Exhaustive guide to Drip Campaigns

Strategy and Tactics for Drip Campaigns

Have you ever received an email a few seconds after you signed up for a service on someone’s website, or signed up for a newsletter and get emails weekly?

Example of a newsletter signup for drip campaign
Example of a newsletter signup for drip campaign

Both of these are examples of drip campaigns. The goal of a drip campaign is to convert visitors to your website into paying customers. Paying customers is not to be interpreted narrowly. It could mean getting someone to pledge for volunteer services, donate money for your nonprofit – in other words – get visitors to take some action. Ideally you want that to happen right away but in most cases, you will have to keep in touch with them over a period of time before they “convert”. This is where a drip campaign comes into picture.

This article will help you understand the fundamentals of a drip campaign.

What questions does this article answer?

  • What is drip marketing?
  • What are the key concepts when designing a drip campaign?
  • When do I use drip marketing?
  • How does drip campaign relate to marketing automation?
  • How to plan a drip campaign?

Imagine a scenario where a user just came to your website and fills out a form to enter their email address. You now have the bare minimum to start drip campaigns. You can engage with them through periodic newsletters, remind them if they abandon their shopping cart, or any of the other reasons.

The general idea is that you want to automatically send emails to the visitor on a period basis to accomplish a particular objective, either immediately or over a period of time. The objective could be as varied as nurturing the visitor (or a lead) to purchase something from your website, visit your store, send them a coupon for a holiday special, or remind them of something they added to their cart but never purchased.

Initial Trigger

The initial trigger for a drip campaign is anytime a customer shares their contact information with your business. This can be both online or your store. Some examples of how a customer might share their contact information with you are

  • A customer signs up for a coupon on your website
  • A customer signs up to receive a newsletter from you
  • A customer drops their business card in a bowl in your restaurant (and you manually enter their details in your system after the restaurant closes)

Objectives of drip campaigns

Let’s start with some of the possible objectives for drip campaigns.

  • Automatically respond when a customer interacts with your business. If a customer drops their business card in a bowl in your Thai restaurant, (and you manually enter the details in a CRM system) or enters their details on your website, you want to thank them for thinking of you and sharing their details.
  • Lead nurturing – A very common way for generating leads for your business is to provide some insight, experience, howto etc. via a newsletter. The idea is that potential visitors will look for ways to solve their problems, come across your howtos and guides, and then ultimately purchase the product that you are providing. This is known as inbound marketing or content marketing. The information you provide is called a lead magnet. The challenge with this model is that there is a timing mismatch. When someone is searching for information to solve a problem, they are not a lead for your business yet. They are a visitor to your website. How do you turn the visitor into a lead? This is what lead nurturing is all about. You can periodically send them information about other related things and remind them of your product, service or retail business. When they are ready, they will purchase from you. Lead nurturing ties in very well with marketing automation since you can actually determine the leads’ readiness to purchase from you.
  • Providing onboarding instructions – if you provide a course, or a SaaS solution, you will want to help customers understand how to get the most of your service. After all, this is what will determine whether or not they renew. You can hope that they will read the instructions or technical documentation provided, but likely most users will not. So you can divide the instructions into helpful tips or best practices into snippets and them via email on a daily basis or some other period timeframe.
  • Remind a customer to finish the purchase process in the Abandoned Shopping Cart – An abandoned shopping cart has got to be the most frustrating thing. A customer has gone through all the work of selecting your company and then selecting the product they want, and even added it to their cart but they never complete the checkout process. Well you can nudge them by reminding them of what’s in their cart.
  • Make recommendations about other products or services that the customer might benefit from
  • Time to remind them of renewals
  • Other transactional emails

Drip campaigns vs Marketing automation

Both drip campaigns and marketing automation are related concepts and are sometimes used interchangeably. For sake of completeness it is useful to understand what is a drip campaign and when you have transitioned into marketing automation. Everything that you do in drip campaigns is part of marketing automation, but marketing automation is so much more.

Drip campaign in the context of marketing automation
Drip campaign in the context of marketing automation

This diagram shows how drip campaigns fit into the bigger picture of marketing automation. Drip campaigns are a part of marketing automation, along with information from other marketing channels. Then come the actual marketing automation rules all of which are designed to take visitors to customers and hand them off to either sales or e-commence to close sales. This leads to a virtuous cycle – rinse and repeat!

Understanding lists and segmentation

Visitors, customers and leads are in different stages of their relationship with your business. A visitor that has seen your product or the service for the very first time is in a very different place from someone who has abandoned their shopping cart. That person is very different from someone who has purchased from you in the past and now either needs to be reminded purchase again or renew what they have purchased.

This difference in relationship is why you must place your leads in different lists. The exact nature of the lists can only be determined by you based on your business objectives.

Triggers – time and action based

To help automatically move visitors from one list to another, think of time and action based triggers.

Time based triggers

If a visitor has not interacted with any part of your website, or the emails that you have sent them then that can be a trigger. Maybe you want to move them into a list for inactive customers? This is also called lead aging.

Action based triggers

Any time a lead interacts with either the emails that you send them or any part of your website, that is an action. Based on the action time, you can move the visitor into different lists.

As we discussed earlier, the exact number and type of lists as well as the rules for moving

List segmentation and funnels

Now that we know about lists and actions, we can think about what to do about lists and how to move customers from one list to another. Over a period of time, for your drip campaign will have multiple lists. Let’s take one example.

This is a real example from one of our customers. We have changed their name to protect their privacy.

How Beth use a list segmentation strategy

Beth runs a store in Overland Park, Kansas that caters to residents that are health conscious and want locally sourced, organic, non-GMO products. She has built a business with word of mount and a few months ago started a newsletter as a demand gen tool. She wisely split the implementation of this demand gen channel into two phases.

In the first phase she included articles about benefits of healthy eating, risks of neuro toxins in food etc. In the second phase she included links to her website where she was selling products.

In the first phase, her list segmentation and trigger strategy looked like the following

As you can see it is a simple concept with just two triggers – one time based and one action based.

After a few months, she introduced links to products that she was selling. At this point in time, she had to think of a two-dimensional matrix of all the readers and customers. She used the following matrix to help her think about her most valuable customers and how to move readers/customers from one category to another. This framework was also helpful in thinking of the key metrics that she could monitor on a weekly basis.


Recently purchased Have not purchased anything in the last 3 months Never purchased
Regular reader Most valuable readers. Aim is to get all readers in this category. Still valuable but they have not purchased anything in the last 3 months. How can we get them to purchase something new? At the least, how can we continue engaging their interest in the newsletter? They interact with the newsletter but don’t purchase anything. Can we target them for holiday specials?
Not clicked on anything in the last 3 months These customers have purchased something but now are not reading. WE need to reach out to them to find out what changed for them. They purchased in the past but have not purchased anything recently and are now not interacting with the newsletter. There is a red flag here. These customers signed up for the newsletter but maybe they are not really interested in this topic?
Never clicked on anything NA NA Same as above. Should we remove these customers?


Summary of key steps in drip campaign

Now, it is finally time to discuss the steps in planning a drip campaign.

  1. Decide the objective of the drip campaign. Read the objectives section again.
  2. List/group of people
  3. Decide what email you will send to your list
  4. Decide the call to action in your email
  5. What will you measure
  6. What are the triggers
  7. Draw a flow chart to put everything together.
  8. Engage!!

Key concepts

  1. Call to Action
  2. Marketing Automation
  3. List segmentation