Upgrade from Email Marketing to Intelligence-Driven Automated Follow Up

What is intelligence-driven marketing automation and how can you implement it?

 

The promise of marketing automation is that you can treat each customer as a unique individual. You can learn about each person’s preferences and then use that insight to deliver more engaging, more effective follow up.

That’s exactly why marketing automation works better than traditional, broadcast style email marketing.

But, so often, the automated follow up we end up implementing for our business falls short of that goal. Today’s marketing automation solutions are certainly capable, but knowing how to make your automated follow up behave in an intelligent way can be complicated. So, we settle for a more simple series of “sends” and “waits” and “leave well enough alone.”

This is unfortunate because even a small boost in the effectiveness of your automated follow up can lead to huge increases in your customer base over time with a relatively small investment of time up front.

 

What is intelligence-driven marketing?

The problem with traditional email marketing —  both email blasts and autoresponder sequences — is that every contact is receiving the same message. When you try to speak to everyone at once, or some hypothetical “average customer,” you end up speaking to no one directly. Your message has to cover as much ground as possible so you’re addressing as many situations as you can. So, you’re sending mixed signals — some of what you say is on target, but some of it isn’t. This leaves customers unsure of whether you understand their exact needs and questioning whether your solution is right for them.

Intelligence-driven marketing is sending messages to contacts that are personalized by customer insight you’ve gathered. The content of your messages and the timing of your messages is tailored to that single contact — who they are and what they want. What you’re sending is relevant, so it’s more engaging. They’re more likely to read and open your emails so they’re more likely to respond when you introduce a call to action.

So, intelligence-driven marketing involves three processes:

  1. Learning about your contacts
  2. Personalizing message content
  3. Customizing send times

In this post I’ll cover a few tactics for each so you can implement what makes sense for your business…

 

Learn about your customers

A good sales person will spend the first part of a call asking questions that will help them understand more about the prospect’s goals and the problems they’re trying to solve. Knowing this information, they can then tailor the rest of the call to speak to that person’s situation and explain exactly how the product will help them.

With intelligent marketing automation, your follow up can do the same thing. Setting up your marketing automation solution so that it can “listen” to your contacts is the crucial first step to more focused, targeted, and personalized messaging.

 

Identify interests with form fields

As a best practice, we tend to keep our forms as streamlined as possible to reduce friction during the opt-in process. The logic is that we’ll improve our opt-in conversion rate because people are more likely to submit short forms.

But, there’s something to be said for knowing exactly what messages a contact should (and shouldn’t) receive. It might be worth a test to see whether adding a single question to your opt in form that will help you narrow in on that contacts exact interests. A simple checkbox is pretty low friction and you could even make it optional.

If you carefully track your conversions, you may find that the decrease in opt-in conversion rate is made up for by the improved purchase conversion rate produced by your more targeted follow up.

And you can use a service like ConvertFlow to implement progressive profiling so that you can dynamically display different fields on forms so you’re always collecting new information. This is the best of both worlds because you’re able to keep the initial opt-in form super low friction and then hone in on their interests over time.

Features you need:

  • A form builder
  • Custom fields

Resources to help you get started:

 

Infer interests from web page visits and custom events

A big part of intelligence gathering is setting up your marketing automation to “listen” as your contacts give you signals.

Site Tracking allows you to make inferences about your contact using their web browsing activity. For example, if they view 10 pages in a certain category of your site, it’s reasonable to assume that category of products or information is where their interest lies. You can create an automation that then tags them as “Interested in X.” You can use that tag to begin a more targeted follow up sequence.

Event Tracking is a more flexible way to monitor for specific behaviors like logging in, watching a video, and more. Explaining how to set it up involves some coding and is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find some resources below to get you started.

Features you need:

  • Site Tracking
  • Event Tracking
  • Tagging

Resources to help you get started:

 

 

Observe choices to identify interests

With this approach, you aren’t directly asking someone “What are you interested in?” Instead, you’re simply observing what choice they make when presented with multiple options. You’re inferring their interest.

For example, you might tell them they get two free whitepapers and then see which ones they choose to download. Or, you could present a series of webinars on topics related to your solution and see which they choose to register for. In this way, you can pinpoint what value they’re after or what problem they’re trying to solve with your solution.

ProBlogger does this really, really well at the end of each blog post:

When someone clicks a choice, ProBlogger can record that and can use that information to send more targeted follow up. They can present content that will keep them engaged and offer specific courses they’re likely to be interested in.

Features you need:

  • Event Tracking or Site Tracking
  • Campaign link click tracking
  • Tagging

Resources to help you get started:

 

Identify interests from many behaviors with scoring

Inferring interests from web page views or specific events like register for a webinar can be effective, but you’ll get an even more accurate picture by observing a variety of behavior. You can do this with interest scoring because it allows you to consolidate information from a variety of sources into a single number. You can score based on many different types of behaviors that indicate interest like:

  • Repeatedly viewing products
  • Viewing multiple pieces of content in the same category
  • Requesting resources like videos and white papers on a topic
  • Clicking certain links in email campaigns

When you create a score that’s informed by a variety of data points like this, you’re able to gain a more accurate feel for where their interests lie.

You can set up a different score for different products (if you only have a few) or categories of products if you have a lot of products.

Once you know where their interests lie, you can customize the messages you send or dynamically change the content to include products and offers they’d be most interested in.

Features you need:

  • Lead scoring

Resources to help you get started:

 

Ask for their interests

You can also be direct and ask for information. You can survey your users and in return give them something of value like a discount or special access to a resource. Here’s a great example from online printing company, Mimeo:

I like this campaign because it points out that the survey will help them tailor their content, it emphasizes how quick the survey is, and offers an incentive.

You can attach a contact’s responses to their customer profile and use it to personalize your messaging. These responses are also a valuable source of insight into your audience at large and can help you tailor your messaging overall.

Features you need:

  • Form builder or
  • A survey tool that integrates with your marketing automation solution

Resources to help you get started:

 

Personalize email messages

Once you’ve learned about your contacts, you can use that insight to deliver the most relevant and interesting content and offers. This leads to contacts being more likely to open and read your messages. When you give them a call to action, they’re more likely to engage with it simply because they’re more likely to see it, but also, because they’ve learned that you understand them and their needs. They feel that your product is a match for them because your messaging up to this point seems to “get them.”

 

Create different follow up for different interests

The most basic way to leverage your insight into someone’s interests is to have different follow up sequences set up for each product or interest category and drop the contacts into each one as you identify which bucket they belong in.

If you don’t collect interest information right off the bat when they opt in, you could have a general follow up sequence that applies to everyone. Then pull them out (using a Goal action at the bottom of the automation) and drop them into the targeted sequence when you collect that data.

Features you need:

  • Workflow builder
  • Tagging
  • Goals automation action

Resources to help you get started:

Use conditional content to customize email messages

Conditional Content is exactly what it sounds like. You can make portions of your email campaigns conditional based on what you know about the contact.

With Conditional Content, rather than having separate follow up sequences for each area of interest, you can have a single follow up sequence but then modify the content of the messages depending on what someone’s interest is.

You can swap in (and out) sentences, paragraphs, images, offers, calls to action, links to content, and more.

You could say, “Only show this section if they’re tagged as X.” Or, “Show X if they’re tagged as A and show Y if they’re tagged as B.”

In this way, you can have a single campaign, but have the message be different depending on insight you’ve gathered about the contact. There’s one message, but it’s different depending on who is receiving it.

Features you need:

  • Conditional Content

Resources to help you get started:

Skip over messages that aren’t relevant

If you have a set series of behaviors you want your new subscribers to go through, you can use Event Tracking to determine which behaviors they have and haven’t completed. Knowing this, you can modify your follow up on the fly. As they complete a target behavior, that sequence of messages can end and a new one can begin.

In this way your follow up adapts. It doesn’t send messages that aren’t relevant. As soon as a contact does what you want them to do, it skips ahead to the next series of messages directing them to perform the next behavior, and so on.

The best way to implement this is using our Goals feature which is a way to have a contact jump forward and skip over messages once they perform a target behavior.

Features you need:

  • Goals action
  • Event Tracking

Resources to help you get started:

 

 

Customize send times for messages

When you think about customizing send times, we often think of sending according to a contact’s time zone or sending at the moment when they’re most likely to be in their inbox. But, a more effective method of customizing send campaigns exactly when they’d be more relevant to the individual. In other words, to send campaigns that are triggered by events the contact has performed. This makes your message extremely contextually relevant. You know a contact just did X and so they’d be interested in learning about Y.

Another intelligent optimization is tailoring the rate of follow up to the contacts preferences. Too frequent messaging can turn off an otherwise interested prospect causing them to tune out or unsubscribe. More motivated and interested prospects might prefer a more compressed schedule. Rather than trying to strike a happy medium, you can have people going through your follow up at different velocities.

 

Send triggered emails

Behavioral emails, emails that are sent in response to a behavior, are some of the most opened campaigns.

Triggered emails have a click-through rate 152% higher than traditional emails. Email Monks

Some examples of behavioral emails:

  • An email sent after signing up for an offer
  • An email sent after a purchase
  • An email sent after a visit to a web page
  • An email that is sent after logging into a website or app
  • An email that’s sent after an item is added to a cart

Basically, if you can record an online event, you can send a message in response. And, you can record most online events with something like Event Tracking.

Why do trigged emails work so well? They’re perfectly timed. You know exactly what that person just did. In many situations, you know exactly what they need to do next. This gives you an opportunity to help someone move through a process. “You just finished this video on beginner fly fishing? Check out our advanced course that will have you ready for your first trip in a week.” It’s no wonder that this kind of highly specific messaging works so well.

As an aside here, it’s important to keep in mind that you can use a behavior triggered message like this without coming across as creepy. You’d use the behavior to deliver a highly relevant message with suggestions for next steps, but you wouldn’t necessarily need to point out that you know they just did something.

Features you need:

  • Automation workflow builder
  • Site Tracking
  • Event Tracking

Resources to help you get started:

 

Invite people to personalize their sending frequency

Instead of just customizing the content of messages, you can customize your sending frequency as well. People have preferences on how often they’re contacted so knowing that will allow you to meet those expectations. You can deliver messages more frequently to contacts hungry for information and at a slower pace for contacts who need a little time and space before making a decision.

This is a great way to avoid unsubscribes and allow people to tailor their experience.

Features you need:

  • Campaign link click tracking

Resources to help you get started:

 

Adapt sending frequency with scoring

With this technique, you aren’t overtly asking them what cadence they’d like, you’re simply adjusting a score every time they open and then using that score to tailor your frequency.

This could be implemented as simply as “If a score is over 10 opens in the last 30 days, start this aggressive follow up.” If it’s less than 10, begin this more spaced out follow up.”

Features you need:

  • Lead scoring

Resources to help you get started:

Getting started

A good place to start is to create buckets for your contacts. Each of these buckets is a group of contacts that should receive different messaging. These buckets might be for different segments of your market, people looking for different products or solutions, or trying to solve different problems.

Then, decide what information you need to place customers into those buckets and find ways to collect that information. If all else fails, if you can’t infer their interest, find a way to ask them.

From there, it’s a matter of setting up your follow up sequences and messages and then peppering in triggered emails in response to key events.

Any time you spend setting up this type of intelligent marketing follow up will pay dividends by starting a positive feedback loop that impacts your entire business. Your contacts will find your follow up more engaging, so they’ll be more likely to open and clickthrough your campaigns. This will result in improved deliverability. More of your contacts will be receiving your messages, and they’ll be paying closer attention, so more people will respond to your calls to action. This will result in a growing customer base that goes on to refer more customers to your business.

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