I was always kind of on the fence with the standard idea of email marketing. I mean, why would you spend hours writing content—newsletter content—that you can only send out once?
Isn’t there a better way? A way to send the same email multiple times and not look like a weirdo doing so?
After all, email marketing on a one-off basis felt like a huge waste. For instance, the common open rates throughout the industries are only around 13-20 percent.
This means that on the average, 80-87 percent of your subscribers won’t even read the newsletter you just spent an hour writing.
This is where email marketing automation and autoresponders come into the picture!
When done correctly, autoresponders used with one-off emails increase your effectiveness, and allow you to reuse your content for maximum readership instead of showing it to 20 percent of your audience once.
So how do you use autoresponders, and how do you find a balance between automated emails and direct one-off email campaigns?
Wait. What’s an Autoresponder Sequence?
Definition time. But let’s do this only briefly just to make sure we’re on the same page.
The way I see it:
A standard email campaign, or a one-off campaign, is simply an email that you write for your list, send out, and then forget about completely. In other words, it’s something you don’t intend to reuse in the future.
It’s also considered time-dependent content.
An example: a new edition of your newsletter pointing out the most interesting goings-on that happened in, say, June 2015. There’s very little chance you’d send it again in a month’s time.
Who cares about last month’s news, right?
An automated email, on the other hand, is designed to be sent after it’s triggered by a specific action or event in relation to an individual subscriber’s activity.
It’s also called evergreen content.
The most basic automated email is the “thank you” message you send out to your new subscribers. In this example, the message is triggered when a person confirms their subscription to your list.
The Benefits of Using Autoresponders
Apart from giving you the benefit of reusability (you can send your autoresponders multiple times even months after you initially wrote them), autoresponders are also great for automating parts of your marketing.
For instance, Gartner Research found businesses that automate lead management see at least a 10 percent increase in revenue in six to nine months’ time. And overall, businesses using various forms of marketing automation to communicate with prospects experience a staggering 451 percent increase in qualified leads as reported by The Annuitas Group.
Autoresponders are also a form of marketing automation. They help you communicate with prospects, customers and audience automatically, so your communications are timely and consistent, but not time consuming for you.
To summarize, autoresponders do two things for you. They:
- Allow you to utilize your time more efficiently by creating messages you reuse multiple times
- Give you real results in terms of lead management and revenue
Ideas For Autoresponder Sequences
Okay, with the why out of the way, let’s discuss some actual strategies on how to use autoresponders effectively. As great as it might sound at the moment, autoresponders are not perfect for all purposes. And we’re going to get into those issues here, too.
The number 1 thing autoresponders are exceptional at is taking your people by the hand into your marketing funnel and evaluating their needs based on the actions they take on your emails.
This can be used for multiple purposes.
1. Sell your products or services.
Take the time to design a sequence of messages that starts right after a new subscriber joins your list. These emails can orient your new subscribers while gauging their specific needs. Once you know their interest,s you can suggest the right version of your product for them.
Start by delivering actual content in the body of your automated emails. Provide advice on topics related to your business or industry, or create a short and actionable guide for them to follow.
Then based on whether people open those emails or click the links in them, send other emails to further guide them into your content and make appropriate offers.
For instance, you might send someone an email about Issue A. They open it, read it, and click on your link at the end. With these actions, you can assume they’re interested. This knowledge (and their actions) triggers your email automation sequence and sends another related email.
If they take no action, however, then you know that they are probably not interested. Hence, you can send them a message related to an entirely different issue.
Here’s a visual demo:
After a handful of such messages, you’ll have a good idea of the offers they’re most likely to respond to, so you can easily make an offer that appropriate for them. And it’s all based on where they ended up in your autoresponder sequence.
2. Get them to follow you on social media.
This doesn’t require as much research or interaction with the subscriber. Most of the time, you can simply ask them to follow you once you’re two or three emails into your sequence.
At that point, they should be familiar enough with who you are to give you some social media attention.
Be upfront and direct. Something like this is often enough: “Hey, don’t forget to follow us on social media. Here are our top profiles: [list your social URLs].”
3. Ask them specific questions while researching your next products.
Once you’ve cemented your relationship with your readers (that’s what your orientation emails are for), ask them a specific question in relation to things they struggle with or goals they want to achieve.
Don’t overcomplicate this. A question as simple as “What is your #1 challenge is Topic X?” works fine.
I suggest waiting about five to six messages before you send your question. Your subscriber might not feel compelled enough to give you an answer sooner than that.
Then once you have your responses, either
a) write back to the person individually
b) publish a blog post on the topic
c) use it as part of the research you use for your next product
4. Reconnect with people who haven’t opened your messages in a while.
The harsh truth about email marketing is that a lot of people won’t open your emails… like, at all.
For some reason, they consciously decided to subscribe, but now they are not receptive to anything you send. It happens a lot more often than it should. But I digress.
With these people, create an autoresponder sequence specifically to reconnect with them. (Again, not everyone will bother to open your message if they didn’t bother to open any of the others, but surprisingly, some of them will.)
Take this opportunity to ask what’s been going on, what challenges they’re facing, and how you can help. Even if you get just one response, it’s a win because you managed to reconnect with a subscriber on a personal level.
5. Provide an endless stream of free content.
This might sound strange at first. After all, what successful business model gives everything away for free and never asks for anything in return, right?
Well, as it turns out, this can be a powerful business strategy, and it often leads to results that are simply unpredictable. So you just might want to try it out as a test. It can’t hurt.
Take some of the best content you have at your disposal (from your blog or other resources—it doesn’t even have to be your own content) and simply send it to your subscriber without asking for anything in return.
Most email lists out there are filled with promotions, so your subscribers will be amazed that what they’re getting is actual content instead of promotion after promotion after promotion.
How to Actually Do It?
From a technical point of view, setting up an autoresponder campaign isn’t difficult at all.
For instance, through the tool I’ve been working with recently—SendinBlue—the task involves creating and building emails inside a friendly text-editor interface, and then drag-and-dropping each email to form an automated sequence. (The autoresponder functionality is available for free.)
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to test how this works with MailChimp because my free account doesn’t allow me to use autoresponders. And AWeber? I haven’t used that tool at all (since there’s no free account), so I can’t tell you much about it either. I’ve heard good things though.
In the end, I presume most first-league email marketing tools deliver autoresponder functionality as part of one of their plans. It’s only a matter of how much you want to invest. Here are some more alternatives if your site runs on WordPress.
Should You Ditch One-Off Email Campaigns Entirely?
Of course not.
As I mentioned before, autoresponders are not your all-in-one ultimate tool. One-off email campaigns still have their uses and are still effective for various purposes.
Just to name a few possibilities:
- News-like updates. Let’s face it, including news-centered messages in your autoresponders is just asking for trouble. No one’s interested in last week’s news. Use standard email campaigns for stuff like that.
- Current promotions. Simple and straightforward. If you have a promotion going on, let your people know through a single email campaign.
- Notify people about your newest blog posts. If you have a new post that’s just gone live, let your people know right away.
- Interviews, appearances, community updates. Is there anything interesting going on in the community, like you appearing in an interview or something else that’s happening? Shoot them an email to let them know.
- Events and such. Pretty self-explanatory.
Content Versus Promotion
Effective mail marketing involves creating a good mix of content and promotion with your messages. And this goes for both automated emails as well as standard campaigns.
It sounds simple, but so many people get it awfully wrong.
Here’s what I mean. We all know people hate promotion. And we all like to believe that our emails are different, that we’re providing content.
However, when it comes to sending an individual message, we’re often tempted to include just this one small affiliate link, or this one small coupon.
“It can’t hurt,” we think. “I still delivered massive value in this email, so what if I ask for a little something in return?!”
Well, it does hurt. It hurts your image.
Because no matter what you write in your email, if you end it with a promotional link of any kind, the whole message is rendered “promotional.” The only way to avoid this label is to not include any such link at all.
So make a promise to yourself and stick to it. When you’re working on a pure content email, make it a pure content email. Don’t add anything that serves any other purpose.
When you’re working on a promotional email, on the other hand, make it promotional to the bone. As salesy as possible and as obvious as possible. Your subscribers will respect the honesty.
Your Cut-Out-‘N-Keep Template
Okay, it’s about time to summarize this whole thing. Here are some bite-sized sentences to explain what autoresponders are and how to use them:
- Use autoresponders to distribute evergreen information.
- Use one-off email campaigns to distribute time-dependent information.
- Use autoresponders as a research tool to ask your subscribers questions at precisely the right time.
- Use autoresponders to deliver a series of content.
- Use autoresponders to reconnect with people who haven’t been active in X number of months.
- Use one-off email campaigns to let them know about current events, happenings, new content, news, and basically anything else that is valid today but might not be valid tomorrow.
Last but not least, what do you think of autoresponders as an email marketing tool? Are you already using them in your business or planning to? Are you ready to join 37 percent of other B2B marketers who have already entered the marketing automation game?