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Customer Journey: Using Data to Send Smarter Emails

Evi Katsoulieri

Product Manager @ AdRoll

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Email is by far one of the most successful and preferred forms of digital marketing. Consumers believe that email will still be around in 10 years over even Facebook or Twitter. More than 40% of Americans sign up for brand discounts and offers via email, and 59% of B2B marketers say that email is their top channel for revenue generation. If all that’s not enough, increased access to customer journey data can make email even more focused, accurate, and effective.

How so? Let’s unpack it by examining the four steps to building an email marketing strategy followed by the types of emails that work best for different customers and campaigns.

In this article:
Four Steps to Building an Email Strategy
Types of Emails for the Customer Journey
Email Marketing: Get a Grip

Four Steps to Building an Email Strategy

Step 1: Define the customer journey

Any digital strategy must be based on the journey that customers take with the brand. There are usually several types of customers, which means there will be several different customer journeys. New customers are still getting to know the brand, its values, benefits, and offers. Existing customers are already familiar with the brand and need to be informed about special discounts, new products, or different benefits and features they may not have discovered yet.

Mapping the customer “personas” and the journeys they typically take with the brand is the first step to building smarter marketing campaigns, including email.

Step 2: Create audience segments

Collecting customer data is essential to creating audience segments for email campaigns. Fortunately, increased brand trust among consumers makes that easier to do. In a study cited by Harvard Business Review, 62% of people who were classified as “privacy actives” (those who take an active approach to maintain their privacy online) were comfortable providing their purchase history in exchange for personalized products and offers.

Data such as location, purchase habits, gender, age, past online activity, and interests can all be used to help brands slice and dice their customer pool into specific segments. These segments can then be targeted with specific email campaigns that match the customer’s needs and their position in the marketing funnel.

Step 3: Develop email campaigns 

Now is the time to define the goals for each segment and develop email campaigns to help reach those goals.

For example, check out the email below from marketing tech company Conductor. It features plain text only and addresses the recipient by name, so it doesn’t feel like a generic marketing email. It also includes a link to a case study showing the benefits of the product, and the CTA is strong and personal, inviting the recipient for a sales chat. It’s a great example of a mid-funnel email aimed at warming up a lead who has already shown interest but not yet converted to become an active customer.

Image: Conductor

Step 4: A/B testing

Testing email performance is absolutely essential to maximizing the success and ROI of email marketing campaigns. A/B testing is conducted with the help of email marketing software that enables setup and distribution of simultaneous campaigns, and tracking and monitoring of key KPIs, such as open rates, clickthrough rates, and conversions. Emails can be A/B tested for various elements, and then optimized according to best performance practices.

For example, the email above from Conductor could be sent with two different subject lines to two recipient groups. Or they could test what would be the engagement difference between two case studies. Depending on the variables tested and the test goals, one of these versions would be selected as a winner. The email that gets more opens or clicks is proven as more successful, and can then be re-used to optimize future campaigns.

Types of Emails for the Customer Journey

There are two ways that email marketing is structured: drip campaigns or triggered campaigns. 

Drip campaigns are composed of a series of emails scheduled to be sent at pre-set time intervals, say once a week, or every two days. This creates a “drip, drip, drip” effect, consistently exposing the customer to the brand via email in order to encourage them to convert. 

Triggered campaigns are composed of a series of emails that are sent out when the customer takes an action that “triggers” the flow. For example, signing up for an email marketing list triggers a welcome email. Abandoning a shopping cart triggers a reminder email with a discount offer on the cart items, and so on. 

Whether drip or triggered, email campaigns can include several types of emails, depending on the audience and campaign goals. Here are the most common types of marketing emails in use today.

For tips on how to build a customer journey map:

Welcome emails

The welcome email is one of the most popular types, with an average open rate of 82%. This is because it catches the customer right at the moment they first sign up and when their interest is high. It’s a great opportunity to offer more information about the brand and its benefits, or even a special introductory offer to maintain the customer’s interest and curiosity.

For example, this email from The Glenlivet serves two purposes. First, it welcomes the customer and provides them with important information about what kind of content they should expect. Second, it includes a fun quiz to help you find your perfect drink.

customer journey image

Image: The Glenlivet

Special occasion emails

Sending emails on special occasions is the perfect opportunity for brands to contact their base. This can be holiday emails or it can be personalized occasions like birthdays, wedding anniversaries, or even the anniversary of when the recipient signed up or became a customer. 

Emails based on personal milestone data show that the brand sees the customer as an individual, not just another “number”. And it’s not just a boon for brand perception — personalized emails are highly effective in terms of KPIs, too. Emails that include a personalized subject line generate open rates up to 50% higher.

Newsletter emails

Newsletter emails are a favored marketing tactic. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 77% of B2B marketers use email newsletters and 40% say that it is the most important tactic of their content marketing strategy, second only to blogs.

In B2C marketing too, newsletters are a great way to maintain ongoing contact with customers, typically sent out on a regular schedule, whether it be weekly or monthly. Newsletter recipients tend to be more engaged, so it reaches a high-quality target audience. 

Another huge advantage of newsletter emails is that the content they include can be tracked for click rates with HTML snippet tagging. This gives marketers a continual, up-to-date source of valuable data about what customers are clicking on and what topics interest them.

Promotional emails

Promotions and special offers are one of the most effective ways to convert customers. In fact, 60% of consumers say they have purchased something as a result of receiving a promo email

Promotional emails can be made even more powerful by using customer data to tailor the offer to the customer segment or individual customers. LinkedIn often uses personalized promotions in their email marketing campaigns. See in the example below how the promo email was personalized with the customer’s name in the subject line and email body. The CTA button is placed right in the center in bold blue, so it effectively catches the eye.

linkedin image

Image: LinkedIn

Retention emails

It costs six times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. Plus, the probability of selling to an existing customer is up to 14 times higher than a new customer. Customer retention is a key part of a digital marketing strategy, and email marketing is a popular tool to help retain customers.

Retention emails can take many forms, such as a discount coupon on a repeat purchase or loyalty points that can be redeemed. But the email doesn’t need to go as far as offering a direct monetary benefit to be effective. Many brands use retention emails to suggest products the customer might like. 

eBay does this a lot, leveraging masses of data to nudge customers towards the purchase stage. Check out a typical email below from eBay, reminding a customer about a previous item they had been searching for. This tactic helps keep the brand at top of mind, adding more nurturing touchpoints to the customer journey.

customer journey image

Image: eBay

Cart abandonment emails

Cart abandonment is a major issue in e-commerce. According to research, cart abandonment rates can be as high as 68%. On the other hand, emails sent to customers after they have abandoned their shopping cart are very effective, with open rates of about 40% and clickthrough rates of around 28%

Cart abandonment emails must be quick in order to work. In a study of 500 brands, emails sent within an hour of cart abandonment were the most effective, and the email had to be sent within 24 hours in order to have any sort of impact. Below is a fun example:

Image: doggyloot

Cart abandonment emails are proven to boost sales, showing an overall increase of 4.43% for retailers. With the help of automated email marketing software, retailers must adopt a cart abandonment email strategy to try and convert one of the most promising customer segments — those who already started filling their shopping carts.

Email Marketing: Get a Grip

While email marketing may seem complex, it is actually pretty simple at the core. Customers enjoy receiving brand emails, and when those emails are personalized, relevant, and meaningful, they like them even more. Customer data is a powerful way to gain clarity about what kind of email campaign will work best for each customer segment, which customers should be targeted with specific offers and messages, and when is the optimal time to send emails. When marketers get a grip on customer journey data, they can start to get the email marketing results they’ve worked smarter — not harder — to achieve.

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