A woman in a loose-fitting white button-up shirt sits in front of an open laptop. The table she sits at is irregularly shaped and carved to look like naturally occuring wood. A cup of tea sits next to the laptop on the table. On the windowsill to the left of the woman are a potted plant, a large pinecone, a bird's nest, and a tall white candle.
Your email campaign will start with a trigger, or an action taken by the customer. The email they eventually read will be in response to that action and should suggest a next step. — Getty Images/Justin Lewis

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to reach new and existing customers. However, it’s slightly more complicated than writing a quick tweet and sending it off while multitasking on other business needs. An email drip campaign takes careful planning to make sure the sequence of emails follows a narrative and that each message builds on the previous email.

Go through these five steps to get your ducks (emails) in a row when planning your next drip email campaign.

1. Determine your trigger.

Most email campaigns start with an action taken by someone interacting with your website or social media, or placing an order online or in person. They might sign up for your email newsletter, register for a webinar, attend an event and give you their email address, or add items to their online cart. Determine what your trigger is and begin planning your email campaign in response to that action. What do you want to encourage your email audience to do when they open and read your message?

[Read more: How to Develop an Inexpensive Sales Strategy for Your Startup]

2. Segment your audience.

Next, it’s important to segment your email list so that your campaign feels personal and relevant to all recipients. For instance, you wouldn’t send a welcome email to an existing customer. Dividing your email list into new and existing customers is an easy way to segment your audience. But, there are plenty of other strategies you could use. Consider creating separate audience groups based on:

  • How often someone visits your site.
  • How recently someone shopped with you.
  • How often someone visits your premium services page.
  • How long someone has been a paying customer.
  • What tier in your loyalty program someone has reached.

Typically, drip campaigns are automated, which is what makes them so effective for your business. You may need to link the platform you use to send your emails (e.g., MailChimp or Zapier) and integrate it with your CRM or your existing customer lists to make sure each person is receiving the right message.

The frequency and timing of your emails depend on your messaging.

3. Create a narrative.

Once you have your audience groups mapped out, it’s time to plan the series of messages someone will receive. Writing a drip campaign can be a little complicated. On one hand, each email you send should feel different and additive to previous messages. On the other hand, you can’t assume someone is reading every email they receive. Emails in your drip campaign also need to be easy to understand without the context of previous messages.

“To avoid leaving any customer touchpoints unaddressed by your campaign, consider walking through the proposed drip structure as if you were a customer yourself, identifying any areas for improvement or clarification,” wrote Christina Levandowski, E-commerce and Entrepreneurship Expert. “You can also view the copy, tone, and design through fresh eyes and fully grasp what the customer experience will be like on the receiving end.”

4. Design your emails.

Use design elements to make your email campaign feel consistent and to build excitement. Most email tools have templates that you can customize with your brand colors and logo. These platforms also offer elements you can personalize to address the recipient by their first name, for instance. Make sure the design you choose is responsive to mobile devices, desktops, laptops, and tablets.

5. Set up a schedule.

Finally, it’s time to plan the cadence of your campaign: the timing and type of emails you send at different points. The frequency and timing of your emails depend on your messaging. For limited-time-only sales and discounts, consider sending a few emails over two weeks to promote the event. If you’re sending a regular newsletter, one email every month is more appropriate. The cadence of your emails can be tricky to get right, so pay attention to your stats to see if your open rates and unsubscribe rates are varying widely.

[Read more: A Beginner's Guide to Creating and Managing an Email Marketing List]

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Published January 12, 2023