Automation is often portrayed as dehumanizing and impersonal. But in email marketing, automation tools can help you create the exact opposite: timely, relevant and highly personalized messages that speak to your individual customers' needs and objectives.
You just can't do that with one-size-fits-all emails. Automation makes personalization scalable.
Unless you're prepared to create an email for each of your thousands or millions of emails, you need automation to achieve 1:1 messaging that personalizes each email based on your customer's point in your lifecycle.
This kind of messaging is necessary in B2B email marketing, where email content focuses on moving visitors from unknown prospects into marketing-qualified leads, and on to being sales-qualified leads.
Changing your marketing mindset
Look below at the communications lifecycle for a cloud-based "Software as a Service" provider. The lines show you the touch points (opportunities) along the lifecycle (also called the customer journey) where relevant messages can move the prospect from enquirer to long-term customer.
Naturally, you want your customer to buy something, but the map shows you that there are many other points along the journey where "buy this" is the wrong message. This is where a lot of B2B marketers go wrong – they communicate the wrong message too soon and kill their chance of conversion.
This takes a whole new mindset, one that relies less on "marketing to customers" and more on "providing customer service," one that's customer-centric and focused on their needs, not just on what you want to sell them.
Looking back at the chart, note the colored boxes that pop up along the way. They represent five kinds of messaging objectives. The gray and yellow lines show where the messaging matches the lifecycle points.
These messages evolve into content that's been tuned toward moving them from unknown visitors to marketing-qualified leads, then to sales-qualified leads and then to making the first purchase and retaining the customer.
At the same time, another cycle begins in the background for customers who don't respond to early-stage messaging or show other signs that they're falling off the path. That triggers win-back messaging.
How automation + data = personalization
A key point to remember about automation is that you use it strategically, not just because it's there on your email platform. Each of the messages you create has a specific role in your program.
Further, as different as they are to each other, all of the messages in the chart are related:
- Each one occurs in response to customer behavior, whether to opt in for general email news and updates; set up a product trial, download a white paper, attend an event or seek more information.
- Each of those actions corresponds to a customer's need. Why did they fill in forms for papers (and why those papers) or want to sign up for product trials? You should be aware of the customer’s objectives and tune your email content to meet those needs and objectives.
- Each action also generates data you can feed into your automation tools to create highly personalized messages for many different objectives.
When you understand those common factors, you can shape your email content so that every email you send helps your customers get closer to accomplishing the goals that meet their own needs, as signaled by their behavior.
That's how automation, that great "impersonal" tool, helps you create personalized, service-based messages, something you can't do with broadcast email no matter how lovingly you handcraft it.
Two key questions to answer:
Why do customers come to your site?
In the introduction to this article we said lifecycle messages aim to meet customer needs. That's a key point, because it drives home the reason why you use a service-oriented approach in your messages instead of just trying to sell all the time.
Why did your prospects come to your site? Why do they need a particular white paper or want information about a product trial? A sales pitch won't appeal to people who are just starting a quest – too much too soon can scare them away.
Your messages can instead nurture your enquirers and qualify them for different levels of follow-up actions, such as sending helpful information, links to your FAQ or user group, case and use studies, related white papers, specific blog posts, videos, podcasts and recorded webinars and whatever else you have on offer.
Keep your focus on this principle: Everything we do is to help our customers make decisions, meet needs and achieve goals.
This focus also helps us to be customer-focused and not brand-focused. Remember – if we help our customers to achieve their goals, then we will achieve our goals.
Email content isn't an all-or-nothing game, though. We do want prospects to buy, after all! Every message you send is intended to move someone closer to a purchase through more engaging actions like promoting a trial service or listing the benefits of upgrading from basic to paid service. But making the message all about the purchase and not what your customers need to move forward won't move the needle.
What's the value exchange?
Customers come to your website with needs. You offer to send specific kinds of information targeted to those needs – content, offers, etc. – in return for their email addresses and other data. A transaction has taken place even though no money changes hands.
That's the value exchange. You use data and automation to create a series of emails that welcomes, nurtures and on-boards new customers with content and offers that add the most value to their experiences and moves them into longer and deeper interactions with your brand. That's how you uphold your end of the value exchange – by delivering upon the promise made in the initial transaction.
Real-life example: Wistia
Wistia, a U.S.-based business video-hosting company, send a coordinated set of 10 email messages that corresponds to the lifecycle points mentioned in the chart, including the initial welcome messages, the purchase acknowledgement and a lapsing-customer series.
We pulled some representative emails below from the message cycle so you can see how automation and a customer-service focus can mesh in real life:
Welcome and on-boarding series
The email below is the first message the company sends to new trial users. The message reads like a conversation between the user and his personal support person (note the name, photo and contact link at the end).
All of the content is geared toward moving the user into uploading that crucial first step. You can't get much more service-oriented with an automated email; it sounds like a personal phone call.
This email aims to achieve a micro-conversion – the customer uploads a video to his/her account. The message is the first of several that show trials users how to upload, share and embed videos and analyze data.
All the messages in this series, including the one below, share the same voice: friendly, helpful, conversational, a tone which is key to the brand (slogan: "Your friendly neighborhood video platform"). As you would expect, they use video nicely to help onboard you during the trial.
Conversion (milestone trigger)
Customers who haven't converted to a paid service by the end of their trial periods receive the following email. Instead of focusing exclusively on the conversion, the message takes the service approach by explaining benefits of upgrading as well as the alternatives.
Once again, the tone is conversational rather than promotional, and the name and photo match the first welcome email.
Here's what users receive if they do opt for a paid subscription:
Lapsing customers/win-back series
Trial users who don't their uploaded videos trigger a three-email support-focused series aimed at pulling them back on track. Again, the content is heavily service-oriented and conversational, designed to answer questions, resolve problems and retain users.
Yes, we chose the last email of this series to show you because it has a dog in it. But not just any dog. Lenny is the canine face of Wistia, and it's a nice touch to end the series on a humorous note.
Automation makes personalization work on a grand scale in email marketing and enables marketers to shift from a "marketing to customers" mindset to a "customer service" viewpoint.
Although one-to-many messages will always have a place in the email ecosystem, triggered and targeted messages created through automation allow marketers to tune messages to the customer's location in the lifecycle.
Using automation to marry data and content, these messages speak to your customer's wants, needs and objectives, especially when "buy now" is not the message that will keep customers moving along on the journey.
Remember – if we help our customers to achieve their goals, then we will achieve our goals.
How have you used marketing automation to help your customers solve their problems? Tell us your story in the comments.