The Basics of Email Automation in 2023

Melanie Balke
August 29, 2023

It’s one of — if not the — most essential tools in modern email marketing. It makes things easier, keeps customers happy, and butters up that all-important customer journey. It’s the difference between a tangle of inconsistent, sloppy email campaigns and sleek, modern experiences.

That’s right.

Today’s blog post is all about a little something called…

(Wait for it!)

Email marketing automation. Other names for the concept include “email automation” or “automated emails.” No matter how you say it, the idea is the same.

“Oh,” you may be saying, “haven’t you already covered that?”

I have, beloved long-time reader of The Email Marketers blog. However, there’s always room to grow. While this post may be a refresher for some, it’s entirely new material for others. So, sit back and enjoy the ride!

What Is Email Marketing Automation?

A 1980s twine bailing machine. Overlaid text reads, “The Basics: What Is Email Automation?”

At its core, email automation is a way to make everyone’s life easier. It uses various tools — often included with an email marketing platform’s services — to create unique email campaigns that go out at specific times.

There are, however, a few different ways to define “specific times.”

Date-Based Automated Emails

The simplest form of email automation is the widespread date-based email campaign. You’re bound to have at least one of these in your inbox right now. Go on, check! You’re looking for anything related to a national holiday or major event. Think: Christmas, New Year, or Saint Patrick’s Day!

I’ll wait for you.

… Find one? Congrats!

Modern email automation tools make it easier than ever to create these campaigns.

Once you’ve done the heavy lifting to design and write an email, all you need to do is pop it into your automation software and set a send date. In many cases, you can use additional customer data to ensure the email arrives at the perfect time, regardless of a recipient’s time zone.

Drip Campaigns (“Constant Contact” Email Marketing)

A subset of date-based email automation is known as drip marketing.

Again, you probably have an example chilling in your inbox. This time, seek out anything that’s promoting a unique sale (e.g., “door-busters,” promotional messages, and seasonal campaigns).

The simplest version of a drip email will read something like, “Hello, customer! It’s an ultimately inconsequential day of the year, but our ROI isn’t where it should be. We want to change that. Use the discount code HELPUS to save 15% off your next purchase.” Alongside date-based email campaigns, these are the most basic email marketing tools.

However, a bit of know-how lets you dig even deeper…

Personalized Emails

On the surface, a personalized email is as simple as adding a user’s name to a subject line. It’s an age-old email marketing strategy, and modern marketing automation tools have made it easier than ever to pull off!

In the context of an automated email, personalization generally falls into one of four categories:

  • Advanced targeting features (e.g., product recommendations and yearly reports)
  • Behavioral automation (e.g., confirmation emails, empty cart flows, and post-purchase emails)
  • Basic additions (e.g., names or titles)
  • Date-based triggers (e.g., anniversaries and birthdays)

You may have noticed that personalization covers multiple categories. Product recommendations, for example, may be part of a larger drip campaign. Or perhaps, that confirmation flow turns into a monthly newsletter subscription.

Regardless of their category, personalized emails share a common goal. These email campaigns aim to strengthen customer relationships and turn potential customers into paying clients. They’re an effective way to appeal to both new subscribers and existing customers, so don’t neglect them!

A Quick Aside About Personalized Messages…

Now, I’d be a poor teacher if I failed to mention the thorny issues surrounding personalized messaging. There’s a fine line between gently pushing the customer journey and being an overbearing inbox creep. It’s 2023, after all, and most people expect a vague sense of personalization — such as seeing their name in some subject lines. However, most customers will be creeped out if you start to send targeted email campaigns containing intimate personal information.

An example of basic personalized content. The email subject line reads, “Hey there, Delilah!” The preview text says, “What’s it like in New York City?”

That’s not even touching the legal side of the equation.

So, be smart with your marketing efforts. If the information you’re sending is something you wouldn’t want to see in an email, your customers likely feel the same way.

Behavioral Automated Email Marketing

Speaking of automated workflows… Behavioral content is sent when your marketing automation software detects an action.

And, yes, it frequently overlaps with personalized content. That Steam email, for example, uses a customer’s wishlist to deliver content that’s personalized for them. If you’re unfamiliar with why a user interested in playing a game like Metal Gear Solid would be uninterested in someone else’s drip campaign, consider this: Would a soccer fan appreciate an email encouraging them to buy tickets to see an ice skating event? Likewise, would a Buffalo Bills fan react kindly to email marketing campaigns asking them to support the New England Patriots?

But let’s move beyond the overlap. Let’s investigate the specifics of a behavioral email automation workflow. Common triggers for behavioral marketing automation include…

  • Abandoned carts, which lead to aptly named “abandoned cart” workflows.
  • Customer service requests, which may be handled by active responses or automated emails.
  • Engagement (or lack thereof), which often triggers a “win-back” workflow.
  • Purchases, which lead to post-purchase automated email workflows.
  • Subscriptions (via traditional sign-up forms, in-person events, or even lead magnets), which often trigger welcome emails.
  • Wishlist additions, which may trigger eventual recommendation emails — like the Steam email I keep mentioning!

All of these examples cover a wide range of customers. New customers are seeking welcome emails, and returning clients are vying for post-purchase emails. All of this would be near-impossible to handle on your own, especially if you sell more than a handful of products each day. So, what do we do? We use a craft email automation setup to make sure everyone gets the right email messages!

Note, too, that many of these automated workflow examples do double duty as part of your sales funnel. Welcome messages act as your entry point, recommendations serve as a guide, and post-purchase emails confirm when a customer purchases an item. Together, these emails are part of that all-important customer lifecycle, and well-structured flows can be reused for years!

Why Should I Care About Email Automation?

“All of that’s nice,” you may be saying, “but how will this help me?”

Another great question, hypothetical audience member.

So, let me say the answer upfront: Email marketing automation is an absolutely essential part of any successful marketing strategy. You need it. You want it. And you gotta have it. It’s what separates milquetoast mom-and-pop marketing emails (no offense, of course) from professional marketing campaigns. It keeps the wheels of business — especially ecommerce businesses — greased and makes your marketing efforts so, so much easier to manage.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts.

Automated Email Campaigns Improve Customer Retention

It’s no secret that people love communicating. Half the customer journey is endearing your business to your customer base, and you can’t do that without some public interaction.

There is, of course, social media. You can hit up all those social media platforms and dance your heart out, fighting against countless competitors for a shred of dignified attention. You can spend hours learning algorithmic tricks that will disappear overnight.

Or you can engage directly with your customers. You can redirect even half of that energy from one social platform to your email marketing efforts and see a massive change!

It’s all about customer behavior. In an inbox, you’re more likely to become a familiar face. You’re seen as a friend, and you can use that familiarity to grow your business. This sense of connection is one of the most enduring benefits of email automation — and email marketing as a whole! It’s why marketing agencies are still using emails a whopping forty years after their commercial introduction.

A blurred photo of men in front of an airplane. Overlaid text describes how automated email campaigns improve marketing results. “Email subscribers love regular communication. It’s a hit with every email service provider, too.”

Your regular emails make your brand a part of every subscriber’s life. So, naturally, you want to be consistent. You want to have a nice schedule. Email subscribers will forget about you if they don’t hear from you. More importantly, email service providers don’t like inconsistent senders. Everyone wants some form of constant contact, and an email automation platform gives you the tools to deliver it.

Oh! And as an added bonus, most email automation tools pair well with customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.

(Most) Email Automation Tools Are Easy to Use

What else is great about email automation?

How about this? In 2021, 65% of marketing professionals reported using an email marketing automation tool. And — in 2022 — 45% of marketers ranked efficiency and ease of use as one of the main benefits of using an email automation tool. Reduction of repetitive tasks was another popular perk mentioned by 49% of respondents.

Today, many options include handy email automation FAQs, tutorials, and simple drag-and-drop interfaces. The most popular picks — which include Constant Contact, Klaviyo, and MailChimp — also have ways for your marketing team to link email marketing to website visitors, making it easier than ever to measure the impact of a campaign.

Email Automation Tools Make It Easy to Scale

That ease of use snowballs into the next benefit, which is scalability.

Think about it. Those drag-and-drop editors are simple to use and easy to understand. A well-built automation tool will let you rearrange an automated campaign as you please, and that’s a whole lot of power. Remember: Those email automation workflows will help you grow your business. They’re gateways to success; thus, every ounce of additional control you have over your automated email marketing directly benefits you.

Wait… How Do Email Automation Tools Help With Scaling?

An Irish field. Overlaid text reads, “Scaling: Modern email automation tools make it easier to handle email marketing.”

Allow me to demonstrate this with a few examples. Let’s imagine that…

  • A new meme or viral video is causing a stir in your community. Jump on the trend! With those email marketing automation tools, you can easily squeeze a fun, trendy campaign into your lineup.
  • Customers are sending more spam complaints. Checking your subject lines should always be one of your first steps. Then, pop open that email automation tool and see what’s up. You might have too many emails going out. Don’t worry! Just space those emails out a bit more.
  • The number of emails caught in spam filters suddenly increases. An email marketing tool can help you workshop the content and subject lines before the problem comes to a head, saving you stress and pressure from your customers’ email service provider.
  • Your marketing emails are getting less opens. Aside from running some A/B tests, your email marketing automation software gives you the power to rearrange your campaigns. Push those high-value ideas up and workshop those subject lines!

These are just some examples of how email automation software can help your business, and I’m sure other marketing pros have similarly riveting tales. Unfortunately, these email marketing legends are not the focus of today’s blog post, so let’s move to the final benefit of automation tools.

Email Automation Helps You Corner the Market

By 2025, experts predict there will be 4.6 billion unique email users. Written out, that’s 4,600,000,000over half the global population. And email marketing automation software makes it easier for your marketing emails to reach those users.

Yes, this massive reach is a general benefit of email marketing. You can’t have a reasonable discussion about this profitable marketing channel without mentioning its jaw-dropping reach. However, you can’t manage your emails manually for long. Eventually, you’ll hit a wall. While a mailing list of a few dozen people might be fine without email automation software, anything larger than that will quickly turn into a nightmare!

Overlapping leaves. Overlaid text describes the growth of email marketing. “Experts predict there will be 4.8 billion unique email users by 2025!”

You need a way to manage dozens — perhaps even hundreds or thousands! — of emails at the same time. You need email automation, and that’s the bottom line of modern email marketing.

Ditch the Worry, Hire the Pros

A blurry countryside. “Find the Pros: Worry Less, Market More.”


That was a lot of information.

If you’re a small business owner, how can you possibly find the time to research every email automation software option? Where will you find the budget to account for an ever-growing list? And who is going to manage those email marketing automation tools?

Relax! There’s an easier way to handle your email automation.

Schedule a free strategy session with me, and I’ll show you how a team of pros can tackle your unique marketing needs. At The Email Marketers, you’ll find a dedicated group of experts to help you build your enterprise. In the meantime, be sure to peruse the rest of the blog for more tips, tricks, and marketing news!