How to Use Email Throughout the Customer Journey
How to leverage email at every stage of the customer lifecycle
Every email marketer’s goal is to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple concept is extraordinarily difficult to execute, let alone master.
Of course, blasting your emails to any and everyone on your contact list and hoping for the best will only get your company so far. Instead, cultivate a deep understanding of your prospects’ and customers’ evolving needs, so you can perfect when to reach out and with what message. Enter the customer journey. This helps your business map how your audiences’ needs and wants change over time, so you can determine which emails to send them and when. Timely and personalized emails equal more engagement and sales for your business.
In this guide, we take a closer look at what the customer journey is, why it’s important, and how your business can use it to create a more holistic email marketing strategy. By properly leveraging email at key points throughout the customer journey, you’ll be one step closer to sending your subscribers (and prospects) messages that deepen their relationship with your business.
The customer journey is a visual representation of a customer’s relationship with your business. Its 5 stages map the evolving wants and needs of your customers and their interactions with your brand as they travel through the sales process.
Mapping the customer journey for your business is a helpful exercise that encourages you to put yourself in your customers’ shoes to understand their motivations and pain points. These insights give you the context needed to build the best possible email experience for your users (although it goes beyond just email), helping your business turn prospects into customers more efficiently.
To help direct your efforts and understanding, know that there are 5 distinct stages of the customer journey:
The Awareness Stage: The prospect becomes aware of your company or product/service for the first time.
The Consideration Stage: The prospect has a specific problem and researches the best way(s) to solve it.
The Conversion Stage: The prospect purchases the best solution to their problem.
The Retention Stage: The prospect chooses your business and becomes a customer for life.
The Advocacy Stage: The customer spreads the word about your business.
Just remember that the customer journey isn’t linear. Instead, it makes more sense to think of it as a flywheel. In other words, if your business can build a seamless customer journey and outstanding experience, your users will return to do business with your brand time and time again. The more you refine your experiences, the more momentum and stability your business can gain. That’s the key to unlocking lifelong customer loyalty and building an efficient email marketing program.
Wondering why your company should spend time creating a customer journey map? Because looking at your customer touchpoints holistically across each of these 5 stages helps your business:
Learn more about your prospects and customers
Anticipate prospect and customer needs and wants at each stage
Understand how users travel through the sales process
Identify gaps in your current customer experience and communications strategies
Build a seamless experience across all of your customer touch points
It’s also worthwhile to look at your usage of one channel—like email—across the entire customer journey. By putting yourself in your customers’ shoes, you can ensure you use the channel effectively and identify any gaps in your customer communications strategy. That can help you become a more empathetic, effective, and successful email marketer.
In the next few sections, we’ll walk through each stage of the customer journey and the different ways your business can use email to reach, communicate, and engage customers along the way.
The awareness stage is when your prospects learn about your company and decide if they want to know more. For email, this journey usually begins when a user first subscribes.
What’s most crucial for the success of your email program is the days and weeks following sign-up since this time frame is when your new subscribers are most likely to engage with your brand. That means your brand has an amazing opportunity to learn more about your prospects’ needs and use that information to push them down the funnel.
But first, we need our prospects and customers to join our email list. After all, sending emails won’t do your brand any good if you don’t have any recipients.
Building a successful email program requires a steady influx of new subscribers, but unfortunately, “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t typically apply to email. The best way to boost subscribers? Build a seamless email sign-up process that explicitly advertises the value of your emails.
Let’s break that down into 2 parts:
1. Create a seamless sign-up process
Email sign-ups should be one of the simplest forms on your website. You don’t need to know your subscriber’s birthday, credit card number, favorite color, and astrological sign at sign-up. All you need is one key piece of information: their email address. Once you have that (and their explicit permission to email them), you can start messaging them and collecting more information about their interests and preferences.
2. Advertise the value of your emails
Most users won’t willingly hand over their email addresses without knowing what they get in return. Your users want to know why they should subscribe to your emails, so make sure your sign-up form succinctly answers the question “What’s in it for me?” for your potential new subscribers.Here are some common incentives brands use to entice email sign-ups:
Once you’ve got a healthy (and growing) number of subscribers, it’s time to build a lasting relationship with them over email. That brings us to our next key element in the awareness stage: welcome emails.
A welcome email is the first email message you send to your new subscribers, and it sets the tone for your ongoing relationship and presence in their inbox. While there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful welcome email, there are a few elements you’ll want to include:
When meeting someone for the first time, it’s only polite to introduce yourself first. Make sure your welcome email(s) helps recipients learn a bit more about your brand history or mission and values. This helps your subscribers get to know your business better, which can influence their purchasing decisions down the line.
You’ll also want to use some space to set expectations. Tell your recipients what kind of information you’ll send them and how frequently, so they know what to expect from your messages.
Additionally, your welcome email should aim to surprise and delight your new subscribers. Give them a little something to make them smile, whether that’s a 10% off coupon code, free shipping, or a free ebook. That small gift can help foster some goodwill with your new subscribers and start your relationship off on the right foot.
Since you only collected your recipients’ email addresses and maybe their name at sign-up, your first few emails can ask them to share additional information with your brand. You can gather personal info like their birthday, ZIP code, preferred message frequency, content preferences, and more to help your business send more targeted messages.
Here’s an example of a welcome series from food brand Kodiak. In one of the first few messages the company sends to new subscribers, it asks the recipient to specify how frequently they’d like to receive its messages, so the company can ensure it isn’t over-messaging recipients.
When a recipient clicks on their preferred message frequency, an interactive form opens that asks them to share more information like their birthday, what state they live in, the types of topics they’re most interested in, their favorite Kodiak products, where they typically buy these products, and more. This quick survey lets the Kodiak team learn more about recipients’ preferences to send more targeted, relevant content to subscribers.
Once your new subscribers are familiar with your brand, it’s time to turn on the charm and show them why your offerings are the best fit for their needs. While most users usually aren’t quite ready to make a purchase at this stage, they’re typically seriously considering and researching your business’ offerings (sometimes alongside your competitors). That’s why serving them the right content at the right time can help your business push them down the funnel.
To do this successfully, your business needs to know exactly what holds your subscribers back from making a purchase, requesting a demo, attending a webinar, or doing whatever your business defines as a conversion. Then, you can surface content that highlights the benefits of your offerings and addresses any lingering concerns they may have. Luckily, email is the perfect vehicle to do just that.
Your prospects want to learn more about your business, so make it easy on them.
Use your emails to share helpful content like:
Upcoming webinars or past recordings
In-person and virtual events
They can learn more about your products and services and determine if there’s a fit for their problem or unique need.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, expense management and business budgeting software company Divvy sent out the following email to its prospects. The message shares various blog posts, resources, and webinars Divvy created to help its prospects navigate through uncertain times. This email shows off Divvy’s expertise in various areas of finance and allows recipients to easily find and view the company’s latest content as they continue to evaluate Divvy’s offerings.
Hearing from happy customers can be the final push that a prospect needs to convert. Use your emails to share customer success stories, reviews, testimonials, and even user-generated content so your prospects can hear firsthand how your products and services helped similar individuals.
This is a great opportunity to use audience segmentation to surface customer stories that are the most relevant to your prospects. For example, if your business sells business-to-business software, you could share a customer case study from TD Bank or Chase Bank to a prospect working in the finance industry, while a case study featuring Gap or Levis would be better suited for a retail prospect.
Targeting content to your recipients’ needs, demographics, or interests can ensure they receive the most relevant and helpful content to help guide their decision-making process. On top of ensuring your prospects have all the info they need to feel comfortable making a decision, it helps your brand accelerate the sales process.
Here’s how smart pet collar company Fi weaves in client reviews to give credibility to its products and features. This helps validate its products while showing off the various stand-out features of its smart dog collars.
Set up a welcome series workflow or drip campaign to automatically send subscribers emails personalized to their interests. Your business can easily tell your story at scale with these one-to-many campaigns.
In this stage of the buyer’s journey, your prospects are ready to convert—it just might take a little extra coaxing from your business to hurry that process along.
But first, let’s take a step back since the definition of a conversion varies by business model and strategy. For example, different types of conversions include:
Making a purchase
Requesting a demo
Starting a free trial
Creating an account
Attending a webinar or event
Downloading a piece of content
Submitting a website form
You’ll need to determine the goal of your email campaign or individual email to help you know the most relevant content to serve to your audience. While there are several reasons your prospects might be hesitant to convert, here are a few ways you can use email to keep your brand top of mind and push them over the finish line:
We’ve all put an item in our virtual shopping carts with every intent to buy, only to become distracted and forget all about it. Luckily, abandoned cart emails are the perfect way to win back your customers and encourage them to make a transaction.The makeup of an abandoned cart email is fairly simple (although it has the power to wield great results):
1. A headline
2. An image of the exact item(s) they left behind
3. A CTA to resume their shopping experience
One extra element you can choose to include in your emails is a personalized discount code to incentivize your recipients. A 2022 Baymard Institute survey found that 48% of shoppers admit hidden costs (like shipping, fees, and taxes) are what push them to abandon their carts.
To help dispel some of that sticker shock, consider sending out custom discount codes or offers to your most engaged prospects. Giving them 10% off, free shipping, or even a free gift with purchase can be all it takes to convince them to check out!
Backpack and apparel company Topo Designs sends this abandoned cart email anytime a user leaves an online shopping trip prematurely. But instead of just reminding the prospective customer of which items they were looking at, the email also “sweetens the deal” by giving them a 10% off code. This can be the final push they need to revisit their cart and check out.
Your emails worked, and your prospect just became a customer! Congratulations on the conversion, but you can’t hang up your email hat just yet. Now, your business needs to send a transactional email to your new customer summarizing what just happened. These emails allow your customers to review the details of their purchase, webinar/event registration, account creation, or whatever action they took.
While you have less creative freedom with transactional emails, you can still use fun subject lines, eye-catching graphics, and lively language to let your brand shine through—like in this example from Postable, a designer greeting card company. This fun and colorful GIF illustrates that the customer’s order has been shipped and is on the way to the recipient.
While gaining a one-time customer is a sizable achievement, securing a lifetime customer is the key to scaling your business. After all, it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire a new one.
To increase your average customer lifetime value and keep your customers coming back again and again, your brand can use email to:
Ensure a great experience with your business
Keep your brand top of mind the next time they need a similar product or service
After your customers have converted, send helpful follow-up content via email to help ensure they have a good experience with your brand. For example, a software as a service company can send a recent customer a message containing its “Top 5 tips to get the most out of our platform,” while a retailer can share “3 ways to tie a scarf” or “Creative ways to style your recent clothing purchase.”
This topical content can ensure your new customers use and get the most value out of their purchase, free trial, etc. and have an experience with your brand that keeps them coming back for more. That way, the next time they need to make a similar purchase, your business is top of mind.
In this email, digital video and podcast recording solution Riverside shares several tips new users can implement to get the most out of the company’s free trial. From using an external microphone to checking internet stability, these tips give users everything they need to have a successful recording session their first time using the website.
The email also links out to a brief 3-minute video with a recording checklist to help new users get acclimated to the app. If recipients want even more best-practice content, the email also pushes to the company’s knowledge base, YouTube channel, and company blog.
Celebrate your customers’ loyalty by sending emails on major milestones, like a recipient’s birthday, your company’s anniversary, or even the end-of-the-year recap. These fun, lighthearted messages celebrate your evolving relationship with your customers and show that your brand cares deeply about them. Plus, these emails present a great opportunity for your brand to hyperpersonalize your messages to each of your recipients. From adding custom coupon codes to recapping key moments from your customer-business relationship, these emails can help improve engagement and foster goodwill from your customers.
Here’s an example of our own. Every year in December, Twilio SendGrid sends out a personalized “year-in-review” email to all of our users. The email highlights some interesting data from each customer’s last 12 months as a Twilio SendGrid user, including the total number of emails sent, their busiest month, their average open rate, their best performing day of the week, and more. This custom email is a fun way to help your customers reflect on their year while also providing them helpful insights they can use to improve their email program in the new year.
Even the best customer relationships ebb and flow, but for the sake of your email program’s health, you need to determine if a recipient’s lack of engagement is temporary or permanent. Unfortunately, emailing unengaged recipients or inactive email addresses can:
Hurt your overall engagement rates
Lead to increased spam complaint rates
Increase the number of spam traps you send to
To help phase out these underperforming contacts, your business should send a reengagement email. This one-off email:
1. Targets your unengaged recipients
2. Verifies that they still want to receive your messages (or if they’d rather unsubscribe)
3. Allows them to set how frequently they receive future messages from you
While you’ll experience some natural attrition using this process, these campaigns allow you to filter out unresponsive recipients from those who want to continue receiving your messages. You might also choose to allow recipients who want to continue receiving your messages to indicate how frequently they want to hear from your brand or what subjects they’re most interested in via an email preference center. This can help you adjust your sending frequency and better target your email sends to avoid email fatigue and better engage your audiences.
Here’s how employee engagement software Culture Amp ensures recipients want to continue to receive its emails. The email has a simple, eye-catching headline, calling out the fact that this recipient has not engaged with its messages recently. Additionally, the company has a clear CTA, “I want to stay connected,” giving recipients one last chance to indicate they want to remain subscribed. If a user takes no action, Culture Amp removes them from its email list, although the user can always re-subscribe in the future.
One of the best ways to grow your customer base (and your email list) is to turn your current customers into brand advocates. When your customers have an exceptional experience with your business, they’re more likely to recommend your products and services to others via word of mouth. That’s a fairly inexpensive way for you to grow your business and reach new audiences.
Here’s how to use email to turn your customers into advocates.
While roughly 9 out of 10 global consumers check reviews before making an online purchase, convincing customers to leave a review can be a challenge for any sized brand. That’s why it’s best practice to reach out to a customer via email and invite them to provide a detailed review of the product or service and their experience after they make a purchase. Their candid feedback can be just what a prospect needs to hear to finally convert.
Olive oil company Graza uses email to follow up with recent purchasers and encourage them to leave a review for other cooking fans. The email highlights the item the recipient just purchased and has one simple CTA: leave a review. By scheduling this email a few weeks after purchase, Graza ensures the customer has had enough time to try and familiarize themselves with the product so they can leave a well-informed and detailed review.
Your customers can be your best salespeople. They’ve used your products and services and can personally vouch for the quality of your business, which means their recommendation to a friend or colleague carries more weight than a random review on the internet.
Using email, you can incentivize your customers to tap into their networks and spread the word about your business. From free gifts to coupon rewards, giving your customers a little extra motivation to spread the word about your products and services can help you significantly grow your referral business.
Webcam company Lumina sent this email to incentivize its current customers to invite their friends to purchase one of the company’s webcams. Every referred individual receives $25 off their purchase, while the referrer receives a free product as thanks after 2 friends complete their purchases. This referral program spreads goodwill with existing and new customers as both get rewarded for their participation.
Now that you’re a customer journey expert, it’s time to reflect on what the buyer’s journey looks like for your users. To get started, create your customer journey map and see if there are any gaps in your current email strategy. This can help you learn where to target your efforts and have the largest impact on your driving business results. Of course, like anything, emails can get stale over time, so make sure you regularly revisit your existing campaigns and workflows to ensure you serve your subscribers the latest and greatest content your business has to offer.
Whether you’re crafting a welcome campaign or revamping your transactional emails, Twilio SendGrid has everything you need to create and send targeted emails throughout every stage of the customer journey. From responsive design templates to easy-to-use automation tools to robust data dashboards, our suite of tools can help you build strategic and engaging email campaigns that your prospects and customers will love.
Getting started with email is incredibly quick and easy, no matter what coding language you use. You can sign up for Twilio SendGrid for free and start sending today.
SendGrid helps you focus on your business without the cost and complexity of owning and maintaining an email infrastructure. And with a full-featured marketing email service that offers a flexible workflow, powerful list segmentation, and actionable analytics, all of your email needs are met in one simple platform.