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Email How-To Tip

Q: How can I run an automated drip marketing campaign?

Sending a sequence of email messages starting with the subscription itself and following up with additional, timed messages sent conditionally depending on certain actions performed by the subscriber is a helpful practice to grow and maintain positive relationships with your audiences.

While some of the messages that you may send with LISTSERV Maestro will be related to current events, for example the availability of a new product or service in your portfolio, other messages can (and should) be designed and planned in advance.

Step 0: The Confirmation Email

Obviously the first event on a subscriber's journey through a relationship with your business is the moment when the subscription itself occurs. The majority of this tip assumes that subscription happens through LISTSERV Maestro's built-in public subscriber website signup pages, so there are two messages that are related to the journey's start: the double opt-in confirmation message and the welcome message. The confirmation message in LISTSERV Maestro is mandatory and you can change its default content through the public subscriber website customization user interface:

Even though the confirmation email has the specific purpose of sending the custom confirmation link to the subscriber, some aspects of this email deserve being noted. It is widely accepted that you should refrain from using any marketing related content in this message because you otherwise risk that the message is viewed as unsolicited marketing email and is thus classified as such, either actively by the user or by some automated content filter.

This means that typically the content of this message is different from other, more marketing-oriented messages that you send to actual, confirmed subscribers. Nevertheless, this message belongs to your subscriber's journey and should be viewed in conjunction with subsequent automated messages.

Step 1: The Welcome Email

While the confirmation email is triggered by the subscriber filling out the form on the subscribe page, the welcome mail (if defined) is triggered by the final click on the link in the confirmation email.

Contrary to the confirmation email, the welcome email is optional. You define a welcome email through the public subscriber website customization user interface:

Similar to other parts of the public subscriber website customization, the confirmation and welcome emails are first saved as drafts and then deployed to take effect in production. The welcome email has an additional special behavior that is important for the remainder of this tip: The result of deploying the welcome email draft is that LISTSERV Maestro creates a completed mail job for you. This mail job is created with personal tracking enabled (unless your preferences say otherwise) and over time, every subscriber who receives the welcome email is also registered as a recipient of this mail job. The consequence of this is that you can now proceed with creating additional messages as part of your automated drip-marketing message sequence.

Subsequent Messages: Scheduled Mail Jobs with Extended Delivery

Follow-Up to Welcome Mail

By making use of the fact that subscribers who confirmed their subscription have received the welcome email, you can now define a successor to the welcome mail job. Start by creating a new mail job and open the recipients wizard. Then choose the option "Send to a list in the subscriber warehouse".

With the option "Advanced subscriber selection" selected, click "Next ->". On the next wizard page, click "Edit Search Condition". This screen opens:

Note that this screenshot was taken when the subscriber list was still empty. Now click the magnifying glass icon next to "Activity" to open the filter condition dialog:

Click the "Add Condition" button to add an entry to the list of conditions. Select "Subscriber was recipient of" and then "the job [ID] – List Welcome Email for [List Name]". Click "OK" to accept the condition.

If your welcome email job already has recipients because some subscribers have already subscribed to your list, the parent screen will reflect this and will only show the subscribers who indeed have received the welcome mail job. Any subscriber who was, for example, added manually or imported and did not receive the welcome mail job, will not be shown in the list and will not be included among the recipients of this follow-up mail job.

Now click the "Use as recipients..." button in the top-right corner to apply the condition to your recipient definition.

Without any further settings, a job with this recipient definition would, when delivered, be sent to exactly the same set of recipients who are registered for the source job at that specific moment. And this would in our sample case amount to no recipients at all, which is not what you want. Even if you already have recipients in your welcome mail job, this is not the desired result because you want future subscribers to also receive the follow-up job.

This is where the special magic of extended delivery and scheduling comes into play. On the mail job overview screen, you can now proceed with defining the message content to your liking and perform the test delivery.

Now your mail job is ready to receive special settings under "Schedule Delivery":

In the screen shot above, two special properties have been defined:

  • A scheduled time in the future
  • Extended delivery (with an open-ended period)

Even though the first property appears common (and straightforward if you are used to scheduling all your mail jobs for specific times and dates in the future), it defines an additional and quite important powerful property: the delay interval between the messages of the source and the follow-up job. In the case of normal (non-extended) delivery, this delay is easy to understand because it simply is the time between the deliveries of the two mail jobs in question.

With extended delivery, however, an additional dynamic behavior is activated. The source job (being a list welcome mail job) has a recipient set that changes post-delivery, which means that a subscriber is added as a new recipient to this job even after the job is already completed. Since your follow-up job is also defined with extended delivery (which, as you see on the screen, is re-evaluated once per day), this same delay is also applied to new recipients. This results in the same rhythmic pattern of messages being applied to all recipients, be they already in the source job from the beginning or later in the future.

Note that it's also possible to use immediate delivery for your follow-up job, but this still results in a delay interval because the source job is already delivered when you authorize the follow-up job. The correct amount of delay time between the two messages is not straightforward and depends on the nature and content of the follow-up message. You must be aware of the actual delivery time of the source job and adjust the delivery time of the follow-up job according to your decision about the correct delay time between the two messages.

Variant: No Welcome Mail Job Defined

There might be some reasons why you either don't have a welcome mail job or do not want to base your message sequence on the welcome mail job, even if it exists. One reason is a technical one. If you change the content of the welcome mail job in the public subscriber website customization of your list, then, when you deploy, a new mail job is created to reflect this. This means that your automated sequence will stop being sent to new recipients when a new welcome mail job is defined. The reason for this behavior is that with a new message being defined for the welcome mail, LISTSERV Maestro must also create a new mail job because the tracking insights gained for the old version of the job are not applicable to the new job, which means that you must re-define your sequence each time you change the welcome mail job content.

If you can't or don't want to depend on a welcome mail job, you can start your message sequence in a different manner by using an additional advanced filtering capability when defining the filtering condition in the recipient definition of your mail job.

Starting similarly to above, define a mail job and open its recipient definition. You also use the same type of recipients ("Send to Recipients in the Subscriber Warehouse") and choose the "Advanced subscriber selection" option and, on the "Source Details" screen, click the "Edit Search Condition" link.

Now, instead of clicking the magnifying glass icon next to "Activity" you click the one associated with "Subscription Date". This dialog opens:

This condition, when applied to the mail job, will pick the recipients from a subscription time interval that is adjusted dynamically during delivery. With the settings above, this condition picks subscribers who have subscribed in the past two weeks. The length of the period you supply here is only relevant to make sure that pre-existing subscribers do not receive the message. Another important difference to the method above (with the welcome mail job as source) is that subscribers receive this message regardless of whether they signed up through the public subscriber website or have been added manually or been imported.

You can now proceed with the definition and authorization of the mail job in a manner similar to the method described above. When picking extended delivery, you will recall that extended delivery is evaluated once per day and you may wonder if, with recipients picked by limiting subscription time to the past two weeks, this results in duplicate messages. The answer is no. LISTSERV Maestro internally adds another fixed condition to the recipient filtering logic and will not send the job to anyone who has already received it.

Standing on its own, the mail job defined with this method can be seen as a delayed welcome mail job and could, as such, of course act as a replacement for the built-in welcome mail job. In any case, if you also have a list welcome mail job, you should consider that a new subscriber will receive this job first and then, after a delay time configured by the mail job settings, the message of the follow-up job. This allows you to, for example, limit the message of the welcome mail job to bare administrative text (as indicated by the suggested default text) and reserve more marketing-oriented content to the follow-up job. Contrary to this, if your list runs without an automatic welcome mail job, you may want to include the administrative text in your own initial job of your sequence.

Split Sequence: Segmenting Follow-Up Job Recipients

The instructions described so far only contain the details you need to pick up subscribers either from the welcome mail job or from their recent-enough subscription date. You can, however, define any number of desired follow-up jobs based on one and the same source job. The purpose is to deliver different messages depending on certain additional conditions. A typical and often-used example is to segment subscribers by adding an event-based condition to two follow-up jobs. You could, for example, create two jobs and add the condition "Subscriber opened the email of..." under the "Activity" filter for the first job, and, to mirror this, the condition "Subscriber ignored the email of..." in the condition for the second job. This approach splits the recipient stream at this point of your sequence and feeds those who opened into one branch and those who ignored into the second branch.

Join Sequence: Two Source Jobs With One Follow-Up Job

If you have split your sequence with the method described above, re-joining the sequence again in a follow-up job is very easy:

This condition joins the two sets of recipients back together (and eliminates duplicates, of course). So, if your message sequence needed to distinguish subscribers at one point and deliver separate messages depending on conditions (usually based on tracking statistics), this condition allows you to once again send the same message to all recipients.


The methods described in this tip can be used to define even the most complex sequences of drip-marketing campaign sequences. The job- and recipient-based approaches available in LISTSERV Maestro is different from the trigger/event based approach used by other providers in the industry to implement marketing automation but has the distinctive advantage of scalability. This technology can be used with minimum system load even if you expect large volumes of subscribers. An approach that would send single messages based on an event or trigger firing for each single subscriber that is active in the system would quickly cause unacceptable system load.

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