Workflows, Rules & Campaigns: 3 Automation Elements to Optimize Your Email Marketing Strategy

Every marketing automation platform handles its automation a little differently: different visuals, different terminology, different interfaces.

There’s a method behind it all, but it’s not always obvious to new automation users. And while we think Drip’s automation structure is pretty newbie-friendly, the fact remains that there are often several ways to reach a specific automation goal.

And even when several roads lead to the same destination, you still might want a map to get there as quickly and smoothly as possible.

In this post, I’m going to break down the three core elements of marketing automation: workflows, campaigns, and rules.

You’ll come away understanding when to use each element to convert your subscribers and customers swiftly and with minimal confusion.

To follow along and experiment with how to use each of these tools, open a free Drip account and get started building powerful automation right away:

Click Here to Get Started with Drip For Free


Here’s an automation workflow created with Drip’s visual builder:

Workflows are just a visual illustration of the journey you want your lead to go on after signing up. Workflows are a great way to get started setting up automation, since you can visually lay out exactly what you want to happen for your leads.

The defining aspect of a workflow is conditional logic, meaning that you can use a workflow to decide what to send (or not send) to a certain lead based on their actions, tags or timing.

Like any automation sequence, a workflow has an “if/then” structure. The first “if” is your trigger—the action or condition that kicks the whole thing off. You can add as many actions to the “then” as you like.

In between, several other things can happen. Let’s take a look at three additional elements that make workflows unique:


Decisions allow you to ask a question of the workflow, and respond differently depending on the answer.

For example, using a decision that checks whether leads are tagged as customers, you can automatically avoid sending sales emails to existing customers.


If you want to be sure every email is sent at the perfect time, you’ll want to use a delay. Setting a delay allows you to pause your workflow for a given period of time, and then resume in the future.

One simple use case for a delay is sending an anniversary email. Just set a 365-day delay, and the workflow will automatically pause for a year before sending the next email.


Goals allow you to create automation actions that only take place if a subscriber in your workflow takes a certain action, like becoming a customer.

In this affiliate recruiting workflow, you can use a goal of “applied affiliate tag” to automatically send your affiliate resources once a subscriber becomes an affiliate after receiving information about the program.

When to use a workflow: You want to build a series of actions that happen in order and are dependent on multiple factors.


A campaign is a series of emails that you want to send in a particular order to a specific group. Think about email sequence types such as:

  • Welcome sequences
  • Onboarding emails
  • Email mini-courses

All of these use cases are a perfect fit for campaigns.

You can add a “Send a campaign” action to a workflow or a rule, but you don’t need to use any other automation elements to subscribe people to a campaign.

Campaigns offer a lot of features that you wouldn’t get from sending broadcasts or adding a series of one-off emails in a workflow. Perhaps the most straightforward feature is that you can use the same campaign in as many workflows as you’d like, without having to copy and paste it manually.

This is particularly useful in a situation like using Drip to deliver lead magnets, followed by the same welcome campaign for every new subscriber.

In this example, I can deliver my lead magnet, a resource guide, and then send my welcome campaign. I would set up similar workflows for my different lead magnets. Each one would have a different one-off email, specific to the lead magnet, and contain a different link to download, but would be followed by the same welcome campaign.

Campaigns are also easier to manage than a series of one-off emails in a workflow because you can easily drag and drop to change the order of emails in the campaign.

Plus, campaigns will give you additional insight with in-line reporting, including open, click, unsubscribe and reply rates.

And, if someone exits a campaign (or unsubscribes) and then later re-enters the campaign, Drip will remember where they left off and send the next email in the sequence, in the position where they left off, without repeating emails.

Campaigns have a lot of benefits, and you can think of them as units of workflows. They’re like the puzzle pieces that make up the larger workflow puzzle.

When to use a campaign: You have a series of emails that make sense as a series and that you’d like a particular group of subscribers to receive.


Rules are the final tool in your marketing automation toolbox. They operate through simple “if this, then that” logic. Rules are great for actions that you want to apply to your entire Drip account, not just subscribers in a specific workflow. Some of the actions rules are particularly well-suited for include:

Tagging subscribers

With rules, you can apply a tag to every subscriber who takes a certain action or visits a certain page on your site.For instance, before a big launch, you could publish a couple of relevant blog posts, and tag readers to segment out subscribers who are interested in that topic.

With a simple rule like this, you can keep track of subscribers who are interested in topics related to your new product. Then, you can send a special announcement to this group in the future.

Cleaning up data

Rules are also useful for situations in which you want to modify data or run data checks. For instance, one of the simplest, most useful rules that we use at Drip automatically capitalizes subscriber first names.

You can set up a simple rule like this by choosing the trigger updated a custom field, then selecting your first name field. This will make the rule apply any time a first name field is set for any subscriber. Then, set the action to update the same custom field and use a bit of Liquid code to first make the whole word lowercase, and then capitalize the first letter. Here’s that code:

{{ subscriber.first_name | downcase | capitalize }}

This cleans up the data, and also makes emails look a little less automated—so you don’t send all of your emails with a lowercase first name just because that’s what the subscriber typed in.

Controlling your integrations

With our new rules interface, it’s easier than ever to see the actions you can take based on information from your integrations. Just select the integration you want and you’ll see a dropdown menu of options for that integration.

With this system, it’s easy to set up if/then rules from the data in your integrations. For instance, if a lead cancels a calendly meeting with you, you can automatically send them an email with a link to reschedule.

When to use a rule: You want to apply simple if/then logic to every subscriber.

Just Want to Send One Email?

All of this automation is great, but what if you just want to send one email?

You’ll want to use a broadcast.

Broadcasts aren’t automated, though you can write them in advance and schedule them for later. You can segment your broadcast recipients by tags, actions performed, and all of the other ways Drip allows you to segment your list.

Broadcast emails are best for anything you’re only going to want to mail once. For instance, a promotion that lasts a limited period of time, like your Black Friday promotion, wouldn’t really need to be a part of an automated campaign.

Similarly, your newsletter emails can be sent as broadcasts, along with any other time-sensitive mailings.

Now, you can see now how powerful each of these automation tools is. Together, they can create a system to bring your email marketing to the next level. Get started right away by signing up for a free Drip account:

Click Here to Get Started with Drip For Free

What are some of the coolest ways you’ve used campaigns, workflows and rules? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

  • DavidHH

    These are all great ideas, I’ve done them.

    Again the issue is “How”.

    May I suggest a “Mind Map” of How, not What of Drip?
    Of course, the two are different sides of the same coin. Create one, then create the other, and hyperlink.

    I look forward to working with you!

    • Daphne Sidor

      Interesting idea, David! It’d have to be a pretty big map. 🙂 We have tons of detailed “how” information in our Knowledge Base—you might want to check out these categories to get started:

      • DavidHH

        No, it’s a small map, with many layers. What are the core pieces of Drip? Add a “General” and a “Misc” category; there’s your basic dashboard.

        Of course you could contract me as as your “Process Knowledge Manager”, but I’ve got over 40 years doing that and I am still frustrated with people who can only think linearly.

        I believe you’ve got a great product. BUT, until you teach people to not just use your tool, but to UNDERSTAND it’s use in perspective of a whole business, you are severely limiting your (possible) wonderful future.

      • Teri Thomas Pastorino

        I am finding the “How” In the KB not entirely useful as the screen captures and text don’t show how you got to particular screens. I am digging all over trying to figure it out – very out of context.

        • Daphne Sidor

          Hey, Teri—sorry to hear that. If you want to give us a little more info on what you’re trying to do, we can point you in the right direction.

  • Marko Petkovic

    Do you guys have some good practice tutorials for some mostly used marketing campaigns (like for example promoting a video course, launching a new product) with step-by-step a tutorial? Perhaps some best-practice ready-made templates that could be then modified by the user to suit their needs? I think that would bring your product to a whole another level. If not, do you offer assistance/support in setting up some good workflows for a fee?

    • Daphne Sidor

      Hey, Marko! We do have some ready-made workflows you can click and install—check this page out for a few of our favorites if you haven’t seen this already: We just released Shareable Workflows a couple weeks ago, so you can expect to see many more of those if you’re subscribed to this blog

      As for workflow tutorials, we have plenty of those, too—you can find our Workflow Blueprints here:

      For email campaigns themselves, we have Campaign Blueprints inside your account as well. When you go to add emails to a campaign, you’ll see a “Browse Our Blueprints” option.

      For more hands-on help building workflows, I’d take a look at our directory of Drip Certified Consultants: These are highly trained automation pros who’ve taken our certification course and offer a variety of services to help with your campaigns.

      If there’s a specific kind of campaign you’re looking to set up, let me know and I’ll see if I can point you in the right direction!

      • Marko Petkovic

        Thanks Daphne. I’m going to check those out. I’m not a DRIP user yet but so far I like what I see (I’m a pro user of Mailchimp and heavy user of Automation Workflows). Cheers, Marko

      • Marko Petkovic

        Thanks Daphne. I’m going to check the resources you gave me out. Thanks!