As summer turns to autumn, it's easy for anyone to get distracted by the changing colors and mild temperatures. However, the cool breeze of fall should also remind you of the upcoming winter and holiday seasons. For marketers, now is the perfect time to prepare for the shopping frenzy ahead, and at the top of your to-do list should be setting up email automation.
As a general definition, automation means using technology to do a regular and repeatable process. It may sound daunting, but email automation can be as straightforward as using a Web-form to input basic customer information directly into your email marketing system and allowing the work to do itself. Contrary to the beliefs of those who are hesitant to adopt marketing automation, it does not need to involve APIs or complicated workflows systems.
Automating one of the most cost-effective marketing tools out there - email - can benefit both the sender and recipient. Automation saves time by cutting out tedious manual tasks, such as entering customer information into a database, and eliminates human errors, like forgetting to send an email. The consistency that automation creates in your email data also makes it easier to improve your overall processes over time. These benefits ensure that your customers will enjoy the best possible email experience every time.
The first step in setting up email automation is to get contacts into the system. You need to find out where your prospective customers are coming from and implement an automatic process to pull their information directly into your email marketing platform. For prospects visiting your website, an automated Web-form can capture basic information, like name and email address, and feed it directly into your database. An automated process to label contacts by their source will allow you to segment your marketing down the line.
Make the Connection
The next part of setting up email marketing automation is to make sure that all of your important customer data flows into your email system. Identify all the places where your business keeps customer data: CRM systems, point of sale systems, custom databases, etc. Start with the largest or most valuable source of customer data and set up an automated process to get the information into your email marketing platform. This is usually as easy as downloading the right pre-built software plug-in to connect your email platform with the sources of customer data in your business.
Execute an On-Boarding Campaign
Once you have connected your lead sources to your email marketing platform, you will want to create an automated on-boarding campaign that warms up new contacts to making a purchase while also getting them accustomed to hearing from your brand via email. An on-boarding campaign should deliver friendly, informative content over a number of months to gently familiarize your prospects with your brand and offerings.
A series of light-hearted, automated emails, delivered at a moderate pace of once or twice a month, can build up to a promotional offer or another specific call to action. Design the sequence of initial emails in a way that appeals to your target audience to let your contacts self-select based on their interest. To avoid having these emails marked as spam, give new contacts the option to unsubscribe upfront. Ultimately, you only want to communicate with people who want to hear from you.
Test Your Processes
Once you set up an automation process, test it to make sure it is behaving as intended. Is the information from the Web-form on your site making it into your email system? Are those new contacts receiving the on-boarding campaign? Are people opening the emails?
Once you've ensured that your basic email automation processes are functioning, it's time to start analyzing your strategy. With automation, you eliminate variations in timing and content to make email data consistent enough to compare strategies and make improvements. Are contacts more likely to open a thank-you email five minutes after filling out a Web-form or does waiting 24 hours increase the likelihood of interaction? If open rates seem low, try an A/B split test to find a more successful subject line. Consistent data from automated processes lets you make the call.
As you embark on an automation-focused autumn, keep in mind that email automation isn't a fix-all. However, it is an essential element of successful email marketing.
The good news is that once you set it up, it runs indefinitely - whether you are on vacation or busy with another part of your business. The bad news is that once you set it up, it runs indefinitely. In other words, an error in the automation process will continue to execute until you catch it. Regular maintenance and monitoring ensures your automated processes will continue to run smoothly.
Lastly, remember that you are emailing real people. There will be times when your contacts need to hear from you directly and an automated email won't cut it. This fall, if you focus on improving communication rather than cutting corners, both your business and your customers will benefit from email automation done well.
E.J. McGowan is the managing director of Campaigner. He has more than 25 years in the software industry with an expertise in building highly available, highly scalable SaaS-based solutions.