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Drip email marketing: Why, how, and when to use it

Learn how to set up drip email campaigns and why the experts say they’re a winning strategy for businesses.

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Drip email marketing is the best-kept secret of business owners everywhere. 

I could go on about why we love it so much, but to sum it up, did you know that drip campaigns carry open rates up to 80% higher than individual emails, with click-through rates 3x higher on average? 

If you’re looking to harness those results for yourself, I’ll walk you through why, how, and when drip email campaigns work best.

What is drip email marketing?

Drip email marketing is a style of marketing built on an automated series of emails.

These emails are automated based on a trigger (typically an email subscriber’s activity). Triggers could include: 

  • Signing up for your email list 
  • Visiting a specific webpage 
  • Filling out a form 
  • And more—the sky’s the limit.

What is an email drip campaign?

An email drip campaign is the actual series of emails sent out as part of your email drip marketing strategy. They might look like:

  • A welcome email when subscribers join your list
  • Product recommendations after a subscriber visits your website
  • Onboarding instructions after a subscriber moves from a free trial to a paid account

Why should businesses run drip email campaigns?

I mentioned the impressive open and click-through rates, but what else do email drip campaigns have to offer?

  • They offer maximum touchpoints with minimal effort from you. On average, customers buy after eight touchpoints, and you can automate at least three of those in one marketing email campaign.
  • They ensure that customers never go too long without hearing from you. Experts recommend that you check in with your customers between once a month and once a week depending on your industry and use case, and drip emails help you maintain that cadence without needing to remember to send each email.
  • They keep response times low. Studies show that the best response time for emails is one hour or less. Drip emails send automatically in response to subscriber behaviors, so your customers are never left waiting for long after taking an action.

When is a drip email marketing campaign useful?

Now that you’ve got a handle on why drip email campaigns are helpful, let’s take a look at when you’ll want to put them to work.

  • When improving the customer lifecycle. If you’re looking at points where your customer lifecycle could use some momentum, set up drip emails to send at common points where customers lose interest or drop off the radar.
  • Keeping interest high in an event or product. Got an exciting product or event launching soon? Send regular emails to make sure your customers never lose sight of (or interest in) the big day.
  • Staying top-of-mind with leads and customers. Even when there isn’t something extra special happening, it’s important to remind customers that you’re around and interested in serving them. Strategically spaced emails can do just that.
  • Putting emphasis on important moments in the customer experience. Is there a specific moment in your customer experience that you’d like to draw attention to? Set emails to send to subscribers at those points to help them stand out and feel personal.

Email drip campaign use cases

The best part about drip email campaigns is that they’re versatile and can be used for any number of purposes according to what you need. Here are a few common use cases.

Recommending products

If a subscriber has just made a purchase or saved a product to their wishlist, set up an email recommending related or supplementary products they might enjoy. 

Marketers see a 20% boost in sales revenue with personalized email campaigns, so this is an excellent moment to let your customers know that you see and understand their interests.

Amazon Kindle's recommended product drip emails

I am a voracious Kindle reader, and Amazon has a pretty good idea of what I’ll like based on my history. I get these emails pretty often, and I generally buy at least one book from each email.

Welcoming new customers 

Don’t wait too long to greet your new subscribers and give them a preview of what they can expect from your emails. Follow up each new addition to your subscriber list with a friendly message and an explanation of the benefits your emails have to offer.

An email in Tailwind Nutrition's welcome email drip campaign

As you can see, Tailwind kicks off its subscriber relationships with an enthusiastic greeting, a peek at what readers can find on their site, and a welcome coupon to drive home the value immediately.

Lead nurturing 

Drip emails are a great way to gently guide your subscribers along their journey with your brand. Tailor your emails to:

  • Help cold leads learn more about your business and find helpful resources.
  • Answer common questions for warm leads and show off recommended products and services.
  • Confirm sales and cross-sell or upsell once customers make a purchase.
A lead nurturing drip email from Amazon

Amazon does an excellent job of finding gaps in leads’ use of its products and calling attention to them. In this case, subscribers who aren’t using Amazon’s music features get a great look at what they’re missing.

Re-engaging cold leads

Leads sometimes lose touch—it happens. Arrange an email to send to leads or customers who have gone a certain amount of time without contact to start the conversation back up. Don’t forget to offer them access to support or answers if they need it. You may also want to offer them a perk or discount to keep their interest. 

Duolingo's re-engagement email

This particular email came to my inbox after I dropped off my Italian lessons for five days. I especially want to highlight the “5 minutes” bit at the bottom, as that’s what got me to restart my learning streak on the app.

Leading up to an event

If you have an event (in-person or online) coming up, you’ll want to be sure your customers are aware of and excited about it. 

Set up a series of emails to send at regular intervals with:

  • Reminders to register
  • Previews and sneak peeks of the event itself
  • Countdowns to the big day to build anticipation
A Ghost Files event drip email

These emails I received leading up to a recent event served double duty: They gave me valuable info at a glance and kept my excitement high ahead of the big day.

Launching new products

Similarly, make sure your upcoming products are firmly on your customers’ radar. Start off your email series with an announcement of the product and follow it with any testimonials you have, special early-access links, and exclusive perks for your email list.

Popfit's new product launch drip email

Popfit sends out these emails to announce each new launch from their brand, and they do a great job of making connections between the products in those emails to get customers to buy them all (and sadly, it works).

Sending order updates

Your job isn’t done once customers finish checkout. Keep in touch with them after their order using:

  • An order confirmation
  • A shipping confirmation
  • Tracking details
  • A delivery confirmation 

Don’t forget to set an email to trigger in response to any shipping delays. 

An order update drip email from Chicwish

Chicwish ensures that subscribers have all the information they might need related to their order, and they send fresh emails at every step of the process.

Staying on top of holiday seasons

For marketers and business owners, holidays start long before the actual day itself. You’ll want to stay ahead of the curve as each holiday approaches to ensure that your customers have time to browse and make their purchases. 

Metallica's holiday merch drip email

With that in mind, set a series of emails in advance of the holiday showing off any special deals you’re offering and encouraging subscribers to take advantage before the holiday rush.

How to set up an email drip campaign (from a real email expert)

Our head of content and SEO at SimpleTexting, Nathan Ellering, has been managing drip emails since 2014. Over the years, he’s built an email list of 10 million email subscribers and delivered hundreds of millions of emails.

In this case, let’s map out a welcome email sequence for new subscribers.

1. Decide on a goal. 

In reaching out to welcome your subscribers, what are you hoping to accomplish? Do you want more visits to your website, coupon redemptions, or sales? 

Getting clear on your goal before you set up your drip email campaign will help keep it cohesive and effective.

2. Decide on the number and frequency of emails. 

Here’s Nathan’s advice on deciding your email quantity for your drip campaign:

“I’ve found that drip email campaigns tend to perform best with fewer emails in them. You’ll almost always find the first email is the best performer for deliveries, opens, and clicks and the last is the lowest performer.

I’ve set up drips with 25 emails in them that spanned the course of 12 months. The later ones were essentially duds. When my team and I researched this further, we discovered drip email campaigns with three to four emails in them tended to perform the best. We set these up for two emails per week, so the entire drip campaign was completed over a two-week period.

Including more than four emails just didn’t work for the audience at CoSchedule. There was a fairly consistent trend with the fifth email performance being at least 30% lower than the one before it, and every email after that was even worse.

I’d recommend setting up an email drip campaign with no more than four emails. Depending on your audience, send out one or two emails per week. From there, measure the performance and adjust accordingly.

📖 Recommended reading: 10 exceptional email newsletter examples

3. Write out your emails.

Now it’s time to decide what to say. Keep it simple and in line with your business’s tone, but be sure to include:

  • A warm welcome (of course)
  • A short summary of what they’ll receive in future emails. This could be discounts, information, weekly tips, or anything else you plan to send.
  • Just the details. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information right away.
  • Instructions on how to opt out of your emails (for compliance purposes)
  • A way to get in touch with you and your team with questions or concerns. 

4. Automate them in your chosen email software.

Once you have your sequence planned and written out, set them up in your favorite email software to send based on subscriber actions like the ones I covered here. 

Pro tip: You can often find software integrations just for your industry with providers like MailChimp (or SimpleTexting!). This will make it easier to use customer data to inform your email campaigns.

5. Monitor your analytics.

As Nathan said, checking out campaign performance after you hit “send” is a vital part of the process.

If you’re getting excellent open rates, note what you did right in your subject line. If responses and click-through rates look low, try a different format in future campaigns. This will help you improve your drip email campaigns every time you send one. 

Drip email campaign best practices

Last but definitely not least, there are a few key best practices you’ll need to keep in mind when setting up and sending drip email campaigns. 

  • Have an attainable goal. Whether you’d like a certain number of sales or clicks to a link you’ve included, know what your campaign should accomplish.
  • Test your formats. Try out different locations for your call to action (CTA), language, links, and image-to-text ratios to see what subscribers will best respond to.
  • Don’t send too many. Per Nathan, four emails are the sweet spot. Don’t bombard your subscribers with more information than necessary.
  • Make the value of each message clear. Let subscribers know that you reached out to them for a reason (your subject line and preview text are good tools for this). If you’d like them to click a link or redeem a discount, tell them how they’ll benefit when they do.

Email drip campaign FAQs

You may still have questions about email drip campaigns. If you do, you’re not alone. Here are a few of the most common questions on the subject.

How do you do a drip email campaign?

You can set up a drip email campaign by automating each message to send when your subscribers take a specific action. Most email providers support automation, but specific setup steps will depend on which one you use. 

Is email drip effective?

Yes, email drip campaigns are effective. They consistently result in higher open and click-through rates than individual emails. 

How many emails in a drip campaign?

Our resident email expert finds that four emails is the perfect number for a drip campaign. Any more, and you risk overwhelming your subscribers and seeing a drop in performance.

Lily Norton
Lily Norton

Lily is a content marketing specialist at SimpleTexting. She specializes in making helpful, entertaining video content and writing blogs that help businesses take advantage of all that texting has to offer. When she’s not writing or making TikToks, you can find Lily at roller derby practice or in a yoga studio in the Seattle area.

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