What is an Autoresponder?


No, it’s not an out-of-office auto reply, but you’re close!

An autoresponder is a magic marketing tool. It automatically sends a pre-determined sequence of emails at specified intervals irrespective of when the recipient joins the mailing list.

That’s right, no matter what date you join the list, the order and frequency of the exact emails you receive, is the same as someone else joining the list at a completely different time to you. Eg 3 days after joining you might get a promotion and the same goes for sometone joining a year later, 3 days after joining, she will receive the same email as you did.

Sounds robotic doesn’t it…

Autoresponders are as old as the hills. They have existed well before the invention of email. Just think of those competition scratchcards.

“By entering, you are giving us permission to contact you with news, offers and promotions, please tick if you do not want to receive anything from us “.

You enter the competition, and you start to receive things through the post:

  • 1 day later – a thank you for entering letter
  • 2 day later – their catalogue
  • 5 days later – a 10% discount voucher for their catalogue
  • 15 days later – a once in a lifetime 20% voucher expiring in 3 days

The above 4 letters are part of the company’s autoresponder sequence.

Different people enter the competition on different dates, yet all receive those letters at the specified interval after entering the competition. It was likely a manual process behind the scenes but some companies would have automated this.

You might also receive:

  • The monthly newsletter
  • The new catalogue each time it comes out

These 2 things aren’t part of the autoresponder, they are sent to everyone on the mailing list at the same time.

An autoresponder is all about the sequence and timing of sending information to people after an event takes place. This allows process refinement to streamline the marketing into a sequence that actually works.

Going digital

Automation is far easier in the email world (anyone can do it, including you), and there are many tools to help you achieve it – even free tools.

Autoresponders allow you to setup the emails well in advance of someone subscribing. They are easy to refine and change the sequence or improve particular emails, because by definition, a new subscriber hasn’t seen the sequence of emails yet.

For example, if you are launching a book, you can tell people you are launching a book and offer to let them know when it’s launched (in exchange for their email address)

A sequence of emails could be:

  • Day 1 – Inform about one topic from the book
  • Day 2 – More details about the content of the book
  • Day 3 – Offer a discount on pre-ordering the book
  • Day 4 – Tell them the offer ends tonight
  • Launch day – Tell them about the launch of the book.

The most important (and powerful) thing about Autoresponder sequences is that for any new person subscribing, their experience will be the same!

So once you get a sequence working and getting your audience doing what you wanted (eg visit a particular page), it will likely continue to work.

A new subscriber’s Day 1 email is the same as somebody who subscribed a month ago (or your improved version of).

Eg *Arnold* subscribes on January 1st, *Barbara* subscribes on February 14th.

This shows when they will receive the Day 1-4 emails above.

Arnold subscribes on Jan 1st and receives:

  • Day 1 email Jan 1st
  • Day 2 email Jan 2nd
  • Day 3 email Jan 3rd
  • Day 4 email Jan 4th

Barbara subscribes on February 14th and receives:

  • Day 1 email Feb 14th
  • Day 2 email Feb 15th
  • Day 3 email Feb 16th
  • Day 4 email Feb 17th

Barbara gets the same set of emails at the same intervals as Arnold. The only difference is the start date; the date of subscribing.

Advantages of setting up an autoresponder

  • It is a chance to warm up the relationship with a new subscriber in a controlled way
  • All new subscribers get the same experience no matter when they subscribe
  • You can improve the emails (and sequence) based on feedback or analytics
  • Track analytics like email opens and link clicking
  • It allows you to keep up with any scale, if you get a 1000 new subscribers, you are already ready for it.

The most important advantage though is learning. You might get a lot of unsubscribes when email 3 goes out. This is great feedback. You can work to improve or maybe remove email 3.

Disadvatanges of an autoresponder

  • If it is too robotic, people will notice and they will unsubscribe.
  • It is easy to let content go out of date, emails could go out that aren’t relavent anymore, eg you aren’t launching a book anymore
  • It feels a bit faceless when you are writing them as you aren’t actually writing to someone

Example Autoresponder Tools

Important tips

  • Sign up to the list yourself and see what it feels like getting this sequence of emails.
  • The best marketing goes unnoticed, keep that in mind with your marketing. Not trickery, just provide real value, give things for free.
  • People will unsubscribe, this is ok, there is no one size fits all content.

Things to avoid

  • Relying solely on your autoresponder, you should also aim to interact personally, ask for replies, reply personally to all replies.
  • Trying to sell before eliciting need or providing value

The power of the automated funnel (and Brennan Dunn Case Study)

The reason this is so powerful is because human behaviour is largely the same. If you get a great sequence of emails, a percentage of customers seeing this will love your product. Of those people, if the next email makes a percentage of them buy your product you have an automated sale from start to finish. All you have to do is work on strategies to get people onto your list, not strategies to make people buy (you’ve automated that).

Brennan Dunn describes one of his sequences where it leads to 5% of subscribers buying a wordpress plugin. So if he gets 100 people on the list and 5% buy it, and the plugin costs $25 dollars, the he’ll receive $125. If he can get 100 subscribers on his sequence by paying less than $125, it is like printing money.

He used google adwords, and figured out a way to spend $100 to get 100 new subscribers. 5% buy his $25 plugin. That’s $125. So he paid $100 to make $125.

To continue this success, all he has to do is place the adword advert and money, assume it works to get another 100 subscribers and money will start to trickle in, $25 profit at a time. This might not sound like a lot of money, but it is 100% automated. It is a beautiful thing for an e-marketer, it’s like printing money.

Final Tips

The best emails you receive come from friends, they were written just to you. No flashy HTML, no confusing jargon, no sales tactics. They got straight to the point and probably didn’t even sign the email at the bottom. If you are writing an automated email for the first time, try actually writing it to a friend using your normal email client, then once you’re happy, copy it into the auto responser tool.

Written by 

Andy is a software designer and developer with a vast background spanning 15 years, 7 industries and over 20 different companies. He enjoys helping businesses succeed with technology and does the occassional magic trick too.

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