Email drip campaigns vs. nurture campaigns: what’s the difference?

Justine Jenkins
17min read
Email marketing
January 12th 2021
two hands holding a plant

Automated email marketing has the power to outperform campaign emails across the board. Think 1,558 percent higher conversion rates and 1,361 percent higher revenue per recipient (RPR). Pretty amazing, right?

But if you’re unsure about what types of email automations to create and what the difference is between email drip campaigns and nurture campaigns—both of which are types of automated emails—then you’re not alone.

Some marketers use these terms interchangeably, but they actually mean something different—and both have their place within your email marketing strategy.

Read on to discover:

What is a drip campaign?

Email drip campaigns are a series of automated emails that are delivered on a set schedule. They’re typically intended to educate subscribers and move them down the sales funnel toward conversion.

An example of this is an automated welcome series where your subscribers receive emails the day they’ve joined your email list, two days later, five days later, seven days later, and so on.

The frequency of your drip campaigns and the content you include in them is completely up to you and what you think your subscribers will engage with. Remember that your subscribers are usually at their most engaged when they first sign up to hear from you.

Drip campaigns keep your brand top of mind, educate customers about your products, and can persuade them to buy from you and stay loyal to your brand long-term.

But sending drip campaigns and reporting on key metrics like opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and revenue generated would be nearly impossible without smart email automation software. More on this and getting started with automatic drip campaigns shortly.

Email drip campaign examples

To better explain what a drip campaign is and how they work, here are three commonly used email drip campaigns and how some ecommerce businesses are using them in real life.

Welcome series

A welcome series is exactly what it sounds like—it introduces your brand to new subscribers or customers.

The aim here is to help customers discover your brand, story, and products while also persuading them to shop with you.

It’s usually recommended to send three welcome emails across four days, such as sending the first email immediately, another email two days after a subscriber has signed up, and the third email four days after they’ve signed up.

Remember: This is a guideline. You have total control over your email marketing campaign, so it’s completely up to you how often you email your subscribers. Track your unsubscribe rate and what content your subscribers are engaging with the most—and when—to fine-tune your automations.

You can also think of a welcome series as an extension of your brand. You have the opportunity to increase the value of your product offering and at a time when your brand is already top of mind because subscribers have just signed up to hear more.

I particularly like Grind’s “subscriber flow,” which is one of their automated welcome series. Grind is a chain of independent coffee shops based in London, and they’re creators of the UK’s first completely compostable coffee pods, which customers can buy as a one-off or as part of a subscription.

When someone first becomes a subscription-based customer, Grind sends out a series of emails every seven to ten days to share more information about their brand and values, and to help position their product to prevent someone from unsubscribing.

Grind’s roastery is local to London, for example, so they’ve included a personal touch in their drip campaign by introducing their head roaster, Howey.

man standing in front of a coffee machine

Frankie Cooke, Grind’s brand coordinator, recently shared why she and the team have created a welcome series like this.

“We’ve noted that if customers are going to stop their subscription, then they tend to do it within the first few weeks. These emails include some editorial or customer service content to make sure customers know how to use their subscription, that they can cancel at any time, change their subscription when they want to, or even pause it. Knowing all this means customers are less inclined to cancel,” she said.

So, with their welcome series, Grind tries to persuade customers to continue their coffee subscription past the first month by:

  • Introducing their brand, story, and team
  • Helping customers understand their purchases
  • Keeping subscribers engaged with interesting and helpful content.

Anniversary emails

Anniversary emails are any emails sent out on a set date each month, quarter, year, etc.

You might send birthday emails to your subscribers, for example. Or perhaps you want to celebrate a customers’ first, tenth, or 100th purchase? Or maybe it’s your brand’s anniversary you want to celebrate? 

Either way, you can set these emails up to go out automatically on certain dates rather than having to remember various milestones and anniversaries yourself.

Anniversary emails not only help to show your customers you care and that you’ve thought about them, but they also keep your brand top of mind month after month, year after year, potentially resulting in long-lasting brand loyalty.

Barry M, a leading cosmetics company based in the UK, has a fun rewards program where customers can move through different tiers when they buy something, write a review, or follow the brand on social media.

Each year, Barry M wishes their rewards members a “Happy Birthday” via email and gives them extra points to use on their next purchase.

These special birthday points expire after twelve months, which also urges Barry M’s customers to spend them before their next birthday, likely triggering faster sales and higher average order values (AOV) than if the points were available forever.

girl in a sequence top touching her ear

Email courses

You could also use drip campaigns to create mini email courses for your customers and subscribers where they receive a different educational or inspirational email over a set number of days, weeks, or months.

Use email courses to educate consumers about your products or area of expertise, increase brand awareness, and show authority in your niche.

You could even include targeted promotions and upsell opportunities if you’re able to collect useful subscriber engagement data like link clicks and products viewed on your website.

Innermost, a UK-based wellness brand, has created several informative email courses, which educate people on a variety of health issues and topics related to Innermost’s products, such as getting better sleep and managing stress.

brunette girl smiling with a hand over her eye

Subscribers receive five emails across five days for each email course, and with open rates at around 35 percent and click rates between 35 and 40 percent, this targeted and educational approach to drip emails is clearly resonating well with Innermost’s audience.

What is a nurture email campaign?

Nurture email campaigns are like drip campaigns since they’re also a series of automated emails. But this time, a subscriber’s behavior influences what you send and when you send it.

For nurture campaigns to work well, you’ll need deep insights about your subscribers such as which links they’ve clicked in emails and what products they’ve browsed on your website.

These actions then trigger different email sequences to help nurture your subscribers towards a sale—whether that be hours, days, weeks, or months after the first email.

Just like drip emails, nurture campaigns keep your brand top of mind, but because they’re triggered by behaviors and actions, you can often personalize emails far more effectively than drip campaigns. 

This means you could see better engagement, fewer unsubscribes, and more brand loyalty compared to if you only used drip campaigns. 

Still, both strategies are miles better than a batch and blast —aka mass-mailing—techniques, which can impact your deliverability and even cause your emails to be flagged as spam.

Email nurture campaign examples

Here are some nurture campaign examples in action to show you how this type of automated email series could work for your business.

Targeted welcome series

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Didn’t you just talk about a welcome series in the drip campaigns section?” Yep, please bear with me.

While many marketers drip-feed their welcome emails on certain days, others use subscribers’ behaviors and actions to decide which emails to send next.

Printful, experts in on-demand printing, are a great example of this in action. They send useful content-heavy emails to new customers and subscribers based on where they are in their journey, which seems to work especially well for Printful’s retail customers.

Depending on how far someone is with setting up their account, Printful sends them emails on topics like how to choose which products to sell and how to get your first paying customers.

email with youtube videos about product designs inside

Cart abandonment emails

Cart abandonment emails are one of the most common types of nurture campaigns. It’s also frequently the first email automation that brands put in place—otherwise, they’d be leaving money on the table.

Brands with an AOV between $100 and $500 recover four to five percent of their abandoned carts on average, so this type of email nurture campaign can truly pay off!

I love Tropic Skincare’s abandoned cart email. Tropic Skincare is a British cosmetics company selling natural cruelty-free skincare, haircare, and makeup products.

When people exit their carts without buying, Tropic Skincare sends them a quick email using the subject line, “These Tropic treats are nearly yours.” 

skincare products coming out of a white bag

Not only does this help to refresh brand awareness, but the email also stands out in the inbox while creating a sense of urgency and excitement.

Tropic Skincare has also mirrored a fear of missing out (FOMO) at the end of the email within the line, “Your bag will expire after 24 hours.”

Anyone serious about snapping up their “Tropic treats” would be quick to act before that 24-hour deadline ends. A countdown timer would also be a great way to show this deadline visually.

Winback campaigns

Winback campaigns, sometimes also called re-engagement campaigns, are any emails you send to inactive subscribers.

Perhaps they haven’t opened or clicked an email in the past 30, 60, or 90 days? Maybe they haven’t bought from you in a while?

Winback emails help you to re-engage these subscribers and are an important part of your nurturing strategy—especially as existing customers are nine times more likely to convert than first-time shoppers.

Winback emails are especially powerful when they’re targeted, which relies on deep segmentation.

Perhaps you want to share new product launches you think subscribers are interested in based on their purchase history.

Or another idea is to send different winback emails based on why a customer no longer shops with you. This is especially powerful for subscription-based businesses that can track the reasons why someone canceled their subscription.

This is exactly what Hunt A Killer, a murder mystery subscription box brand, does to win back their lost customers.

“If [a customer] canceled for financial reasons, we send an email with a cheaper product or a discount. If they didn’t like the monthly format, we suggest a non-subscription product. Using segmentation as a way to win back lost customers who are still in our database is helpful,” said Mary Callaghan, Hunt A Killer’s email marketing manager.

girl sitting at a desk with a pamphlet in her lap

Personalized upsell and cross-sell campaigns

You’ve likely used upsell and cross-sell strategies throughout your website to promote other products your customers might like. Perhaps these are complementary products, brand new items, or your best sellers.

You can use these same strategies within your email marketing and be even more specific if you’re collecting the relevant data.

Say you have an email subscriber who only ever looks at clothing with a neutral color palette. You probably wouldn’t want to send them bright pink outfit suggestions.

Or say a customer’s just bought a glamorous party dress from you. They might not need another one of those for a while, but they might like a glitzy clutch bag or shoes to match.

You’ll usually use customer engagement signals like products viewed or bought on your website, or specific links clicked in emails to determine what content and product recommendations to send as these signals show what your audience is most interested in.

Heist Studios, a popular lingerie company based in London, uses a strategy just like this. They’ve created a segment for shoppers who viewed shapewear, for example, so they can personalize future marketing content geared towards making that first shapewear purchase.

hands holding a phone with a picture of a girl in an email

This has enabled Heist Studios to achieve results like a 50 percent increase in repeat purchases, an 11 percent increase in AOV from a customer’s first purchase to their second, and they drive over 66 percent of their revenue through email marketing alone. Powerful stuff, huh?

So, what’s the difference between drip and nurture campaigns?

Both drip and lead nurturing campaigns involve sending automated emails but involve different triggers. However, drip campaigns are sent on specific days or dates with the goal of guiding users down the sales funnel without regard to the buyer’s journey, while nurture campaigns are personalized and take into account user activity or their lifecycle stage.

So, now you know what the difference is between the two and when you might use them within your strategy, here are some final tips to help you create your email automations.

How to create a lead nurturing or drip campaign

The steps involved in creating a lead nurturing or drip email campaign are similar. Here’s how you can get started—regardless of whether you use one or the other, or both.

1. Define your buyer personas and segments

You need to know who you’re emailing and why because this will help you come up with ideas of what content to send and when.

A buyer persona is a fictional depiction of someone who might buy your products. It’s important to speak their language and show them content that will convince them to engage with your brand and click that all-important “Shop Now” button.

You might choose to map certain buyer personas to your email marketing segments, such as grouping all your gift buyers into one segment versus women aged 30 and over who are buying products for themselves, for example.

Using buyer personas and segmentation in your marketing also ensures you’re sending different content to different people based on what they like and resonate with. 

One example of this is using male models in emails targeting men versus female models in emails for women.

These are just a couple of ideas. Buyer personas and segments differ across companies and you can get as detailed as you like, so pick the ones that make the most sense for your brand and products.

2. Set goals for each campaign

Once you know who you’re sending emails to, it’s time to set goals for each campaign.

What do you want a subscriber to do when they read certain emails? Buy something? Read another piece of content? Refer a friend? 

Setting goals for each email campaign and automation keeps things clear in your mind and will help you figure out what content to send and when—and what calls-to-action (CTAs) to include in your emails.

3. Map out your content and specific touchpoints

Now comes the fun bit! Start mapping out what content you’ll send and also include ideas of when you might send each email.

Will a certain date or time within a subscriber’s journey trigger some emails? Or will specific actions trigger emails? Or perhaps it depends on the type of email and so you end up with a mixture of the two? It’s completely up to you.

You might also want to consider what time of day is best to send your drip marketing and nurturing campaigns.

Is there a particular time of day when subscribers normally engage with your emails? Does an email make more sense if it’s read in the morning versus the afternoon or evening? Do you want to send emails according to your subscribers’ timezones, or just at set times when your business is open?

These are all questions to consider when planning your automations.

klaviyo's automations library

Pre-built workflows are also a fantastic starting point—if your email marketing software provides them—as they’ll do a lot of the hard work for you.

Also, consider whether your campaigns will include other marketing channels like your website or SMS. Map these out at the same time to finalize your omnichannel marketing strategy.

4. Test and set your campaigns live

Always test your automations before you set them live to work out any kinks or identify scenarios you might not have thought of before.

When you’re ready, setting them live is usually as easy as pushing a few buttons once they’re set up within your automated email system.

5. Analyze your campaigns

Are you seeing average open rates above 20 percent for your automated campaigns? Clickthroughs above 2.5 percent? How is your RPR or revenue from email looking? What about other benchmarks that are important to your brand and industry?

If your metrics aren’t looking as good as you hoped, then maybe it’s time to change things up.

A/B testing will help you see what’s working and what’s not by enabling you to test certain aspects of your campaigns like subject lines, body copy, imagery, CTAs, and more. 

Then, you can use these insights to keep improving your automations. Don’t just set and forget them!

Level up your email marketing with a multifaceted strategy

Although some people use the terms drip campaign and nurture campaign interchangeably, they’re slightly different.

Remember: Both are types of automated email marketing. You’ll send your drip campaigns on certain dates, times, or days, while a subscriber’s behavior and the specific actions they take will influence your nurture campaign sequences.

You could choose to use one or the other, but I’d argue both have their place within your marketing automation strategy. 

After all, your brand and your customers are multifaceted, so why can’t your marketing strategies be multifaceted, as well?

Drip campaign vs. nurture campaign FAQs

Are drip campaigns effective?

Drip campaigns can effectively attract prospects, generate new leads, build stronger relationships, and increase customer engagement. Because email drip campaigns involve smart segmentation and targeting of your subscriber base, they represent a valuable addition to your overall digital marketing strategy.

How long should drip and nurture campaigns last?

There is no limit to the number of emails you should send per campaign. Businesses should track and analyze subscriber interaction with the emails and decide how many touches are necessary to achieve conversion and transition into the nurturing phase.

What is a nurture email marketing strategy?

Nurture email marketing is a communication strategy designed to send targeted information to subscribers to address their needs at different customer journey stages. This type of campaign aims to present customers with relevant information about your products or services and thus strengthen your relationship and incentivize future purchases.

Ready to send your own drip or nurture campaigns?
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Justine Jenkins
Justine Jenkins
Justine Jenkins is a content contractor for Klaviyo, where you’ll find her brainstorming and writing content to help businesses within the EMEA region to learn, adapt, and grow. Before writing for Klaviyo, Justine graduated from the University of Plymouth with a business degree and spent five years supporting, teaching, and helping businesses with their retail and ecommerce technology at Brightpearl. For the past couple of years, Justine has happily settled on life as a content writer throughout the UK tech scene. Outside of work, Justine can either be found crafting something or travelling the world—and naturally—she blogs about both.