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What is email automation?

Email automation refers to a set of computerized processes employed by email senders that enable them to prepare, deploy and manage email campaigns with less manual effort. 

Email automation enables businesses to update data via API or other integrations or insert contact-specific data into an email template at scales not reasonably possible through manual efforts. 

Automating repetitive tasks across your email marketing program increases efficiency and reduces the risk of human error. Instead of spending time normalizing, transferring and processing data, your team can engage in tasks requiring creativity and higher-level thinking.

Some specific tasks that email automation has taken off the hands of email marketers include:

  • Managing and maintaining campaign and subscriber data
  • Updating list fields
  • Adding and updating customized or standardized data to email templates
  • Sorting and segmenting contacts and transferring contacts to suppression lists
  • Warming up IPs 
  • Normalizing, exchanging and integrating data across sources
  • Performing tests and analytics
  • Generating reports
  • Sending emails to subscribers, clients or customers 

These and other methods of accomplishing email-related tasks without human involvement are all “email automations.” 

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Automated emails versus email automation: What’s the difference? How does email automation facilitate hands-off sending? Examples of email automation Common types of triggered emails automations
The benefits of email automation

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Automated emails versus email automation: What’s the difference? 

The term email automation is often used to describe one particular subset of email automations–the sending of an email or emails at a predetermined time or in accordance with predefined rules with no direct human input. 

Of course, email automation isn’t solely free of human instruction (yet). But these instructions occur before the actual time at which the email is sent. 

Like other automations, using email automation to send specific email messages at predefined moments in your subscribers’ journey enables email marketers to scale their efforts and relieves humans from the impossible burden of monitoring every subscriber interaction and responding with a timely, relevant message. 

Because of the significant role automated emails play in maintaining an effective email marketing program, it’s no wonder that most people think of this digitized deployment when they use the phrase email automation. 

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How does email automation facilitate hands-off sending?

Very few email marketers have the time to sit at the controls of their email marketing dashboard and click “send” each time a new campaign is ready for distribution. Growth necessitates sending automation. 

Automaticity is at the core of email automation, but so too is preparation. To effectively leverage the power of email automation software, the sender must prepare appropriate message templates for each type of email they plan to send. Additionally, they must designate the time and date of their planned send or the rules for a triggered deployment. 

Senders can also include other details such as which segments or individuals should receive a specific message and what criteria will trigger a diversion to a different message sequence or the end of the message series in this initial plan.

Once an automated email or sequence is created and activated, these messages are distributed until someone deactivates them. In other words, your email marketing program’s automated elements keep going even when no one is at the helm. 

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Examples of email automation

Email automation is used to schedule bulk emails such as promotional blasts and newsletters and to distribute triggered transactional or marketing messages. 

A simple automation is to ensure that bulk promotions, announcements or newsletters are sent consistently and on time by pre-scheduling their send times. Instead of remembering to send your newsletter to your entire list on Monday at 10 am, you set the desired send time when you upload your newsletter. 

Taking things a step further, you can create a rule that a newsletter will go out every Monday at 10 am. Then, you can create a separate automation that compiles the content of that newsletter such as pulling the latest entries from your blog. 

Promotional or blast campaigns can be similarly pre-scheduled. Your team can upload and schedule an entire season’s worth of promotional emails in advance and leave the actual sending for your email automation tools to complete.

Within these email messages, merge instructions and other dynamic content rules allow real-time or personalized data to be automatically inserted. Further, fields such as the subscribers geolocation or time zone can be used to create send time rules that automatically distribute a bulk campaign across various best times to send for segment members. (Everyone receives their newsletter or promotional email at 10 am local time.) 

But still, that’s not really what most people think of when they hear the phrase email automation. No, the real powerhouse of email automation is triggered emails. 

Emails that are sent automatically in response to an event, action or inaction, behavior or passage of time enable businesses to be responsive to their subscribers and customers without sitting by their computers day and night. 

Autoresponders, drip campaigns, triggered messages, transactional messages, and targeted emails are all other terms that describe these wondrous tools of the modern email age. 

Marketers may design triggers or send rules based on a subscriber’s actions on a website or interaction with an email. The criteria for initiating a campaign may be based on the lack of engagement or other activity from a subscriber, or a preset interval such as 90 days after enrollment as well. Date-specific events such as anniversaries or renewal expirations can also serve as triggers. 

These types of emails are effective particularly because of their specificity. One subscriber’s signup or purchase date will differ from another. So while each may receive the same message, they won’t receive it on the same day. 

It is also this specificity which makes sending these types of emails without automation impossible. With automation, once a data point about a contact is generated, it informs your email automation software and triggers an action. 

Common types of triggered emails automations

Transactional emails that alert receivers to important information about their interaction are frequently automated to ensure that necessary information is accurate and sent on time.

Marketing emails that top the list for automated sends include:

  • Double opt-in or confirmation emails
  • Welcome messages 
  • Onboarding series
  • Promotional offers triggered by behaviors such as a specific page or product view
  • Date-dependent events such as birthdays or anniversaries 
  • The passage of product or service related milestones (such as 100 downloads or 10 refills)
  • Personalized activity or status reports 
  • Form or process abandonment emails
  • Browse, cart or checkout recovery emails
  • Replenishment or subscription renewal reminders
  • Back-in-stock or other requested notifications
  • Re-engagement campaigns 
  • Download or event registration confirmation and follow-ups
  • Post-purchase adoption and support sequences
  • Requests for feedback or reviews
  • Customer service follow-up messages
  • Referral program invitations and updates
  • VIP invitations, special offers or status reports

The benefits of email automation

Applying a broad range of email automations frees people from repetitive tasks, increasing their productivity and effectiveness and lowering costs. Automated data processes reduce errors and speed transfers. Once automated, tasks become repeatable and scalable, accelerating growth. 

Well executed automated email campaigns enhance these benefits even further by enable businesses to:

  • Send timely, relevant emails that reach subscribers at the moment of decision and boost engagement.
  • Shortens response times so that no opportunity goes untapped. 
  • Allows businesses to send one-to-one, customized messages at scale.
  • Empowers brands to be responsive and reactive, pivoting their strategy and using software to distribute changes rapidly.
  • Gather, analyze and act on data from across their email marketing programs.

Want to learn more? Check out this dynamic email content article to boost automation even further.

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