40 Best Practices for Nurturing Email Subscribers Throughout the Full Customer Lifecycle

You’ve generated leads and captured email addresses — now what? You don’t want to be just another line in your subscribers’ inboxes. You want to be the brand they feel really gets them. Their wants, their needs. A brand they share with their friends, family, colleagues. Whose emails they actually look forward to and engage with.

In turn, those subscribers will reward you by providing more value and email-driven revenue to your company. When you take the time to nurture your email subscribers and move them up the segmentation ladder of customer lifetime value until they become “best customers,” you maximize not only the return on your email investment, but the loyalty you get from each subscriber.

Let’s take a look at six basic segments of the customer lifecycle — and the perfect email marketing plays for capturing your subscriber’s attention and nurturing them into brand loyalists.

Phase 1: Capturing New Subscriber Email Addresses

To quote The Sound of Music, “let’s start at the very beginning,” the do re mi of email marketing: generating leads and growing your list with subscriber email addresses. The first impression you make is the most important, so approach this phase with plenty of care and an intriguing hook. Here are nine ways to turn passersby (both online and IRL) into interested subscribers:

1. Opt-in website or landing page.

This is one of the first techniques people think of when it comes to generating email leads, and it’s both simple and effective: create a page promoting your newsletter or email digest, tell users what they get when they subscribe (from exclusive content to awesome deals), then provide a simple form to capture their email address or preferences. Leverage an incentive, like a gated ebook or another piece of exclusive content, to sweeten the deal.

Remember that not all landing pages are created equal — make sure you follow these three data-driven landing page best practices to generate maximum leads.

2. Social promotion.

If someone already follows you on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, they’ve already demonstrated interest in your brand’s content — by subscribing to your email list, these followers can ensure they won’t miss out on any of your updates. Use organic and/or paid social posts to drive followers to your lead-capturing landing page, and download our ebook about social media and email integration to learn 18 ways to leverage the strengths of social to boost email marketing — and vice versa.

3. Opt-in checkout page.

Folks who are already purchasing your product or service are prime candidates for email capture, where you can continue to nurture them throughout the lifecycle. Don’t assume every customer wants to be a subscriber, though — give them the option of making that choice for themselves, with a quick note on the benefits of subscription, via a checkbox

4. Opt-in subscription form on blog or homepage.

Do you publish great content on the regular? If a reader is interested enough to read your blog post all the way through, an email subscription form just after your conclusion is likely to pique their interest. Maximize the ROI of organic blog content by using it to generate leads on a continual basis. You can also use your homepage, footer, or another static place on your website to drive email subscriptions — here’s how to find the perfect opt-in location for your site.

5. Opt-in direct mail campaign.

Direct mail advertising is a big investment, so make the most of it by driving residents to your website or landing page, where you’ll then encourage them to subscribe to your email list — after all, sending an email costs much less than designing and printing more mail to send them, with much more sophisticated personalization options!

6. Refer a Friend campaign.

Just because a reader has already subscribed to your list doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to generate leads from them. Word-of-mouth referrals lead to high conversion rates, so offer your subscribers an incentive — for example, a certain dollar value of store credit — for each new friend or family member they get to subscribe to your list. You can also appeal to your customer’s sense of generosity with a give-get campaign, wherein they’ll receive credit by passing along a great deal to each friend.

7. Gift card opt-in.

Another way your current customers can continue to generate leads for your brand is by buying giftcards. Whether a digital or print, include a URL on the card or certificate driving the recipient to your opt-in page, turning a one-time buyer into a loyal subscriber.

8. Event signup.

Whether you’re manning a table at a physical conference or presenting a webinar, you can use the opportunity to collect email addresses for your list. If you’re at a booth, you can quickly collect business cards, while registration forms for online events can include a checkbox where attendees can opt in.

9. Lightbox modal pop-ups.

Pop-up advertising often gets a bad rap, hearkening to unpleasant memories of a more spammy Internet of yesteryear, but today’s unobtrusive lightbox modals are an effective way to solicit email subscriptions. Follow these pop-up opt-in best practices to ensure you’re making a great impression — not annoying readers.


Phase 2: Converting Prospects to Customers

Think of every lead you generate as a future repeat customer you’ve gotten in the door — now, you need to give them a reason to stick around a while. Here are nine great ways to do just that:

1. Welcome series.

Welcome email campaigns are a tragically underutilized tactic for deepening your relationship with new customers while educating them not only on the product or service they’ve just purchased, but also other purchases they may be interested in. This is a great opportunity to highlight everything that makes your brand so valuable, so make sure to follow these welcome email series best practices.

2. Cart abandonment emails.

They came so close to checking out, but had second thoughts at the last minute. Don’t let that prospect be the “one who got away.” Sometimes it takes just a little incentive to nudge your customers, so send a cart abandonment email with a promo code that makes the transaction worthwhile. By showing you’re willing to invest in the relationship, your prospect may well respond in kind, so bookmark this cart abandonment email best practices infographic and refer back to it often.

3. Browse abandonment.

Their carts may be empty, but these users have stared longingly at one of your products or services — now it’s time to close the deal. As with cart abandonment, you’ll want to serve up your browse abandonment email within 48 hours for maximum efficacy, with a link to the products they looked at for an easy, frictionless workflow. Offer a financial incentive to turn these window shoppers into satisfied customers.

4. Email news alerts.

Is a sold-out hot commodity back in stock? Did the price drop on a popular item? Savvy subscribers like to be in the know, so keep them informed and incentivized with up-to-date alerts on products and services they’ve shown interest in.

5. Personalized newsletters.

Did you know that personalized email drives 18x more revenue than email that lacks those personal touches? Keep your subscribers around for a long time with newsletters tailored to their particular areas of interest. They’ll be more likely to open, more likely to engage, and more likely to drive revenue.

6. More subscriber data personalization.

Newsletters aren’t the only email campaigns you can personalize. You can serve up product guides based on what your subscribers have demonstrated interest in, show customers how many loyalty points they have right inside the email, and tailor your email content to reader demographics, from age to location to education level. The result is a more intimate, engaged experience that leaves your readers feeling like valued friends, not numbers.

7. Mobile responsive email templates.

Your subscribers read email on a variety of devices, so if you’re not using mobile responsive templates to nurture customers throughout the lifestyle, you’re missing out on a huge chunk of email-driven revenue. If you’re not convinced, take a look at some brand before-and-after studies — after switching to responsive, Toyota was able to improve its click-to-open rate by 93%.

8. Create account email campaigns.

A customer may need to give you their email at checkout to track delivery or get their receipt, but why not save them the trouble of giving you their personal information during future purchases by inviting them to create an account with your site? This is a great time to promote the benefits of membership and other financial incentives, turning one-time customers into loyal repeat customers.

9. Demo-based CTA.

If you offer any sort of software, app, or digital service, a demo or trial membership is a powerful incentive to get prospects hooked on your offerings before jumping in head-first. You can use this trial period to send how-to tips, best practices, and other content of interest to your customers, nurturing the relationship along the way.

Phase 3: Growing Customer Value

After you’ve turned prospects into customers, it’s time to turn customers into repeat customers. To do that, you’ll have to look at your data and find the best way to make each individual subscriber feel valued. And with the following best practices, you can.

1. Post-purchase thank you emails.

Everyone likes to feel appreciated, so start your customer relationship out right by paying your customer some gratitude for making a purchase. You can use this opportunity to show off your brand personality and give them a promo code toward future purchases, encouraging repeat business.

2. Transactional up-sell email.

If you offer multiple tiers of a product or service, a customer who has already invested in a lower-cost option may be more likely to upgrade after experiencing all the benefits of that tier. For example, if you offer image editing software, a seasoned user may be interested in more advanced or premium features to expand the capabilities of what they can do with your software. By looking at your subscriber data, you can more accurately gauge interest in a transactional up-sell message, then nurture your customers to upgrade.

4. Cross-sell email campaign.

If a transactional up-sell isn’t the right play for a particular customer, you may consider a lateral cross-sell — that is, offering a product or service that may also appeal to a customer, given the interest that person has shown in other categories. Show the ties that pair perfectly with the suit they just bought, the books a reader will be interested after finishing the one they’re starting now.

5. Personalized ads.

The more a customer interacts with your brand, the better you can tailor your content to meet their wishes and needs. Modern automation platforms can send just the right message at just the right time to just the right customer — on just the right device. By using data to craft informed campaigns rather than throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, you can improve the ROI of your marketing spend not only in email, but across media.

6. Best customer campaigns.

In our post on data science and personalized campaigns, we discuss how data-savvy marketers can reward their most loyal customer segments with exclusive deals and VIP offers. There’s a simple psychology that underlies positive reinforcement, and each of us likes to know that our business and loyalty are valued — so keep showing your gratitude as customers move up each segment, and reward them accordingly.

7. A/B testing.

While A/B testing is an invaluable best practice throughout the customer lifecycle, it’s even more effective the more data you have. First, you extrapolate from that data what a particular segment might like to see from an email campaign, then test a couple variations of your hypothesis until you find the one that delivers the best results.

8. Customer lifetime value (CLV) targeting.

While there are many factors to consider while optimizing your targeting strategy to grow loyalty, customer lifetime value (CLV) is one of the most important. To estimate CLV, you’ll measure how much value each customer has provided to your business, as well as how long your brand has nurtured that customer relationship. This helps you prioritize your marketing efforts by which customers would be most costly to lose, and inform how to keep those relationships strong with messaging and incentives.  

9. Geo-based targeting.

Most of us carry some sort of GPS-equipped device with us wherever we go, surfacing our whereabouts on our Instagram selfies or tweets. SnapChat has used geolocation to wonderful effect with special location-based filters — similarly, marketers can use location to help them target their campaigns. For example, a retailer might serve up a special promo offer to a customer within a mile of a certain store, incentivizing that person to cross the threshold and make a purchase.

Phase 4: Retaining Customer Loyalty

Gaining a customer’s trust is one thing — keeping it, and strengthening that relationship long after, is another. Here are eight great ways to nurture their loyalty.

1. Birthday emails.

Who doesn’t love to celebrate their special day with savings? Birthday email messages enjoy 481% higher transaction rates than other emails, driving 342% more revenue. For even more incredible birthday email statistics, and best practices for leveraging birthday data to nurture your customer relationship, check out our infographic: Everything Email Marketers Need to Know About Birthday Emails.

2. Anniversary campaigns.

Anniversary email series aren’t just a great way to thank subscribers for their continued business — they can also drive more brand awareness and conversions. To see a fantastic example of an anniversary campaign done right, take a look at these True Citrus anniversary emails, which break subscribers into three segments based on length of subscription and personalizes their emails accordingly — all while encouraging users to share glowing feedback on the brand’s social platforms.

3. Preference sites.

For brands that send multiple email digests — media and publishing companies in particular — preference sites are a slam-dunk method of tailoring the content you send to what your subscribers want to see, while learning invaluable information about your customer base. This is a win-win for both sides of the customer relationship, so get started by reading our article on how to build preference sites with ease.

4. Non-promotional content.

Nobody likes to be sold to 100% of the time, and educational or brand content is a terrific way to establish your brand’s thought leadership while giving your customers helpful information on how best to use your products and services, or even just how to advance their own personal or professional goals. Show off your brand voice and expertise and deepen those subscriber relationships!

5. Exclusive first look emails.

You’re about to drop a new version of your software that gives users more powerful features than ever. You’ve developed a new eyeshadow formula that beauty geeks will fawn over. You’re excited to announce a new vacation destination your travel company offers, and the photographs are to die for. Reach the subscribers that will be most excited for these new products and services, and make it a rockstar debut.

6. Circulation renewals.

Publishing and media companies in particular must always give their subscribers a reason to re-up every time their memberships are about to run out. This is the perfect opportunity to review the value your brand delivers and drive urgency — make sure to do it early and often, well before a subscription is about to lapse.

7. Review, survey, and feedback campaigns.

It’s one thing to say you value what your subscribers think and feel about your brand — it’s another thing to show it. Solicit feedback through email campaigns, from incentivized reviews to social sharing campaigns to anonymous surveys. This not only gives your brand the opportunity to leverage positive feedback from your customers, but also gives you critical data you can use to improve your product and services. Whichever method you choose, your subscribers will respond well if they feel their opinion actually matters.

8. Holiday promotions.

Who doesn’t love to celebrate the season? Holidays are a fun way to add some pizazz to your normal email marketing calendar. To choose the incentives and creative that will delight your users, check out our pre-holiday email marketing checklist, then take a look at four holiday emails that are doing it right for inspiration.

Phase 5: Winning Past Customers Back.

In any relationship, there are high points and low points. Like old friendships, sometimes brands can reunite with customers they haven’t seen for a while, and feel like no time was lost between them. Here’s how to rekindle that relationship with a winning win-back email campaign.

1. Reactivation emails.

Start by letting your former subscribers know you miss them. We mean that literally — reactivation emails whose subject lines contain the words “miss you” achieve a 13.8% read rate. Remind them that their subscription has lapsed, and reemphasize the benefits of membership.

2. Re-engagement campaigns.

Did you know that 12% of subscribers re-engage with brands as a result of win-back messages? To do it right, solicit feedback from your readers. Ask them why they let their subscription lapse or became inactive — maybe your content isn’t aligned to their needs — and what they’d like to see from your brand. Again, making your readers feel like their opinions are valued helps grow the trust and commitment on both sides of the customer relationship.

3. Progressive opt-outs.

Instead of waiting for subscribers to opt out of your email program, come to them with the option of staying on or leaving — but it doesn’t have to be a simple yay or nay. Maybe they want to receive emails once a week, instead of once a day. Maybe they want to opt out of a few of your digests, but stay subscribed to others. Let your customers choose their own level of inbox engagement with your brand.

4. Direct mail campaigns.

These days, it isn’t uncommon to wake up to an inbox full of dozens of email messages to sort through. With so much email saturation, sometimes the best method for reaching a customer is to take the old fashioned route. Invest in a direct mail campaign to send a tangible message to customers, reminding recipients that you value their business and have plenty to offer — both in and out of the email inbox.

5. Learn from churn.

Churn doesn’t have to be a dirty word — a little bit of churn is inevitable in any email program, and the data you get from looking at your churn rates, including the actions that led to subscriber cancellation, can help you optimize your email roadmap to minimize future churn.

Phase 6: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Once you’ve won unengaged customers back, start again at Phase Two: Converting Prospects. Remember that all relationships, including customer relationships with your brand, require effort and care. Continue to revisit your data, optimize, and keep customer loyalty high across all segments.

The Step-By-Step Guide to Building an Email Roadmap

We know we gave you tons of information in this post, but if you want to learn more, we have plenty more to offer! Watch our free on-demand webinar, The Step-By-Step Guide To Building An Email Roadmap, for even more proven, data-driven best practices for nurturing your email program across all customer segments — and how to properly segment your email list in the first place.
WhatCounts provides email marketing solutions that give brands deep visibility into their data, advanced segmentation capabilities, and automations that put many of these best practices — from welcome series to cart abandonment emails — within reach for email marketers. To see our advanced email marketing platform in action, schedule a WhatCounts demo today!

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