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Post originally published August 2016, updated April 2020.

Marketing automation is a powerful way to engage customers, and marketers are taking notice. Automated emails get 86% higher open rates, produce a 196% increase in click-through rates, and generate 320% more revenue than standard promotional emails.

When used effectively, marketing automation brings data, rules, and compelling content together to send more personal, timely, and relevant messages to subscribers and customers. The result is a better customer experience, which can help develop deeper relationships and drive revenue.

Today, roughly 49% of companies use some type of marketing automation, according to Emailmonday. However, even though marketers understand the benefits of automation, many have struggled to use it productively. One survey found that 25% of marketing professionals found automation systems too complex to be used effectively.

We’re now witnessing a monumental change, as marketing automation has become easier to implement, scale, and execute. Providers like Campaign Monitor offer email marketing and automation that’s both powerful and easy to use. Read on to learn some of the essentials so you can unleash the power of marketing automation for your business.

Chapter 1

What is marketing automation?

Some companies like to use a lot of technical jargon to explain marketing automation, but it’s quite simple: Marketing automation takes place when software automatically sends campaigns to your customers and prospects based on triggers you define.

Source: Engage Bay

You may have also heard the term multi or omnichannel marketing automation. These terms simply refer to marketing automation that spreads across multiple channels, such as mobile apps, social, SMS, email, and more.

If you’re creating a marketing automation program for your business, it’s essential to consider how data, rules, and content will come together to create a journey that leads to more interested and loyal customers.

The 3 components of a successful marketing automation journey are:

  • Data: Data to inform what triggers the journey
  • Rules: The rules that define the journey
  • Content: Content that you send along the journey

What is marketing automation software?

In short, automation software is the technology, apps, or cloud services that allow you to set the 3 components of marketing automation on autopilot. These marketing automation tools allow you to gather data and set rules that will enable you to use that data to take your prospect/customer on a personalized journey with your brand by creating relevant and timely content for them.

You can opt to use a standalone marketing automation tool, depending on the results you want to achieve, or you can integrate many tools to create a more robust and effective marketing system.

The basic principle of automation software is that it should help you interact with all your prospects and customers as individuals. Interacting with all your potential leads is something you can’t achieve manually. It is this “personal” touch that gives marketing automation an edge that results in a 320% revenue boost for those who use it well.

One of the biggest fears some marketers have is that marketing automation will cause their brand to lose its human touch. However, the opposite is true, as marketing automation tools help amplify your human touch by allowing you treat each of your customers as an individual.

What is the primary use of marketing automation software?

Marketing automation software is a broad term used to describe the various marketing automation tools marketers use to optimize their marketing efforts. These range from CRMs to email marketing tools to social media marketing tools.

The primary use for these tools includes but is not limited to:

  • Lead generation
  • Lead scoring
  • Nurturing leads
  • Customer retention
  • Recovering abandoned carts
  • Data analysis

Marketing automation tools help you build and maintain relationships with your customers. Building and nurturing these relationships is critical, because research shows that getting a new customer can be 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining a current customer. Studies also show that repeat customers form a big part of a business’ bottom line.

When should you automate?

The best time to start automating your marketing campaigns is now, whether you are a solo marketer or a huge team. As for budget, you can easily get by with free marketing automation tools as you grow your business. You can easily upgrade your plan or get the best marketing automation tool for your business as your marketing budget grows. Working this way, in steps, will give you more leverage to scale your marketing strategy and, thus, continue increasing your revenue.

Automating your marketing is a necessity if you are to achieve your marketing goals and grow your business.

What is email automation?

Email automation is a subset of marketing automation and specifically refers to email messages that are automatically triggered by certain behaviors. An automated email campaign requires only one setup, and then it is automatically sent to a particular individual based on a series of triggers and rules that you define.

For example, imagine you’d like to send a welcome email to anyone who signs up to receive your newsletter. You can create an automated email that welcomes the new subscriber, and perhaps provides a discount or links to some helpful resources.
It would be time-consuming to manually create and send an email campaign to each person when he or she signs up; so, instead, you set up an automated welcome email that gets sent whenever a new person joins your list.

That’s the beauty of email automation: You set up the email once, and, as people meet the trigger you define, the email will send without any additional effort on your part. It essentially “automates” your email marketing, making you that much more efficient.

Email is the most important piece of the marketing automation puzzle, and providers like Campaign Monitor offer email marketing and automation that is easy to set up, scale, and execute.

Chapter 2

The benefits of marketing automation

Smart marketers and companies are using marketing automation to send timely, personalized, and hyper-relevant messages to their audiences. These automated messages are opened often, and they drive more revenue than standard one-off campaigns.

In a marketing automation report by TFM&A Insights and Red Eye, marketers stated that automation:

  • Reduces repetitive tasks
  • Allows for better targeting of customers and prospects
  • Makes improvements to the overall customer experience
  • Reduces human error in campaigns

Automation ensures that the right content is delivered at the right time to the right people. It allows your business to be responsive and agile in the way it responds to audience needs. Additionally, it can help with sales, nurturing customers through sales, and support cycles.

Sending better-timed and more relevant messages drives revenue, and marketers can be more productive and efficient. Automation has resulted in 80% ROI, +46% growth, +26% more leads, more productive marketers, and better quality leads. In 2008, just 40% of brands sent a welcome email to their new subscribers. Today 80% of businesses send welcome emails because automation produces tangible results.

.The results of automation aren’t just good for the customer; they’re also good for marketers themselves. In fact, according to Adestra Marketer vs. Machine (2015), 74% of marketers say that one of the biggest benefits of automation is saving time.

Challenges in implementing automation

Marketing automation has been around for a while but, up until recently, the field was dominated by large marketing cloud suite providers promising timely, personalized campaigns. However, these cloud platforms can cost upwards of $1M to implement, making them out of reach for many small and mid-size businesses.
These solutions were not only expensive, but also complex.

“At a previous F1000 company, we spent $1M, one year, and had a team of 10 people to implement one of these systems,” said Kraig Swensrud, CMO at Campaign Monitor. “It was a total nightmare, and no one even knew how to send a simple email campaign.”

In order to be successful with marketing automation, marketers need easy-to-use technology. 50% of companies reported that technology integration complexity is the most challenging obstacle to success, which resulted in only 25% of companies having integrated their marketing solutions, according to an Ascend2 Marketing Technology Strategy report.

Alternatively, when marketers explore low-end and free marketing automation and email tools, there are only very basic triggers or autoresponders, but nothing sophisticated enough to meet modern marketers’ needs.

Marketers rising to the challenge

There’s been a gap in marketing automation vendors that can deliver on the power of true marketing automation in a simple way that any marketer can use. Today, email service providers are filling that gap, and marketing automation for all is finally here.

ESPs now provide the perfect blend of data, rules, and content to enable every marketer to create compelling customer journeys using marketing automation. Marketers can send the right content to the right person at exactly the right time.

Chapter 3

Putting marketing automation to work for you

Marketing automation works, so you want to put it to work for your business. Some of the world’s leading companies are using email marketing and automation to send out welcome messages, reminders, birthday offers, and other types of relevant messages to create loyalty and drive revenue.

For example, creating a customer journey is easy using Campaign Monitor’s powerful visual journey designer. You choose the data you want, add triggers to establish when messages get sent, and create content that will engage subscribers.

Additionally, Campaign Monitor’s email marketing and automation tools integrate with a variety of other apps and systems, including CRMs like Salesforce and Sugar, e-commerce solutions like Shopify and CMS systems like WordPress and more.

Here are some ideas for how you can put marketing automation to work for your business:

Welcome email series

When someone joins your list, you can use a welcome email series to give them an introduction to your business. Welcome emails have high open and click-through rates because they’re sent at a time when a subscriber is super interested in what your business has to say.

You can do this in a few different ways, ranging from simple to more sophisticated. A simple example is, which is an online retailer for tickets to Broadway shows. presents a signup form at the bottom of their website. The moment someone fills out the form and joins the list, they’ll receive a welcome series of offers with valuable discounts.

Another example is from Birchbox, which sends a welcome series after subscribers have signed up. Birchbox follows its welcome email with an automated series of messages including beauty tricks, makeup tips, and special offers to keep their subscribers loyal and engaged.

Remember, don’t limit yourself to just a single welcome email when a new subscriber joins your list. Once you’ve engaged your audience with the initial email, keep the momentum going with a series of helpful content and add value with each message you send.


Many businesses use marketing automation to send reminders. These reminders may do a variety of things, from nudging customers to update their software, get their car serviced, or buy new running shoes.

For example, if you’re a software company and know that one of your customers hasn’t logged into the platform in months, they might receive an automated email reminding them to log in, with tips on how to leverage the software.

When you buy a new car, it’s easy to forget about the dealer after you drive your car off the lot. Nissan keeps drivers coming back post-purchase. Exactly six months after Nissan sells a car, they send owners an email reminder to schedule their first tune-up, which translates into valuable service revenue.

Birthday offers

Birthday emails are one of the most effective emails you can send, as they have a 481% higher transaction rate and 342% higher revenue per email than standard promotional emails, according to Experian.

Birthday offers are one of the best ways to celebrate your subscribers, and these messages can be automated based on a subscriber’s birth date.

Jewelry retailer Monica Vinader knows that birthdays are a great way to generate revenue, so they collect this data point as part of their checkout process and sync it right to their Campaign Monitor list. Then, when their subscribers’ birthdays roll around, the retailer automatically sends an offer for 10% off. By recording the customer’s birthdate, Monica Vinader can send out an automated birthday email that reminds customers to engage with the brand, which can lead to more sales.

VIP offers

When someone is a brand advocate or spends above a certain threshold on your products or services, they may qualify as a VIP, or someone you want to provide with special offers or discounts. These offers can be automated so that, when someone reaches a certain spend amount, they’ll receive the appropriate discounts and offers.

For example, if a customer spends more than $500 with your business, you can automatically move them into a VIP segment where they’ll receive better offers and promotions.

Sephora, a beauty retailer, has been extremely successful with email marketing, in part because of this strategy. Sephora automatically sends special offers on hair tools and products to their customers once they have reached VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider) status.

You can use integrations with systems like Shopify to leverage the powerful customer data to create targeted, timely email marketing campaigns.

Re-engagement series

Many marketers focus on acquiring new customers, but marketing to loyal customers can result in even more ROI. Retaining customers by 5% can increase a company’s overall profitability by 75%, according to Bain and Co.

You can use email marketing and automation to encourage customers who have already engaged to come back. Or nonprofits can use it to encourage repeat donations, another form of revenue.

For example, St. Jude’s Hospital automatically sends a reminder to donate to re-engage their past donors. Six months after donating, they’ll automatically receive a message reminding them of St. Jude’s Hospital’s impact, encouraging them to donate again.

To re-engage these subscribers, you can send a re-engagement campaign asking inactive customers if they still want to hear from you. You can send a special promo, a thank you note, or actively ask for their feedback. Keep in mind this should be an email with the best content and best offer, because this is the last chance you have to impress.

Website or content updates

Numerous publishers like BuzzFeed, Rolling Stone, and Apartment Therapy rely on email marketing and automation to get the word out.

Vice, a print magazine and website focused on arts, culture, and news topics, uses email marketing to send their latest content to their subscribers. A daily email of relevant and curated content gets delivered right to subscribers’ inboxes.

Using powerful integration with CMS platforms like WordPress, you can easily bring signups from your WordPress site right into your ESP lists to grow your audience and get the word out.

Chapter 4

How integrations turbocharge your email marketing and automation

Now that you have some ideas on what marketing automation could look like for your company, it’s important to understand how you can implement your ideas. The best way is through integrations.

Campaign Monitor integrates with the apps and services you use every day, making it easy to get data and set up rules for automation. We integrate with Shopify, Facebook, WordPress, Salesforce, and hundreds of others.

Our App Store has curated apps by industry like Retail, Publishing, Non-Profit, and by use case, like Getting Started, Grow Your List, or Dynamic Email Content, allowing you to supercharge your marketing automation and reach your goals.

Integrations allow you to:

  • Connect your e-commerce store to track visitors to your website and capture order information, then connect with a shopping cart to create customer journeys with targeted offers based on purchase behavior
  • Easily bring signups from your WordPress site right into your ESP lists to grow your audience
  • Gain insights into customized segments, including newsletter signups, high spenders, first-time customers, and repeat customers, so you can automatically trigger campaigns based on customer behavior
  • Discover how many sales your automated campaigns produce, and compare email marketing to your other online marketing channels using Google Analytics
  • Use synced data between Campaign Monitor and Salesforce, for example, to gain a complete view of your customers in both apps, and send hyper-targeted emails
Chapter 5

Essential email marketing and automation best practices

To ensure their marketing automation efforts are as successful as possible, marketers should be familiar with marketing automation best practices. Here are a few essentials to keep in mind:

Data + rules + content

The most successful marketing automation programs employ the three automation pillars: data, rules, and content. This trifecta will power your automation success.

Data refers to the data you have about your customers, which might be recorded in your email service provider, an e-commerce platform, or CRM. Data might include:

  • Which subscribers are customers and which are prospects
  • How much money a customer has spent with your business
  • Personal information about the customer such as gender, birth date, job function, and product preferences

Rules are what defines an email marketing and automation program. Rules outline what happens when subscribers perform a certain action. For example, a rule might be: when a subscriber spends more than $100 with our business, they become a VIP and receive a discount.

Content is what’s actually in the emails you automate. Your content needs to be well written, well designed, and targeted to your recipients.
Automation works best when you consider your customer’s overall journey with your business. You should think of each email as a stop on that journey, and each stop should build on the last.

If you keep sending the same messages over and over, your customers will tire of it, and won’t be likely to engage with your brand. Conversely, if you surprise and delight them with a personal and relevant journey, they’ll be more likely to engage and become loyal customers.

You should plot out which messages subscribers will receive and when they will receive them. For example, if you had an accounting software company and wanted to send subscribers a welcome series that ended in a call to action to purchase your product, you could map it out like this:

  • Email #1: Welcome to Accounting 101 For Small Business
  • Email #2: How to Think About Taxes as an LLC
  • Email #3: How to Hire an Accountant
  • Email #4: Getting the Right Accounting Tools

The final email of the series would encourage subscribers to sign up for the accounting product.

Leverage personalization.

Personalizing your automation is a must. Emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened, and marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.

You can personalize emails with someone’s first name and other relevant fields, but you can also send the right emails to the right people by segmenting your lists. You can segment your lists by:

  • Gender
  • Geographic location
  • Age
  • Job title or company size
  • Interests
  • Transactional data such as past purchases or a particular plan
  • Behavioral data such as customer vs. prospect

You can automate your efforts so that subscribers receive a special email on their birthday or particular offers based on their interests.

Glossary and definitions

Marketing automation – Marketing automation takes place when a software solution automatically sends messages to customers and prospects based on defined rules.

Email automation – Email automation takes place when an email service provider (ESP) automatically sends emails to customers and prospects based on defined rules.

Automated Campaign – An automated email campaign is set up once, then automatically sent to a particular individual when that person meets a certain trigger.

Signup – When someone signs up, they agree to receive email marketing messages from your brand.

Subscriber – A subscriber is someone who has signed up to receive emails from an individual or brand. A subscriber is a member of a list.

Condition – When creating a journey, you can use what you know about your contacts to send them more targeted emails using conditions that are “if/then” statements. For example, if the contact is a woman, send an email with content targeted at women. If not, then send email content targeted at men. With conditions, you can branch different journeys based on data you already have.

Trigger – A trigger is what sets an automated campaign in motion. A trigger might be a subscriber signing up for a newsletter list, making a purchase, becoming a VIP customer, or completing a certain action in a software platform.

Delay – A delay is a rule that tells the system to wait a specific length of time, defined in minutes, hours, or days before sending the next email message.

Rules – Rules are what defines an email marketing and automation program. Rules outline what happens when subscribers perform a certain action. For example, a rule might be: when a subscriber spends more than $100 with our business, they become a VIP and receive a discount.

Welcome email – A welcome email is the first email someone receives when they subscribe to an email list, and they’re most often automated.

Drip campaign – A drip campaign, or automated email series, is a series of emails a subscriber receives after signing up. For example, subscribers could sign up for an email course that is a series of weekly lessons on a certain topic.

Integration – An integration is a connection between two different services (such as Campaign Monitor and Salesforce), which can be used to create more targeted and timely email campaigns.

Journey – A journey is a series of emails sent automatically to your subscribers. These emails are triggered by certain events. For example, a series of welcome emails can be triggered when a new subscriber joins your list or a reminder for membership renewal triggered by a date.

Chapter 6

Wrap up

Here are a few key takeaways to remember:

  • Marketing automation is an essential component of your marketing strategy, no matter the size of your business.
  • Enhance your marketing by using marketing automation tools to effectively use the 3 pillars of automation: data, rules, and content.
  • To effectively launch, run, and monitor your campaigns, you need a marketing automation provider that easily integrates with other marketing automation tools.

To learn how to create your first customer journey in Campaign Monitor, check out our Getting Started with Customer Journeys guide. Get started today and put the power of the leader in email marketing and automation to work for your business.

Powerfully intuitive automation builderCampaign Monitor's visual journey builder makes automations a snap. Learn more about the automation builder here.Learn more
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