Email Marketing Teardown – Drift

by Etienne Garbugli no comments.

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Drift was founded in 2014 by serial entrepreneurs David Cancel and Elias Torres while they were part of the leadership team at HubSpot.

Drift came from the realization that chatbots – or AI-powered messaging apps – had the potential to change the way sales and marketing staff generate and serve leads.

After a year of experimentation, the team came up with the Drift LeadBot. It has since evolved into a series of products for sales and marketing teams.

Now, three years later, over 100,000 businesses use Drift. Their growth has been impressive to say the least.

Why an Email Marketing Teardown of Drift

When we started working on Highlights, we were looking for the best live chat for our app and website.

We compared Intercom, ZenDesk, Messenger, Tawk, and Drift. In the end, we chose Drift because of its focus on B2B, its intelligent workflows, and the fact that we were fans of their content and marketing.

The Drift team is doing a lot of really good things on the product and marketing side, but how good are they really at email marketing? Let’s find out:

Drift’s Email Program

Drift’s marketing team says that they avoid HTML emails because those emails feel like marketing. Instead, they send plain text emails. In their words, plain text emails help build customer trust.

One of their guiding principles for emails is to write the way you talk. You can see all of their email templates right here.

The Welcome Email

The first email we received after sign up was from Matt Bilotti, a product manager at Drift. The email used a clean plain text template and had a very strong subject line. The use of an emoji ? and lowercase text – two things known to improve open rates – was a nice touch.

Welcome Email – Subject Line: “? welcome to Drift – thanks for signing up!” (Sent Immediately After Signup)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Welcome Email

Regardless of whether Drift has your first name or not, their emails don’t use name personalization. This, to me, was a bit surprising.

It’s interesting to note that, according to Dave Gerhardt, Drift’s VP of marketing, a previous version of their Welcome email had a 75% open rate and a 25% response rate (pretty great!).

Now, the question that comes to mind is: Why change a Welcome email that performs so well?

Here are 3 hypotheses for this:

  1. It was difficult to handle the number of responses they were getting (25%!);
  2. Due to a change of audience (or another unknown reason) the performance dropped;
  3. Through testing, they were able to find an email template that performed better for their objective (user activation? conversion?).

I’d definitely ❤️ to find out.

There’s a lot to learn by comparing new and past versions of emails. That’s why I like to have different accounts with different signup dates. ?

Re-register anonymously for services you can’t live without. See what they’ve learned and changed. Austin Hill, Serial Entrepreneur

The Behavior Correction Email

For this specific account, I didn’t have the Drift widget set up on my website. In fact, I did not even complete the signup process… On Day 1 following sign up, I received the following email:

Setup Reminder Email – Subject Line: “you’re almost there – how can I help? ?” (Sent on Day 1)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Setup Reminder

The email’s subject line is very strong. It manages to invite support questions while reinforcing the benefit of using Drift (in case I forgot!).

It’s not particularly pushy, which is fine for Day 1, but I would have expected a followup.

Drift never reminded me of my incomplete account setup. This helped relieve any form of anxiety I may have have felt about not finishing the setup, which is probably not what they want.

The Onboarding Emails

The Drift email team sends 4 onboarding emails over the course of the first 17 days. This might be enough, but it could potentially be increased. Hotjar sends 7 onboarding emails, and it’s one of the strongest aspects of their email program.

You’ll notice below ? that most of their subject lines are written in lowercase text and happen to be questions. Questions can help setup engaging emails when the copy plays off the subject line.

According to the team, there are different versions of the onboarding emails based on the role of the person that signed up (new customers fill out their role as part of the onboarding process).

It’s a really good idea to do this kind of segmentation in B2B when the features and benefits that sales leaders or CEOs care about might be completely different.

It may be an issue with Drift’s email marketing platform (they have their own), but their emails’ preview texts (the text visible to the right in the inbox) probably doesn’t help get their emails opened:

Email Marketing Teardown – Preview Text in Gmail
Email Marketing Teardown – Preview Text in Gmail (26% of the market ?)

Onboarding Email Breakdown

Onboarding Email #1 – Subject Line: “how’s your first week with Drift going? ?” (Sent on Day 5)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Onboarding Email #1

The concept of Drift’s first onboarding email is really good. Using the first week for reengagement helps justify the email. The P.S. is also a nice touch. According to Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, P.S. is the most read part of an email.

The problem with this email – and their Welcome email before it – is that it has too many competing call-to-actions (CTAs). In this specific email, I count 4:

  1. Read our philosophy;
  2. Subscribe to our YouTube channel;
  3. Subscribe to our podcast;
  4. Respond to the email and tell us what you like and dislike.

For emails to perform, there needs to be a clear purpose and one clear call-to-action, no more.

Onboarding Email #2 – Subject Line: “should we reserve you a spot?” (Sent on Day 9)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Onboarding Email #2

Now, in the second email, Drift are still calling me ‘there’ and they made a spelling mistake with my generic name ?.

This email has one clear CTA ?, it offers a different way to experience the value of the software, and puts the emphasis on how everything is and should be easy with Drift (‘watch it from your couch!’), which is a really good thing.

The email makes a lot of assertions, which haven’t been proven true. At this point, I had not set up Drift. I’m not sure this means that I get it. More personalization would help.

Onboarding Email #3 – Subject Line: “See how Drift became this CMO’s secret weapon” (Sent on Day 13)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Onboarding Email #3

The third Drift email in the sequence has a strong subject line that uses curiosity to get subscribers to open. It also makes really good use of social proof.

Considering it’s the first image Drift includes in 4 emails, it really stands out and focuses the reader’s attention.

Onboarding Email #4 – Subject Line: “what’s even more important than leads and demos?” (Sent on Day 17)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drip Onboarding Email #4

I’m not 100% sure that this last onboarding email is really an onboarding email (it could be a feature launch).

Whether it’s a launch or not, the email helps showcase another benefit of using Drift (“You can use it for support!”). These types of emails – value expansion emails – are a great way to drive users back into the product.

The P.S. also helps make the email feel more personal.

The Nurturing/Upsell Emails (a.k.a. The Content Emails)

A lot of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) businesses have their onboarding emails cover the first 14 to 30 days after signup. It can be really good for customer retention to extend that to 60 or 90 days.

Drift’s onboarding sequence covers the first 17 days. After that, things get a bit trickier.

Nurturing/Upsell Email #1 – Subject Line: “7 bots that created 700+ net new meetings” (Sent on Day 30)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift AI Summit Campaign Email

On the 30th day, I got this email from Alex (who’s Alex?) telling me about Sara (Sara?!) and the AI Growth Summit (what’s that?).

Although the use of an animated GIF linking to a video message attracts the eye and makes it feel personal, I don’t know these people or what they’re talking about.

Drift’s brand is ‘personal’ and ‘human’, but to users, context matters; I have to be able to relate to the email.

Nurturing/Upsell Email #2 – Subject Line: “can I pitch you on something?” (Sent on Day 31)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift HYPERGROWTH Upsell Email

Now, the next day, I received another, completely unrelated upsell.

The long-form format clashes with the 7 short-form emails before it. I’m just not sure who Dave is and what HYPERGROWTH really is (they don’t say).

It’s a good pitch, but it again assumes that I have a lot more context than I really do. I haven’t demonstrated that I know what HYPERGROWTH is, or that I might care about saving $500 on something I’m not familiar with.

Nurturing/Upsell Email #3 – Subject Line: “this is where marketers will be in September” (Sent on Day 41)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift HYPERGROWTH Upsell Email Reminder

Now, who’s Janna?.

It can be a good idea to have more than one sender. Different names and backgrounds can impact open rates differently. However, too many handoffs – it seems like everyone at Drift can send me an email – can hurt your email program.

Adding ‘from Drift’ in the Sender’s Name field helps, but as a subscriber, I need to keep track (and whitelist) all of these people.

It’s a good idea to keep it simple. We all receive a lot of emails from a lot of people everyday.

Nurturing/Upsell Email #4 – Subject Line: “what really happens to your marketing leads?” (Sent on Day 44)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Webinar Invitation Email

The last campaign I received was very effective. The copy was compelling and the image stood out. It seemed to be aligned with what I’d want as a user.

At this point, all of the emails had P.S.s. Although, at first it attracts the eye, now I’ve come to see it as a regular feature of the email (some form of banner blindness).

The Feature Update Email

Feature Launch Email – Subject Line: “this powerful marketing channel is hiding in plain sight” (Sent on Day 52)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Feature Launch Email

Although the subject line is really strong and creates curiosity, it’s possible that its open rate was a bit subpar due to the use of the word ‘marketing’. Marketing is still considered a trigger word for email spam filters.

That said, the email was very compelling, the image in the Drift email signature helped showcase the value of the new feature and the landing page was consistent with the email message. Great stuff! ?

The Upsell Emails

Drift doesn’t have a free trial. Users sign up with their email address and get to use it for free forever until they hit certain limits; this is called freemium.

Since there’s no clear end to the trial, Drift needs to incite its users to jump on a paid plan by promoting more advanced features or by letting users hit certain thresholds in the product.

The way they do this is by handing off certain accounts to their sales team. The goal of the sales team is to get users on demos… then, I assume… close them.

When the sales team reached out, we were still in the process of setting up our website. We were barely using Drift, so I’m not sure why we were targeted.

Upsell Email – Subject Line: “Bots – Your BDR’s BDRs”

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Upsell Email #1

From the subject line (“Bots – Your BDR’s BDRs”) to the formal signature, the whole email felt like a different universe and a different tone.

Although ‘Schedule a meeting’ is clearly the main CTA, there were 3 distinct CTAs in the email (and I’m still no being called by my first name!).

Upsell Email Reminder #1 – Subject Line: “Bots – Your BDR’s BDRs”(Sent 2 Days Later)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Upsell Email #1 Reminder

The followup email 2 days later restated some of the same points. The use of the exact same subject line was interesting.

Upsell Email Reminder #2 – Subject Line: “Bots – Your BDR’s BDRs” (Sent 3 Days Later)

Email Marketing Teardown – Drift Upsell Email #1 Reminder

The third email was the last email we got from this sequence. All 3 emails still felt pretty disconnected from the rest of the email program.

Email Marketing Teardown – Takeaways

No email marketing program is perfect. Let’s look at what Drift is doing well… and less well:

The Good

  • ✅ Subject lines are effective, and help create engagement and curiosity;
  • ✅ The email copy (and templates) feel personal;
  • ✅ Onboarding emails are solid and make good use of social proof;
  • ✅ Visuals and emojis are used sparingly to capture the reader’s attention;
  • ✅ All email links have proper tracking.

The Bad

  • ❌ Some emails lack focus, and have competing call-to-actions;
  • ❌ No personalization (first name or anything else) was used;
  • ❌ Too many people at Drift email the users. It doesn’t add up to a consistent messaging strategy;
  • ❌ The user’s context is not often taken into consideration;
  • ❌ Qualification recipes for some offers and upsells are questionable.

Drift Email Marketing Teardown – Score


Interested in building an email program like Drift?

We just launched a SaaS Email Masterclass ? to help increase trial conversions with email.

Drift is doing a lot of really good things with emails. Their onboarding sequence is really good, their Welcome email is impactful and their feature launch email(s) help create excitement.

Overall though, they have too many things going in too many directions. It’s unfortunate that they don’t make better use of personalization and user/subscriber interactions with their site / email sequences.

That said, the emails work (especially those from the marketing team), and you can tell that they test and optimize their emails, what Highlights is all about.

Overall, Drift shows it still has room to improve the performance of its email marketing program:

Final score: 7.7/10 ?

Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments below.?

P.S. Enjoying our email teardowns? Sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any.

Etienne Garbugli
Étienne is a three-time startup founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), and the author of Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. At Highlights, Étienne is responsible for customer success.

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