Lifecycle Marketing: Retention – Keeping Those Who Mean the Most

 Elliot Hogg 

Following on from engaging your subscribers, next you need to focus on retaining them. Retention in all areas of business is a constant struggle, with companies struggling to prove value on a long-term basis. This is where many email programs get it wrong. A long term value proposition is not only one driven by sending subscribers discounts—you have already sold your customer on the brand by this point. Retention should be driven by valuable and timely content. This is not to say that discounting should be avoided, instead woven into loyalty schemes and other retention techniques.

A key problem for those running email programs is in identifying when the retention stage begins. Here in lies the issue, a good retention strategy begins long before there is a problem. We found in our Lifecycle Benchmark Report, that out of subscribers who churn within the first year, those unsubscribes occur on average after only 33 days. This suggests that the retention stage begins long before we theorize it, and many of your new subscribers will fall off the tracks along the way. Leaving us with a conclusion that brands should not be waiting until subscribers disengage to try and win them back, and should be paying more attention to the additional signals subscribers are sending.

The overarching objective of the retention stage is to extend it for as long as possible and build brand loyalty. There are multiple methods by which retention efforts can be approached…

Content strategy
When subscribers go to open their inbox every morning, there will be a bunch of emails from varying brands, offering varying types of content. It is therefore key that your email stands out in the inbox. One way to increase the chances of this is to ensure the subject line and content is relevant. This could signal a movement away from promotional-based content and toward a more newsletter and update-based strategy, with campaigns including incentives, loyalty-based offerings, and links to helpful content.

A prime example of an excellent content strategy is from Cineworld and in particular the weekly ‘unlimited newsletter’. These consistent campaigns provide strong engagement when benchmarked in the cinema industry, and shows that keeping matured subscribers informed can help with retention efforts.

Secondly, Waitrose has seen very high levels of engagement with recipe based emails. This type of campaign has become somewhat of a trend among supermarket senders, with the duality of both driving higher levels of engagement, while also impacting conversion. This content allows customers to move forward to buy the relevant ingredients from the website, helping reduce friction from email to purchase without sacrificing but improving message quality and relevance.

Targeting and relevance
The purpose of a content strategy is to help increase the targeting and relevance of campaigns to subscribers. There are many tools currently in the market that can help email marketers in this process…

1. A/B testing
This type of testing can take two major forms, testing of the subject line and/or the content of the email. A/B testing has been growing hugely in popularity, a recent Litmus survey found that 39 percent of brands never or rarely A/B test their broadcast and segmented emails, with 61 percent of the market engaging in this form of testing, you do not want to be left behind by competitors.

Therefore when tinkering with content and trying to engage those across various segments of your list, A/B testing can come in. The chance to test on a small segment of your audience gives you the chance to test elements of content in a relatively risk-free environment. Then if certain elements of the subject line or content prove successful with subscribers, then the campaign can be rolled out to a larger portion of the segment, or even the entire list.

Find out more about A/B Testing here.

2. Automation
Research by Digital Doughnut found that 68 percent of brands had at least one email automation program running at a given time. So much like A/B Testing being a trendy tool for email marketers in 2018, it has seen a large uptake and without its use, programs may be left behind.

In the battle for relevancy, automation holds the key for many. With programs setup with the inherent intention for being based upon consumer’s actions, the relevancy of all automated campaigns is immediately validated. This is reflected with click-through rates of over 5 percent being 14 percent more than likely to occur for programs with triggered messaging in place, find out more in The State of Email Engagement 2019. The result of this is an improved customer experience and therefore when targeting potential ‘churn risk’ segments of your list, any email program can consistently prove its worth with relevant and personalized content and messaging.

Retention should not be forced
Subscribers should remain subscribed to your program because they want to be, and not for any other reason. While all of the above goals are about retaining email addresses on your list at all costs, it is through methods addressing the overall subscriber experience and improving this to nurture your subscribers through the stages of the customer lifecycle. It can be incredibly harmful for an email program to retain unhappy subscribers. With that in mind, make your the unsubscribe process as simple as possible, using one-click unsubscribe, while also bringing useful information back into the business through an unsubscribe survey.

The results of this can inform your email program in the future, by helping to understand what factors caused dissatisfaction—whether it be your email content or frequency of email received. Without this process, users may simply complain, and the result of this would be an increase complaint rate, harming reputation. This can then provide a real business case on why an extended preference center could aid and lengthen the retention stage for your program, by allowing users more access and options to the email they receive.

Identifying when the retention stage for your email program occurs is the key starting point in identifying how to approach improving the value of the program to matured subscribers. Targeting those who know the brand inside out is both very easy and very difficult, they have high expectations for relevance and consistency of content. This is where tools such as A/B testing and automation can be key for email marketers.

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About Elliot Hogg

Elliot has a passion for analyzing brands and their email marketing strategies through the use of data, and forming key action points with the consumer in mind. As an Associate Email Strategist for Return Path, Elliot utilizes this passion to help marketers think outside of the box when planning their email programs, with the desired impact of increased deliverability, ROI and a better customer experience.

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