Customer Lifecycle Marketing: What It Is & How to Do it Right
As an ecommerce retailer, keeping your customers engaged and coming back for more is always a top priority.
Of course, their return is never guaranteed.
In fact, the average retention rate for ecommerce companies typically hovers around the 30% mark. In other words, roughly 70% of your first-time buyers won’t end up buying from your brand again.
Worse yet, most of your potential customers won’t even make an initial purchase. In general, ecommerce retailers can expect to see conversion rates averaging at about 3%.
Obviously, the more satisfied your customers are, the more likely they are to return.
Still, working under the assumption that they will return on their own volition is essentially leaving their return up to chance.
Yes, the decision will ultimately be up to them — but you should still do everything you possibly can to make their return a near-certainty.
This is where customer lifecycle marketing comes into play.
What is Customer Lifecycle Marketing?
Customer lifecycle marketing is a marketing strategy that focuses on delivering laser-focused value to your individual customers at specific points along their journey with your brand.
Customer lifecycle marketing focuses on serving customers within the following stages:
Purchase (and Post-Purchase)
Retention and Loyalty
Overall, customer lifecycle marketing (CLM) is about giving your individual customers exactly what they need to take “the next step” on their path to success — whatever this next step may be.
Customer lifecycle marketing is about giving your individual customers exactly what they need to take “the next step” on their path to success
CLM, then, is highly personalized on all fronts. A strategic approach to customer lifecycle marketing aims to deliver the right message and/or offer at the best possible time and place, based on the individual’s specific circumstances.
Improving your CLM efforts means you’ll always be prepared to deliver more value to your customers, no matter where they stand with your brand.
More than that, focusing on CLM also ensures your customers know you’ll always have more to offer them — whether they’re brand new to your company or have been a loyal customer for years.
5 Major Benefits of Customer Lifecycle Marketing
Just from the definition, it’s pretty clear that CLM is beneficial to both your customers and your company.
Let’s take a closer look at just how beneficial strategic customer lifecycle marketing can be.
1. Build Trust from the Start of Your Customer Relationships
Building trust amongst your target audience is becoming increasingly important for ecommerce retailers.
As data from MarketingCharts shows, trust plays a huge role in the modern consumer’s decision to do business with a brand — and their decision to stick around for the long haul. Conversely, it’s well-accepted that nearly 70% of consumers stop patronizing brands that don’t seem to care much about them.
By delivering highly-personalized offers, experiences, and overall value to your customers based on your needs, you make clear that your team:
Knows and understands them as individuals
Knows what they need from you at almost any given moment (even if they, themselves, don’t know it)
Can — and will — deliver value to them whenever they engage with your brand
If your customers can trust that you’ll be able to help them succeed and grow at all times, they’ll have every reason to keep coming back time and again.
2. Increase Customer Engagement
As we said earlier, even your most satisfied customers aren’t guaranteed to come back just because they’ve had positive experiences with your brand in the past.
To be blunt:
Your customers don’t owe anything to you. Once they’ve gotten what they’ve paid for, they have no reason to come back.
That is unless you give them a reason to do so — which is what customer lifecycle marketing is all about.
As a retailer, it’s your duty to not only deliver on your initial promises but to also provide additional value that will take your customers even further along in their journey.
Strategic CLM focuses your attention on the ongoing needs of your customers, in turn enabling you to keep them engaged well past their initial experiences with your brand.
3. Create and Enable Advocates for Your Brand
Your customers are also under no obligation to spread the good word about their experiences with your brand, either.
And, unfortunately, even your satisfied customers might not take it upon themselves to do so.
Again, you need to give them a reason to rave to their friends and family members about your brand in the first place. Continually delivering value throughout the customer lifecycle — as opposed to providing a one-off positive experience — is crucial, here.
You may also need to prompt your satisfied customers to refer your brand to others, as well. As we’ll discuss, customer lifecycle marketing focuses heavily on incentivizing brand evangelism through intrinsic and extrinsic means — making your successful customers more likely to sing your praises to others in their network,
4. Improve Customer Lifetime Value
It’s simple logic:
The longer a customer sticks with your brand, the more valuable they are to your business.
First of all, it costs less to keep current customers onboard than it does to acquire new ones. Even if a customer’s average order value and purchase frequency stays level, they’ll still be providing ongoing value to your company.
Even if a customer’s average order value and purchase frequency stays level, they’ll still be providing ongoing value to your company.
As shown above, when a customer does start buying more — and more frequently — their lifetime value will potentially increase ten times over.
Successful customer referrals also impact your average CLV in a number of ways.
Since it costs less to acquire referred customers than brand new ones, you can attribute the costs saved to your referring customers — who exist because you’ve built them up to the point of recommending your brand to others.
Add to this the fact that referred customers, on average, have a higher CLV themselves, and you have a recipe for serious profits
That is, as long as you continue to deliver ongoing value to your customers through strategic and effective lifecycle marketing.
Speaking of profits...
5. Facilitate Business Growth
While your CLM initiatives will require an investment on your part, these costs will prove to be well worth it almost immediately.
In addition to the financial gains we’ve already discussed, focusing on CLM will lead to a ton of new opportunities for your business.
As you become more in tune with your customers’ needs not just when they come to you but also during the “hidden” moments of their journey, you’ll uncover more and more ways to serve them.
This, in turn, will lead to breakthroughs for your ecommerce company — be it more and better products, improved service, and support, innovative experiences, or any other initiatives that will put you ahead of the competition.
So, you won’t just be making more money from your lifecycle marketing efforts (you will). You’ll also be making the customer-facing improvements needed to keep your brand relevant and successful well into the future.
Customer Lifecycle Marketing Strategies for Each Stage of the Buyer’s Journey
We know just how important it is to tailor your approach to your customers to “where they’re at” in their journey with your brand.
Now, let’s dig into some of the key strategies you can use at each stage of this journey to keep your customers engaged — and to continuously deliver laser-focused value to them at all times.
Stage 1: Awareness
Consumers at the Awareness stage of the customer journey are just beginning to notice they have a problem or challenge that needs to be overcome.
Here, you have three key goals when engaging with them:
Make the issue crystal clear in their minds
Ensure they understand what’s to be gained by overcoming the issue (and the implications of not doing so)
Make them aware that their problem can, in fact, be overcome
As a retailer, there are a number of ways to both identify and engage these prospects.
In looking to take a “wide net” approach, you’ll want to go where your prospects are.
Delivering announcements and press releases on third-party sites and publications can pique the interest of those who are in need of your services — but may not yet recognize this need, themselves.
Similarly, partnering with niche influencers can get your brand in front of specific individuals who are aware of the problem they face, but who may not be aware that potential solutions exist.
This goes back to the idea of trust: While new prospects will likely be skeptical of your claims about your products, they’ll be much more likely to trust the recommendation of a public figure they know and respect.
Another useful approach is focusing on content creation. In the words of Alon Popilskis, Owner of Smart SEO Designs:
"Blogging, making use of podcasts as well as videos, and social media content can also help you catch the attention of those who are aware of their issue, but haven’t identified any one solution just yet.
Content focusing on longtail, question-based keywords can help with SEO initiatives and can attract ToFu customers just starting on their journey to success.
If you’re taking a more focused route, PPC ads targeting lookalike audiences is key. Here, you’ll be aiming to attract individuals on Google, Facebook, and other social media channels that share certain qualities with your current, high-value audience members.
Truth be told, lifecycle marketing at the Awareness stage isn’t nearly as personalized as it is throughout the rest of the customer journey.”
Since you don’t yet know your potential customers as individuals, the next best thing is to use what you do know about them to get them to engage further.
From there, you can learn more about their individual needs — and can then begin delivering exactly what they need to move forward with your brand.
Stage 2: Engagement
Prospects at the Engagement stage are those who:
Are aware of their issue
Know that there are solutions available to help them
Know that your brand offers a potential solution to their issue
So, your goals when engaging with said prospects are to:
Showcase the value of your product or service
Give your individual prospects every reason to trust that your solution is the best solution for them
Your first order of business will be to generate soft conversions from interested prospects. Typically, this means getting new prospects to sign up for your mailing list — therefore creating a direct line of communication with them.
Whether through on-site registration forms, dedicated landing pages, a click-to-call widget, or chatbot messaging, you’ll want to collect the information you need to begin delivering tailored offers and experiences to your individual prospects.
Then...you need to start delivering value as soon as possible.
Here’s where personalized email drip campaigns come into play.
Throughout your initial Welcome email campaigns (and matching social media, chatbot, and SMS campaigns), you’ll have a number of goals to focus on.
First, you’ll want to (of course) welcome your new prospect with open arms.
Thanking them for engaging with your brand and giving you their contact info
Collecting additional information from them in order to better serve them
Informing them of what to expect from your emails and correspondences in the future
As you learn more about your new prospects — both from their responses and their engagements with your content — you’ll gain a better idea of what you need to do to help them move forward in their journey. The more value you deliver to them upfront, the more likely they’ll be to buy from you in the future.
Within these correspondences, you’ll want to include clear evidence that your solution can work for them. Social proof is huge here, as it allows your prospects to see what your product or service has done for others who had once been in their shoes — and are now miles and miles ahead of them.
Browser or cart abandonment emails, SMS recovery campaigns, and retargeting via PPC ads can also keep prospects interested in specific products they may have checked out on your site. Through these means, you can deliver tailored offers that your potential customers simply can’t refuse.
Another key thing to focus on at this stage (and all subsequent stages) is timing. As you gain a better understanding of when your prospects are most likely to engage with your brand and your content, you’ll want to tailor your outreach to optimize delivery and receipt of your messages.
As much as the Engagement stage of the customer lifecycle is meant to set the consumer’s expectations, it also sets the stage for how you’ll engage with them moving forward.
That said, your focus shouldn’t yet be on generating conversions, but more on getting to know what will keep your prospects engaged well into the future. Do this, and conversions will soon follow.
3. Conversion and Post-Purchase
Once a prospect makes their first purchase and officially becomes a customer, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
First of all, you’ll want to ensure they’re able to get the most possible value out of the product they’ve purchased.
Ensuring they’ve received the product as expected
Confirming that their experience thus far has been exceptional
Delivering in-depth content revolving around best practices and other tips for product use
It’s crucial that you deliver these correspondences as the individual customer expects and in the most effective way possible.
In some cases, a well-timed push notification or SMS message can remind users of the reason they made a purchase (and potentially get them to buy more):
Or, you might begin an entirely new email drip campaign specifically focused on getting the most out of the product they’ve recently purchased:
Post-purchase surveys can also help you dig into specific areas of your customer experience — such as the actual process of purchasing an item via your website.
While you do want to focus on ensuring your new customers get value from their recent purchase, you also want to start looking to the future, too.
Upselling and cross-selling are key, here — and can be done during a purchase, directly after purchase (such as with a thank you page), or at some point soon after the purchase has been made.
The screenshot above shows how brands can use ReConvert from Stilyo to incentivize customers to increase their order value in real-time.
The idea is to ensure the product the customer buys is the best product for their current purposes.
Since they might have their sights set on a more basic (and less expensive) product, it’s your duty to point them toward more valuable products that will better suit their needs.
“This initial post-purchase stage is a “make or break” moment for your business. If the value of your products (and overall brand) isn’t immediately obvious to your new customers, you’ll have very little chance of keeping them around.” - Rachel Esco, Marketing Manager, CustomeriCare
With a strategic approach to customer lifecycle marketing, though, you can be all but certain your first-time customers will get the value they expected from your products — and will stick around to see what else you have to offer, as well.
4. Retention, Loyalty, and Growth
Speaking of getting your new customers to stick around…
As we said earlier, the bulk of your business will come from your loyal, long-time customers.
Looking at this a different way, if you aren’t able to keep your customers onboard past their first purchase, your business isn’t likely to survive.
Providing top-notch service and support to your customers is vital to customer retention — and it’s best done proactively.
For starters, delivering timely instructions, tips, and prompts to your new customers can give them the direction and focus they need to proceed in their journey.
In some cases, you’ll want to deliver triggered messages once the customer reaches a specific milestone.
You can also send out time-based prompts, whether the customer has been engaging with your product or has been struggling:
Providing self-service options can also effectively keep your customers on board as they get their feet wet with your brand. A comprehensive knowledge base, for example, can enable your customers to take control of their current situation — and find the solution they need to move forward at any given moment.
More than just getting your one-time customers to return, it’s also critical that you keep them coming back more often — and, ideally, get them to increase their order value as time goes on.
Again, upsell and cross-sell offers allow you to pile on the value, offering more advanced or supplemental products to customers as they get acclimated with their initial purchase.
The customer will also likely experience diminishing returns from their initial purchase — meaning they may need these additional offers to continue experiencing gains from your brand. If you don’t have anything more to offer them, they’ll find a brand that does.
Timely usage and/or replenishment reminders can keep your customers on-track, and build habitual use of your product into their lives.
As time goes on, you’ll want to ever-so-slightly increase their purchase frequency by sending slightly more frequent reminders.
For example, if a customer typically makes a purchase every 30 days, your aim may be to get them to make their next purchase at the 25-28 day mark.
While you can do all this via individual emails and other outreach methods, a systematic approach will likely lead to much higher engagement and retention rates.
Here, we’re talking loyalty and VIP programs.
By creating a VIP program for your most loyal (and most valuable) customers, you can deliver ultra-targeted offers based on their purchase and engagement histories, as well as their overall preferences.
As shown above, Starbucks points long-time customers toward certain food or beverage products that they may not have yet tried — but that fall within their typical wheelhouse.
What’s more, loyal customers earn more points by making more frequent purchases, which they can then use to receive freebies and other suggested offers.
Even amongst your long-time customers, there’s never a guarantee that they’ll return to your store. And, even if they do, you should always be looking for ways to get them to do more business with your brand.
Perhaps the only thing better than retaining your most valuable customers is getting these individuals to bring even more customers to your retail business.
It’s vital, then, that your customer lifecycle marketing playbook includes strategies for creating customer advocacy and generating referrals.
It’s vital that your customer lifecycle marketing playbook includes strategies for creating customer advocacy and generating referrals.
As we touched on earlier, soliciting social proof via customer reviews and testimonials is a top priority.
Whether presenting these testimonials “as is” or creating content surrounding the feedback you collect, you stand a much better chance of converting new customers using your customers’ words than your own statements.
When soliciting testimonials and social proof from your current customers, it’s important to keep them focused on specific aspects of their experiences with your brand.
In turn, the social proof you provide your potential customers will have a much greater impact on their purchasing decision.
Of course, not all feedback you receive will be 100% positive. And that’s okay —as long as you address it, and make it well known that you’ve addressed it.
In fact, it may even benefit your business to publicize certain negative feedback about your brand — again, as long as you’ve addressed the problem in full. This will show your potential customers that you’re:
Open and honest with your audience
Dedicated to your customers
Able to fix any issues your customers may come to you with
Referral programs are also an effective way to facilitate advocacy from your best customers. As with loyalty programs, referral programs are more systematic and focus on the long-term (as opposed to one-off feedback “asks”, etc.).
Typically, referral programs provide a balance of extrinsic and intrinsic incentives for the customer.
On the one hand, you may need to provide offers of tangible value to the referring customer (such as a discount, freebie, or something similar).
On the other hand, this incentive shouldn’t be so valuable that you’re essentially buying the referral. Not only will this cut into your acquisition costs, but it will also reflect rather poorly on your brand, overall.
It’s also important to provide guidance for your referring customers in order to maximize the potential of the referrals they make.
While you do want to give them free rein to ensure authenticity in their messaging, you also want to ensure they hit the right points when recommending your brand to others.
Finally, never underestimate the impact that a surprise, “just because” freebie can have on your potential referring customers.
Never underestimate the impact that a surprise, “just because” freebie can have on your potential referring customers.
By going above and beyond for your loyal customers, you increase the chances of them doing the same for your brand. Though gaining a referral through such means is never guaranteed — and shouldn’t even be expected — it’ll be a nice little boost for your business if it works out.