How to Build a Behavior Change Email Drip Campaign

Behavior change marketers are often faced with challenges they need to overcome – from the obvious (inspiring behavior change) to the situational, fluctuating budgets and lack of resources. One hurdle behavior change marketers often combat is how to best reach the target audience.

Social media has been an important channel in behavior change marketing for some time, primarily due to the fact that the majority of people in the U.S. own a smartphone and use social media, so it’s a great way to communicate with even hard-to-reach target audiences. However, almost on pace with social media is email. In 2018, 75% of Americans used email and that number is expected to grow as smartphone usage continues to expand.

While email sometimes gets a bad rep in marketing, it remains one of the most effective direct communication strategies available. This is due in part to the shift toward less interruptive, broadcast-type messages and more personalized, segmented email communications, commonly associated with email drip campaigns.

Email drip campaigns are sometimes also referred to as “lead nurturing.” The idea behind lead nurturing is to communicate directly with a contact to encourage them to take a specific action. As the nurturing continues, the contact is encouraged to take more and more smaller actions until ultimately, they are ready to take the larger action (or make a behavior change).

Why email drips makes sense for behavior change marketing

Behavior change marketing is all about identifying barriers to change and increasing motivations to encourage positive steps, which makes it a good fit for long-term email drip campaigns. Email drip campaigns give you the ability to communicate with an audience on an individualized level over a short or long term. With email drip campaigns, you can choose the cadence of your emails and length of your campaign.

With behavior change marketing specifically, there is typically a long runway between pre-contemplation (maybe I should stop smoking), contemplation (I’m really thinking that now is the time to stop smoking), the preparation (I’m going to log onto the Quit Smoking site and see what I have to do), and then action (I’m on the non-smoking program! Yay, this time I WILL quit!).

A long-term drip campaign deployed to your audience allows you to keep your program top of mind, while incrementally feeding messages that lower the barrier, increase intent to change, and motivate the individual towards your desired outcome. Even better, drip campaigns can be built to easily (and automatically) tailor or pivot the message the person receives based on their engagement (or lack thereof – hint, hint!) with your initiative.

Sounds good, right? Here’s how to get started with your first long-term drip campaign.

How to start your long-term email drip campaign

Define your objective & break it into a phased approach

The objective of most behavior change campaigns is to inspire a specific action or change in behavior from your target audience. In essence, we are asking them to change negative behavior for a positive one. Having a clear and measurable objective will help to ensure every piece of your overall drip campaign is working toward this goal.

With the objective defined, we recommend breaking it out into key phases or milestones. Behavior change is long-term – it doesn’t happen overnight, and each phase of decision-making could be a lengthy period.

People cannot be convinced to change their behavior, but instead need to be motivated to change it on their own. It is important to focus the phases of your email campaign on motivating the individual to move along the behavior change continuum from precontemplation to action, with each email serving as a building block to drive that motivation. If you are needing help defining the phases of your drip, try grouping it into the Stages of Change by Prochaska/DiClemente:

Precontemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance & Termination.

For each phase of your long-term drip, choose an appropriate key performance indicator (KPI) that demonstrates an individual’s completion of one phase and progression onto the next. Before you go off and write your emails, you will want to map out how you will measure each phase and the overall effectiveness of the drip campaign.

Map out your key messages within each phase & develop your content

Now that you have defined who you are targeting and desired outcomes, knowing where they are on the hierarchy of change, it’s time to map out the messages for each email and the order in which they will be deployed.

As you define the key messages, think about them building upon each other, and keep the messaging motivated to where that person is in the hierarchy. What are the motivational messages you can share? What kind of marketing exchange can you promote? (example – less time smoking outdoors = more time spent with your kids in the house). It is important to focus the overall email campaign on motivating the individual to make the change in behavior, with each email serving as a building block to drive that motivation.

At Ethos, we find that making the desired behavior seem fun, easy, and popular is a strong motivator. By making the desired behavior fun, you are providing the ever-critical reasoning of “what’s in it for me?” Then, the job becomes one of removing barriers to success so that the behavior change is easy. And finally, making the action popular helps the target audience feel that they belong and that they are “with” the group who has adopted the desired behavior.

Take the example of helping low-income moms make healthier eating choices. In the first phase of a long-term drip campaign on this topic, we might focus our content around fun and interactive ways to learn about healthy food options and recipes, such as free cooking classes or tutorial videos. In our email campaign, we might include call-to-actions to share a photo of you and your family eating your healthy dinner together using a branded hashtag. This activity, although on social media, can help a marketer tie back their email communications to a direct engagement.

Once a lead has taken a measurable action that indicates they have completed the first phase, it is time to move them to the next. Segmenting your lists or using a marketing automation platform can help you move this audience into the next phase of your long-term drip campaign.


Once you have launched your lead nurturing campaign, be prepared for a slow burn rather than an explosion. Moving through the hierarchy of change is not a quick process. Make sure you set up a review cadence for your lead nurturing campaign that is at least once a month. In each review, monitor impressions (using open and read rates) and engagement (using click-thru rates) to understand which messages are resonating the most with your audience.

If you’re able to close the loop, measure and report on the number of people who have made it to the next phase of your drip. This can help you quickly analyze where audiences are getting held up in your email drip campaign so you can go back and fix it by tweaking messaging or cadence.

To report on the overall impact of the campaign, consider sending out a survey at the end of the final phase of your drip campaign to collect feedback from your audience on their understanding, sentiments and behaviors relating to your campaign.

About Ethos

Ethos is a multiplatform branding agency that develops and executes integrated marketing campaigns across multiple channels for companies inside and outside of Maine.

At Ethos, we believe that the most effective way to set a company’s marketing course is by finding its core truth – its ethos. We know that once we discover and communicate that core truth, we can truly make a difference for each client’s unique marketing and business objectives.

With Ethos, you get more than a marketing agency. You get a long-term partner whose goals are your goals.

Learn more about the Ethos approach and the work we’ve done for our clients. Want to have a conversation about your brand’s core truth? Contact us!

Written By

The ETHOS Team