The Four Pillars of the S.P.A.M. Strategy – Pillar #3: Automation 

 November 29, 2022

By  HiFlyer

This ecommerce strategy article is an excerpt from our new book, The Ultimate Ecommerce Email & SMS Playbook. We’re diving into our ecommerce strategy chapter focused on the 7 Reasons Why Ecommerce Customers Leave Your Brand.

You’ve learned how to find the right segments for your campaigns and perfected the right message for every single subscriber in that audience. Now, using marketing automation, you need to focus on 1) setting your ESP to segment and personalize all day and every day and 2) send the right person the right message at the right time.

Let’s be clear: sending at the right time doesn’t just mean sending at certain AM or PM hours. It could mean one of the following:

  • Right time in their site visit – when a subscriber shows an indication to buy – such as browsing, carting, or viewing an item – that’s the right time to message them.
  • Right time in their purchasing pattern – understanding when a subscriber is projected or predicted to buy is another right time to message them. This is equally important for replenishment items that are bought on a predictable cadence, as well as for loyalty and credit segments. On the flip side, if a customer purchased recently, it will be equally important to know the right time when NOT to send a promotional email, such as when a customer is waiting for their first order to arrive and not remotely interested in an upsell just yet. 
  • Right time of day – Time of day and site visit certainly need to work together, especially if you serve the entire U.S. market or even internationally. 
  • Right time also means right channel – it’s not enough to simply send emails or SMS; you need to evaluate which channel is the best for the segment. Sending a cart abandon email to a customer who doesn’t check their emails is a missed opportunity; an SMS cart abandon may resonate better with this customer.

As you can see, automation goes beyond just saving your time. It’s also about saving your customers’ time and helping them get across the finish line conveniently.

To illustrate how automating your segmentation, personalization, and execution works, let’s go back to our use case of brown Oxford shoes.

We’ve identified our segment – blue suit buyers – and we’ve personalized our email from top to bottom to resonate with them with one goal: get the click, which will lead to a conversion. 

If you excelled in segmentation and personalization, your campaign managers are firing on all cylinders. They’d literally have a full plate of campaigns that can be super-segmented and super-personalized. 

Their 9 to 5 would be completely full, and your designers will have lots of customer-centric work ahead of them. That means a high-performing email and SMS program… and a lot of burnt-out team members.

Work smart, not hard. If you have taken the time to perfect the first two pillars, focus all your efforts on automating that process going forward. If you don’t, your team members will burn out and have little time left to analyze results, tweak strategies and iterate further. 

Segmentation and personalization allows you to perfect the best experience for your customers. Once you know what works best, that’s when you start automating the process to scale up for you. There are only so many segments, creatives, and campaigns that can be created in a day. Automation sets you up to scale 24/7/365 with little manual effort going forward. 

Let’s go back to our brown Oxford shoes example and break it down clearly:

    • Segmentation: blue suit buyers
  • Personalization (using the C-4 Design Playbook):
    • Context: the WHY is “Complete the Look”
    • Creatives: designed to show the context – blue suit paired with brown Oxford shoes
    • Click: click options include shoes + recommended sizes + additional accessory recommendations + a style video about the shoes
    • Conversion: traffic lands directly on the PDP
  • Automation: when will this email be sent to the targeted segment.

At this point, running a one-off campaign is totally reasonable; you have the right segment and the right personalization, so a campaign would drive some pretty good revenue. Go ahead and fire it off. 

But you don’t want to settle for just a one-off send. You want to reach every blue suit buyer in perpetuity, every hour, day, and week that you can. Not doing so is a missed opportunity for you AND for the customer.

On the flip side, you also don’t want to jump the gun and send the campaign too early or too late for the prospect to act. Imagine sending a brown Oxford shoes campaign to blue suit buyers two days after they bought the suit; they’re still waiting for their delivery to arrive, and now you’re trying to sell them more?! Imagine sending that campaign to blue suit buyers from three years ago; you’re kind of late to the party, dude!

The solution is in automation. Using the blue suit buyer segment, you have to train your ESP to do the following:

  1. Automatically identify a blue suit buyer at the moment of purchase
  2. Set a predetermined wait period of X number of hours, days, or weeks – which is determined by either looking into your data for purchasing patterns or, let’s be honest, sometimes a gut feeling!
  3. Create your dynamically personalized campaign with PROVEN context, creative, and click points accurately.
  4. Trigger your super personalized brown Oxfords shoe promotion at the perfect buying mode moment.

Here’s the visualization of this:

This is the power of email & SMS automation. You can reduce nearly every manual function of campaign creation ONCE YOU’VE PERFECTED IT. I put that line in caps because it’s important to know that “set it and forget it” isn’t the end game. 

You still need a marketing expert or strategist who can analyze the data, extract takeaways and set up additional testing where needed. Test, learn, refine; that’s how to continuously perfect your automations. 

Using automation, the only manual work you’ll need to do is moderate your tests, learn from the results and refine them based on your learnings. 

Let’s take another example using people who’ve browsed brown shoes:

Let me share an example of the automation pillar in action from my own experience. I once set up a first-time camera buyer automation with about twenty campaigns over the course of thirty days. Really advanced stuff; each email was based on where they clicked from the first email, sort of like a “build your own journey” book if you remember those! 

As such, every email creative had multiple click-points within and was a creative masterpiece from our design team. There was a post-purchase thank you, content pieces, video links, accessories, links to sister brands, and so on. 

After agonizing over every campaign touchpoint, testing the flow, and finally turning it on, we let it run for a month. I kept peeking in every couple days to see what was happening, as I tend to geek out over the minor details of automations. 

After two weeks, I decided to do a “halftime report” on the first-time buyer series. I quickly saw some major takeaways; after the first two emails, our click rates declined heavily, going from 12% click rates to 2% between emails two and three. Emails three and four went from 2% to .8%, respectively. What was the deal? 

I realized very quickly that emails three and four were lens upsells. We figured that if you bought a camera, you would want to get a lens. Makes perfect sense at face value. 

What we didn’t realize, though, was that most of the cameras that were bought were camera bundles, and they came with multiple lenses. Our company had shifted to selling more bundles – to increase AOV and provide a unique advantage over Amazon – and consumers didn’t need lenses because they had them in the bundle already. Hence, clicks declined for the lens emails for lenses they already owned or passed on. 

I pivoted. I first decided to split out our camera buyers into three segments: camera bundle buyers, camera non-bundle buyers, and camera body-only buyers. Camera non-bundle buyers went down the same path as before since they were the target consumers the first-time buyer series was built for. The camera bundle buyers had a recreated experience that helped them learn what they can accomplish with their vast assortment of lenses and cross-selling them bundle accessories they wouldn’t have gotten on their first purchases – such as bags, lighting equipment, and tripods. 

The body-only camera buyers went on a slightly different journey. At first glance, I thought that they would be PERFECT for lenses; they didn’t buy a lens, after all, only the body! After all, you can’t shoot a picture without a lens. Wrong. 

After looking at the historical purchases of some of these customers, I realized that body-only buyers were probably super-professional shooters who knew that they could keep their existing lenses and simply swap out their older camera body for a new one. 

That was an AHA moment for me! And what did I do with that analysis? I positioned their email touches to focus more on trade-in your old gear offers – they have an old camera body to get rid of – as well as renting equipment for their weekend shoots and inviting them into our rewards programs, each of which was a highly profitable company offering.

The result was an improved customer experience, which was rewarded with 8% to 12% click rates… and a bonus at the end of the year for me. 

Automation offers more than just removing manual labor; it opens up a world of possibilities through the data it unlocks. Sure, you can run a subject line A/B test on a one-off manual campaign to ten thousand subscribers. Trying to extrapolate learnings from campaign A for campaign B, however, is pointless; they’re different campaigns, different times, and different variables. 

Using automation, however, to run a subject line A/B test on thousands of subscribers with the same campaigns every day 24/7 will yield much more conclusive learnings. Automation allows you to run an entire testing schedule more efficiently, effectively, and confidently.

Going back to the blue suit buyer example, we can now identify what our automation will fill in for us:

    • Segmentation: blue suit buyers
  • Personalization (using the C-4 Design Playbook):
      • Context: the WHY is “Complete the Look”
      • Creatives: designed to show the context – blue suit paired with brown Oxford shoes
      • Click: click options include shoes + recommended sizes + additional accessory recommendations + a style video about the shoes
      • Conversion: traffic lands directly on the PDP
  • Automation:
      • Timing: thirty days after purchase
      • Testing: subject line testing, run for 14 days
  • Journey:
      • End automation if item was bought
      • End automation if item was carted (cart abandon will kick in instead)
      • Resend email after two days if no purchase
      • Send SMS after three days if no purchase
      • Send profile to Facebook audience (for paid social efforts) after seven days if no purchase

Automation has filled all your gaps, and you can now run your campaign 24/7/365 confidently. Your time is freed up, your revenue is more predictable, your testing is automated, and you’ll spend more time working on your business than working in your business.

Note that there are important prerequisites you’ll need to excel in some automations. First, you need to test what is the best predetermined time for these customers to buy again. Remember, a blue suit buyer may buy shoes one week later or maybe one month later. You need to constantly iterate timing to be sure you know the perfect time to launch. 

Second, you need to consider if they’re engaged with email or SMS. Too often, brands rely solely on email and SMS to drive sales without realizing that a consumer requires eight touchpoints before they buy – remember the customer journey? Be sure to consider other channels as well if your customers aren’t as engaged after your first send.

Third, you need to pay attention to the customer buying signals that are being sent to you every day. For example, if you’ve projected that a blue suit buyer is likely to buy brown shoes thirty days after their purchase, yet customer A has been engaging with your emails and browsing shoes after three days, that’s a buying signal you need to act on. 

This is where additional automations – such as a browse abandon – will pick up on the breadcrumbs left by your customers.

Fourth, it’s never a one-and-done situation. Some brands prefer to run an automation like a campaign; one send, and you’re done. Automation will let you create numerous touches on this journey towards your goal. For example, if a blue suit buyer doesn’t open the brown shoes email, send their profile to SMS and send them a text with the same offer. 

If the blue suit buyer clicked the email but didn’t buy, automate a resend with a slightly different variation of your message; you’re close to helping him complete the look, and they’re engaged with email, so why waste that opportunity? 

And if none of your email and SMS touches work, send their profiles automatically to Facebook and try spending some dollars on an upsell campaign. It’s never one and done when it comes to automations.  

Fifth, automation goes beyond just sending an email. You can set tagging automations that identify a prospect as a “VIP” or as a “Risk of Churn” or other tags, helping you segment out different types of subscribers. 

You can also automate suppressions, such as people who haven’t opened an email in the last 365 days. Tag those people as dormant and remove them from your database, improving your deliverability. Automation will help you with every stage of the S.P.A.M. Strategy; it’s a major revenue driver and time saver. 

As you can see, if your automations are segmented and personalized, they will quickly yield the lion’s share of your revenue. Your campaign and automation revenue percentages should, at a minimum, be split 50/50. Half the revenue from campaigns and half from automations, with the goal being even higher for automations over time.

However, campaigns and automations must go hand-in-hand. Think about it: if you don’t send a New Arrivals campaign to your list, there won’t be many people abandoning their cart to trigger a cart abandon automation. There won’t be any browsing to trigger a browse abandon automation. 

You need to fill your automations with clickers, browsers, and buyers; that’s how the flywheel works. And automations will do the same: if a new customer clicks on a post-purchase accessories email, that will automatically trigger the browse abandon series, automatically placing them in a new buying journey that converts higher.

Eventually, your campaigns will just be basic emails that invite clicks. Ever noticed how some of the top brands send out a basic Deals of the Week or New Arrivals or Best-Sellers email that looks super generic? 

Check out the very generic Best Buy emails I get every month; these are single click, simple contextual creatives that act as traffic generators for the hundreds of automations.


The reason for these generic campaigns is to get clicks, browsing, carting, and buying. The automations handle everything else. 

For example, if you click on video games in the 3-Day Sale, you can bet you’ll get a series of video game campaigns automatically sent to your inbox, phone, and browser.   

Here’s another set of campaigns I get monthly from Wayfair, one of my favorite email and SMS brands. Honestly, do you think they really have Clearance every few weeks? These campaigns are traffic generators that get people into the funnel, letting automations convert them.

MARCH 2022 APRIL 2022

It’s all designed in the same way – to get the click – and automated to run on schedule to get me to engage again. The automations do the rest.     

Let’s recap. You’ve learned how to find the right person (segmentation) and send them the right message (personalization). Now, you’ve also learned how to automate the process to segment and personalize at scale and send at the right time for the customer. 

Now, with the final Multiplication pillar of the S.P.A.M. Strategy, I’ll show you how to scale to different product lines, categories, and cohorts, turning your email and SMS program into a fully automated, segmented, and personalized revenue powerhouse for your business. 


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