Buyers aren’t what they once were. Remember the days of buying a car before the internet? You would go to the dealership, gather information from the sales person in the form of a brochure, go home to study the brochure to understand the different models and features, and then return to the dealership a week later ready to purchase the vehicle. But in today’s information-rich, digital environment, buyers have all the information they need to make an informed decision, making the salesperson’s role less educational and more transactional.
So where does that put today’s marketer? Well, we are now the stewards of the buyer’s journey. We are responsible for walking each prospective customer through their own personalized and relevant content journey, making sure that they get all their questions answered on the road to making a purchase. Now, more than ever, we need to understand our buyers down to their behaviors, core demographics, wants, and needs. That’s where lead nurturing comes in.
Lead nurturing is the process of building effective relationships with potential customers throughout the buying journey. Now before we dive into lead nurturing best practices and tips, let’s set the record straight that there is a difference between drip marketing and lead nurturing. A drip marketing program sends (drips) communications at a specific cadence set by the marketer, but it does not consider who that lead is, what their behaviors are, or what segmentations they might meet. Lead nurturing is adaptive, segmented, based on activities (or inactivities), and is extremely personalized for each lead. Think of it like a conversation. Drip marketing is like a monologue whereas lead nurturing is having a 1-1 conversation.
So how do you create hyper-relevant email marketing conversations through lead nurturing? What are the important ground-rules for building a nurture program that scales? Here are 5 tips for making your lead nurturing emails stand out in the inbox.
Tip #1: Write Subject Lines That Beg to be Opened
Since the subject line is the first thing a recipient sees, it would be silly not to discuss techniques that work. After all, your email doesn’t matter if no one opens it! Not every subject line needs to be a literary achievement, but there is power in a subject line that is magnetic. At Marketo, we use The Four U’s of Subject Lines, a very helpful acronym that we picked up from Copyblogger to help determine if our subject lines are ready:
- Useful: Is the promised message valuable to the reader?
- Ultra-specific: Does the reader know what’s being promised?
- Unique: Is the promised message compelling and remarkable?
- Urgent: Does the reader feel they need to read it now?
To take it one step further, here are 5 subject line techniques that really work:
- Educate: 7 Things Marketers Can Learn from Sales
- Ask a question: Did you miss this?
- Announce a sale, new product, or an exclusive look: First Peek: Our latest Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing
- Offer a solution to a problem: Pay Down Your Loan
- Jump on a popular topic: The State of Email Marketing: What’s Working Now?
Tip #2: Choose the Right Sender
Lead nurturing is all about trust. You want buyers to trust communications from you or else they won’t always be willing to open them. In addition to the subject line, one way to create and reinforce trust is with the sender name—or the From Name. If you think about it, would you open an email from someone you didn’t know? The From Name can make all the difference and can influence opens, clicks, and even spam complaints.
There are a few options that you can experiment with, and examples of each:
- Company or Brand Name: Apple, GrubHub, Banana Republic, etc.
- Product or Service: “Mileage Plus” by United Airlines is used as a From Name.
- Personal Name: A specific employee at your company. This could be your head of marketing or the sales account executive that owns the account.
- Campaign-based: We sometimes sends nurturing emails from “Team Marketo” or “Marketo Events” so buyers know exactly what to expect before opening.
Tip #3: Build a Strong Email Body
Okay, so you’ve got a subscriber to open your email. Now what? Like any landing page, you want your email to be compelling, clear, actionable, and answer the what’s in it for me? question. To check if your email delivers this experience, run it by the 30-second summary rule. Can you get through the email in 30 seconds and know the value it provides? This test will help make sure that your call-to-action is clear and the value proposition is obvious.
Now that you have the subscriber’s attention on the email body, there are a few more things to consider:
- Keep your email width to 600px max. Any wider and you’ll likely have rendering issues across some email clients.
- Focus on what will and won’t appear above the fold on a subscriber’s screen, whether that’s on a desktop, tablet, or mobile device.
- Consider experimenting with the style of emails—sometimes heavy text works better than a beautiful visual.
- Always provide a plain-text version of your email for subscribers who don’t like or accept HTML versions. This will also help your deliverability.
- Use bullet proof buttons, which are buttons that look like images but are actually just HTML and CSS code. If your main call-to-action is a jpeg button, it will not be displayed until the email is opened and images are downloaded. HTML buttons render before images are downloaded, which changes email open and click experience. When Marketo tested bulletproof buttons, we saw a 20% lift in click-to-open rates.
- Always use alt tags. These let users who have images blocked know what they are missing. They can help boost both open rates and click rates, so don’t miss out.
- Reduce distractions. Emails are like landing pages in that they have one goal in mind: conversion. The best landing pages are clean, simple, and use visual cues to guide the prospect to complete a form. Use this same logic when building your emails. Give your call-to-action room to breathe and you’ll see better results.
Tip #4: It’s (Past) Time to Go Mobile
I know it probably feels like we’re beating a dead horse here, but over 50% of emails are opened on a mobile device. If your emails aren’t mobile friendly, you’re missing out on engagement. If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you clicked on a poorly formatted email on your phone. Could you think of one? Me either.
According to The Radicati Group’s Mobile Statistics Report, “by the end of 2018, worldwide mobile email users are expected to total over 2.2 billion…by this time, we expect 80% of email users will access email via a mobile device.” As you develop a successful lead nurturing program, be sure that you build this capability into your emails as it will only become more important over time.
There are a few different ways to build a mobile-friendly email:
- Scalable Design: Good for beginners and teams with limited resources—it’s a design that works across desktop and mobile and doesn’t require code to adjust image and text sizes.
- Fluid Design: This design works best with text-heavy layouts that flow. It requires some CSS knowledge because of width limitations, but it still works for teams with limited resources.
- Responsive Design: This design includes everything from the two styles above and then adds CSS media queries, allowing you to design for specific screen sizes. It offers the most control but requires the most resources.
Tip #5: Don’t Forget Segmentation
Segmenting your audience, the act of dividing your leads into definable and actionable parts, is essential to your marketing success—particularly with lead nurturing. The more you segment, the more relevant your lead nurture programs will be. If you are not relevant, your audience simply won’t pay attention. Segmentation means higher engagement. An executive requires a different piece of content than someone in an intern role. What resonates with one audience won’t resonate with another.
Additionally, as it pertains to email, studies have consistently shown that segmented email sends yield higher results. In a Marketo Benchmark Email Marketing Study, we found segmentation to be the highest ROI tactic used by email marketers. In fact, according to our proprietary Engagement Score (which tracks how engaging an email is in Marketo), 23% of how engaging an email is can be explained by segmentation. Smaller, more segmented sends in your lead nurturing yield better results.
I hope this has helped frame the necessary steps to building out a strong foundation for email lead nurturing. For more resources on developing a strong lead nurturing strategy, be sure to download our Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing! And as always, comments or other ideas are encouraged below.