When budgets are tight and teams are crunched, using the cost-per-wear analogy on proposed marketing strategies can be a great way to prioritize. In other words, what can you build now that will serve you for months if not years to come?
A well-designed drip campaign can take some time to build, but that upfront investment in time pays off in dividends. In this guide, we’ll revisit the basics and best practices before examples of successful campaigns from real marketers.
What is drip marketing?
Drip marketing refers to sending emails to a specific audience segment on a regular basis. In other words, your messages will drip into their inbox over time. Emails in a drip marketing campaign can be sent at a specific time, according to their stage in the lifecycle, or based on actions they take.
Drip campaigns are multi-benefit, helping you to:
Stay top-of-mind with leads and customers
Weed out dead leads and unengaged contacts
Drive leads and customers to take specific actions
Nudge leads and customers further along on their journey
One of the major advantages of drip campaigns is that they are designed as a series, with content that builds on itself to give your lead or customer everything they need to keep moving through the funnel.
This is one of the reasons Luciano Viterale, Co-Founder of Ticker Nerd believes we could see a world where drip sequences replace free newsletters for time-poor marketers. “I think more businesses will move away from free newsletters and send optimized emails in a longer drip sequence. These are easier to improve, and test, and are much less time and resource intensive.”
How to use drip campaigns to reach your goals
It’s best to build your drip campaign with a clear business objective and customer lifecycle stage in mind. This will help you design a sequence of emails that drives your lead or customer to take a specific action.
Not sure where to start? This quick list of goal-based drip campaigns will help you get moving:
1. Lead nurture drip campaign
Lead nurture sequences are an exemplar of the drip campaign. Once a prospect hands over their email address to download an ebook, interact with a demo, or receive brand updates, you have enough information about them and their interests to drip relevant content into their inbox.
Example: A SaaS company in the human resources space hosts a webinar targeting startup owners. Every webinar registrant is sent the webinar replay, before being entered into a drip campaign where they will receive content related to HR in startups, and information about how their SaaS platform can help. Leads will remain in the drip sequence until they become a customer or reach the set exit criteria, for example, not engaging with five emails in a row.
2. Welcome sequence
When a lead becomes a customer, they are generally at the height of engagement. Your product is new to them, it’s top of mind, and they are more likely to engage with the first email that hits their inbox. In fact, according to Learning Experience Alliance, welcome emails have four times more opens and five times more clicks than other emails. A welcome drip campaign can help you make the most of this golden window of opportunity, giving you more space to communicate your brand values, product promises, and points of difference to nudge your customer to activation.
Example: A healthtech company welcomes a new telehealth patient with a drip sequence that includes tips for getting the most out of your appointment, educational resources related to their appointment type, and information on the company’s other, related services.
3. Onboarding drip
For SaaS companies and apps, an onboarding drip campaign can complement or even replace a welcome sequence. Onboarding drip campaigns take the new user through a series of logical setup steps and usage tips with the goal of helping them reach their ‘aha’ moment.
Example: A productivity platform has identified that customers who set up a project and complete two tasks within their first two weeks of use are more likely to stick around. Their onboarding drip is designed to nudge them towards this critical action, with tutorials and templates for inviting team members, building a project, and assigning a task. Each email builds on the last to help the customer activate and realize the value of the product.
If you have a segment of your audience that hasn’t engaged with your brand for several months, creating a re-engagement campaign can help bring them back into the fold. If they remain unresponsive, you can sunset them as a subscriber to help strengthen your sending reputation and increase the likelihood of reaching the inbox on a regular basis.
Example: A fintech company has a number of unengaged subscribers after running promotions with partners. As a result, they are seeing a slight dip in email deliverability and want to get ahead of it. Their reengagement drip includes engaging educational content, customer stories, and product messages with each emailing building more product-focused messaging. If a lead does not engage with three emails in a row, they are sunset as a subscriber. If they do engage, they stay in the drip campaign until they become a customer or opt-out.
5. Webinar or event series
Events, whether in person or online, are a lot of work. That heavy lift can be worthwhile, but only if you have a plan for keeping the newly acquired leads and subscribers engaged beyond the event date. A strategic and relevant webinar or event drip series can do just that.
Example: A B2B company has a booth at a major event. They collect email addresses from leads, asking them to identify their business type on sign up. This puts the lead in an event series. The first email will come from the sales representative who was on site and will directly reference the event. From there, the drip sequence will include related content with some product messaging and meeting request CTAs where relevant. The leads will stay in the drip series until they become a customer or opt-out.
As you can see from the examples above, drip campaigns can be used for a number of stages in the customer journey and to reach a range of company goals, so it’s likely you will have at least a few drip campaigns running at any given time.
Follow these best practices to ensure your drip campaigns are consistently personalized, compliant, and optimized.
1. Build smarter, more strategic audience segments
One-to-many personalization requires you to get very clear on the audience segment you’re targeting and — here’s the hard part — to ensure this audience can be reliably built by the marketers responsible for the drip campaign.
In a 2022 article title ‘A better way to put your data to work’, Harvard Business Review propose companies think of their data like a product. In other words, “A data product delivers a high-quality, ready-to-use set of data that people across an organization can easily access and apply to different business challenges. It might, for example, provide 360-degree views of customers, including all the details that a company’s business units and systems collect about them: online and in-store purchasing behavior, demographic information, payment methods, their interactions with customer service, and more.”
This kind of approach can serve you particularly well when building audience segments for drip campaigns. When you can easily access a range of data points to build a highly-targeted audience segment, you can create email content that speaks to the audience’s specific needs.
2. Be the custodian of your customer’s data
Customers are demanding a level of personalization that requires huge amounts of personal data be put to use, while asking companies to protect their data and avoid marketing tactics that feel overly invasive. It’s a tricky balance, but it can be achieved.
McKinsey & Company stress the importance of putting marketing at the center of the privacy and security effort, educating employees, establishing and enforcing standards, and being accountable for incidents when they do occur. They say, “An imperative on security and privacy can help with many things—from eliminating tech debt to breaking down silos—by opening iterative dialogue on data needs and new operational requirements between the business and the security and privacy functions.”
Other best practices include creating roles for security and privacy ambassadors, developing incident-response plans, and delivering role-based training for all employees. These measures ensure privacy and security are top-of-mind as drip campaigns are being built. Not only will marketers creating the campaigns handle data with care, they will be more aware of how their use of personal data is being perceived by the customer when the email lands in their inbox. In other words, they’ll be asking themselves: Is this message warmly personal or is it plain creepy?
3. Test and learn, and invest in tech that does the same
No individual drip campaign is going to garner results instantly — after all, they are designed to drip information to your customer, not spark instant action. If there are signs a campaign isn’t performing, instead of switching off the tap, focus on what you can test and learn from.
The software you choose for your drip campaigns will play a role in how agile you can be now — and in the future. According to McKinsey & Company, getting better at testing and faster at reacting requires, “developing technology capabilities that can read and interpret signals of consumer intent and consumer responses to marketing messages and then feed them back into the marketing engine so it can learn what works and what doesn’t.”
They continue, “Marketers who really push the limits are using artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor campaigns and interrogate responses at a detailed level, to learn not only what works and what doesn’t but for which segments, at what times, and over which channels—and then to adjust their strategy based on those insights. Deriving those specific insights using standard analytics might take the average marketing organization several days. But AI-enabled monitoring can do this in minutes, sometimes seconds.”
Enhance your marketing with AI: Real-world examples and best practices
Marketers on their top-performing always-on drip campaigns
Successful drip campaigns are often built over months or even years. The campaign goes live, reports are generated, insights developed, optimizations made, and so on until you have a drip campaign that works exactly as you intended it to.
We spoke to two marketers about their top-performing drip campaigns:
User engagement series
A well-orchestrated drip campaign can be a powerful way to drive activation among existing users. Getting this right requires a clear understanding of the steps the user has taken previously, in order to nudge them to the most logical next step.
Gene Caballero, Co-Founder at GreenPal, a B2C platform that connects landscapers to clients, noticed that existing homeowner customers were their lowest-hanging fruit, and converting them was the simplest way to increase revenue. With this insight, they built a two-fold drip series using behavioral data:
“We personalize these emails based on where the homeowner is on the journey. In the example on the left, we are trying to re-engage the homeowner from last year to book his services for the remainder of the year at last year's prices. In the second example, the homeowner has not selected a vendor. We notify the vendors that the homeowner has not selected anyone and allow them to re-bid the price to incentivize the homeowner to select a vendor that has sent them a ‘discounted price.’”
“The ‘re-engage homeowners’ runs weekly from March through July and obviously it stops when a homeowner adds his service. The ‘Discounted Price drip’ will last all season and will be sent every other week from March to November.”
Gene has seen incredible results from these campaigns, the re-engage homeowners drip accounts for 40% of their total revenue, and the discounted price drip campaign accounts for 10% growth.
Educational lead nurture drip
One of the keys to a successful lead nurture drip is to find a balance between educational and informational. You want to keep your lead engaged and offer them real value, but you don’t want to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Convince the lead to become a customer.
It’s a balance that nerDigital, a digital marketing agency servicing clients like Ford, KLM Airlines, and Budget Car Rentals, managed to achieve with their educational lead nurture drip.
Founder Max Shak shared, “Our onboarding and educational drip campaign has been a game-changer for us at NerDigital.com. Its primary goal is to welcome new subscribers to our platform and guide them through the complexities of digital marketing. We designed this campaign to nurture leads, educate them about our services, and ultimately convert them into paying customers."
The first message is a “warm welcome message that sets the tone for the relationship. It thanks the subscriber for joining our community and outlines what they can expect from the upcoming emails.”
From there, the lead is sent “a series of emails that delve into various aspects of digital marketing, such as SEO, content marketing, and social media advertising. Each email provides valuable insights, tips, and resources related to that topic.” These emails happen over the source of several weeks — Max and the team at nerDigital are not in a rush to convert this lead, they’ve learned slow and steady really does win the race in this campaign.
Towards the middle of the campaign, case studies and success stories are shared to build trust and credibility. Max shares, “These stories illustrate how our services have delivered tangible results for businesses similar to the subscriber's.”
If a lead continues to engage with the emails received, product and service messaging is introduced at the end. “We explain how they can address specific pain points mentioned in previous emails and provide solutions to the subscriber's digital marketing needs. Each email includes a clear CTA, encouraging the subscriber to take a specific action, such as scheduling a consultation, downloading an e-book, or signing up for a webinar.”
This is the secret sauce for nerDigital. “The campaign's clear CTAs and the timing of product introductions have led to a significant increase in consultations scheduled and conversions into paying customers.”
While the campaign’s success is determined by the conversion rates, the team keep an eye on open and click-through rates to monitor performance over time and make optimization decisions.
Drip campaigns are an investment in your businesses’ future. They require some upfront investment in time, and a considered approach to continuous testing and learning, but they have the potential to become a powerful tool for converting leads into customers, driving expansion and activation, and providing you with learnings that serve every email you send.