02/09/2016 04:09 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 05:12 EST

Automated Emails Build A Loyal Customer Base

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Open emails

A reoccurring concern I get quite often as a growth marketer (or growth hacker, for those in the know), is:

"I have customers coming in the door. How do I keep them coming back for more?"

Keeping customers interested and engaged with your product or service is one of the most important puzzle pieces that make or break a business. If you've taken Business Marketing 101, you're well aware of the 80/20 rule: 80 per cent of your business comes from 20 per cent of your customers.

If my math is correct, it's safe to say your business will die without some level of loyalty or retention as part of your marketing strategy. Praying and wishing just doesn't get you far these days, and you need to a strategy that can stick.

Spiders that build the most effective web will always trap the most prey. For now lets pretend "prey" actually means "your honest and loveable customers," okay?

Building loyalty with your customers begins with listening to your customers. With such a wide variety of communication vehicles like email, SMS, push messaging and social media to ride your promotional messaging, you will need to discover which methods best resonate with your customers.

While I would suggest learning through qualitative methods (one-on-one interactions, surveys and focus groups) and through quantitative methods (analytics and data gathering), there's only a handful of methods that I would suggest every business must explore. At the top of the list is the automated email.

Email is still regarded as one of the most viable solutions for communicating with your customers. Interaction levels vary between industries, however I'm sure if most emails weren't written so one-way and actually paid attention to the needs of their customers, those averages would be significantly higher.

I'll take a wager and say 100 per cent of people reading this article would have some experience with subscribing, reading and unsubscribing with a newsletter. We all have read a newsletter we liked, disliked or wondered how the heck we ended up on their mailing list in the first place.

Most newsletters lack a customer-focused strategy that optimizes their open rates and click-through rates. If they can't get a manual email working right, how can they expect to automate?

I get it: writing an individual newsletter can be hard work, especially if you're sticking to a weekly or bi-weekly schedule. So lets simplify it. In just a few steps we'll help decentralize your email marketing strategy into a self-sustaining engine that continually engages your customers with growing results.

Today's strategy will focus on the autonomous side of email marketing: we're going to free your writer from the shackles of weekly newsletters and focus on a building an automated marketing system.

Study: 91 per cent of the most successful users agree that marketing automation is "very important" to the overall success of their marketing across channels. - Marketo & Ascend2 "Marketing Automation Strategies for Sustaining Success" (2015)

First, you need to put the right people on the right tasks. Your team recipe will include: one (1) writer, one (1) designer and one (1) data analyst. Roles may overlap, especially if you're of the small business kind, but ultimately your goal is to have them treat this as a ongoing project rather than ongoing "work."

It may be useful to take pieces from your existing team -- your existing blog content creator can assist with putting together the automated email content and building your editorial calendar. Your web designer can spend their time creating the template for each email. Last but definitely not least, your data analyst will run split tests and observe your metrics to produce recommendations for the entire team.

If you're having a hard time finding them, remember you can always reach out to freelancers on Fiverr to get help remotely. Upwork even allows you to create agencies to centralize your freelancers into projects. Due has a great guide on how to find top freelancers.

Study: Of U.S. businesses with 20 or more employees, only about four per cent are users of marketing automation software. - VentureBeat, "Buyers and Users Marketing Automation Survey: Results, Analysis and Key Findings" (2014)

Next you'll need the right tools. It's important to have the proper automated email platform to host all your work and your customer database. No matter which platform you choose, you need to make sure that it includes the bare essentials: reliable customer database hosting, automation, customizable email templates, a robust metric reporting interface and, preferably, a free trial to make sure they actually mean it.

I've had good experience with GetResponse, an email marketing platform that provides both action-based and time-based email triggers. WorkFlowMax is another good tool to use for managing your project, including collaborating on ideas, building content calendars, and for maximum visibility.

Now that you have your chess pieces ready, you're going to run through the following steps in order to maximize the customer journey.

1. Learn customer habits through quantitative and qualitative analysis

Listen to your customers and understand their habits. Your data analyst should help plenty in this area. What brings your most loyal customers back? How often do your customers return before you lose them? Observe their behaviour on Google Analytics and compare the habits of new visitors to returning visitors.

See what your competitors are doing that might be different. Bring customers in and just flat out ask them: What did we do to lose you? Distribute a short survey and ask about their purchase habits. Incentivize them if you must -- you have to get to the bottom of this!

2. Plot out the pain points in the customer journey

Now that you've done some research on your customers, next you will need to identify what part of the process you lost them. An easy suggestion is to ask them for their email before they exit (or give them something in exchange since you know their habits). If you're losing customers because they're getting confused about your product, maybe that's the root cause.

3. Nail down which parts of the journey will require communication

Pain areas have been plotted. Now you need to see how you can help. In the Value Proposition Canvas, we would call this the pain relievers. If you see parts of the customer journey that need a Band-Aid, this is the time to address them. This will essentially map out your automated email touch points.

4. Build the content to support your customers

You have the touch points, now you just need the content. Start by assigning your content creator with the necessary knowledge and tools to help your customers during each of those times of need. Be very clear and honest in your messaging: depending on your pain relievers, it may be beneficial to be educational and honest in your tone. Other touch points may require a direct sales offer. Your designer should work with your content creator to ensure the design supports the content.

5. Setup a few A/B tests to your design, subject lines, layout, and content

Assuming you've already looped your data analyst in with your initial research on customer habits, your analyst will need to be called upon again to work with the content creator and designer to produce multiple variations of each message in the automated email strategy. Setup multiple A/B tests in order to test and maximize the effectiveness of the designer's designs, the content creator's content, and even your initial decisions on your customer's habits.

6. Collect data and improve continuously

Your weapons are in place -- now it's time to execute. Begin your campaign and allow all your A/B tests to run simultaneously. Once an optimization discovery is made, code those changes permanently and run another experiment. Watch your analytics for possible improvements to your open rates, click-through rates and even the subscribe/unsubscribe rates.

7. Ask for direct feedback

One final piece that most people forget is to ask for feedback directly from the customer. Sometimes a simple text-only email requesting their feedback will garner a better response than a flashy, fully designed email. Iterate and improve through both data and verbalized feedback.

Once launched, your new autonomous email marketing campaign should run on its own, and depending if you're the type to prefer being great over good, you'll want to continually experiment and improve your messaging. The heart of building a loyal customer base stems from not just keeping the dialogue relevant, but also keeping the dialogue going.

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