What Is Email Marketing Automation? A Beginner’s Guide

Definitive Guide To Email Marketing Automation

With all the latest fads in digital marketing, it’s easy to forget that email is still the most powerful and cost-effective channel. The average ROI for email campaigns is around 4200%.

And when you harness the power of email automation, then you have a sure-fire winner.

So, if you want to improve your email campaigns, then it’s time to embrace automation.

In this guide, you’ll discover how you can use email marketing automation to send timely, relevant, personal, and contextual messages that drive brand loyalty and increase customer engagement.

What is email marketing automation?

Email marketing automation allows you to send out emails to your subscribers based on a pre-defined trigger or event. For instance, when a user subscribes to your email list, you can automatically send a welcome email.

It’s the complete opposite of a standard mass broadcast when you email everyone on your list at the same time with the same message. For example, when you notify your subscribers that you’ve published a new blog post or you send your regular newsletter:


Note: Use a combination of one-off campaigns and automated messages in your email marketing strategy.

Types of email automation

There are two main types of email automation:

  • Time-based
  • Behavior-based

Time-based automation delivers emails on a date, time or delays programmed by you. For example, you could have a ‘Welcome Series’ of five emails that are scheduled to be sent once a week for five weeks after a new subscriber joins your list.

Behavior-based automation is much smarter and allows you to personalize what and when you deliver your emails. For example, you could monitor your welcome series to see if a user clicks on a specific link, and based on that action, you could send a separate email (outside of the standard welcome series) that informs them of a special offer.

Transactional email vs marketing email

Before we go any further, it’s important to note the difference between transactional email and marketing email, also referred to as commercial email.

Transactional emails are sent to individuals to complete a transaction or process. They contain information that’s unique to that individual and are usually triggered by an event.

For example, when you purchase an item from an online store like Amazon, then you’ll automatically receive an order confirmation email:

transactional email

Other examples of transactional emails are:

  • Account updates
  • Password resets
  • Event reminders

Marketing emails are generally sent to groups of contacts that are prospects or customers. They have a commercial intent and are delivered strategically at a pre-configured time.

For example, men’s shaving club Cornerstone sent this promotional offer email:

marketing email

Other examples of marketing emails are:

  • Newsletters
  • Sales campaigns
  • Welcome email series

Note: Generally speaking, most email automation software doesn’t support transactional emails. For the purposes of this post, we’ll be focusing on email marketing. However, you may find our post on transactional email services useful, if that’s something you need.

In this article, you’ll learn more about the tools and types of emails used in marketing or commercial automation, as that’s what bloggers use most.

Why use email marketing automation?

There are three significant benefits of using email marketing automation:

1. Saves you time

Email marketing automation saves you time by creating an email or email series once and then letting it run automatically. Imagine if you had to stop what you were doing and send a welcome email every time a new subscriber signed up.

2. Ensures delivery on time

Email automation sends emails to the right recipients at the right time based on your trigger events. You can even tailor delivery according to different time zones; e.g., if you want to ensure a recipient receives a specific email at 8 am local time.

3. Gets higher open and click-through rates

Email marketing automation increases your chances of recipients opening, reading, and clicking on links in your messages because they are relevant and timely.

According to figures from Epsilon Email Institute, automated email messages generate a 50.4% higher open rate and a 106.3% higher click-through rate than standard marketing messages.

And the email marketing benchmarks report from GetResponse shows that automated emails – triggered and autoresponder – have higher open and click-through rates than regular newsletters:


Note: Use email marketing automation to send timely and relevant emails to your subscribers.

Not convinced? Check out our posts on marketing automation statistics and email marketing statistics to learn more.

Email marketing automation tools

By now you’re thinking, “This all sounds great, but how do I send these automated emails?”

And the answer is – Email Marketing Software.

There are plenty of email marketing software solutions each with their own style of automation. You’ll have to decide precisely what automation features you want and what your budget is.

But the good news for beginners is that (a) there are some free tools available, and (b) most tools give you a free trial period so you can test the automation features.

Here are some popular marketing automation tools for you to consider:

1. ConvertKit

ConvertKit lets you create and send automated email marketing messages via its visual builder. You can start with a simple “if this, then that” functionality and progress to complete marketing funnels by connecting events, actions, and conditions:

ConvertKit automation


You can test all the ConvertKit features free for 14 days. Afterward, pricing plans start at $29/month for up to 1,000 subscribers.

Want to learn more? Check out Adam’s full review & tutorial of ConvertKit.

2. MailerLite

MailerLite includes advanced email automation features that let you welcome new subscribers or engage existing customers triggered by their behavior. You can create simple or sophisticated workflows with four key steps based on time, condition or action:

MailerLite automation


MailerLite includes a fully-featured Forever Free Plan for up to 1,000 subscribers. Paid plans start at $10/month, and increase as you add more subscribers.

Learn more in our MailerLite review.

3. ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign makes it easy set up a welcome series, segment your contacts, or use simple workflows to automate your email marketing.

ActiveCampaign automation

ActiveCampaign also includes a CRM toolkit so you can keep tabs on your contacts and sales leads, plus a Messaging app so you can interact with website visitors.


ActiveCampaign offers a free 14-day trial. The Lite plan starts at $15/month for up to 500 subscribers. But if you want the additional CRM and Messaging features, prices start at $70/month.

4. Brevo

Brevo offers both marketing emails, and transactional emails within a single platform. Like the tools listed above, they make it easy to segment subscribers and create behaviour-driven campaigns with a visual automation builder.

Sendinblue Marketing Automation

In addition, they have conversion-focused features such as an opt-in form builder, and landing page software.


Brevo’s pricing is focused around the number of emails you’ll actually send, not the number of subscribers you have in total. Their Free Plan supports 300 emails/day. The Lite Plan is $25/month and supports 20,000 emails/month.

7 types of automated emails

Once you’ve chosen your email marketing service, it’s time to start using the automation features. Here are seven types of automated emails you could create:

1. Welcome emails

The Welcome Email is the most common type of automated email. Every time a new subscriber joins your list thank, them for subscribing and tell them what to expect. You can opt for a single email or create a welcome series.

Here’s how Andy Crestodina from Orbit Media Studios welcomes new subscribers:

welcome email

2. Thank you emails

Every time a customer makes a purchase or a supporter makes a donation you can send an automated thank you message. A ‘thank you’ goes a long way in establishing a long-term relationship.

Here’s a simple ‘Thank You’ email following a JustGiving donation:

Thank you Email Transaction

3. Online course emails

One of the best ways to entice people to join your email list is by offering a free email course. Email automation makes it possible to drip feed each lesson from your course at a set interval. Here’s how Henneke from Enchanting Marketing promotes her Snackable Writing Course:

snackable offer

And here’s the welcome email that sets the scene:

snackable intro

4. Re-engagement emails

Automated re-engagement emails allow you to target inactive contacts or customers. Your workflow could have conditions such as the length of time since their last website visit or email click. Plus you could try including an exclusive offer or coupon to get them excited about your products or services again.

Here’s an example from Grammarly that presents inactive users with ‘The Wrinkle in Time Badge’, followed by a big ‘GO’ button to start using the product again, and a special offer for their premium product:

re engagement email

5. Upsell emails

If you have customers in a membership scheme or making regular purchases, you can send automated upsell emails that contain special offers. Here’s an example from Cornerstone offering a new product at an introductory price to existing members:

upsell email

6. Abandoned shopping cart emails

If you’re running an online store, you can trigger an automated abandoned shopping cart email when someone adds an item to their cart but leaves without buying.

69% of shoppers abandon their carts before checking out. (Source)

Remind them they forgot to make the purchase and offer a special discount or incentive to buy. Here’s how Topo Designs does it:

abandoned cart email

Don’t limit yourself to one email. For example, you could schedule an email series to run for a couple of days:

  • Email 1: send 24 hours later.
  • Email 2: send 48 hours later.
  • Email 3: send 72 hours later.

7. Subscription renewal emails

Nobody wants to lose existing customers, especially those paying recurring subscriptions. So one of the best ways to keep them is to send an automated renewal email reminding them that their subscription, account, or policy with you is about to expire.

Here’s an example from GoDaddy reminding a customer about a domain name that’s about to expire:

renewal email

Wrapping up

Smart businesses embrace email marketing automation as it saves them time, increases customer engagement, and grows revenue. And, all of the marketing automation statistics you’ll find will tell you just how important it is.

Make sure your email marketing strategy includes a combination of one-off campaigns and automated messages so you can send timely, relevant, and personalized messages to your prospects and customers.

You have the tools, and you know the types of automated emails to send, so what are you waiting for?

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