Skip to main content

Email Marketing Basics: Newsletters and Drip Campaigns

This week, I chatted with Carl Sednaoui, an email marketing consultant and co-founder of MailCharts, a tool e-commerce marketers use to uncover their next email move.

We decided to go back to the basic building blocks of email marketing: newsletters and drip campaigns. This is a great introduction for beginners, and for more advanced types, a quick refresher with helpful pro-tips and food for thought.

Here’s what you’ll learn in the next 12 minutes:

  • When you use newsletters versus drip emails — and what to expect.
  • What to do if you don’t have anything new to share in a newsletter.
  • One great tactic that both builds relationships and improves deliverability.

AMA: We cover the basics here, but newsletters and drip emails aren’t always simple. Ask your questions in the comment section below. Carl and I will answer them!

Watch our chat:

Full transcript

Janet Choi: Hi, I’m Janet from I’m here today with Carl from MailCharts.

Carl Sednaoui: Hi, everybody.

Janet: And we are going to talk about our favorite thing in the whole wide world, email.

Carl: Go, email. So what are we talking about today? All the email?

Janet: Today, we could talk about all the emails but I think that would be pretty boring for everyone. So let’s just talk about two types of emails.

Carl: There’s many different types of emails that you can send out, and the most popular are drip and newsletters. One of the things as we were talking about before this, and you mentioned, is that when you speak to somebody that’s new to email marketing, it’s often hard for them to wrap their head around what is what, and when to use which one.

Janet: Sure.

Carl: So I think we can talk about that today. Does that sound like a good idea?

Janet: That sounds great, let’s start there.

Carl: All right cool, so let me share my screen with you, And I’ll share with you examples of emails. So here’s an example of a newsletter. This newsletter was sent by, which is a to-do app, and they’re announcing their Web version, and they’re saying it’s here. So they most likely send this email to their entire list at the same time, one the same date, announcing that this new product of theirs was ready.

Janet: Okay.

Carl: So this is one example of a newsletter. Another example of a newsletter will be this email here from Uniqlo that they sent to, again, most likely to their entire list during the holidays or during winter. And here, we have this great content or this beautiful image about this orange jacket followed by some pricing information and some holiday discounts, along with a few other items that they were promoting.

This is very typical to newsletters. So whenever you check your inbox and you look at the emails you received from different companies, most of the times, those are the emails you’re looking at. They’re just newsletter emails that either went to the entire list or the majority of the list. This is content that is relevant either today, or for the season, or for this week and that also includes special promotions as we saw here earlier, new announcements, things that just got out the door.

Janet: Sure.

Carl: This is what newsletters look like and when they are used. On the flip-side, there are drip campaigns. Drip campaigns are basically a series of emails that you will receive over x period of time. As an example, here’s an email from our friends at MailChimp. You see here it says, “Number 1. Getting Started with MailChimp.” This email is all about using a template or how to create your own, inside their tools. So this drip goes out to any new MailChimp subscriber. So this is the first part of it, then a few days later, you’ll go ahead and receive the second part, which is about collecting subscribers and building your list.

Here they talk about Facebook integrations and other features they have. Then if you wait a few more days, you’ll get yet another email. So here’s number three, and this one talks about how to avoid the spam folder to reach the inbox. Then you’ll get four, five, six, and so on. This is exactly what drip emails are. They’re a way to send messages or information over time in small chunks. You can think of them as bite-sized messages.

Janet: Yeah, and I think one interesting difference between them, as you were saying that with the drip emails, everyone gets the same one depending on where they are in their customer life cycle, versus the newsletter, you sort of enter the stream, where you enter the stream. If you signed up for a newsletter last week, you’ll just start getting that stream of information that they’re sending out.

Carl: Right. And then the other big pros and cons to the two is that, imagine you’re the marketer at MailChimp. You and your team go ahead and create this beautiful email drip. Once you’ve created this drip series, you can basically send it and forget it — in the sense that subscribers that join your list or become customers in a month from now, three months from now, or maybe even a year from now will still get this very viable email drip.

On the flip-side if you look at Uniqlo, the marketing team behind this has to create these newsletters on a daily basis, on a weekly basis. So it’s a lot more on-going effort that must go into generating these newsletters. Whenever you create a new email, you need to test the email, make sure all the links work properly, make sure that you have all the tracking codes, all the UTM parameters, that the template doesn’t break in different email clients. It’s a lot of on-going work to be sending newsletters on a frequent basis.

Janet: Yeah, it’s a little bit like the difference between writing a book about something where you’re done and everyone can read the same book and be helped by it or whatever. And then versus a blog post every week, where you have to keep churning out new material.

Carl: Yeah, That’s a really good comparison, actually. I hadn’t thought about it that way. Both of them have the value they provide.

Janet: Right.

Carl: And both of them have their place in your email marketing strategy. One of the things I wanted to mention when it comes to newsletters is that often times, you don’t have new things happening every week. Often times, you don’t have new products, new items to talk about every week. And the default to that, whenever the C-suite is pushing you to be sending more emails, or you yourself want to send more emails, it’s the default to promotions.

That is something that as a recipient or the newsletters, as a subscriber, it comes less and less appealing over time. If this is the seventh promotion that you’ve sent me in a row in one month, I’m less just likely to go ahead and purchase from you, then if it was the first promotion.

Janet: Right.

Carl: One of the things that I have seen done really, really nicely is what I like to call product narratives, which is one email where you highlight this one product, and you talk about this one product in-depth, and why it’s a great product. So in the example of Uniqlo, they are known or at least, from what I’ve seen in the subway ads, for creating very high-tech fabrics.

So they can have an email where they talk about one piece of clothing, article of clothing, how it was made, the process and give it a lot more life than just like, “Here is a bunch of images of products you can buy today at a discount.”

Janet: I think that is a good strategy for people, especially businesses who don’t have regularly restocked inventory, or new things to show every week. They can really go in-depth and tell a story either about a customer, or a feature, or like a product. That can be way more compelling than just giving you, “Ten percent discount”, “Limited time only”. I think that’s a good way to do newsletters without being overly promotional every single time.

Carl: Yeah, absolutely. And then on the drip side, often times, when you create a drip, you want to, before you even map what the drip is going to look like, have a goal in mind. So what is your goal? In the example we shared with MailChimp, their goal was to get new customers onboarded and to get them to know about the different features that they offer.

Janet: Right.

Carl: Right, and so they’re giving you this information one step at a time to make sure you as a customer have time to process it and digest it. That’s much more user-friendly than just sending you like, “Here’s our startup guide”, in this like 30-page PDF. Right? So that’s the goal behind this email series that they have. Sometimes you’ll have companies who’s goal is to sell.

Janet: Right.

Carl: One of the things I’d like to make sure that everybody thinks about is don’t approach your drip campaign as just a series of sales emails that are spaced with x days in between them.

Janet: Right.

Carl: Try to have some form of story that goes through all those emails that you are sending. If your goal is to drive sales, how can you drive value at first before you try to ask for the sale? Or how can you approach the drip with content that makes people keep listening and keep opening up your emails?

Janet: Yeah, I think that’s a really great point. Just the idea of dripping information out in a certain period of time doesn’t necessarily mean that the content is sales or promotional, you know. It’s sort of agnostic about the content.

But the most successful ones that I see are mostly educational, entertaining and provide value to the customer other than an offer or a sale that they want to make. That sort of builds up enough trust for them to make the sales sort of later on down the road, maybe closer to the end of the drip, or in another drip.

Carl: Exactly, and of the things I love to do in a drip for example is to try and choose your response from the subscriber. So ask them why they’re interested in, or what is their favorite article of clothing, or what are you going to do this week, whatever the case might be. And a company like Uniqlo, if they would set up a drip or maybe somebody with a volume such as MailChimp, doesn’t have the resources to handle that kind of responses or maybe don’t want to.

But if you’re a smaller company and you can do that, I really encourage you to do so because it helps you create a bond with your subscribers, and kind of build that relationship over time. It also helps with your deliverability, right? Because Gmail will see that you responded to this email address, the emails that come from this email address are much more likely to end up in your inbox than your spam folder or elsewhere.

So there’s a twofold game behind this that I think makes that really appealing. So if you can trade responses, go for it because you’ll learn a lot.

Janet: Yeah.

Carl: You’ll be surprised by how much people are willing to share.

Janet: That’s a really great point. And I think it goes to going beyond just a few of your open rates and click rates. Are these subscribers and customers actually engaged, whether you’re sending a drip email or a newsletter.

Carl: Exactly.

Janet: That’s a really great point.

Carl: Yeah, and then one last, quick thing before we wrap up.

Janet: Sure.

Carl: Whenever you create a drip, often times, you’ll see your open rate and your click rate decrease over time. And that’s because subscribers have been on your list for longer. So keep that in mind. People are never more likely to open your emails that when they’ve just signed up. Okay, I think that’s the right words. First time.

Janet: They’re most likely to open…

Carl: Exactly.

Janet: … when they’re new.

Carl: They’re most likely to open a new emails when they just sign up, versus a month from now, versus a year from now. You’ll see this tail basically, your email rate tailing off in terms of open rates and click rates, and that is expected. So as a marketer, if you see that, don’t freak out. It doesn’t mean that your second or third email are really bad. It’s just a normal user behavior that you’ll see throughout your campaigns.

Janet: Yeah, and I think that’s the same advice for doing newsletters. You’ll probably see a bigger spike with new subscribers. And then you’ll see a continual ebb and flow of unsubscribes.

Carl: Exactly.

Janet: Awesome.

Carl: All right, well this was great.

Janet: Thanks for teaching us about drip emails and newsletters.

Carl: Of course. I’ll see you next time.

Janet: All right, bye.

Carl: Bye.