Maximizing Your Autoresponder Campaign: Content, Length & Frequency

Maximizing Your Autoresponder Campaign: Content, Length & Frequency

Most people won’t buy anything on the first visit, so you need to capture emails. And then what? In this article we’re going to dive deep into a discussion about creating content for your autoresponder campaign.

We’ve talked about re-optimizing your autoresponders and creating effective drip campaigns before. This article is about how to not sound like a robot and keep that personal vibe even when your content is on auto-pilot. We’ll also look at how frequently you should be sending and length of your campaign to maximize it’s effectiveness.

By the time you’re done with this article, I guarantee you’ll be thinking more strategically about Autoresponders, and ready to create content that’ll help you automate trust building exercises, shares, and sales.

A Quick Note About What’s To Follow

Through my research, I’ve found that the popular use of autoresponders is to create a series of quick, short, automated blasts of slick pitch messages to ship products or services as quickly as possible.

That’s not what this article is about.

Everything I’ve found indicates that these heavy pitch oriented autoresponders lead to higher spam complaints, unsubscribes, and negative brand mentions through social media.

However, research supports that people read most or half of their emails,  respond to passion, hate being pitched, HATE irrelevance, and won’t mind frequent emails as long as that email is relevant, interesting, and specific to their needs.

Dan Zarrella of Hubspot has conducted some very interesting research using the Hubspot and MailChimp Databases, which talks about opens, click throughs, and a number other factors. If you’re interested you should watch the full webinar here

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Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Dan’s research combined with the other research I’ve found is that even though open & click through rates drop off over a subscriber’s life time, the value of long term subscribers tends to be higher.

This combined with other research and sentiment found throughout this article, leads me to believe that autoresponder campaigns should be a long, continual process, designed to consistently provide value, regardless to where your prospect is in their lifecycle.

Identifying The Starting Point of  Your Auto-Responder Campaigns.

Knowing where to start your autoresponder is difficult.

How are you able to tell where you should start your sequence, how frequently you should send, or even what to send?

Truth is, without looking at the data, you can’t.

BUT, if you go to your analytics right now and identify the pages with the highest bounce rates, and how people are coming to them, you’ll find ripe starting points for your autoresponders.

The search queries and links visitors click to get to these pages give you very valuable insight as to your visitors state of being. In a face to face networking situation, this would be how you enter the conversation.

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From here, determine a lead magnet that would best match the intent of the page.  Then consider what the logical progression of the conversation would be after the offer’s been made.

In this case study on Kissmetrics, Garret Moon, founder of Todaymade.com talks about how they targeted their 85% (or higher) bounce pages as a place to offer relevant lead magnets, which lead to doubling their optin rates within 7 days.

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Please realize though, your lead magnet doesn’t have to be an ebook. It could be videos, a free trial, discounts…whatever will be the most relevant to your visitor & your overall offering.

It’s also important to realize that just because a great lead magnet might increase your overall lead intake, doesn’t mean it’ll be lucritive to continually beat your subscriber over the head with sales messages shortly after they subscribe.

Though it seems counter-intuitive to not go right for the sale, according to Sirius Decisions, 80% of “bad leads” that sales teams disqualify due to lack of budget or timing do go on to buy within 24 months. Gleanster Research also reports that 50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy.

In other words, most people are just figuring out they even have a problem and aren’t ready to pull the trigger right away.

If you’re respectful of that, the longer you keep in contact with them and provide value, research shows “Companies that automate lead management see a 10% or greater increase in revenue in 6-9 months.”

Adwords authority Perry Marshell’s “Autoresponder guy”, John Fanchersays:

“The method we teach is 80% content / 20% pitch. Rather than pitching in every message, we recommend making deposits first…for 3 or 4 messages of pure, helpful content. Zero pitch.”

What’s the “Content Story” for your Autoresponder?

Create story arcs that happen over the next few weeks, months, or even the next year when thinking about your sequence. Think about the obstacles your subscriber has overcome to get to you, and where they could go with with a little help.

In a revealing case study, Perry Marshell shows that by using this method within the first 8 days of his sequence, the “value per visitor” increases dramatically compared to traffic being sent to a page that simply asks for the sale.

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Knowing they “make deposits” for the first 3-4 messages, it’s interesting to watch the value per visitor increase on the fourth message – likely when they make the first offer for the paid solution.

But here’s where data gets facinating. When you compare the value per customer with Dan Zarrella’s aggregate Click Through Data, you see a very revealing story.

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As click through rates decrease, the value per visitor increases.

Why is that?

  1. Opening/clicking/buying subscribers realized problem was bigger than they thought and admit they need to fix it (so they buy now).
  2. Opening/clicking/Non-buying subscribers decide the problem isn’t worth fixing right now, but are interested in keeping tabs on a solution.
  3. Non-Opening/non-clicking subscribers filter themselves out, leaving room for more valuable subscribers.

In other words, if the first 3-4 messages are designed to help the right people, the heros, your active subscribers, will make decisions that lead them to the next steps of your journey together.

When SeoMoz wanted to increase the amount of free subscribers to fully paying members, they made their “hero’s” decision to embark on the journey simple – They offered unlimited access to the full range of Pro Tools for $1 for the first month. To help them get the most of their $1 trial (and upgrade to full subscription) they created a 30 day “Quick Start” guide which gave them 10 emails of very actionable advice and let the hero generate “quick wins.”

The result?

In the span of four months, SeoMoz increased conversions by 170% and generated over $1 Million in additional revenue. Full case study here.

All because they took the time to understood where their free subscribers were, and helped them make the most out of their premium trial.

Disclaimer: This is provided you’re making sales. If your click through rates are low, and you’re not making sales, there are a number of things you could fix.

The 4 Stages of Relationships

In the last article about ReOptimizing your AutoResponder, I quoted a case study by Mauro D’Andrea about how he improved his email clickthrough rates.

In this case study he talks about how he based his content framework off of Professor Mark L. Knapp’sFour Stages of Relationship Development” model and creates his campaign to reflect each stage.

Stage 1: Value Addiction

  • Email every 2 days.
  • Build a story about being an awesome source of content.
  • Phase lasts for roughly 4 or 5 emails
  • Light offer on last email of the phase (noticing a pattern yet?)

Stage 2: Sticking

  • Slow down frequency to 3-5 days. Keep providing great content.
  • Encourage deepening relationship by encouraging subscribers to reply to emails, take surveys, or comment.
  • Ok to sell (small, but firm offer).
  • Phase lasts for roughly 4 emails
  • More obvious offer on last email

Stage 3: Rapport

  • Slow down frequency to every 4-5 days.
  • Sales email after 4-5 emails.
  • Number of Emails 4
  • Next step email at end of sequence.

This stage starts about 20 days out or more. At this point, the people who are still opening your emails and clicking your links are indicating they want to deepen the connection with you. The goal at this stage is to provide value in a way that will:

  1. Help people who are really sticking to the DIY route but also
  2. Reinforce the idea that a paid solution will be the easier way to fix the problem.

With SaaS businesses using the free trial, Phase 3 emails are those found near the end of the trial period. These emails could include things like checklists, recaps, & bonus content that addresses feedback you’ve received from Stage 2.

Stage 4: Loyalty

  • Email every 5-6 days.
  • Paid offer every 4-5 emails. (Cross sales, partner offers, conferences)

Though it may be easy to dismiss these people on your autoresponder – who have not yet purchased, but continue to open and click your links – these may be among your most valuable subscribers.

Think about it, after this long, they continue to interact with the content you’re putting out. Either A.) They’re not ready to buy, or B.) Your offer hasn’t quite matched up with their immediate needs.

If their needs haven’t been met yet, dig into the gap between their interest in your free stuff and determine why they haven’t bought yet.

This information could help you find relevant partners (if you’re an affiliate or in software), products to add to inventory (if you’re in e-commerce) or to add features, or at least learn to communicate the benefits of your features better.

 

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It’s the loyalty phase where you would consider the “email forking” strategy where you make new offers based on specific interests (the Hubspot ebook strategy) & start the cycle over.

Email Marketing Map

If for some reason there’s a group of people on your main autoresponder after several months, who continue to open and click, you should first look into your landing page optimization.

Provided everything is on the up & up, create a segment to test increasing your frequency with “special offer” emails (like JCPenny) or send “Vip club” type emails (like Zappos) to reward long term active subscribers.

zappos vip

Building Your Email Communication Strategy

If you want your email autoresponder to work for you as a way to build audience, relationships, sales long term, you have to change your thinking to a longer form story (kind of like a television series)

To do that, we have to use the Four stages of relationship building and fill each email in with the four types of content found in content marketing.

Viral/Emotional State

This content deals with the extremes of the human condition. Use to help subscriber know you understand roughly their goals, frustrations, and where they are right now.

Discussion
Encourage your subscriber to hit reply, fill out a survey, give some form of feedback. Ask for feedback starts small and increases with each Stage.

Lead
Further commit subscriber by encouraging downloads of bonus ebooks, offering specialized trainings or webinars. Goal is to provide deeper value while also gauging level of interest to fix problem. Tangental lead content throughout the sequence will also give you a strong indication of subscribers wants and needs based on the actions they take.

Sales
Similar to lead, however this content encourages subscribers to come to a firm decision to fix problem.

Sticking with the analogy that autoresponders are like the story arc for a movie, or a television series, let’s look at how these 4 types of content fit into the story arc that we’ve been building up to throughout this whole article.

Typically every story has three acts. if you apply the three act structure “acts” to each phase in your email sequence, you can create a story that will resonate with the people who stick around.

  • Act 1 – Character (email 1 Understanding why customer signed up for lead magnet)
  • Act 2- Conflict (Emails 2-3 digging into/discussing the problem)
  • Act 3 – Resolution (Email 4 possible solution/offer)

This interview between Autoresponder guy John Fancher, and award winning filmmaker Josh Russell provides VERY valuable insight on applying film and television writing towards autoresponder content.

“Whoever is trying to get a product to an audience, they’re saying, ‘I have a solution for you’ but for the audience, a solution is alien. It’s outside their paradigm, it’s alien, it’s far away, it’s distant.” – Josh Russell

Create A Wireframe For Your Autoresponder Strategy

For your solution to not be alien for your reader, combine what we’ve learned in “The 4 stages of Relationships” and “The Four Types Of Content” to build a flow chart for your autoresponder campaign.

But wait, remember how in the very beginning of this article Marketing Sherpa indicated that many bigger sales happen well after the sales team consider a non-buying lead “bad”?

This is why I plan my Autoresponders for a full year to correspond with my overall marketing strategy.

In order to not become overwhelmed, I’ll spend a couple hours creating themes for each month. I then break down those months within weekly themes, then only after creating that framework, will I work on the individual messages.

I find this approach to be much more manageable, and it allows me to identify those “arcs” we were talking about before. (As a side benefit, I can also drive traffic back to my blog, when an old articles reinforce the points.

On a month to month basis, that wireframe/flow chat might look something like this.

Contact-strategy

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While this may seem like a lot of work, setting up the monthly then weekly frameworks only really requires a couple hours to sketch out.

The work, of course, is not just to set up the framework to capture more of your own sales over time, but to ultimately set up more behavioral email marketing campaign, which according to the e-consultancy email marketing census report only 14% of respondents are doing but 47% are planning on it.

But yeah, let’s save behavioral targeting for another day, shall we?

One Last Note About Autoresponders

Create the autoresponder framework first, sketch out the overall communication strategy starting with most likely optin area, and during the later phases of your autoresponder, link to existing content that supports your overall arguement.

Have your offers in place first, use your autoresponder as a way to help subscribers understand the problem. Share stories about how you came to the solution, admit failures that lead you to the conclusions you’ve come to.

If in doubt about frequency, use the A/B/A/C autoresponder vs autoresponder test from this article to find bigger wins.

And heed the warnings of the MailChimp blog…

…”be careful not to get TOO automated.The key to a good autoresponder campaign is to not let the recipient feel like it’s an autoresponder campaign.”

Join the Conversation Add Your Comment

  1. Hi there Tommy. Awesome article and it comes at a very appropiate time for me.

    I’ve got 2 questions for you, if you don’t mind:

    1) I managed to write a neat free ebook of around 80 pages. Feedback of neutral readers (people who don’t know me personally). I’ve created an autoresponder that delivers the content of the ebook one email a day, during 21 days. The stats show that open rates drop from around 55% for the 1st email to around 27% for the last, and then again to 36% for the email after the last who gives the link to the ebook file and a sales offer for one product.

    The question is, if you have a lot of content and you want to give it away for free in your autoresponder, is it better to condense it into fewer emails, as per the workflow you show? Should I actually decrease the frequency of autoresponders? (if I send, say, every two-three days, the whole thing would last around two months).

    2) If you sell several products in your website (I have two live workshops), when sending my list one of the sales email and directing them to the landing page of the products, is it better to put there an action call to register into a sub-list for that product? I’ve tried making the action call a purchase, but it resulted in zero sales (mailing list of 540 subscribers, for the sales email open rate 33%, CTR rate 12%, sales 0%)

    Thanks in advance. Best regards!

    1. Peep Laja

      Hey Miguel

      1) As sad as it might be, there is no universal formula. The only way to find the right answer is through testing. Tommy wrote about this in his last post: http://conversionxl.com/6-ways-to-re-optimize-your-email-auto-responder-campaign-to-improve-opens-clicks-and-sales/

      2) It’s hard to know why that was. 12% CTR would indicate ~21 people came to the page? Too little sample size to make conclusions. What’s the sales page url? Maybe the page sucks :)

      Of course, it might be a good idea to have a separate sales funnel for the event – you start off by getting them signed up to a free webinar (sub-list) and then have a separate drip campaign for it.

      The more expensive and/or the product, the more explaining you need to do. What’s the price of your live workshop?

      In the end, there’s no substitute for testing.

    2. Thanks Peep, you’re always spot on.

      The landing page is in spanish. Google translate kind of garbles it but you can get the gist of it:

      http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&eotf=1&u=www.exito-personal.com%2Ftu-luz-interior

      The logo sucks (right now), I’m working with a graphics designer to get a professional version done. For the rest of the page, feedback from people that don’t know me personally is generally positive (they say the page is interesting and would consider the product). I’ve tried to design it in the PAIN-CLAIM-GAIN flow from neuromarketing. The 12% is over the total size of the email list, wich amounts to 64 clicks, which I agree is still a really small sample.

      The product itself is a self-esteem workshop (I’m an NLP trainer). Might sound a bit esoteric for tech people but my audience is into personal development so it fits. Price is 47 € for two seats in this weekend live workshop (comparatively cheap since I’m new in the live workshop arena).

      I will begin testing thoroughly and also will consider the separate sales funnel part (harder because this is part-time but hey, there are no excuses!).

      Thanks again for your invaluable help!

    3. 1.) Agree with Peep. The only real answer is to test.

      I would start with testing your subject lines on that first email too to see if you can get more people interested in the content from the jump.

      2.) One of the biggest eye openers for me was creating several, topical email lists is much more effective than working off of one big master list.

      More difficult to manage? You bet. Worth the hassle for the payoff in the end?

      I know who I’m talking to, and how they found me, so I can create content that starts and ends with that intent. Doesn’t get better than that really.

  2. Thanks for your thorough insights Tommy. Taking heed & following you now as well.

  3. What a useful post you made Tommy! I didn’t expect anything less from you :)

    The idea of integrating the relationship phases with the email forking is very interesting.
    I’m a bit disappointed that I can’t make it with AWeber, but I read that GetResponse allows you to do it (and I was thinking to try it anyway, so I have another reason to do it).

    By the way, thanks for the mention!

    1. Actually Mauro… you should check out http://Awprotools.com it allows you to do exactly that. Just started using it a few weeks back, but it is AWESOME!

    2. Thank you, Tommy! It seems like a really interesting tool, I think that I’m going to love it – I just requested their invite :)

    3. Hi Peep, thanks for the advice. I’m considering either to empower my AWeber or to switch to GetResponse.

    4. Hi Peep, great article i learn a lot of it, thanks.

      Just a question, do you know if with getresponse i can make tags and a list segmentation (to send to anothers follow ups) if people take some actions (clicks) all just aweber+awprotools?.

      I am reading that with the new getresponse 2.0 it is possible to send a message if a guy take some action but is not possible to send that guy to another follow up campaign…

      Between getresponse and aweber+awprotools to make an very effective low cost email marketing wich you recommends?.
      Thanks in advance, i am a new fan of conversionxl :)

  4. Great article Tommy. I can’t remember reading one with so much detail and helpful tips that I can go and implement right away.
    Perfect timing too, I have been struggling with the autoreponder issue for the past few weeks, now I am off to get it fine tuned.

    1. That’s so awesome to hear Eden, I’m glad you enjoyed it. If you have any questions come up, feel free to return to the comments and I’ll answer as best as possible :-)

  5. It’s interesting how some people send emails (at least initially) every couple of days with great success, I just cant bring myself to do it. I even noticed under the signup for your subscription you mention emails are sent once a week. Did you experiment sending emails more regularly and found weekly to be the sweet spot?

  6. Is this possible in mailchimp?

    btw, great article Tommy!
    tnx

  7. the part about “integrating the relationship phases”.

    You suggest awprotools. just wanted to know how mailchimp handles this.

    1. Ah ok!

      The phases are more about how you structure the content story in the autoresponder. (i.e first four emails are closer together, super high value, next four go deeper etc.)

      If you want to start segmenting based on click actions, which is what happens after the story’s been structured, you’ll want to use Merge Tags and create segments based on click actions. https://blog.mailchimp.com/how-to-guide-merge-tags/

  8. Wow, this article is a gold mine! Thanks so much for taking the time to put all these steps/details together. Love how you point out the importance of focusing on relationships and the value of those relationships increasing as time goes on. Excellent stuff. Will be revisiting this post when I put my next email campaign together. Thanks!

    1. Couldn’t agree more! Thanks Tommy:)

    2. It was long but definitely informative :)

  9. Like the article a lot Tommy – but I’m not convinced by the “phases of relationship” model. There doesn’t seem to be much data behind it other than Mauro’s experience where he wasn’t testing it vs anything.

    There are plenty of marketers, for example, who report great results from consistent, frequent emailing.

    In fact, if I was a relationship counsellor and someone came to me saying that there’d been a natural cooling off in the heat of his or her relationship with their partner and they wanted to make sure the relationship was at its best then I’d advise them to communicate more not less. Counteract the natural cooling off by doing great things for your partner. Keep talking and listening to them, taking them out, sending them gifts. Do that and you can keep the passion hot – you don’t have to give up and assume relationships always cool off.

    Ian

    1. Fair enough Ian, however the phases of relationship model is a master framework with built in off shoots to “rekindle” the relationship.

      When you get to the 4th email in each phase, you’re making a new offer, and if they take you up on that offer, than you’re starting the cycle (kind of) all over again.

      Ideally, as you continue throughout the master campaign, you make new offers (like you would a spouse) and once they click, you’re using that as an indication of interest, and you’re re-upping the frequency.

      The relationship essentially _only_ peters out IF your subscriber doesn’t bite on any of your offers from the main list.

      By this logic, you’re allowing people who are interested to stay interested, while allowing others who want to cool off, to cool off.

      Essentially, it’s like asking your spouse to try new things with you, and when you find one that hits, you keep doing that thing for a while, until it’s time to try something new.

      Instead of trying to get your spouse to communicate when they don’t want to, or they’re not ready…

      I think we’re essentially saying the same thing, but you’re missing the “list switch” part. Admittedly, I didn’t talk about it that much in here, because I covered it over here:
      http://conversionxl.com/6-ways-to-re-optimize-your-email-auto-responder-campaign-to-improve-opens-clicks-and-sales/

      Hope that makes more sense :-)

  10. Appreciate the point about rekindling with offshoot autoresponders Tommy (as an Office Autopilot user it’s something I do myself) – but that doesn’t change my comment that the model of decreasing interest is unproven. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have offshoots and still keep the same frequency of the main autoresponder.

    Here’s what’s bugging me. For decades in consulting/change management we followed various strategies for managing change based on Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief model. You’ve probably heard of it: the sequence people go through when faced with a big loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

    It’s generally accepted by the public. The entire change management industry based interventions on it (as, of course, did grief counsellors).

    The problem is, the majority of research studies have failed to find any validity for it.

    It feels to me like you’re building a whole philosophy and strategy for emailing based on a model of relationships that’s completely untested. Before devising offshoots and other clever things that build off the model, I think we should actually test the model first. Wouldn’t be too hard. Randomly allocate new subscribers to either a “keep emailing frequently” model or a “slow down the emails over time” model and see which one results in more clicks or sales or whatever.

    Ian

  11. Hi Tommy,

    Awesome article. A great high level overview of everything someone needs to know about the autoresponder game.

    Quick question here: currently we are using mailchimp for our CRM efforts… yes I know, limited.

    For all of this segmentation, would you recommend any ESP/CRM platform that work well with this type of autoresponder framework?

    Thanks in advance,

    Kostas

    1. To do it automatically, you’d want to use a service like infusionsoft or use AWprotools with Aweber (what I use).

      You can do something very similar with Mailchimp IF you’re diligent about keeping track of your click based segments, but this does require constant monitoring, to make sure you’re sending in line with when people click.

  12. Excellent post. I was hoping you could comment con a topic i cantón seem to find info On.

    I have two groups, each group has subscribed to a course. Some subscribers overlap. How do i send the courses un timely fashion without bombarding.

    Any ideas?

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