6 Dos And Don’ts For Lifecycle Email Marketing

Looking to expand your lifecycle campaigns, or just getting started? Columnist Jordan Elkind offers up these tips to put you on the right path.

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The customer lifecycle refers to the milestones in a common path that most consumers tend to follow over the course of their relationship with a retailer. It’s the journey customers take — they sign up, make their first purchase, some turn into repeat buyers, and eventually, sad as it may be to see, some consumers eventually stop purchasing altogether.

Retailers increasingly acknowledge these paths, sending customers messages that are specific to different lifecycle stages — that’s lifecycle marketing. For online retailers, email is a key component of lifecycle marketing (with email as a channel driving close to a fifth of online orders year round — you can see more ecommerce stats here).

While lifecycle emails still encompass a minority of emails sent by a retailer (with calendar-based, daily, and transactional emails making up the bulk of most email programs), they are some of the most effective as they speak to customers at specific, important times.

Common Lifecycle Email Types

The following are some common lifecycle email types:

Early lifecycle
Welcome series
Member-to-customer conversion
Cart abandonment 

Mid lifecycle
“One-time buyer” series
Loyalty / Birthday
New product

Late lifecycle

Perhaps you already have some of these lifecycle campaigns in place (plus more of your own design), or maybe you’re looking to get started.

Here are six “dos” and “don’ts” that can start you down the path of lifecycle email success. I’d like to start with the “don’ts” first so that we end on the more positive “do” section.

Lifecycle Email “Don’ts”

1. Don’t over-segment before you experiment
One of the deepest impulses that we see, especially for fast-moving, high-achieving marketing teams, is to put the pedal to the metal immediately — for example, to go from no lifecycle segmentation to a multitude of segments defined by complex series of logic. The output of this rapid ramping up often ends up being difficult to maintain and borderline unusable.

Always start broad, and then let the data dictate where your team should be digging deeper. Expand your segmentation efforts via experimentation and iteration.

2. Don’t let assumptions dictate your testing/marketing strategy
For example, there’s conventional wisdom in the marketing community that the only effective win-back program is an “escalating call to action” (i.e., each win-back offer should have a progressively larger discount).

We find this is true some of the time, but some retailers we work with have seen better results by leading with a larger promotion early so that shoppers aren’t as compelled to go elsewhere earlier on in the relationship and subsequently stick around for longer.

Avoid rigid, preset assumptions. What works for one company might not work for yours, so it’s worth testing tactics out for yourself (within reason).

3. Don’t worry about over-engineering the process on day one
For example, don’t go from sending zero win-back messages at all, to trying to send a win-back campaign the second you think a customer might churn, or go from universal discount codes to individualized serial codes right this minute.

The most important step a retailer can take for any initiative is the first one, so don’t unnecessarily delay sending a new campaign type out the door — start simple, get something out there, keep learning and refine as you go. There’s plenty of time to get fancy once you’ve laid a strong foundation.

Lifecycle Email “Dos”

1. Do explore experiential/non-financial incentives
This is probably the single biggest piece of advice we can offer to retailers. Even if you’re a bit skeptical since you think you’ve trained your customers to expect discounts, try it out.

Try something like free shipping upgrades, sneak-peek access to new products, or a consultation with a personal shopper. (We’ve seen that example work particularly well for an NYC-based apparel retailer.) Test away until you find what works best for your customer segments.

2. Do create a burning platform
This is especially important for call to actions in lifecycle marketing messages (reactivation, replenishment, and so on). Time and again, the most effective asks are those that have a short shelf-life. Encourage customers to act via short-window promo codes or limited-time offers.

3. Do track KPIs
Last, but far from least, be sure to track your key performance indicators (KPIs).

If you’re doing a cultivation, customer loyalty, or reactivation campaign, you want to measure the incremental impact on customer lifetime value and conversions to effectively measure the impact of those over time. To do that, you need to maintain a holdout control group. Then you can get insight into conversion, profit, revenue, and so on relative to that control baseline.

Additionally, many teams have found that traditional email metrics like clicks, opens, immediate conversions, and others are not always the best way to measure the impact of lifecycle marketing campaigns (especially without a control group to compare results). You can see some recommended customer-centric KPIs listed here as well.

Final Thoughts

Lifecycle marketing is a great addition to any marketer’s playbook. But, like any strategy, it requires diligent experimentation and iteration. Good luck, and let us know if you’re able to put some of these “dos” and “don’ts” to good use.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jordan Elkind
Jordan Elkind heads the product team at Custora, an advanced customer analytics platform for ecommerce retailers. Prior to joining Custora, he earned an MBA from Wharton and worked in marketing analytics at Citi Cards.

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