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18 min read

What is Drip Marketing? The Complete Guide to Drip Campaigns, Lifecycle Emails, and More

By Joe Stych · February 16, 2015

Email newsletters are a great way to send out your team's latest announcements, but they have a major problem: new subscribers only see new emails, and never get the first emails you’d sent out to your list. All they’ll see is the stuff you send after they sign up.

Often called drip campaigns but known by many other names—drip marketing, automated email campaign, lifecycle emails, autoresponders and marketing automation—the concept is the same: they’re a set of marketing emails that will be sent out automatically on a schedule. Perhaps one email will go out as soon as someone signs up, another will go out 3 days later, with one more going out the next weekend. Or, the emails can be varied based on triggers, or actions the person has performed like signing up for your service or making a purchase, which is why they're also sometimes called behavioral emails.

Setting up drip email campaigns might seem daunting, so in this chapter we've broken down what drip campaigns are, when they’re effective, and how you can use them to cultivate a customer from a disengaged user. Then, in the next chapters we'll dive into the apps and tools you need to make your drip campaigns successful. Let's get started.

Did You Know? Drip campaigns aren’t limited to email—the term also applies to direct mail and phone-based marketing, too. But in this primer, we're focusing on email, since it's efficient and cost-effective.

  • What is a Drip Campaign?

  • When Should You Use a Drip Campaign?

  • How to Set Up a Drip Campaign

  • How to Measure Drip Marketing Results

  • Apps to Run Drip Campaigns

What is a Drip Campaign?

pardot drip workflow
Marketing automation company Pardot shows an overview of a drip campaign. <a href=

Drip campaigns, as mentioned above, are automated sets of emails that go out based on specific timelines or user actions. They enable you to stay in touch with groups of people based on events like when a user signs up for an account or how often that user visits your site. Each time a drip email is sent out, it comes from a queue of already-written emails—there's no need to manually write and send each one. They can even be personalized with your contacts' name, company info, and more.

Put simply, drip marketing is all about giving people the right information at the right time. If someone just subscribed to your blog newsletter, for example, a drip campaign could send a welcome email right away, and two days later, an email that shows off some of your most-read content. Or if a potential customer has been hovering around your "premium upgrade" page for a few weeks but hasn’t yet pulled the trigger, a drip campaign could send them an email with five reasons to purchase the premium plan.

The beauty of drip emails is that this all happens automatically based on triggers and user segments that you define.

But do drip campaigns really work? Yup: According to research collected by the team behind the email-marketing suite Emma, relevant targeted emails produce 18-times more revenue than globally-broadcasted ones. Perhaps that's not so surprising, since they also found that people who read your drip emails are far more likely to click the links in them, with a 119% increase in click rate from drip emails.

That’s huge, especially considering that you can reuse content, and everything is sent out automatically. You can have specific drip campaigns for educating users, rewarding your best customers, helping people who hit a certain page on your site, and more. Most importantly, though, is that you can pin-point user groups with drip emails, segmenting your email list, and reaching the right people when they're ready to buy. You can segment your list based on demographics, purchase history, and which emails that user has opened in the past, leading to more conversions and fewer unsubscribes.

Like any good thing, you don’t want to overdo it. Too many drip emails will only annoy your customers. But a thoughtful set of drip emails can be the perfect way to remind people to buy your product, teach them how to use your tool once they’ve purchased it, and get new subscribers up-to-speed on your email newsletter. And the more specific your segments, the more likely you are to get interaction and interest from your subscribers—we’ll do a deeper dive into building segments later in the post.

Did You Know? Drip marketing gets its name from irrigation—you're slowly developing a relationship with your user by nurturing them with info, like a farmer would do with a sapling. I could sit here all day and write farming metaphors for marketing, but for your sake, I won’t.

When Should You Use a Drip Campaign?

"Drip marketing" is a blanket term that covers several different marketing strategies. But the goal remains the same: keep users engaged with your product.

Let's look at 10 use cases where setting up an automated drip campaign could help you get relevant information to targeted readers, and convert them into customers. You might want to try a few of them with your users, or perhaps they'll spark your imagination for other ways you could use drip campaigns for your product or service.

Nurturing Leads

zapier nurturing drip
Zapier sends new users a nurturing drip email to help them brainstorm automation ideas.

Leads—a term you may remember from our Introduction to CRM Apps—are prospective customers, people who you think just might buy your product in the near future. They just might need a bit of hand-holding, or nurturing—sticking with them until they’re ready to purchase your product. Lead Nurturing can take many forms, like educating users on your service, helping them use certain features, or offering them free trials.

The folks behind marketing automation app Drip say that when brands nurture leads, they get 50% more sale-ready customers; Emma noted that nurtured leads make 47% larger purchases.

You can't personally hand-hold every user through discovering and purchasing your product, but drip emails can do that work for you. You can use welcoming, onboarding, engagement, or abandoned shopping cart drips—along with other drip email campaign ideas which we'll look at below—to nurture your leads and get them ready to turn into paid customers.


headspace welcome email
Meditation app Headspace welcomes new users with a playful drip email and a brief explanation about what they offer. <a href=

You've done a great job at marketing, and have attracted a ton of new people to sign up for a trial or request info about your products. But how are these new users going to learn about your product and why it's so outstanding?

That's where welcome emails shine—they act as an immediate intro to some of your company’s top content, and as a primer on using your product.

If someone subscribes to your newsletter, you could use a welcome drip to automatically send that user some of your most-shared blog posts. Or, if you get a new trial-level signup for your service, try a drip featuring case studies on how other customers are using your product.

At the very least, welcome emails are a nice way to say, "Hey there, nice to meet you!"

The stats show that users actually expect—and like—welcome emails when they sign up for a new service or newsletter. Experian's white paper on welcome emails shows that these autoresponders enjoy a 58.7% open rate on average, while normal emails sit around 14.6%. When that welcome email is sent instantaneously (i.e. right after the user signs up), the open rate jumps to 88.3%. So craft a great welcome drip campaign, and you'll get the amazing engagement welcome emails recieve and then keep the momentum going with followup messages.


box onboarding email
Cloud storage app Box employs drip campaigns to teach people how to use their product. <a href=

Pageviews and trial users are nice, but eventually you need your users to sign up or purchase something from you. That's where an onboarding drip strategy would come in: in conjunction with welcome scenarios or scheduled newsletters, which introduce the customer to your brand and your values, onboarding emails offer targeted "sells"—or small goals in getting them using and paying for your product—to that customer.

These "sells" could be downloading your company's mobile app, signing up for a webinar, or purchasing a premium subscription. Chris Hexton, the CEO and co-founder of email marketing app Vero, shared some helpful advice on Unbounce's blog about getting your users to that activation stage:

By using automated emails, you can setup a system that helps to drive customers toward activation in your product.

The first step here is to identify what counts as activation. In Vero’s case it's the sending of a customer's first live behavioural email, in Unbounce's cases it's the creation of their first landing page….What you really want to do here is encourage new, inactive users to take this activation step as soon as possible.

For another example, Hexton points to Dropbox's effective drip campaign that targets users who haven’t downloaded the desktop app, and prompts them to install. Vero also breaks down how Trunk Club uses automated (but personalized) emails to reach out to unengaged trial users and put the premium service at top of their mind.

Abandoned Shopping Carts

gilt abandonment email
Online clothing retailer Gilt delivers automated drip emails to users who put an item in their cart, but did not buy it. <a href=

You crafted enticing newsletters, offered flash sales, and finally coaxed your user into clicking that gilded "add to cart" button. Then: your hard-earned sale vanishes. Huh?

Actually, ditching a fully loaded shopping cart is more common than you think. Mark Macdonald, the content manager at eCommerce empire Shopify pointed out that around 67.45% of shopping carts are abandoned (check out that link for a great breakdown of how that affects your bottom line, too).

But with an automated drip campaign, you can re-engage those waivering customers and lead them back to the "buy" button. Whenever users leave an unpurchased product in their cart, use a drip to follow up and confirm that it’s still available. You don't even need to be selling physical products for this to work. With an app, for example, use a specific sales page—perhaps one that breaks down the benefits of your pro-level plan compared to the basic one— as a trigger, and send some follow-up info to anyone who visits that page but doesn’t convert.

HubSpot—an inbound marketing suite that offers everything from email automation to analytics—featured research on its blog showing that when cart-abandoning users do return to make a purchase, 72% of them do so within 24 hours of abandoning the product—that’s likely due to strong automated prompts from the seller, designed to pull the customer back in. So perhaps wait a bit after the potential customer visits the page, then send a drip at a time when they're likely to see the email and act on it—maybe at lunch time, or in the early evening.

Your drip emails then have a pretty good chance of closing the sale. According to SaleCycle, abandoned cart emails average a 46.1% open rate, a 13.3% click rate, and $5.64 per email in extra revenue.

Need inspiration? Shopify also broke down 13 well-designed abandoned cart emails.


spotify recommendation email
Music streaming service Spotify suggests new music based on your listening history. <a href=

"You might also like" isn't just for Netflix bingeing—recommendation engines are a cornerstone of nearly every giant online retailer (ahem, Amazon). The more a company knows about you and your buying habits, the better they can predict what you will and won't like. With that info, they can send you targeted drip emails that contain products or coupons specific to your purchasing tendencies.

For example, if you buy a Keurig coffee brewer online, that retailer might send you a coupon for 20-count K-cup packs or other Keurig accessories, because they already know you own the brewer. They could even recommend your favorite K-cup flavor just about when they think you'll run out of it, making a sale almost guaranteed.

The same goes for an entertainment app like Spotify—its team knows what music you listen to, and they can create targeted drip campaigns that email you whenever a frequented artist releases a new single, or when a new band in your favorite genre signs on with Spotify. Airbnb goes even further. Vero dissected Airbnb's automated emails that go out based on your browsing habits, and found that when Airbnb knows more about where you want to travel, its emails get more personal, and in turn more useful.

You don’t need to be a billion-dollar business to put that knowledge into action, though. Try targeting user segments with drips based on which aspects of your service they use most, or what kinds of content they’re most interested in.

It's easy to see why Amazon and others put so much work into their recommendations emails, especially when you look at the potential returns. David Selinger, CEO of RichRelevance—which provides a recommendation engine infrastructure for some of the nation’s top online retailers—said that his software can increase revenue by 3-15%.


cooks renew email

Whether your user extended their subscription or it's about to run out, you can leverage drip campaigns to engage customers during the renewal process.

For automatic renewals, try using an autoresponder that sends users an alert that their account is about to be charged. You can load these notification emails with contact information for your customer care team, or links to pages where users can update their billing or shipping information. If your subscriptions don't autorenew, craft your drip campaign with a clear call to action, prompting users to re-up with your service. And for the users that do renew, be sure to send them a drip thanking them for staying with your service and perhaps prompt them to share your product with their friends.


fairfield confirm email
Fairfield uses drip campaigns to confirm user reservations, and show off some of the hotel amenities. <a href=

You've closed the sale, or better yet, convinced a user to stick with your product for another year with a renewed subscription. But your drip email work isn't done. You can also use a drip campaign to confirm your user's purchase renewal—just set up a "thank you" autoresponder that goes out right after they hit the "purchase" button. In that confirmation drip, you could include some links to your product's newest features to re-engage them with your brand.

It should be a no-brainer to send your users an email receipt after they make a purchase, but you can also leverage that communication with related products and upsells. And with confirmations for things like plane tickets and hotel rooms, send a quick email a day before the event to put any important confirmation codes at the top of the user's inbox. Then, perhaps, that same drip can send another email a few days later, asking them to review your product or service and offer a coupon for future purchases.


runkeeper engagement email
RunKeeper sends users who have not logged a workout in a while a re-engagement drip email. <a href=

The math here is pretty simple: the more often someone engages with your site, the more likely they are to convert into a paying customer. Engagement emails are a type of drip campaign that invite the recipient to return to your site and look around, triggered either by some on-site activity or a general lack of activity.

Social sites are a great example of how to use activity-based triggers. If someone on Twitter mentions you in a tweet, Twitter can send you an alert-style email, encouraging you to visit Twitter and respond. Messages like this can be a big boon for engagement. Vero's Hexton highlighted LinkedIn's use of autoresponders for skill endorsements in an article on Marketing Land, in which he argued that these drips are effective because they give you a warm, fuzzy feeling and encourage you to go endorse someone else.

But it doesn't have to be just happy feelings; guilt can work as well. If you don’t log an activity in fitness app RunKeeper for a while, they’ll send an automated "We miss you!" email. It's a subtle way to remind you that you should work out, combined with a touch of nostalgia for the app they hope you'll use while exercising.

If you're still seeing less-than-ideal engagement with your email marketing efforts, you might need to tweak your strategy and experiment. Sendloop suggests offering incentives, changing up your schedule, and rewriting your call to action.


People like to know what they're getting with emails. So if you can offer a planned set of drips—say a six-week course on how to double your blog traffic—subscribers won't just flow in, they'll interact with the content at an incredible rate. Send stuff at random, and they may just ignore it.

Setting up a drip campaign that acts more like a multi-part crash course is simple, especially if you’re repackaging old content, and it provides a steady flow of traffic from a super-engaged audience. Plus, once the last email goes out and the user knows your product from front to back, you can close the deal on a premium-level subscription.

When you produce great content and people actually anticipate seeing it in their inbox, you have a major win. The numbers back that theory up, too: Vero says that course emails—or emails that are part of a series—have an open rate 80% higher than regular emails, and a 300% higher clickthrough rate to boot.


When we're talking about automated emails, there are opportunities everywhere—even when a user is about to slip away through the "unsubscribe" button. Instead of cursing that email address and blacklisting the IP address from your site, use an autoresponder to take one last shot at pulling the user in.

Along with a little "we're sorry to see you go!" message, you can use your automated drip campaign to push other channels like Facebook or Twitter. Remember: Users aren’t necessarily unsubscribing because they hate your brand—they might just prefer to interact with you in a different way.

There are many marketing-savvy brands out there that are putting this tactic to use, and Vision6 put together a roundup of some of the best unsubscribe emails. My favorite comes from Bonobos, which directly asks the user if they were sending too many emails, and offers to decrease its communications to once a week or month.

How to Set Up a Drip Campaign

Now that we've studied some of the best ways to use drip campaigns to convert more sales and engage your customers, how do you actually map out a successful automated drip campaign?

Turns out, it's actually not that hard. Here are five steps that you could use as the basis for building our your drip emails, including examples of how to target your audience, write your emails, tweak for best results and more.

Just to note: It’s never too late to get started with a drip-based strategy. But make sure you aren’t sending current users a bunch of emails that they didn’t sign up for—if they don’t understand why they're getting an email, they could unsubscribe or mark your emails as spam.

1. Identify Your Target Audience

Drip campaigns are all about breaking your subscriber list into subsections, and targeting information to niches of customers. So the most important piece here is determining which triggers and groups you're going to use for your drip campaign strategy.

Drips are usually based on one of two types of triggers: either an action in your app or on your site, or an added piece of user demographic information.

Action Examples

  • A user subscribes to your company newsletter, and you send them a welcome email via your drip campaign

  • A user makes a purchase, and you automatically send them a receipt with shipping information (plus a few upsells)

  • A user downloads the trial version of your app, and you send them a series of six instructional emails over the course of the trial, which offer helpful tips on making the most of your app

Demographic Examples

  • A user signed up for your service a week ago, but hasn't returned since, so you send them an automated email asking if they need any help

  • A user started building something with your app, but stopped halfway through the process, so you send them a drip that offers a walkthrough and some other tips

  • Last year around the holidays, a user bought products from a specific category of your shop, so you send them a list of new items in that category in early December (plus a coupon code)

In their email marketing cheat-sheet, Vero highlights user behavior tracking as a great way to personalize your drip campaigns and hit customers with the information that they need at the right time.

By tracking behaviour you can build up a 'profile' on each individual user that allows you to better serve their needs. Are they a loyal customer? Do they shop once a year? Are they looking for a bargain or a fan of a particular brand in your store? Do they login weekly or rarely?

Figure out the target audience and the problem that you're solving for them. Your drip campaign needs to be targeted to a specific behavior for it to be effective.

Try targeting audience segments based on use characteristics like visit frequency, likelihood of clicking on certain content subjects in a newsletter, how long ago they signed up, how often they visit your premium services page, or how long they’ve been paying customers.

Email marketing app Drip also points out that great lead nurturing campaigns use evolving profiles and segments: ask your users for more data, track how they interact with your current drip campaigns, and adjust or create new segments using those figures.

2. Craft Your Message

Now that you know whom you're targeting, you need to generate a message that's helpful and grabs their attention. What do you want the user to do? Or, what do you want the user to learn?

Based on your answer, write copy that's clear, actionable, and attractive. Maintain the voice that you've built for you brand, but make sure that your message is clear. Over at Vero, content editor Jimmy Daly broke down a promotional email campaign from Evernote, highlighting the importance of explaining benefits, using action verbs, and making the next steps unmissable.

Tip: At this point, don't get hung up on design—heck, you could start by sending plain text emails. But if you're looking for ways to optimize your email layout for conversions, check out this post from Emma, which outlines some great user interface considerations that have increased the effectiveness of their drip campaigns.

3. Plan Out Your Campaign

Next you need to figure out the logistics of your drip campaign—what the workflow looks like from first contact to sale to support. This is also when you set the goals of your campaign, make sure that the copy in each email flows together with the others, and decide how you're going to measure your results.

To do this, think about these questions:

How many emails am I going to send, when, and in what order?

Whether you're onboarding a new customer or keeping a user engaged, the sequence of your sends plays a crucial role in the success of each campaign. Consider how much information your target user needs, when he or she might need it, and why. Over on his blog, Jason Delodovici wrote a great post about a drip campaign that he spearheaded, noting the order he chose for each email—from signup to sale—and why.

Do my triggers line up with my message?

Nothing's worse than getting an emailed coupon for something you bought last week, or an over-the-top sales pitch seconds after signing up on a site. Make sure that your triggers are all laid out (based on the list segments in step 1), and that each email in your campaign is directly related to a trigger. Users should always understand why they're getting an email.

How am I going to measure success?

Hopefully at this point you know why you’re setting up a complex drip campaign—maybe it's for customer acquisition, engagement, or education for product releases and updates. Whatever the case, you need to set goals for your campaign, and choose the metrics to measure your success against. Depending on your analytics capabilities (we’ll delve into one example below, you could look at bounce rate, click-through rate, conversions, or time on site. Just make sure your measurements loop back to the "why" of your campaign.

Tip: If you’re looking to increase open rates, check out Sendloop’s guide to writing better subject lines.

4. Start Your Campaign

Once you've decided on a strategy, start sending. To do this, you can either implement your own custom drip software or buy an off-the-shelf product that'll have you up and running in minutes.

Before making a decision, I'd recommend reading our drip marketing app roundup, in which Matt Guay breaks down the best tools for managing your automated drip campaigns, plus the killer features that each app offers.

5. Evaluate and Adjust

Just because your drip campaign is automated doesn't mean you can let it run unsupervised. You spent a bunch of time researching user segments, and it's important to readjust those segments and your strategy based on the results. If you aren't getting as many clickthroughs as you want, try rewriting your calls to action; if you aren't meeting your conversion rate goals with your sale-closing email, try more educational communications before asking any user to pull the trigger. Evaluate, adjust, repeat.

How to Measure Drip Marketing Results

In the set up section above, I touched on the importance of determining which metrics you were going to measure your drip campaign’s success by. But what’s the best way to track how users are interacting with your content?

One of the most widespread strategies involves UTM codes (or URL parameters)—small text strings that you can paste onto the end of a URL without affecting the destination.

UTM stands for "Urchin Traffic Monitor" (after the company that initially created Google Analytics) and these codes are used specifically by Google Analytics to track web browsing via cookies. Using UTM codes, Google Analytics can tell you where a user has been, and whether or not they've visited your site before, among other metrics. Google even offers a custom URL builder to help you create UTM codes.

Sites signal the beginning of a UTM code with a question mark ? —below, the UTM code is everything after the question mark:

To get a better sense for how this works, try opening these two links and looking at your browser's address bar:

You should reach the same page even though the URLs are different. But note that the URL with the UTM code is tracked separately from the URL without. The difference is that with UTM-tracked URLs, you get signals about how the user got there—all you need to do is check your analytics platform for the specific URL string.

Note: You can also string UTM codes together if you separate them with ampersands & like this:

If you're using an analytics suite other than Google Analytics, you can still use parameters to track unique URLs—for example, I could use instead of a classic UTM. That would simply trigger a unique traffic report for the parameter I specified.

google analytics example

There are a bunch of use cases for UTM codes:

  • Test link placements for the same page in a newsletter by adding different UTM codes to the URLs

  • Track whether email, Twitter ads, or a placement in your header performed better for a coupon code by giving each link a unique UTM code

  • Compare whether a Facebook share button at the bottom or the top of your blog post produces more interaction by making the buttons share links with two different UTM codes

Ginny Soskey, the senior editor of HubSpot's marketing blog, wrote a thorough guide to UTM codes—complete with example UTM parameters—that can serve as good inspiration. But a lot of the time if you’re using an app to manage your drip campaigns, it will track results for you.

Just remember: UTMs are great for tracking what works for clicks, but as Vero points out you still need to focus on conversions and the value that each conversion brings to your company (in fact, they wrote an entire guide to tracking conversions via Google Analytics).

Apps to Run Drip Campaigns

Emma automation

There are dozens of different tools available for managing your emails and crafting an effective drip campaign—Vero, Sendloop, MailChimp, and Emma are a few that come to mind. But each of those apps has a different set of features, limitations, and price points, so you'll want to evaluate them thoroughly before committing.

Lucky for you, the next chapter breaks down 25 such email marketing tools—you'll learn which apps are best for drip campaigns, which ones offer a broader suite of marketing automation options, and which apps are the simplest to set up. In it, we cover:

Whichever tool (or tools) you choose, marketing automation through drip campaigns can help you nurture leads without monopolizing up your time. When you stick with your users—and help them use your product—they’ll grow to love your brand.

Further Reading

On top of the resources linked throughout this post, check these blog posts and ebooks out for more info:

Image Credits: Drip photo courtesy LadyDragonflyCC via Flickr.

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