Three Ways to Retrain Your Autoresponder

July 28, 2010

Automated marketing often is a misunderstood concept, particularly as many think it just takes the form of email autoresponders. These are the awkwardly distant "I'm out of the office and having more fun than you" kind of replies or robot-like missives that come with return addresses beginning with things like "DONOTREPLY." They rarely communicate something of value and often sound like they were written for a poorly translated Atari video game. But it doesn't have to be that way.

I'll admit that turning the autoresponder into something we all employ and embrace as a valued method of communication faces long odds, but hear me out. For one, while writing a personal note in each and every circumstance is always favorable, it's often impractical for reasons of time, availability, or efficiency. That's why you get emails of the above variety.

I'm not trying to change that. Instead, I believe we need to take a fresh look at other situations in which autoresponders and automated emails can be used, and to great benefit. I'm not talking about creating multiple "Set it and forget it" arrangements; you always should have a close eye on your campaigns and messages. Instead, you want to identify user actions that will trigger a specific, targeted message that you've defined and govern. For example:

Put out a decent welcome mat

I've signed up for a dizzying number of email lists, and I've received a general-issue welcome message from most of them—99% of which were promptly deleted. I appreciate good manners and thank-yous, but rarely do these messages contain anything of value. Still, I opened them, which means a well-placed content offering might have been worth the effort.

What that should be depends on your audience and their expectations. Maybe it's a free cup of coffee; maybe it's an over-the-top literary creation that just makes someone smile. It could be anything, but it shouldn't be nothing.

Schedule feedback requests

Most organizations recognize the web as a great place to get feedback from their markets; unfortunately, gathering that information often is an after-the-fact activity. There are, of course, numerous ways to get out in front of this, and one of the easiest is using your existing email service.

Admittedly, we haven't exactly practiced what we preach here, though that could easily change, thanks to some updated offerings from Campaign Monitor, who we use for our email campaigns. They recently introduced a darn-right-useful autoresponder and custom date feature that allow you to set a trigger based on a specific date—say, for example, three months after someone subscribes to your list. That seems like a good time to pop in and ask "How are we doing?"

Reward loyalty

Instead of the traditional birthday gift, try sending a special offer or message to those subscribers who have stuck with you for one or more years. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it's very simple and can generate a great deal of goodwill—even, possibly, some referrals. An anniversary is a simple trigger, and with the right message, it's a no-brainer.

Those are just basics, of course; there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to developing drip campaigns and automating your marketing processes. But these examples stand to show that slight changes in relatively common tactics can produce remarkable results. Have any examples of your own?