Automated Marketing: Drip vs. Nurture

Automated Marketing: Drip vs. Nurture

"Drip marketing describes a series of predesigned emails sent on a predetermined schedule geared toward education, branding, positioning, or selling of your product. Drip marketing emails are distributed to a broad audience; lead-nurturing emails are distributed to a specific segment."

According to a recent report by Gleanster, 84% of top-performing companies are using — or plan to start using — marketing automation by 2015. What’s interesting to me about this statistic is how few of these companies can tell me specifically whether they have deployed, or plan to deploy, a drip or nurture campaign — or both. When polling our clients and potential clients, most companies do not differentiate between these two campaign styles and I find this incongruent with the overall benefit they wish to attain using automation.

Let’s start with some understanding:

Drip marketing describes a series of predesigned emails sent on a predetermined schedule geared toward education, branding, positioning, or selling of your product. Drip marketing emails are distributed to a broad audience; lead-nurturing emails are distributed to a specific segment. Think of the drip irrigation system: drip, drip, drip. There is no consideration for state of the plant; the water continues to drip at a regular interval, whether or not the plant is parched or overwatered.

Though the campaign is not interaction based, broadly defined, there are three drip-marketing triggers for the launch of your automated program:

  • Anchor date. Deploy events on days before and after a specific date, such as product-launch dates.
  • Calendar. Deploy events to launch on specific dates, such as holidays.
  • Duration. Deploy events to launch based upon when the prospect entered the campaign


Newsletters are a prime example of a drip campaign — an email or direct mail scheduled to release on the first Tuesday of the month, for example. Social-media postings can be drip-marketing messages as well.

Nurture marketing contains messages sent to specific prospects or leads based upon their previous actions or interactions and their place in the buying cycle. Also known as transactional emails (e.g., order-confirmation email), these emails have higher open rates (51.3% compared to 36.6% for email newsletters) and thus, provide prime real estate for you to introduce new topics or cross- or up-sell products or services. Again, broadly defined, there are three basic types of nurture campaigns:

  • Transactional triggers. Deploy events based upon a client’s action, such as making a purchase or submitting a form.
  • Recurring triggers. Deploy events based upon information you know about the recipient such as a birthday, anniversary, or last visit. Often called a loyalty campaign because you are acknowledging the lead’s important events and this is shown to build loyalty.
  • Threshold triggers. This type of event is triggered when the recipient reaches some type of threshold, for example: flying a million miles, buying $100 worth of goods, or other action for which you can provide tracking and measurement.

Most sales funnels share some/many characteristics — understanding the lead’s position in the sales funnel is important to building an effective automated campaign. There’s discussion about whether a person starts as a prospect or lead (at Spider Trainers, we call it a prospect until the point of engagement, at which point it is a lead, and further engagement defines a qualified lead), but beyond that and across industries, the sales funnel looks something like this:

  • Awareness
    • Interest
      • Consideration
        • Intent
          • Evaluation
            • Purchase

The type of content you use within your campaign — whether drip or nurture — will elicit different responses from your audience and help you to evaluate their stage and create additional messaging. One approach is to determine the type of content needed by first grouping your prospects into awareness segments, for example:

  • Most aware. Prospects know about your product and now need to know about your offer.
  • Product aware. Prospects know what you sell, but aren’t sure it is the right product for her/his needs.
  • Solution aware. Prospects know the results needed, but are not sure your product addresses these needs.
  • Problem aware. Prospects sense there is a problem, but is not aware a (your) solution exists.
  • Completely unaware. Prospects have no knowledge of product or solutions, but have opinions.


If you’re using awareness, think next about the type of messaging most appropriate for the segment, for example:


  • Viral/emotional state. This content will appeal to your prospects’ emotions and show you understand their needs, goals, and pain points.
  • Discussion. As with dialogue, in discussion messaging you can engage the subscriber with opportunities to comment, complete surveys, and provide feedback.
  • Lead. This type of content is often used with inbound marketing. Here you can offer high-value content such as white papers, training videos, trials, and eBooks to nudge the prospect along through the sales funnel. Gated inbound content includes forms enabling you to learn more about their interest and level of interest.
  • Sales. Content asking for the business will provide a clear and concise path for purchasing or becoming a customer.


Defining these parameters and constructing an automated campaign to stay top of mind (drip) or nudge the prospect along the sales funnel (nurture) is no small undertaking. Your campaign may well have dozens or even hundreds of timed or interaction-based events, but over the span of the entire campaign, your automated marketing will require less effort than a string of blast emails. With that said, there is still an up-front overhead in both time and resources to consider. Due to the time across which your campaign deploys, the cost of the campaign is amortized throughout the lifecycle.

What’s more, many automated campaigns can be repurposed many times, further reducing the cost per event.

For most companies, it’s not a matter of drip or nurture; it’s drip and nurture. You need the benefits of the more passive campaign style of drip marketing in order to remain in the leads’ thoughts until the point when they enter the buying cycle and the active interaction of a nurture campaign to improve your brand’s stickiness and guide each person through the steps of becoming your customer.


For most companies, automated email marketing is a mix of three campaign styles: blast, drip, and nurture. Blasts are used for on-the-spot promotions or to test an acquired list, drip to stay top of mind, and nurture to nudge recipients along the buying cycle.