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Lifecycle email automations: Which measures pay off the most?
Find out from experienced marketers which email marketing measures really pay off and which don’t.
You’re probably familiar with claims from email service providers and marketing consultants that shopping basket abandonment mails boost sales many times over. Or that welcome email sequences measurably promote customer loyalty and generate X times more first sales than one-off welcome emails.
According to our experience, highly personalized marketing emails that use automations to tailor the customer journey can indeed prove exceptionally effective. They have the added benefit of simplifying our everyday work; after the initial effort of setting them up, they mostly run on their own – apart from essential updates to design or content. So while the automations generate ongoing traffic and conversions, more time can be invested in developing and optimizing new campaigns.
But which email campaign types deliver the best results in times of tight budgets and limited resources? Which strategies are best suited for moving away from traditional “spray and pray marketing” to a system in which customers receive personalized experiences? To find out, we conducted a qualitative survey of our B2C customers. We asked companies with well-known brands from various industries to tell us which automations were effective in supporting their email marketing and which finally proved less efficient. The following list of email campaign types was used as a basis for our discussion:
- Welcome sequences
- Shopping basket abandonment mails
- Personalized after-sales sequences
- Reactivation campaigns
- Birthday & anniversary mails
- Up-selling campaigns
- Cross-selling campaigns
- Watch lists & search request notifications
- Discount promotions & special offers
The companies in our survey used most – if not all – of the campaign types named above and were therefore in a position to make particularly good statements about their effectiveness. Even though all companies are ultimately in pursuit of the same goal of boosting turnover, their priorities differ. Based on these priorities, we classified the results in three profiles.
Group 1: The relationship cultivators
We asked our customers which email automation they would use first if they were to start again from scratch. The so-called relationship cultivators mostly agreed that they would use the welcome sequence, the first building block in the customer journey following a newsletter registration.
For them, the journey must begin at the chronological starting point of the email communication with the customer: “We implemented the most important lifecycle campaigns in sequential order,” said a bookstore representative. “In terms of impact, the welcome sequence also makes the most turnover for us.”
Other companies consider the welcome sequence to be particularly important when cultivating relationships with subscribers. “The welcome sequence is the first contact after signing up for a newsletter,” explains a marketer in the fashion industry. “This is where we directly establish the first contact between the customer and the web shop. If the customers are also given a welcome voucher here, we directly gain a user in the web shop and go straight into the purchase cycle.”
One respondent’s word of advice to marketers just now setting up automations:
Take a look at your customer’s lifecycle, create a good database and then consider how you want to reach out to your customers. And I mean after the welcome sequence, because that’s something you’ll be doing, one way or another.
Group 2: The conversion maximizers
Other marketers put the communication at all stages of the purchase at the heart of their strategy. All email marketing professionals we spoke to agree on this point: The key to success lies in the interplay of several automations. The so-called conversion maximizers view above all shopping basket abandonment emails as their most powerful tool.
“The first thing I’d set up is the shopping basket abandonment email. This is a good way to generate a purchase. The final hurdle in the way of a purchase is overcome by reminding the customer that there’s something still in their shopping basket,” confirms a representative of the DIY sector.
This automation is also greatly appreciated in the fashion sector, despite the effort involved in implementing it: “Shopping basket abandonment involves a lot of work, but we believe it’s worth the effort”, a claim often heard in the sector.
In general, the work involved in designing and creating email automations should never be estimated. As one marketer says: “Once they’ve been set up, they don’t require so much work. But finding the right point in product development at which to set them up – that’s quite challenging for us. Data protection often gets in the way too. […] If the privacy rules are constantly changing, the whole thing becomes technically more complex. But once they’re up and running, it’s worth it and afterwards it’s less work to keep them going.”
It’s like a marathon, you just have to keep running.”
Even if the automations are up and working, you still have to keep an eye on how they’re performing. There’s always something to optimize. But you don’t need to develop a completely new sequence every time; existing processes can also be improved my making small tweaks and regularly carrying out A/B tests.
Group 3: The quick starters
We’re all familiar with the temptation to reach for the proverbial low-hanging fruits. The marketers that belong to this group are no exception. They begin by considering what can be set up fast and at low cost and focus later on gradually optimizing and adding automations further down the line.
Much turnover can be generated by even the tiniest tweak.
One retail marketer therefore recommends testing a large number of variables in all campaign types and fine-tuning the main KPIs in a series of small steps. As always, the focus here is on the conversions, but the path forward is via the open and click-through rates of email campaigns which ultimately are the factors driving website traffic. The key thing to note is that the click-through rate is of greater importance than the open rate; after all, it’s the clicks that increase the traffic on the company’s website and, by extension, the chances of closing a deal.
Another contact emphasized that it was quicker and less costly to use existing contacts from CRM and set up new automation types than to address “entirely new” target groups. An automation also needs to deliver good results. A/B testing is of crucial importance here, and if website traffic is very high, it pays to start direct success measuring within a week. If the number of website visitors is lower, you will not need to start this quite so soon.
A third respondent added: “We focus very strongly on sales via the email channel because email is relatively cheaper than other channels. This works extremely well for us and we’ll continue this course of action next year.” Here’s how she explained the importance of generating measurable success fast: “We encourage customers to do things themselves and sustainability is a huge topic for us. But we still have to ensure that our sales goals are reached through our emails.”
Regardless of the company strategy, all our discussion partners agreed that the interplay between several automations in email proved to be extremely worthwhile. When asked which methods they would dispense with in the future, only the anniversary campaign was mentioned by one contact who deemed it “unnecessary as things currently stand”. Other contacts said that they did not consider up-selling and cross-selling to be particularly worthwhile. However, one marketer expressed a different view: “No, all [email automations] are relevant. They each have their own justification.”
When asked which of the methods on our list a company should try, one respondent said: “It’s worth giving every automation a try. What pays off and what doesn’t will transpire later.” He added that, even if automation did require a lot of work and effort, this could still be offset by the potential added value. On the whole the assessments here were positive.
There were different views regarding the point at which automation pays off, and sometimes things take longer than expected. “A colleague of ours in business analytics said that between six months and a year’s worth of data needs to be collected and imported before things run smoothly. Depending on the costs of the team, this could take a few months, six months or even a year.” For other companies, however, the measures already paid off after only two weeks. Whether you need to plan over a long- or a short-term horizon would appear to depend on volume and on how customer communications are structured.
A key point with automation is that things needs to be personalized as this is the fastest way to finally bid farewell to the “spray and pray” method and enter into communication with customers in a way that addresses their needs. “These automations are best set up on the basis of individual offers,” one marketer assured us.
Overall, the companies we surveyed couldn’t imagine doing business without automated email marketing. The suppliers’ sales arguments are therefore not entirely without foundation. Automations will continue to play a major role in the future. “We’ve already got some exciting things planned, such as integrating the entire lifecycle,” said a DIY marketer, “What we’re dealing with at the moment is just a fraction of what’s possible. Things can certainly be expected to grow in the future.” And one retail contact concluded:
Email is not dead. Nor will it be dead in three years. On the contrary, it will continue to play a role. We see this in the customers and the open rates.
Would you like some advice on setting up your email automation sequences or require support in implementing them? We offer services on multiple platforms for companies of all industries.