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When home security company Blink began a Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to create a prototype of an affordable and totally wireless home security camera, more than 7,000 backers responded with more than $1 million in funding. Since then, Blink has used automated welcome emails as the cornerstone of a strategy that has fueled the sale of over 400,000 units.

Given the company’s success, it’s hard to believe how close they came to selling the technology that makes their cameras unique.

“Our founders were actually in the business of designing semi-conductors,” David Laubner, head of digital marketing and e-commerce, says. “We sold those designs to other companies to produce. When we came up with a chip that produced very little heat and ran on low power, the idea initially was to sell it to someone.”

Instead, the company realized their design would be more valuable if used to create a consumer product. They came up with the idea for home security cameras—but the challenge was to stand out.

“There were hundreds of digital cameras on the market when we came along,” Laubner says. “But most of them sell primarily through big box retailers. We decided to go the opposite route and sell almost exclusively online. And with e-commerce, email automation has to be a pillar of what you do.”

Creating the list

The success of the Kickstarter campaign meant that Blink had a self-selected list of tech-savvy people invested in their products. According to Daniel Hinds, Blink’s email marketing manager, that gave them a strong place to begin.

“When you start creating email campaigns, you just have to set it up and go,” Hinds says. “You use your best judgment, but it’s not until you begin testing emails and gathering data that you can really start looking for the sweet spot where conversions are highest.”

They also used survey data to segment their lists and create demographic profiles.

“Using surveys, we figured out what people’s most common onboarding questions are,” Hinds says. “So our initial welcome email goes out within 12 hours to a new customer to provide them with those answers. It’s really improved the customer experience.”

“Using surveys, we figured out what people’s most common onboarding questions are,” Hinds says. “So our initial welcome email goes out within 12 hours to a new customer to provide them with those answers. It’s really improved the customer experience.”

Customers also receive automated email surveys during the onboarding process itself.

“When we see that a customer is setting up the system, we use an automated survey email to gather profile information,” Laubner says. “That lets us slice up our list and identify some of our key demographics. And MailChimp makes that kind of segmentation really easy to do.”

That segmentation is important, because it determines how customers will be targeted by future email campaigns. This step is key to ensuring that Blink’s marketing emails stay relevant to their customers.

Crafting the content

Once customers have had a chance to begin installing their cameras, Blink follows up with emails showing how other people are using them.

“Every day, people send us emails showing these cool new ways they’re using the cameras,” Hinds says. “So our users actually help create that content, which we can show new customers to help get them excited about the possibilities. Primarily, we want people to see how they can get the most out of their cameras, but there’s also an opportunity to sell them on more equipment or a second system.”

Whether it’s a new sale, a survey response, or a good review, successful conversions in automated campaigns depend on good design as much as anything.

“It has to draw people to the primary call to action,” Abner Cavalcanti, graphic designer for Blink, says. “It’s easy—and all too common—for emails to get cluttered trying to cater to different groups. But because of how Dan segments our email audience for each campaign, I’m able to design with a single conversion objective in mind.”

Not every email has to convert, though. It’s equally important to foster a relationship.

“We try to keep our emails less salesy,” Laubner says. “We watch how people come in to our list to figure out how we can best nurture our connection. If someone came in because of pet videos, they may not be as interested in home security. But as long as we keep providing the content they’re interested in, they’ll be happy to hear from us.”

“We watch how people come in to our list to figure out how we can best nurture our connection. If someone came in because of pet videos, they may not be as interested in home security."

4 ways to automate better

  1. Do your homework. “MailChimp gives you a ton of analytics data, but you have to get the groundwork done,” Hinds says. That can include using surveys to build out customer profiles, or finding opportunities like abandoned carts to trigger an automatic email. The more information you can gather about your customers, their behaviors, and their goals, the better your automated campaigns can serve them.
  2. Test, refine, and test again. You probably won’t get things right the first time. Maybe not even the first few times. “One example is our automated campaign to sell discounted refurbished cameras,” Cavalcanti says. “We’ve tried a half-dozen pieces of creative this year. It was a lot of work, but just this month we finally hit on a winning combination.” Don’t stress if it takes time to make your campaign successful—just keep testing it until you get it right.
  3. Grow your list with offers. The more people on your email list, the better. You can perform better testing, segment more campaigns, and automate more effectively. So how do you entice people to sign up? “We offer 5% off right away for joining our email list,” Hinds says. “That generates far more emails than I ever would have thought, and it’s a discount that won’t break the bank.” Don’t be afraid to offer a few incentives.
  4. Then test some more. Even if you’ve crafted a tried-and-true campaign, it’s important to avoid settling into a rut. Every time you send an email, it’s an opportunity to test new ideas, even in automated campaigns. “We’re always working on new ways to sell, and that starts with looking at open and click-through rates,” Hinds says. “I test things bracket style—the winner of one test goes up against something new the next time, and we see who lasts.” A good automated campaign needs to be nurtured and developed. When it is, some pretty amazing things can happen for your business.