Action than our last attempt”.

When you’ve got a goal in mind, it’s time to specify the audience. Build a full persona of your average audience member. Use data from your actual subscriber base, as well as industry and market research. What is the age of your average recipient? Where do they work? What time do they usually open emails? And what are their interests? You get the idea. The more informed your persona is, the easier it’ll be to come up with campaign content, and most importantly a value proposition.

The remaining steps all happen in your marketing automation platform. In a nutshell, this is how you’ll build out your email automation strategy:

  • Build out your email campaign/s in your visual editor
      1. Make sure you’re using branded templates so that it’s clear who the email is from
      2. Use dynamic content and personalisation to ensure your copy is relevant
      3. Include more text than imagery, this helps to keep your emails from triggering SPAM filters – and also increases engagement for mobile device readers who don’t want to scroll
      4. Make sure there’s a Call to Action – and that it’s obvious!
  • Build out a sequence/journey with your campaigns, and set ‘trigger’ rules for each of them so that they send at the right time, to the right person.
  • Prepare your mail lists. Segment them if necessary.
      1. Consider ‘suppressing’ contacts who’ve consistently shown no interest in previous publications. For example, for email number 3 in a sequence, suppress recipients who failed to open either of the 2 prior emails.
      2. Consider expediting the process for highly engaged recipients, like sending a conversion centric campaign to anyone who has been opening and clicking on every email you’ve sent thus far.
  • Keep an eye on the reports as they come in. You don’t have to wait for your sequence to be over before analysing and using results.
      1. For example, is one of your campaigns out performing the others? Why do you think that is? Is it because it was sent at a time of day where it garnered more opens, or was the Call to Action worded differently? Don’t be afraid to apply hypotheses on the go to your remaining emails.
  • When the sequence is over, properly collect all the necessary data and reports and do a full analysis.
    1. Use the results to measure if you’ve achieved your set goal.
    2. Use your findings to inform your next strategy.

Email is a core part of any online marketing strategy, because it’s got the right amount of flexibility, and a much higher reach than other channels such as social media. When your email marketing strategy is automated, you reap all the benefits of email communications, and with an added boost to targeted relevance; all whilst actually decreasing overhead costs.

As automation is becoming a key buzz word across most industries, it’s important to jump on the bandwagon when it comes to email automation; to ensure your business isn’t being left behind. In order to compete with the countless other marketing emails in any given inbox, it’s time to not only think outside the box, but to utilise the smart, modern tools that are now readily available.

Use email automation as part of your marketing strategy and improve customer and lead experience, as well as your ROI. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.