Autoresponders: what they are, and why you should use them
Whenever I’m asked to give clients or potential clients advice on online marketing, I always recommend that they do two things:
1) blog – religiously (you can find out why here)
2) use autoresponders
In this post I’m going to give you a quick introduction to autoresponders, and explain why you should be using them. Let’s start by explaining what they actually are.
What are autoresponders?
Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are sent automatically to your mailing list subscribers at intervals that you define – for example, you could design a programme of autoresponders so that 5 minutes after somebody signs up to your mailing list, they receive a welcome message from your business; exactly one week later they receive discount codes for some of your products; three weeks later they receive an invitation to follow you on social media – and so on.
Why are they important?
When you use autoresponders, an awful lot of your email marketing gets automated – if you set things up correctly, subscribers receive certain key messages from your business without you having to worry about manually sending these messages out. So the main benefit of autoresponders is clear: they save you time – a lot of it.
Clever applications of autoresponders
The above example of sending out a series of automatically timed promotional emails after somebody signs up to a mailing list is an important one, but there are more sophisticated (and potentially more important) things you can do with autoresponders, based on what you know about your subscribers, or certain actions they take online:
For example, you can
- use autoresponders to send birthday greetings (and related offers) to people on your mailing list
- move a subscriber from one cycle of communications to another after they buy a product (i.e., move them from a ‘prospect’ style series of emails to an ‘upsell’ cycle of communications).
- switch a subscriber from one type of autoresponder cycle to another if he/she clicks on a particular link within an email
- send people emails exactly one year after they bought a product (for example, to encourage them to renew a policy or guarantee etc.)
How do you send autoresponders?
To send out autoresponders, you need to use web apps like Getresponse, Mailchimp, Mad Mimi or Campaign Monitor – these are all dedicated tools for hosting mailing lists and sending e-newsletters / autoresponders to them. Of the apps we’ve tested we’d probably suggest trying out Getresponse if you need advanced autoresponder functionality (it arguably offers the most sophisticated range of options when it comes to sending them), and Mad Mimi if you are on a budget (its autoresponder or ‘drip’ functionality is very basic but the product is cheap by comparison to competitors). Finally, if you are using certain pieces of software or web apps that you need to integrate with a mailing list, you might find that Mailchimp is an attractive option – whilst it’s not the cheapest autoresponder tool out there, a lot of well-known services provide an ‘out of the box’ integration with it (Squarespace and Shopify, for example, use Mailchimp as their preferred tool for integrating a mailing list with your website / store).
Does using autoresponders mean that I should stop ‘manually’ sending out e-newsletters?
No – there will still be occasions when it makes absolute sense to send out an e-newsletter manually: messages marking festive occasions, seasonal promotions, sale announcements and general news updates will generally need to be covered off by sending out a ‘normal’ e-newsletter. But used well, autoresponders will allow you to automate a lot of ‘nuts and bolts’ marketing activity, and tailor your messages to suit particular segments of your mailing list…while you’re in bed, or doing something more interesting, or both.