Should I use a Workflow or a Rule?
That depends on your goal(s)! The tools can be used interchangeably in many ways depending on your goals. Simply put, rules are when you want actions to fire instantaneously. Workflows are for when you want actions to fire sequentially.
If you need a simple automation with a trigger that leads directly to an action, then a Rule is the tool for you. Rules are like single switches that you turn on with a trigger. Want to tag someone who submits your form? A rule will work great. Rules are also great if you would like to have many actions occur simultaneously based on a trigger, or have an action performed at a time based on a property of the trigger event.
If you want to run a more complex set of automations, a Workflow is a better tool for you. Workflows are paths that guide your people to a goal. Do you want to use diverse actions with delays, decision nodes, goals, and more? You will need a Workflow. Workflows are also a better option if you are hoping to send multiple emails over some time in connection with a single trigger.
When should I use a Rule?
Let's look at some specific examples of when you want to use a Rule instead of a Workflow.
"I want to be notified whenever a specific event or activity happens." If you want to be notified when your customers are buying certain items or filling out a certain form, you can use a rule to send yourself a notification email when these events occur. Here is an example of what that might look like:
"I simply want a tag applied to my customers when they perform an action." A Rule is a great option for simple, one-step automations. If you are looking to add a tag or update a custom field when certain actions or events occur, a Rule will keep this simple for you.
"I want to set up an action based on someone clicking a link." Trigger links are a great use-case with Rules.
When should I use a Workflow?
Here are a few specific examples of good uses for a Workflow.
"I want to send a series of emails to customers when they become first-time subscribers." We actually have a Workflow template for this use case titled "Welcome Series-Designing Workflows." This example is set up to send emails to new potential customers who have not made a purchase yet. You can also set up goals to remove them if they make a purchase. You have more flexibility to create additional actions over time.
"I use multiple tools to collect details about the people on my list, but I want the formatting to be unified." We have a Workflow template called "Normalizing Name Fields" for this use case. If you're growing your list and have noticed people entering their full names when you are asking for only first names, or they're putting their first name in all lowercase, this workflow resolves that and puts that extra bump in your personalization efforts. Sync and normalize first name, last name, and any other name fields you're using in your personalization efforts.