How to Use Sequential Workflows Throughout Your Annual Email Marketing Cycle

Guest post by Victoria Green, ecommerce marketing expert. She walks you through an advanced, yet easy to achieve technique, that helps you get higher ROI from the same list of email subscribers.

Do I need to sell you on email marketing? You probably wouldn’t even be on this blog if you weren’t aware of the ever-growing power of the humble email, even in this world of social media and endless smartphone notifications. So we’ll skip that spiel and head directly to the meat of this particular pie: sequential email workflows.

The last days of the traditional email campaign

The average humdrum email campaign of yesteryear took one of two approaches: it either churned out a mostly-identical newsletter every seven days like clockwork, or it adopted the wild scattergun strategy of intermittently assembling and sending emails based on the whims of the campaign manager. Neither is anywhere close to ideal.

But with all this technology around, there has to be something we can do to make email marketing better, stronger, faster, and more frequently converting. That’s what sequential workflows are for. They equip us to turn out annual marketing cycles from flat lines or wild spikes into steady upward trends.

Watching that ROI rise like a balloon

Don’t just take my word for it; look at what the top brands are up to. They’re increasingly working in personalization elements and producing high-impact email marketing campaigns that deliver crazy ROI.

Image credit: OrelPhoto/Shutterstock

If you’re disappointed that sequential workflows isn’t a very jazzy name for this supposed magic bullet, I don’t blame you. It doesn’t have much of a ring to it (though at least it’s better than “queueing up series of emails in steps”). But let’s forget about that minor point of contention, and start taking an in-depth look at what sequential email marketing is all about (and how you can use it to rake in the profits). Ready?

Why do you need an annual email marketing cycle?

I didn’t forget about that part of the title! I left it for this section because you may already have an annual email marketing plan, but not everyone will, so it merits a quick explanation of what that is and why it’s so important.

An annual email marketing cycle is something to put together at the start of a year (or the end of the previous one), taking a high-level view of the year and figuring out what your overall email marketing strategy is going to look like. By planning ahead, you can get ahead of potential content production roadblocks, possibly even queueing up your resources: blog posts, landing pages, the email’s templates and designs months ahead of time — but there’s an even bigger reason, which we’ll get to next.

The power of seasons, events, and public holidays

What happens every year when the Super Bowl is on the horizon? The internet (or at least the American chunk of it) gets obsessed. Users hunt for anything and everything related to the big game. The half-time show, the snacks, the sponsors, the ads, the odds, the highlights, the dismal lows, and the spectacular highs. It’s entirely predictable.

The same goes for Black Friday, or Christmas, or Easter, or Halloween, or the 4th of July, and the list doesn’t end there. Certain dates or events are unshakably baked into public awareness, like chocolate chips in the social cookie. You don’t need to look ahead and wonder “Hmm, reckon anyone will be interested in hearing about Black Friday deals?” — Yes. They will. If you are more interested in the holiday emails, we have collected a list with biggest holidays and sale days in email marketing so you can plan your holiday campaigns on time.

Some businesses take this really far and actually buy second stores (or third, or fourth…). There are lots of online businesses up for sale on Exchange, so they buy some, sprinkle them with seasonal styling, fill them with seasonal products, let them make some short-term profits (like spooky Halloween hats), and then shut them down and sell them when the time has passed.

While it’s entirely possible to send out some marketing emails following a last-minute scramble, it’s far from optimal.

There are two reasons for this:

  • Hype has a lot of power. Shoppers don’t start thinking about Black Friday just after Thanksgiving dessert. They start thinking about it weeks or even months ahead of time. Some people plan their yearly economic activity around the period from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. If you miss the run-up to the event, you’ll miss out.
  • Great emails take time. Even if you have excellent templates and a team of hotshot digital copywriters, it simply isn’t possible to throw together top-notch marketing emails overnight. Even if you could get the text done, the design would need polishing, the images would be lacking, and the deals wouldn’t be there.

The key question here is “What is your email finalization time”? Based on how many steps you have in your email production and how many stakeholders involved in the whole process.

By setting aside a good chunk of time at the start of your year, you can carefully plot out your email strategy for the entire year, allowing ample time to get everything done to a high standard and to catch the first blossoms of seasonal interest as soon as they reach the air.

Let’s check out a Black Friday hype email, shall we? This one comes courtesy of Article:


Yes, that’s right: a pre-sale. You can even have a pre-pre-sale if necessary or go back as far as you want. It’s all about getting ahead of the game.

The advantages don’t end there, because we’re not just talking about the overarching sequential workflow of making it through the entire year. We’re talking about multiple workflows, branching out all the way from the first email batch of the year to the very last New Year Sale emails and getting more targeted with each step. Let’s see how they work!

Steadily increasing personalization

Wind back the clock to year one of new business with a freshly-acquired customer email database and no experience of email marketing and lead nurturing. Each email going out to a former customer has their order history or shopping cart to go on, but nothing more (and you might not want to use that information outside of some basic product recommendations).

Imagine that you’re the professional in charge of running that campaign, and you want to make the most of each and every email, squeezing maximum impact from the marketing automation workflow. You could do what many businesses do and schedule a generic weekly promotional newsletter that sets out some product and provides links to buy them. That’s somewhat useful.

Alternatively, you could recognize the likelihood that you’ll have numerous opportunities to reach out to each person or just the qualified leads in your database and turn that extended association to your advantage through ramping up the personalization as you go. How does that work?

Think about it as akin to those old choose your own adventure books. Depending on how someone reacts to email 1, you can send them email 2a or email 2b, with each one of those possibly branching out to yet more options. The more tailored the emails become to their recipients, the more powerful they become. After all, you’re essentially learning what tactics don’t work and swapping them out for ones that might.


Annual email workflow examples

That still isn’t clear enough though, so let’s look at an example. Because of its seasonal potential, let’s imagine that you’re an e-commerce store selling confectionery.

Ecommerce sequential email workflow example

  • You send out an email to your customers at Easter, promoting all the latest Easter candy.
  • When the summertime candy hits the shelves, you send out two email versions:
    • Those who purchased candy through your Easter email get version 1, which says something akin to:
      • “Hey, we know from Easter that you love novelty candy (just like us). Any excuse to break out the chocolate! We thought you might like to know that the summertime stock just came in, and we have so much seasonal stuff that’s going to sell out soon. Why not take a look?”.
    • Those who opened your Easter email but didn’t purchase anything get version 2, which says something akin to:
      • “You checked out our Easter candy but didn’t get anything. Kudos on the self-control! Since we’re candy sellers, though, we kinda need to side with the candy — and since you saved all those calories, we reckon you deserve some indulgence. Take a look at our new summertime stock. Just a little won’t hurt!”.

Note that the product content and design of the email doesn’t need to change — it’s the copy that matters more than anything. Because of how they reacted to your first email, you can make some inferences (or educated guesses) about the kind of tone they might respond to.

Watch how Canopy did it. They asked a few basic things upon registration then they used the information to tailor a message right about their customer.

Image source: ReallyGoodEmails

SaaS workflow example

Let’s check out a good example of an email that factors in the user’s history, courtesy of The Daily Skimm:


To celebrate the anniversary of the business founding, a slickly-customized email was sent out featuring the pieces of information most applicable to the recipients. In this case, the user had made a referral, so they got this version — if they hadn’t, they would have received something else instead.

With all the most positive metrics picked out, the email performs optimally when it comes to making the recipient feel brand-loyal.

How far can you take sequential workflows?

How far do you want to take it? You can get as complex as you’d like! You’re not going to have the time to produce a tailored email for every possible set of decisions, but you can figure out which subsets of your email list are generating the most revenue and focus on them.

You may wonder how many emails you need to create if you have an annual plan like this. You’ll create ten times more than usual, at least. Those emails could have the same design though and will build from the same blocks, just in a different order, so you only need to modify content blocks in them.

For that, you need a good email design platform where your team can work together, and where you can reuse and swap content blocks in the same email template. Chamaileon is the software that will help you save time and effort if you create multiple versions of emails.

Turning negatives into positives

We touched upon a little of this just now with the email copy for the person who didn’t buy, but it’s worth taking a bigger look at the concept of turning negatives into positives. In e-commerce, customer loyalty is very difficult to secure. At any point, someone can run a quick search, find a cheaper site to buy from, and go elsewhere. It’s only slightly less complicated than refinancing your house. 😜

As such, when you do have a loyal customer, it’s incredibly important that you do everything you can to keep them loyal, which is an area that sequential emails can really help with. Let’s look at some examples that can trigger an email:

  • If someone has purchased from you fairly regularly for the past two years, but they haven’t bought anything from you for a couple of months (even though they’re still opening your emails), then clearly they’re still loosely interested, but there’s some other thing stopping them from buying. Maybe they’re cutting back, or maybe your prices are too high, or perhaps you stopped selling something they really liked. You can set up automated emails to go out in conditions like that and request feedback. Is it something you did?
  • If someone usually buys from you weeks before Christmas, but it reaches the 20th of December, and you haven’t had any orders from them yet, they might just need a little nudge in the right direction. You can set up an email to trigger in such a case, giving a punchy sales pitch steeped in festive merriment.
  • If someone leaves you a negative review in the run-up to a big email event, you can keep them as a recipient but tweak your copy somewhat to say something like this:
    • “Hey! We see that you left us a negative review, and that’s totally cool. We appreciate honest feedback. Anyway, we’re always trying to do better, so we’d love to have a chance to make it up to you. Here’s a coupon for 15% off your next order, and we’re available on live chat if you need any assistance. Let us know if we can help!”.

It’s pretty simple overall:

You learn something about the customer from their previous activity and make adjustments to your next set of emails to accommodate them.

That way, you get all the efficiency of scattergun automation with enough of a personalized slant to leave people impressed with your level of customer service.

Take a look at this last-minute outreach of email from Framebridge:


Because the recipient hasn’t been opening Framebridge emails, there’s little point in continuing to send them, so it’s Hail Mary time. Either they do nothing and the emails stop (earning the company some goodwill), or they decide that they’ve been making a mistake by ignoring the emails, in which case the company has pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

How to use automated triggering

Let’s quickly recap what we’ve covered so far, shall we? It consists of some pretty exciting and interesting things, namely:

  • Why you need an annual email marketing plan.
  • Why seasons and events are important.
  • Why incremental personalization is so great.
  • Why you should seek to turn negatives into positives.

What we haven’t covered in any detail is how you can implement the kind of email automation we’re talking about. It isn’t all that complicated if you make sensible choices about the software and resources you use. Here’s what you should do:

  • Queue up your templates. Wouldn’t it be useful if there were a tool for building emails with uniform styling but distinct elements? Oh, there is! Very useful indeed.
  • Pick an automation tool. Which one you go with doesn’t matter so much — just make sure you read the documentation and check out some tutorials first to confirm that you like the interface.
  • Choose your triggers. Once you understand the trigger system in your selected tool, just start picking out the criteria you want to use. You can track things including what links a recipient clicks on, how long they spend on an email, how much they spend in your store, and (of course) the actions they’ve taken on previous emails.
  • Write your email copy. Remember to have some fun with it and show some personality. If you seem too robotic, you’ll lose interest, but if you try too hard then you’ll push them away. Play it cool and put your best foot forward. Don’t forget to check your spelling and grammar!

Sequential workflows turn your email campaign into a snowball

I don’t mean in a terrifying unstoppably-hurtling-towards-you sort of way. I mean in that the kind of iterative improvement achieved through smart email automation ensures that your results get better over time instead of remaining static. ROI that goes up over time instead of down? Sign me up!