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The difference between nurturing & drip email marketing campaigns

Email marketing automation (we’ll just say automated) can include two different types of campaigns. And the naming of them causes confusion to say the least. Here we want to spell them out for you.

These are nurturing and drip email campaigns (drip) and though they cross each other’s paths, they don’t always have the same process or goals.

Confusingly these terms are used interchangeably, but they actually mean something different—and both have their place within your email marketing strategy.

Let’s help to clarify this as it is important to use the right terminology when you are presenting results or discussing with those outside of your marketing team (and within for that matter).

Both send automated emails but differ on the triggers that send the emails. Drip emails are time based. Nurture emails are based on subscriber actions that influence your campaign success.

Nurture email campaigns

Nurture email campaignsare dynamic and as a result, you can send messages for each, or a group of subscribers based on a list that you segment (location, interest etc.). The automated follow up emails change over time based on parameters you also set such as an open or clicking on a call-to-action button or link.

Nurture campaigns guide your customers towards a sales funnel for conversion and tie them to a buying journey such as a link in the email to landing page or a purchase. These happen after you have their information from a sale or account set-up, or offline gathering of their information in an opt-in fashion.

Drip email campaigns

Drip email campaigns are static and pre-set, and as a result the follow up messages don’t change once you release your campaign, so those emails can’t give the personalized and tailored messaged – just dripping the created and static message you first created. You can however rewrite those re-engagement messages however the method and scheduling of them is a manual process.

Drip campaigns guide your customers towards a sales conversion but do not tie them to a buying journey such as from an ad through a landing page to a purchase. These happen after you have their information from a sale or contribution of their information in an opt-in fashion.

Some examples of drip campaigns are to welcome new subscribers, re-engage inactive subscribers, or build excitement for an event with a series of messages. These emails are used to move subscribers towards your sales conversion benchmarks.

Email drip campaign examples

Let’s look at some examples of where you would use a drip campaign. Remember Drip emails are time-based.

Welcome series

This is your onboarding email. It is a very important email, as this is when your subscriber decided to come on board and be part of your list. A series of emails within the first month is important for retention.

Your first email is immediate. This is where automation comes into play and happens without you having to sort data from the week and send out one by one emails.

These emails should or could cover the following

Anniversary emails

You might think at first that this pertains to a wedding anniversary, which it could if you had a registry for weddings, but really its about dates that happen on a set date of the month, quarter or year. Even on a yearly basis. Gmail and LinkedIn are known to send out congratulatory emails on a yearly basis to remind and congratulate early adopters of the platforms.

Anniversary emails are any emails sent out on a set purchase threshold, or a date each month, quarter, year, etc. Some examples are:

Event reminder emails

Your subscriber might have signed up for an event. The email might be a reminder of them for the upcoming live event or webinar as a courtesy. Especially helpful for online live events, the reminder helps to increase the number of those who will actually watch, rather than sign up but then not bother to attend. We all forget and if your online event does not give a calendar file, then you really need this process.

This also applies to corporate training where employees are given notice, reminder and important time left for them to complete training before they are no longer eligible.

Recap: Drip is time based and sent regardless of a sales win or not. It is sent to those who have opted in and given permission for you to contact them for marketing purposes.

A little more about nurture emails

Nurture email campaigns are like drip campaigns since they’re also a series of automated emails. But this time, a subscriber’s behavior influences what you send and when you send it.

 Nurture emails are used to really dive deep into your metrics and subscriber journey which is determined by your campaign flow. From links in the email to the page they go to – so triggers (actions taken) from the email by the recipient.

These actions then trigger different email sequences to help nurture your subscribers towards a sale—whether that be hours, days, weeks, or months after the first email.

These emails can often be personalized with field related to an action. Because you have actions, you can make them more personalized than just the name.  ‘Terry, you last bought a pair of %product% in %month%. We have a sale on %product% this week only! Click here to Save!”

Note that the use of % is just here to denote a custom field of your choosing and as an example here.

This can result in better subscriber engagement that enhances loyalty to your brand, while lowering your unsubscribe rates when compared to drip campaigns.

Email nurture campaign examples

Here are some nurture campaign examples in action to show you how this type of automated email series could work for your business.

Targeted welcome series

Unlike the drip welcome, this is a series that drives opens, clicks and more purchases, intent, or supplementary event registrations on a cadence over the amount and time frame you feel is appropriate for the original onboarding of the customer.


This is vitally important in the case that someone has accessed a service or made a purchase decision on your site, and you want to ensure that it is not fraudulent.

This could be the result of any of (and other) actions

Win backs

Lapsed customers are lost revenue opportunities. When they leave your service but wish you to retain their account information or email address, they are indicating that perhaps at the time they opted out because of personal or financial reasons.

Reaching out to them again with an offer to re-enlist in the service can help corral those former customers back into the fold. New customers cost twelve times the effort and budget than maintaining current and fostering the return of former customers. When they opt out make sure you have given them the opportunity to leave their account or at least their email with you so you may reach out to them in the future. And the future would be now in a win back campaign.

Up-selling and promotion

When a customer purchases something, you can always try to help them and yourself by offering complimentary products or services. Amazon early on got this right when it was just a bookstore by showing what others bought when perusing book titles.

In this vein, your customer who bought that event ticket can be sent information on future events. Likewise, if they bought a hammer then sending upselling for other hand tools will work too. Simple examples but you get the point.


This is similar to win back campaigns but are current customers in your database or lists but have not been active recently. How recent is up to you and differs across your market niche.

Following up with sales, reminders or asking for feedback all go towards a couple of goals.

Cart abandonment

When customers leave items in the cart they are more committed to those items than ones in a wish list. They may however be not ready to buy because of personal or financial reasons. Waiting to clear/lower their credit balance to cover the cost or waiting on approval for the purchase.

Sending a reminder after a cart is filled but left in the queue is helpful to remind the account holder that there is items waiting. They may or may not appreciate the email, but in most cases, it is deleted until they are ready. Still, it might be flagged in their inbox or deleted and looked at in a later reminder to do fulfillment.

A very important part of any ecommerce customer journey.

Drip and nurture email campaigns working together

Nurture and drip campaigns give you a complete picture of your email marketing campaign. For example, you have a webinar that you hope is high engagement with your subscribers, ultimately used to back your brand or increase sales.

How do they work together then?

A nurture email might invite someone to a webinar. You can determine the success of this campaign by clicks in the email to the sign-up page for the seminar and also the attendance rate.

The drip campaign compliments this by sending reminders to the registrants from your subscriber base for the event. You are just providing encouragement, but this is the step to bolster your nurturing campaign and the success of your overall email marketing campaign for that event.


Of course, there is more to email campaigning, but these points will help you with a good head start to become a powerful email marketer and an expert on your organizations marketing team.

Until next time, keep those emails rolling!

– Jim

Jim Gibbs, Senior Account Executive at Critical Impact

Jim Gibbs is Critical Impact’s Growth Channel team lead and has been selling and closing for a long time. Jim is known to be able to sell bottled water to fish. You can find Jim on LinkedIn.

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