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The Customer Journey - What Makes its Start Successful

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This article is written by Russell Dawson, a senior email marketing professional and member of the Research Hub of the Email Council


As part of the DMA’s Email research series, email delivery rates saw a slight decline to 97.9%, after a continued increase over the last five years, mainly due to send volumes increasing by nearly a fifth during the pandemic.

Whilst it’s reassuring that email’s key metrics remained stable during a volatile period, it raises an important reflection that B2C brands are still seeing a 2% list churn on average for every email they send out. A way brands can address this churn rate is to focus on establishing strong engagement at the beginning of the subscriber journey.

With the introduction of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection, this has become more pertinent due to the diminished ability of marketers to measure the engagement of Apple Mail’s users resulting in new difficulties related to recency management and data quality best practices.

As email marketers will be aware, list retention and churn rate reduction of the business’ email database is a key measurable component of a successful email programme. Indeed, it’s more profitable to be able to cross and upsell to existing engaged subscribers than spending additional budget in acquiring new ones.

Decreasing your churn rate can lead to an increased customer lifetime value (CLV) of your subscribers (£38.33 for every £1 spent) resulting in them staying with your brand for longer, spending more and more frequently.

Planning your email marketing so that it understands and resembles your customer journey is a great way to ensure that the right message is being sent to customers at every touch point and at each stage in their experience with your brand. In regard to these actions, there are a couple of points for you to consider:

  1. What does your customer do in the different stages of your product/service lifecycle and what should they be achieving in each phase?
  2. From a business perspective, what does success look like at each point of the journey and sales funnel?

Having a proactive strategy to initiate engagement at the beginning of the customer journey - to anticipate their needs - helps you eliminate potential churn before it happens.

In this article, we'll look at a few best practices and strategies that can help you establish strong email subscriber engagement at the beginning of the customer journey.

Opt-in process: How to make it successful

Welcome emails tend to have the highest engagement of all email campaigns, which is no surprise considering recipients are at their peak interest. Therefore, it’s imperative to capture subscribers' attention right from the beginning - in the right way.

Reviewing your existing opt-in options, in terms of both quantity and quality, will help you determine the best source of highly committed subscribers who will have a longer and stronger engagement with your programme.

Creating content that aligns with what your customers want to know and having a clear understanding of what is motivating people to come to your site will help emphasise your brand’s value proposition. Ultimately, this will allow marketing to focus on benefits over features and manage the tone of the relationship.

A few tips to make your opt-in process successful:

  • Where

From my personal experience, opt-ins placed in prominent positions (such as above the fold, pop ups or sticky side widgets) are likely to receive higher numbers of submissions, whereas those that are placed in content areas that are further down the funnel (during a consideration or evaluation stage) are likely to be a better qualified fit for a sales opportunity.

  • What to ask

You may be surprised by the number of fields you can ask upon initial sign-up - testing the optimum number of fields before you see an acquisition drop-off can help you pinpoint the most effective number to use.

Moreover, you should be thoughtful and considerate of the type of data you are asking for. Consumers may be more inclined to share certain data about themselves, such as their job title, but less likely to share personal information related to their family or children. As always, it depends on the value of the benefits and the type of audience you’re marketing to.

  • Call to action

A catchy call to action (CTA) helps give context and meaning to your value proposition and is clear in providing users what action they need to take next. Promoting urgency or an emotional response over more standard call-to-action wording such as ‘subscribe here’ or ‘download now’ will stand out and provide a better sense of what they will receive after entering their details.

  • Transparency

To reduce any possible anxiety about how their data will be processed and used, particularly for those who are meticulous or data-savvy, provide quick links to your brands privacy policy, T&Cs and state how easy is to unsubscribe. Even better, consider having a short explanation on the sign-up page that highlights how you’ll process or use their data. This is a great way to show openness and transparency which could help grow sign-up volume.

Including this thinking into your opt-in process will help set subscriber expectations, show value and increase the number of subscribers that will engage with your email programme.


Onboarding emails: Key considerations

As for any first-time introduction, an instant warm welcome able to provide a positive representation of the brand is paramount to starting a relationship on the best of terms.

In terms of approach, it would be useful exploring the DMA’ findings on embracing the changes the pandemic brought into our lives. Indeed, all the unprompted challenges we have had to face in the last year have created a strong demand for useful information. Compassion and relevance are also key factors in the redefined relationship between customers and brands. Considering such aspects when defining your email’s tone of voice or when explaining who you are and what you do can help build trust right from the start.

Planning and defining what actions you want a subscriber to take, allows you to track the effectiveness of each email in your welcome series and let you determine whether you achieved your goal and consequently move to the next stage. It’s imperative to have a clear and meaningful plan of action to motivate and guide them through the series.


Relevance: Using segmentation and preferences

As engagement and interest are high at the start of the customer journey, it’s a good opportunity to set up branching questions (like a quiz funnel) or a progressive data capture sequence. This information will help when moving new subscribers into more relevant content streams or segmented nurture programmes and being able to use dynamic content in regular newsletters.

According to the DMA’s Consumer Email Tracker Report 2021, consumers showed a visible increase in the proportion of brands’ emails they engage with and stated they find useful. Customers who believe this is less than one in four emails has fallen from 69% in 2019 to 56% this year and having more relevant insight into their needs is a key requirement of providing usefulness.

Including preference-settings early on in the process also helps gather further information about the kind of content and frequency of communications that they would like to receive from your brand. Giving more control to subscribers from the very beginning is a good way to reduce email spend - it decreases churn and the number of complaints as the content they will receive is tailored to their needs and level of expectations.

Offering subscribers options on preferences and capturing key interests means they can determine cadence and topics so you’re only sending relevant information to them – this will keep engagement high throughout your communications.


Including other marketing channels

As we know, email behaviour is not linear and engagement isn’t measured solely by clicks.

Email has the ability to boost other marketing channels (dubbed the ‘email halo effect’). Despite the Consumer Email Tracker 2021 showing that clicking on the link contained in an email is the single most common action for consumers (19-29%), they are as likely to engage with the brand, but not through the email they’ve been sent (19-27%). Customers like to engage via other channels which demonstrates that additional actions triggered by email are equally popular.

Using the welcome series to provide clear actionable sign-posts to other channels, such as social, SMS, brands’ apps or other direct marketing options, empowers subscribers to choose the best channel that they wish to engage with. This is particularly strong in empowering subscribers to visit their other preferred channels at different points in the customer journey as they’ll know where to find out more in a format and channel that’s more convenient for them meaning they’ll more likely to stay engaged throughout the beginning of their customer lifecycle.


Ratings and Testimonials

Lastly, whilst you can evangelize from a marketing point of view about how great your services or products are, repurposing and incorporating testimonials and social proof from existing customers reinforces your transparency and increases trust. Why don’t you include a CTA that takes them to your ‘Review page’ so they can learn how your brand takes care of their customers?

In addition, placing surveys into the latter end of your welcome series reinforces the notion that your brand really values their input – remember, subscribers want their voices to be heard! Surveys are extremely effective at increasing your NPS score and help you to identify weaker areas or a misalignment of expectations.


Conclusion

We all know this - it’s easier to keep your subscribers engaged from the very beginning of their journey rather than win them back once they’ve gone inactive.

Therefore, planning and creating a transparent onboarding process able to deliver on expectations and thought to provide relevant information ensures makes customers far less likely to disengage after the initial sign-up period.

This will ultimately keep your lists healthier and increase the lifetime value of your subscribers.

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