How to use automated drip email campaigns to drive up retention
Getting new users is important, but no acquisition efforts will last if you don’t give your users something to stay for. In this article I’ll argue its much more effective to engage your users with drip email campaigns that get triggered from a specific user action, and I’ll show you how to create your own automated drip campaigns based on what your customers are doing with Palabra.
Why focus on retention
If you have a subscription-based business, you are well aware of how important engagement is for your monthly revenue. But no matter what type of product or service you have, having people keep interacting with your site or app is probably really good for business.
Getting a new customer can be 7 times more expensive than getting new sales from your existing contact-base. Focusing on retention also enables you to create long-lasting relationships with your customers, and can be part of your customer experience added value.
Personally, I like focusing on retention because I love talking to users and learning from them. When people respond to our ongoing sequences, I have a much better understanding of what their problems are, and that gives me valuable information to:
- Optimize our acquisition strategy, by telling me who they are and how I can find more users like them.
- Define our product roadmap, by letting us know what they would like Palabra to do, instead of just deciding on new features they probably won’t need.
What is a drip campaign for retention
As the name suggests, drip email campaigns are sequences of emails sent to get users to a specific goal drip by drip during a certain period of time.
Drip campaigns can vary in terms of frequency and duration, but they all serve the purpose of nurturing users or prospects without overwhelming them with ever-lasting emails.
A well used drip campaign has much higher read and click rates than promotional emails — up to 3 times higher than single send emails. It takes a bit of work to create a good drip campaign, but the results will very much be worth your time.
There are three things to consider while setting up drip sequences to make them work:
- Having a clear goal – and measuring it
- Creating content based on value and timing
- Automating from user-events
Let’s look at each separately.
Measuring retention and defining goals
To create your own drip campaigns for retention, I suggest a data-driven approach: have a clear goal of what you want to achieve with them first, and create the emails last. Defining your strategy before creating your content will save you a lot of time later, since it will give you a clear idea of the content you should be sending.
When it comes to retention, the purpose of drip sequences can vary depending on what retention means for your business. For e-commerces for example, retaining customers means offering more products to the same customers, based on their previous preferences.
For a subscription-based tool like Palabra, our retention goals for first time users are tw:
- Getting first time users to automate their first campaign. People usually come to Palabra with a specific problem in mind, they are trying to automate something and are looking for the easiest way to do it. The thing is, they usually don’t do it as soon as they create their account. We need to remind them to complete their first sequence in order to start seeing results.
- Getting users to automate more sequences: Once they solve their initial problem, we want them to keep automating triggered emails. We usually tailor use cases based on what triggers they used (what integration they chose) and the type of business they have.
If you want to use drip campaigns to improve your retention rates, you first need to find a specific goal you want your users to achieve. These goals will be specific to your business and user base, but they need to be very clear. “Getting people to stay around” is too vague.
To create your own retention goals, ask yourself this questions:
- What’s the main action you want your users to achieve? What problem does your product solve?
- How often will your users need to use your tool to solve their problem?
I used Amplitude’s guide to create Palabra’s retention goals, I recommend it if you’re starting to think about retention for your product. We also use their tool to measure and optimize our retention strategies.
Content & timing for retention oriented drip campaigns
Once you have your retention strategy defined, you can set up a drip campaign to get users to continue along your user journey.
The first thing to keep in mind while designing a drip campaign is timing. How long does it usually take your users to complete the key action you’re aiming for?
When we created our first onboarding sequence in Palabra, we didn’t really know how long it would take people to create a trigger. So we created our first onboarding sequence just thinking about what we thought would make sense, and ended up with a simple drip of 3 onboarding emails.
- Welcome new users as soon as they create their accoung
- Offer help 2 days later
- Congratulate them after they turn on their first trigger (and offer help again).
After getting our first 20 or so active users, we found out it takes people about two weeks to set up their first trigger. We found that people take time to clean up their strategies after creating their account, even if they have a specific problem in mind that they want to solve.
We were really surprised to learn that, since it takes no more than 20 minutes to actually create a trigger, and only 5 minutes to connect Palabra to Google Sheets. But real users don’t lie, so we changed our onboarding sequence.
Instead of offering help just 2 days later, we wait for a week, to give them time to look around first. And after they do turn their first trigger, we show them other things they can do with our platform, offering them to complete challenges
There is no recipe to create drip campaigns that will work for everyone. The best thing that you can do is get to talking to your users as early as possible, and learn from what they’re actually doing with your product.
After you identify the timing behind each action they make, it will be much easier to set up different emails that lead users to solve their own problems.
Keep in mind what your users are actually doing and not what you would like for them to do. If you don’t have users yet, take your best guess but make sure to improve them after you have real data.
Automation: why and how?
Most drip campaigns are triggered when a person moves through the conversion funnel. Those are usually actions they take to subscribe or buy something. That could be just enough to create your first automated drip sequence, and it’s easy enough to start.
One of those examples is the most common drip campaign for retention: the onboarding sequence. They typically consist on a few emails showing a few interesting features that may be helpful, offering help and asking for feedback. Superhuman has a great onboarding drip that consist of one email per day during the first week to show the basic features, and then some tricks or features 2 times a week afterwards.
To automate an onboarding sequence, you have to set up a trigger based on subscription (or account creation). To do that with Palabra you can choose from many integrations depending on your stack, for example if you have a Webflow landing page, you can send an automated sequence each time someone submits a form to subscribe.
To engage retention from other user actions, you should first think about how often you would need to send those emails before automating. It may be easier to send emails manually yourself if you have 10 or less users that complete those actions each week.
In most self-service products, automation is almost always the best choice. Having a fully automated flow can save you a lot of time once your users start to grow.
For example, if you are selling courses online, you may want to create a short sequence that starts once they complete the course, and show them what other things they can learn on your site. Most online learning platforms (and many other products) connect to Zapier, so you can set up a Zapier trigger to Palabra if you want to automatically start a sequence to re-engage them.
To engage users there’s no work-for-all recipe. You have to actually take time to find out what it is your users are doing and how you can help them move on to their next interaction with your product. Once you know that and have a clear goal in mind, drip sequences will help you educate and nurture your users without overwhelming them with long emails.
To use drip sequences for retention and save some precious time, you can choose a tool to automate sequences triggered by user actions. Just find out what action can lead to the next one and start with simple sequences to engage your users.
As an early stage product, we are constantly improving our sequences and retention strategies, so I know how time-consuming it can be. My recommendation is that you choose a tool that you’re familiar with or that has a short learning curve to make your first automations. If it takes too much time to learn, automating can take you more time than it saves.