Unlike batch-and-blast email marketing, drip programs offer an effective way to stay engaged with a targeted audience over an extended period of time. By delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right person, you’ll greatly increase the impact of your efforts.

Email marketing drip programs (also known as drip campaigns, drip marketing, or automated programs) leverage marketing automation software to send a targeted list of contacts a set of email messages based on predefined time intervals, actions taken by the contact (such as website visits, content downloads, etc.) or a combination of both. They allow marketers to stay connected to their contacts, provide those contacts targeted and relevant content, while also reducing the time and effort needed by the marketing department to manage the program.

And the results speak for themselves! According to a study by Vero, the average open rate on a email drip program is 80% higher than single email campaigns. And add to that, the click through rate is as much as 300% higher than a single batch-and-blast. In other words, email marketing drip programs are a win-win-win! Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Determine the program type and purpose (goal)

The first step in the planning is to determine the type of program you want to create and the goal or purpose of the program. While most often associated with lead nurturing, the truth is drip programs can be used for a variety of purposes. Some of these program types include:

• Educational drips
• Top-of-mind awareness drips
• Training or on-boarding drips
• Promotional drips
• Competitive/comparison drips
• Re-engagement drips
• Recommendation drips

Whether your goal is to nurture relationships with prospects and leads, or engage new or existing clients, drip programs can be leveraged for a variety of purposes.

2. Select the source list(s) for the program (audience)

Determining the audience of each program is a critical step. Drip programs are all about targeting specific contacts with specific (and personalized) information. So you want your focus to be as narrow as possible; as the more targeted and personalized the emails are, the more effective your efforts will be. The source list for your programs might be contacts from a particular market or client segment, contacts that have downloaded a particular white paper or registered for a particular webinar. More sophisticated drip programs also target contacts with a specific behavior profile or lead score, sending emails that pertain to actions they have previously taken or other indications they’ve given. The point is that you want to carefully select a targeted list of contacts, not blast all your contacts with the same series of emails.

3. Create a series of targeted program messages (content)

Once the purpose has been determined and the audience has been selected, the next critical step is to create a series of relevant and contextual email messages that pertain to the purpose and audience of the program.  The content of your messages will ultimately make or break your efforts. So based on the targeted audience and program purpose, carefully think through what content will resonate with your audience and what calls-to-action will drive a response.

There is no magic formula for how many email messages to include, but you’ll want to strike the balance between too few and too many. As with most things in marketing, quality is preferred over quantity. Create the least amount of messages deemed necessary to accomplish the program purpose and your marketing objectives.

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure that you create emails that are designed to get read, which means they’re mobile-friendly, use a click-worthy subject line, contain engaging copy and have a clear call-to-action. Less is always more, so keep the emails short and to the point.

4. Set the program flow (logistics)

The next critical step in the process is to determine the workflow and schedule of the drip program. Before setting up the workflow in your email or marketing automation tool, it’s a good idea to sketch out the program on a whiteboard or flip chart to think through the logistics. The sky is the limit for how complex your program flow can be. You can have a myriad of conditional branches that use “if-then” logic to move contacts to various steps of the program. But for those new to drip programs, it’s advised to start with a more simple and straightforward program and gradually work towards more sophisticated workflows.

Once you have the program flow determined, most marketing automation platforms have an intuitive drag-and-drop interface that will allow you to set your workflow, determine wait periods, the order in which the emails will be sent out and also set early exit conditions as well. You can also set rules to automatically trigger emails, sync contact lists and also update data fields. But as mentioned before, start simple and work your way up. Crawl, walk, run.

5. Deploy, monitor and adjust accordingly (analytics)

Once your program has been deployed and is essentially running on autopilot, your work isn’t finished. While the drip program is automated, it shouldn’t run without being monitored and evaluated. Think of the process as a continuous loop. You’ll spend a great deal of time upfront planning the program, but once it’s in motion, you’ll need to monitor the analytics and make adjustments along the way.

Consider A/B testing your subject lines to see which ones garner the higher open rate. If your messages aren’t getting an acceptable number of clickthroughs , try tweaking the calls-to-action or adjusting the copy to increase engagement. There may also be some messages in your program that will need to be eventually replaced, or there might be additional messages that you’ll want to add down the road.  The best approach is to be agile and continuously monitor and adjust as needed. Even the best drip programs will need to be optimized along the way.

Graduate your email marketing

So if you’re ready to graduate your email marketing efforts and are looking to harness the power of marketing automation, creating email marketing drip programs is a great place to start. Hopefully these tips will help get you on your way.