Article first published in August 2017, updated June 2019
Have you ever shared a great product on social media or encouraged a friend to try a service that you can’t live without? In doing so, you’ve made yourself a brand advocate. A brand advocate loves a product so much that they’re willing to tell the world how great it is.
However, you didn’t wake up one day and start complimenting a brand on Facebook or raving about it at a dinner party. It takes time and deliberate actions from the brand for customers to reach that point.
What is the customer lifecycle?
Most marketing teams have heard of the basic four-stage customer lifecycle:
When it comes down to creating a customer lifecycle strategy, marketing teams must realize that there’s more involved in the overall cycle. Just as technology is always changing, so has the customer lifecycle, and that means that the old marketing funnel is simply outdated.
Here are the stages of the new marketing funnel, one that’s based on the average lifecycle of customers today.
Source: Campaign Monitor
This marketing funnel is detailed and on point. However, some may find it a bit difficult placing their current prospects into only one of these sections. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, we’ve gone ahead and picked five of the most common stages that marketers need to acknowledge during the customer life cycle.
What are the stages of the customer lifecycle?
From the moment a prospect learns about a brand, they become part of a five-stage customer lifecycle.
- Awareness – Prospect learns about the brand or product
- Purchase – Prospect purchases product and becomes a customer
- Relationship building – Brand nurtures relationship with customer
- Retention – Brand retains one-time customer, making them into a loyal one
- Advocacy – Customer advocates for brand on social media and beyond
To successfully lead customers through these stages, marketers must know where a customer is in the cycle and send specific email messages that complement the customer’s journey. In this way, email becomes an integral part of creating brand advocates.
In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at the five stages of the customer lifecycle, as well as emails you can send during each stage.
The 5 primary stages of the customer lifecycle
While the new marketing funnel includes a total of eight stages of the customer lifecycle, breaking it down into the five primary stages can help marketers in creating their initial customer lifecycle strategy.
Stage 1: Awareness
Awareness is the first step in the customer lifecycle. During this phase, people become aware of your brand and may begin to explore what you offer. When a customer reaches the awareness stage, brands should help subscribers discover and evaluate their product.
Now is a great time to send emails that explain the benefits of your product or tell subscribers how your product solves a problem. Remember, customers don’t buy products; they buy solutions. It’s important to pitch your product correctly during the awareness stage so subscribers can quickly identify with it.
When La Mer, an online skincare company, wanted to promote a moisturizer, the brand showed how the lotion solves a problem. Most moisturizers leave a shiny look or greasy finish, but this lotion is different.
During the awareness stage, you could also send:
- Links to relevant content – Send a follow-up email that directs subscribers to an article about the benefits of your product.
- Testimonials – Direct potential customers a testimonial page or a review site so they can read reviews from real customers.
Stage 2: Purchase
Once a subscriber is aware of and more knowledgeable about your product, it’s time to encourage a purchase. Nothing spurs a sale like a discount or a promotion, so consider offering this kind of incentive via email.
Take additional steps to personalize the offer too. After all, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened and marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns. You can add the subscriber’s name to the email or encourage the purchase of a product that the subscriber has looked at on your website.
Flight Centre, a travel agency with branches across North America, adds the subscriber’s name to this email and focuses on a trip to London, which the subscriber selected as a preferred destination during the signup process.
During the purchase stage, you could also send:
- Free shipping offers – If offering 25% off isn’t realistic, try offering free shipping. Eighty percent of customers say free shipping is the most important incentive during the purchase phase, according to a retail study.
- An invitation – Invite subscribers to set up a demonstration, connect with a sales representative, or come to an event where they can see your product or service in action.
Stage 3: Relationship building
Once a subscriber has made a purchase, it’s time to develop a fruitful relationship. After all, your goal is to have long-term, loyal customers, rather than just those who make a purchase once and move on.
To keep subscribers engaged with your product and brand, consider sending a regular email newsletter. A newsletter has endless possibilities. You can send content about product improvements, staffing changes, growth potential, industry updates, upcoming events, and much more.
British Airways sends a newsletter to its subscribers with a link to its monthly newsletter.
During the relationship building stage, you could also send:
- Post-purchase follow-ups – Ask subscribers about their recent purchase and provide links to support teams or phone numbers to call if they need assistance.
- Surveys – You can collect feedback on specific products through a quick survey.
Stage 4: Retention
Once you’ve built a relationship, you need to nurture it. During the retention stage, brands should make every effort possible to keep subscribers coming back for more.
Focusing on retention is well worth your time, as it costs five times more to attract a new customer than it does to retain a current one, according to Invesp. As you work to retain customers, remember that it’s not all about selling. You’ve started to build a relationship with customers and retention efforts should build on that premise.
Jaybird, a company that sells wireless headphones, sent its loyal customers an email to download a free music app. The purpose of the email is to provide something extra for loyal customers so they’ll see Jaybird as more than just a headphone provider.
During the retention stage, you could also send:
- Offers via a loyalty program – Loyalty programs reward customers for repeat business. These programs not only shows customers that they’re valued, but they also drive sales.
- Incentives – Segment your email list and give certain groups special incentives to buy again. For instance, you might give your most active online customers a free gift with a minimum purchase.
- Links to helpful content – Help customers use your product by sending them links to relevant content on your blog. A company selling camera equipment, for example, could offer tips to take great portraits or landscape shots.
Stage 5: Advocacy
There’s no secret formula for turning loyal customers into die-hard brand advocates, but targeted email marketing goes a long way to cultivate a positive relationship between a brand and its customers.
As you convert subscribers into customers and continue to build relationships, you’ll see that some customers become brand advocates. To encourage this behavior, focus on customer service and showing your appreciation.
The team at MINDBODY sent an email to subscribers when the brand hit a milestone. This email expressed gratitude to customers. It’s a simple thank you note from the CEO without any product pitches or links. This type of email reminds customers that they’re valued by the brand.
During the advocacy stage, you could also send:
- Encouragement for referrals – You can encourage subscribers to refer a friend via email. For every referral made, the subscriber receives a coupon or loyalty points.
- Personal messages to VIPs – Reach out to your most loyal customers, those that have made repeat purchases and been with you for years. Ask them to write a blog post for you or share their experiences on social media. In return for their honest feedback, you can customers early access to a new product or a discount toward a future purchase.
Bonus step: Re-engage
This bonus step is essential when it comes down to having inactive subscribers.
Sometimes subscribers sign up for your emails for an introductory perk or because they found a piece of information particularly useful—but then they go quiet, and you notice they aren’t opening or otherwise interacting with your email campaigns. While it’s simple just to write these inactive subscribers off and try to bring in new subscribers, that’s not a great idea.
Did you know that it costs five times as much to bring in a new subscriber than it does to re-engage an inactive one?
The team at Animoto decided to put together a simple yet engaging re-engagement email to send out to their inactive subscribers.
Source: Really Good Emails
This email shows that the brand cares that they’ve been inactive, and, if they aren’t happy with the information being sent to them, they have the opportunity to opt out or otherwise change their subscription.
Another excellent way to approach inactive subscribers is to ask them what type of material they want to see in the future. Bespoke Post does a great job with that in their re-engagement email.
Source: Really Good Emails
During the retention stage, you could also send:
- Incentives to come back: Special promotions or discounts can help entice inactive users to come back
- Opt-outs to no longer receive emails: Which will, in turn, clean up your email list
To properly leverage email marketing, marketers need to consider how their efforts support the stages of the customer lifecycle. The email examples above should help marketers analyze each stage and create messages that’re geared to deliver the right message at the right time.
That means understanding:
- Your readers and their needs—are you solving a problem they may have?
- How to personalize the message to each of your readers
- How to encourage activities such as referrals, shares, etc.
- That incentives can go a long way in customer retention
Need a little extra guidance on personalizing your emails to your subscriber’s and their unique needs? Then check out why personalized email marketing is essential to customer retention and how it can help in encouraging the customer along their journey with your brand.