Case Study: How Buffer, BigCommerce, Highrise, BuzzSumo & Others Use Email Drip Campaigns

In the last two months, we’ve interviewed various industry leaders about their email drip campaign strategies. Today we’re bringing you the results. For those who don’t want to read through the answers from each business, just scroll down to Part 2, where we analyze the results.

Before we get to the actual answers, I want to express a huge thank you to all companies involved, namely: Buffer, Yesware, AWeber, BuzzSumo, HighRise, Piktochart, Cluvio, BigCommerce, Zervant and Sleeknote.

I’m sure that by combining all this knowledge, we (the online marketers) will all achieve greater results in our email marketing initiatives.

In the first part of the case study you'll be able to scan through all the answers we obtained from each company. The second part of this study is aimed towards breaking down and analyzing these drip campaigns. So let’s get started!

Here are the questions we asked:

Q1. Do you use an email Drip campaign? If yes, why?

Q2. In what phase of the Drip campaign do you pitch your product?

Q3. How do you track and evaluate the impact of Drip campaigns?

Mike Eckstein from Buffer

Buffer is an app for scheduling social media posts.

Q1: We do! When people sign up for Buffer, we want to make sure they are able to get the most out of it, as soon as possible, so we send a series of emails with tips and advice.

Q2: Love this question! Our campaigns are typically sent to people who have recently signed up to use Buffer, so we tend to pitch features, rather than products, and focus on education rather sales. There are some instances where further down the road we would pitch a higher value plan through email. So for example if the customer had hit their current plan limits, we'd send them an email asking them if they'd like to upgrade.

Q3: We look at a few metrics; open rate and click-through rate to evaluate the content of individual emails, but we're also starting to look at activation and retention rates of users who receive certain drip campaigns variants. These usage metrics are the major key for us.

Elise Musumano from Yesware

Yesware provides data insights on your emails.

Q1: Drip campaigns are invaluable when it comes to nurturing unresponsive email recipients and having the ability to do it at scale through automation. You can also filter out who you respond to according to their engagement (i.e. email opens) or lack of engagement (i.e. did not read prior email). We have a whole page about the usefulness of drip campaigns.

Q2: Depends on each of our sales reps, their style, and any prior relationship with their recipients. For example, someone who signed up for a Yesware trial is much warmer than someone who filled out gated content on subject line data. More info on what we've found works best for messaging and amount of time in between each touch here — includes drip campaign examples from our own team and other sales teams across many different industries.

Q3: We track opens, clicks, and attachment views through our own tool called Mail Merge.

Bonus: Yesware just released a drip campaign tool called Touchpoints, make sure to check it out!

Erik Harbison from AWeber

AWeber is an email marketing tool crafted for small businesses.

Q1: We utilize an autoresponder series in several ways. For any potential customers that download our educational content - PDF guide or email course - we are sending them a cadence of automated emails that provides more valuable information. This could be links to relevant blogs, pages in our site or testimonials. For anyone that signs up for a trial of our product, we are sending them an automated series that provides more of a product tour. These emails identify the key steps or tasks that provide new users with an immersive onboarding experience.

Q2: For potential customers, we focus on education first. We always provide a passive link in our automated series should someone want to start a trail, but it is not the focus. We've learned that the more comfortable and confident potential customers can be with how to be successful with email, the more likely they are ready to begin a trial with a more determined focus.

Q3: We measure engagement via unique opens and clicks. We also track conversion of 30-day trials that result from non customer autoresponder campaigns. For customer sequences, we are focused on the conversion of clicks to actions that are taken with their customer account.

Matthew Rayson from BuzzSumo

BuzzSumo shows you the most shared links and key influencers for any topic or website.

We send around 5 emails during the two weeks onboarding process but the product really sells itself so we don't have a particular email that increases conversion. I think it is about sending the correct emails during the process, so when they first sign up you want an email that provides them with a link to an overview of the tool so they can get started. A week in though it is best to offer more advanced advice around specific features.

Lynette Kontny from HighRise

HighRise is a flexible contact management tool that helps you stay organized.

Q1: Yes, we email new customers and users to HighRise to:

  1. Welcome them to the product
  2. Provide tips and information and
  3. Ensure them we're here if they need help.

We personalize most of these emails to provide a voice behind the tool and hopefully encourage our users to engage with us.

Q2: We are emailing users who are already using the product. But in some cases, they may be on our free plan, in which case we encourage them to upgrade for additional features toward the end of the campaign.

Q3: Pretty manually at this point. We gage level of response, number of unsubscribes and negative feedback, and number of upgrades.

Harrison Niap from Piktochart

Piktochart is a tool that allows a non-designers to create beautiful infographics.

Q1: We use multiple drip campaigns that are segmented by user types, paying status, and other various criteria. These email drips are set up in a way that can provide our audience with useful and timely content that is relevant to their current situation, and also helps us build relationships with them. Through this, email drips can help with onboarding, conversion, and retention.

Q2: If product pitching exclusively means having CTAs for users to try out a certain paid plan, or to sign up, it highly depends on which email drip they are in. All in all, relevant, valuable content comes first — we give users what can be of help to them before we ask for a dime from them. We usually suggest trying out our product to see if it solves their problems within the second week of a drip.

Q3: We track and evaluate the impact of our drip campaigns by looking at email metrics such as open rates and click rates. Through the tools that we use, we can also set up goals that give us a better picture of the campaign's effectiveness, which could be creating another visual on our tool, paying for a subscription, or renewing a subscription, and so on.

Ian Formanek from Cluvio

Cluvio is a data analytics platform for SMB.

Q1: Yes, we do drip campaigns to increase engagement and conversion for:

  • Welcoming users
  • Trial duration / Onboarding
  • Product news for all users that signed up

Q2: With sending logic jus based on time.

Q3: We track engagement with the emails and correlate with user activity.

Casey Armstrong, BigCommerce

BigCommerce is an all-in-one SaaS e-commerce platform.

Q1: Yes, it allows us to automate our education and communication with current and future customers at different points of their ecommerce journey depending on prior actions they take.

Q2: It varies greatly on the email campaign that they enter and when they enter it, but we often lead with product-agnostic value.

Q3: Again, this varies but we measure engagement, activation, and revenue generation of the email campaign.

Jennifer Sandstrom from Zervant

Zervant is free invoicing software for freelancers and small business owners.

Q1: Yes, we do. We find it valuable to provide interesting content for potential customers at an early stage. Also already existing customers can have use of this content and it potentially adds value to their experience of our service!

Q2: This is done slightly different depending on the targeted market and country - but we strive not to be too pushy. For example, in a Swedish campaign, it's just mentioned as "Ps. If you want to know more about who we are and what we do you find more information here". In the end of the campaign, we usually offer a promo code which can be used to sign up for our service.

Q3: At this stage, we mostly look at direct signups that the campaigns bring. But we have also included UTM-tags for all the links included in the emails to be able to track what the receivers show interest in when it comes to the actual content.

Kristian Jønsson from Sleeknote

Sleeknote is a company that helps ecommerce business owners capture and convert more leads without hurting the user experience.

Q1: We use multiple drip campaigns for different purposes at Sleeknote.

As a SaaS company, we believe it’s important to offer leads a free trial and show them how Sleeknote provides value for them. A Saas is a SaaS. It’s more complicated than most products being sold online, meaning you have to nurture your potential new customers.

We start by sending a welcome email, telling them what they’ll get and asking them to create their first sleeknote, which we know is the biggest barrier for getting started with our service.

Example:

After the welcome email, we split the drip campaign:

  1. If they have created a Sleeknote
  2. If they haven’t created a Sleeknote yet

This way, we can nurture the leads. If they have created a Sleeknote, we send case studies, best practice tips etc. It’s all about providing value.

If they haven’t created a Sleeknote yet, we send a few emails to help them getting started.

Example:

At last, we have an email flow called “You’re awesome” (Yes, we actually named it that). This email has the sole purpose of telling our customers how awesome they are. If people has signed up for a free trial, created their first Sleeknote, and achieved some great results, we send this email:

Q2: Instead of pitching our product directly, we aim to provide value for the lead. If people have signed up for a free trial, they have already shown the first sign of interest in our service. Then our job is to show them how to use Sleeknote the best way possible.

In the free trial drip campaign, we offer a free best practice meeting and send a few case studies of how other companies have used Sleeknote.

Q3: We set a single goal for each email for what we want to achieve with that specific email. The goal could be “get a reply”, “Get the lead to click on a link” etc. To measure this, we’ve made a simple spreadsheet which we update once a week.

Besides this, we also do A/B Split tests for every single email to test how we can improve the open rate and click-through rate.

All of the companies that we’ve interviewed use email drip campaigns to nurture their leads. While we totally agree with Buzzsumo’s statement that the Product should sell itself, drip campaigns still play a big role. But to create great automatization you also have to spend a lot of time on automatization architecture, design, and testing.

The answers from Q1 above imply what target group you should aim your drip campaign towards, as well as the usual goal of a drip campaign.

Almost all of the companies responded that they use more one or more drip campaigns. The target groups and purposes of these campaigns are various.

Most common target groups are:

  • Trial users - most likely future customers
  • Clients - current customers
  • Subscribers / Followers - possible future customers, influencers, and current customers

All of target groups mentioned above are also classified by a different stage of the buying process, such as learning about the product, product comparison, buying the product, using the product, etc.

The purpose of email drip campaigns:

  • Increase engagement - building relationships
  • Increase conversion - convince to buy
  • Onboarding - welcoming new users
  • Education - about product/service, about brand
  • Retention - retain customers to use your product/service as long as possible

Each of these purposes can be achieved through this type of email content:

  • ”Personalized” emails - welcome emails, “we are here for you” emails, etc.
  • Tips and advice - Providing special knowledge to people who are not yet accustomed to this topic, or providing people advice for a specific problem.
  • Product / Service / Upgrade pitch - pitching the product/service to people you already have some kind of relationship with (such as followers, newsletter subscribers, blog readers). Our product/service can help you with…, You might want to try…, etc.
  • Product features - in other words, educating them about your product / service.
  • Links to relevant and valuable blog posts and case studies - providing relevant and timely content.
  • Social proof and testimonials - persuasion that your product/service really works and has already helped other people/companies with a similar problem.
  • Gifts - E-book, PDF Guide, Podcast, discounts, etc.

The answers from Q2 give us a nice overview on how these great and successful companies pitch their product in drip campaigns. Since the market is full of pushy and blunt offers, most of the companies try to avoid these tactics.

Most of them says that firstly they give the customer something valuable (tips, advice, an e-book,...) or try to develop a positive relationship (high standard of communication, showing customers they care). Only after that comes a product pitch or an upgrade pitch (from free plan to paid one).

A few companies do not pitch the product at a specific moment, but rather continuously in the form of PS, or depending on the salesman and his sense of momentum.

On the other hand, a few companies pitch a product directly at a specific point in the campaign. This certain point depends on specific target group, the entering point of the campaign customer's country of origin, and the campaign itself. It can also depend on a certain action that triggers for example an upgrade pitch as Buffer mentioned in their answer in Q2.

Buying the product can mean the end of the campaign for the customer, or also moving to another campaign with a different goal.

Q3 is aimed towards tracking and evaluating drip campaigns. Different approaches are very interesting and contain very useful tips on how different companies track and evaluate their drip campaigns.

Here we can see two types of approaches. Evaluating each email separately and evaluating the whole campaign. Most tracked metrics are open rates, clicks, and attachment views.

A few companies move tracking and evaluating in the next level using UTM-tags to track what content gets the most interest. Another awesome approach for tracking a campaign is to track the level of responses and engagement in correlation with user activity, revenue generation, direct signups.

We also asked what tool each company uses for drip campaigns. These tools include:

  • Sendgrid
  • Mailchimp
  • Marketo
  • SendWithUs
  • Intercom
  • Their own software (AWeber, YesWare, HighRise)
  • Their own backend

 

I hope this article was valuable for you and you enjoyed reading it. In case you have any questions or ideas you want to share, do not hesitate to post it in comments bellow.

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