road leading to the email customer journey

Email Marketing and Customer Journeys: The Complete Guide


When the marketing department sets out to plot the ways people go from prospects to loyal customers, how heavily should the email team be involved? The short answer: a ton (and that’s heavy).

Email marketing and customer journeys go hand in hand. In fact, email is often the most important marketing channel for moving customers along the path to purchase and beyond. The email team can offer plenty of impactful advice, insights, and strategy throughout the journey mapping process.

But that process gets complex. This guide is designed to help you think about how your strategy aligns with lifecycle marketing efforts and how to enhance the email customer journey.

What is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey maps are visual representations of how the people and organizations you want to reach move from a place of being unaware of your brand to becoming loyal customers and brand advocates. Journey mapping uses reliable data and audience research to tell a story about the many ways customers and contacts interact with your brand.

It’s important to keep in mind that your customers are the heroes of this story. It’s their journey, not the brand’s or the product’s. Journey mapping helps you get inside the heads of your customers and prospects. This improves your understanding of what people think, how they feel, and why they make certain decisions.

There are multiple ways to illustrate a customer journey map, from the traditional marketing funnel to cyclical loops to complex diagrams. You may need different documents for the high-level approach and in-depth strategies. Ultimately, journey maps should include all the major touchpoints potential customers have with your brand as well as the different marketing strategies and tactics in place to guide them towards making a purchase.

Customer journey maps and email strategy

No two journey maps are exactly alike. B2B lifecycle marketing and email strategy is entirely different than B2C lifecycle marketing. Not only will various industries and organizations have distinctive journeys, but different cohorts of customers connected to your company have unique journeys as well.

That’s why email marketers segment their lists and why we use audience targeting in digital advertising. The goal is to reach specific people with a relevant message.

Email marketers have a lot to offer in the journey mapping process. If you’re already segmenting subscribers, you likely have access to data and analytics that shed light on how different groups behave at specific points in the customer lifecycle. Conversely, mapping email marketing customer journeys will be immensely valuable for teams hoping to improve their existing strategy.

Journey mapping should be a holistic and comprehensive exercise that includes every marketing channel (paid advertising, social media, owned content, customer service, public relations, etc.). Email, however, fits into the strategy at nearly every twist and turn along the customer journey.

Let’s take a closer look …

Aligning email marketing and customer journeys

A key part of delivering email perfection is sending the right message to the right customers at the right time. That’s where email marketing and customer journeys form the perfect partnership.

Below you’ll find descriptions of major “landmarks” on a customer journey. We’ll describe different types of email campaigns and strategies that align with each phase.

brand awareness megaphone

1. Brand Awareness

In general, and for obvious reasons, email usually isn’t considered a “top of funnel” tactic. You can’t exactly subscribe to a newsletter if you’re unaware of a brand. Still, email can play a role in the beginning stages of a customer journey.

The email strategy for Brand Awareness

Consider partnering with the social media team to promote a branded industry newsletter to the right audience. Another option is to identify an online publisher in your industry that offers email newsletter sponsorship opportunities.

One of the great things about email is that it’s an extremely affordable marketing channel. But sometimes, you have to spend a little money to earn attention and get that initial awareness. Then, the real journey can get started.

lead acquisition magnet

2. Lead Acquisition

A valid email address is the foot in the door you need to move prospects from the brand awareness stage into becoming marketing qualified leads (MQLs). After that, your email nurture tracks do a lot of the heavy lifting involved with turning MQLs into sales qualified leads (SQLs).

To capture leads, email strategy needs to connect with content marketing strategy. What can you offer of value to prospects that builds trust? How can your nurture tracks show the sales team these MQLs are warming up?

The email strategy for Lead Acquisition

Once you’ve got quality content in place, focus on landing page copy and optimizing your forms. While the email address is the key to it all, qualifying questions help you segment new contacts, putting people with certain roles or interests into specific email nurture tracks that are relevant to their journey.

Take a look at your welcome email series. Are you providing a balance of value-added content with information about your company’s products and services? Could you benefit from separate welcome series with email strategies for different personas? Are you introducing the right employees to prospects using “friendly froms”?

research magnifying glass

3. Research

The majority of research takes place on search engines and social media. Unfortunately, you can’t optimize email campaigns to rank on Google. However, once you’ve turned prospects into email subscribers, you can deliver helpful content directly to their inboxes.

The time between researching and purchasing will vary greatly depending on the purchase being made. Consumers will spend a lot more time researching a new car purchase than their options for ordering dinner. A B2B prospect will likely conduct more research for a cloud storage provider than an office supply vendor. In most cases, the more risk there is, the more research is involved.

The email strategy for Research

This is a stage in which understanding the customer journey is crucial. You need to know what questions people are asking as they conduct research for a potential purchase.

Your leads could be trying to overcome fears and objections or chasing an aspiration. As you create email campaigns for customers in the research phase of their journey keep this in mind: Humans use logical information and data to justify emotional decisions. In the end, we all tend to go with what feels right.

So, send along useful information to aid in research. But don’t forget to go for the feels, too!

consideration scale

4. Consideration and Comparison

As a potential customer creeps closer to making that purchase decision, she’ll start weighing her options. That means your brand is being compared to your competitors. This is a pivotal stage in the customer journey.

Sure, price is going to be on top of the list of considerations. But, if you’re not the cheapest in the bunch, how else can you convince prospects that what you offer is the best choice?

The email strategy for Consideration and Comparison

This is a vital moment of truth. Your email strategy needs campaigns designed to push prospects across the finish line. You could send them a competitor comparison checklist that puts your brand in a positive light. But your competitors probably have one of their own.

This might be the right time to offer a discount or a free trial without a credit card. If you’re an online retailer, this could be the stage in which abandoned cart emails bring people back to your site to complete their purchase.

Don’t underestimate the potential of making an authentic personal connection via email at this point. It could be the ideal time to prove that your company actually does have “world-class customer service.” Show prospects you’re ready and willing to answer questions and go the extra mile.

purchase dollar sign

5. Purchase

Email marketing worked hard to get your prospects to this point, but the work is only beginning! Everything that happens after the purchase is the time when email has its true opportunity to shine along the customer journey. They’ve signed on the dotted line or hit that “Place Your Order” button. Now, let’s show your new customers they made the right decision.

We’ve all had that anxious, slightly queasy feeling after making a purchase. They call it “buyer’s remorse.” Email is an excellent way to provide some welcomed reassurance.

The email strategy post Purchase

Going back to eCommerce as an example, your transactional emails should be a priority. Consumers want to promptly receive a notification that their order was received. Then, they want to know where their shipment is and when they can expect it.

Savvy email marketers are using package tracking emails with live updates, which show real-time info when a customer opens an email. It also updates if they go back to it later. This type of email is quickly becoming an expectation rather than an innovation.

Subscription and service-based businesses, SaaS companies, and those selling digital products can also send confirmation emails even if there isn’t a physical order being shipped. And of course, there’s a lot to be said about using email to say, “Thank You!” after anyone becomes a new customer.

onboarding manual graphic

6. Onboarding and Education

Did you think the customer journey was over after that initial purchase? Nope. Your customers are starting a new adventure with your brand at their side. You are the Sam to their Frodo, the Yoda to their Skywalker, the genie to their Aladdin, the Hermione to their Harry, the KITT to their Knight Rider. (Okay, you get the point)

Now is the time to show your customers how to get the most out of their purchase with onboarding help and informative content.

The email strategy for Onboarding and Education

Your company may have excellent support resources and a full content library. But email marketers can add even more value by delivering this content to new customers at the right time, especially if using your product comes with a learning curve.

Work with customer support to understand when and where people run into roadblocks. Develop an email series that guides people through everything they need to know to get started and be successful.

Emails with educational content are useful for smaller B2C purchases, too. Imagine a company that sells a line of vitamins and supplements. Educating customers on how a product may impact their health could help them understand both the benefits and risks while establishing trustworthy expertise.

upsell dollar arrow graphic

7. Upsells and Cross-Sells

For most organizations, there are opportunities to go further with new customers. B2C online retailers may want to encourage consumers to explore new products. A SaaS company may want to move subscribers to a higher-tiered plan. A company could have supplementary services to offer customers or related brands that could complement the ongoing customer journey.

Statistics show there’s a 60% to 70% chance of closing a sale to an existing customer. That’s compared to a 5% to 20% chance of selling something to a prospect.

The first part of the journey was highly focused on earning the customer’s trust. Now you’re a regular fixture in the inbox. If you’re doing it well, your emails may even be welcomed and anticipated. But whatever you do … don’t destroy your trust and reputation by overdoing it.

The email strategy for Upsells and Cross-Sells

The better your segmentation and personalization, the more powerful and effective your email strategy for upselling and cross-selling will be. Likewise, the more you understand the customer journey up to this point, the easier it will be to craft these campaigns.

Some of these emails will be automations, which get triggered by actions your customers take. Others could be based on seasonality, life events, or the amount of time someone has used your product.

A fashion e-tailer can send a campaign highlighting its sweaters in autumn, (extra points if it’s personalized to match the consumer’s past purchases). A car dealership with its own service center may want to remind new customers to come in for an oil change. An agency building websites could cross-sell services for content creation, installing a live chat feature, or running digital ad campaigns.

retention customer avatar circular arrows

8. Retention and Loyalty

To keep customers on a continuous journey, you’ll need to boost retention and reduce churn. Email marketing keeps customers engaged and informed up this stage. All those email touchpoints help create loyal customers as your relationships with customers improve.

Once again email marketing and customer journey mapping work together to set up campaigns designed to reach customers at the right time.

The email strategy for Retention and Loyalty

Sooner or later, customers will reconsider the choice to purchase from you. Or a new problem that prompts a purchase decision will arise, and they’ll start a new journey. Smart email marketers have a strategy that anticipates these moments in a customer journey.

For example, a financial institution will have an idea when a customer is in the market for student loan consolidation, an auto loan, or a refinanced mortgage based on demographics and past activities. A well-timed email may keep the customer from exploring the competition for these needs.

You can also create loyalty with emails that mark milestones and celebrate success. Something as simple as an anniversary email reinforces the connection between customers and your brand.

brand advocacy customer avatar graphic

9. Advocacy

When you turn prospects into customers, and loyal customers into brand advocates, you create a virtuous cycle. It constantly brings new people into a journey pointing to a shortcut that leads straight to your company. People trust advice and referrals from their peers, colleagues, family, and friends.

Social media and review sites are the channels that often come to mind for encouraging brand advocacy. They are digital word of mouth. However, email can participate in this part of the journey too.

The email strategy for Advocacy

Here are a few ways to encourage customers to become brand advocates using email:

  1. Include links to social channels in your newsletters.
  2. Develop an email campaign that pushes participation in a referral program.
  3. Encourage subscribers to forward your emails to others.

A really good email can “go viral.” Usually, that means the email is extremely hilarious or you dropped a jaw-dropping truth bomb on your audience. More often, however, some of your subscribers will want to pass along something interesting or helpful to a specific person.

That’s where a forward to a friend tool comes in handy. According to Email Uplers, this method can also help email marketers avoid rendering issues when emails are forwarded from Outlook or Thunderbird. Tip: You can use Email on Acid Analytics to track forwards on your campaigns.

re-engagement customer sleeping

10. Re-Engagement

Sometimes customers fall off the map (pun intended). They stop using your product, stop re-ordering, and stop opening your emails. It happens. Maybe they’re dissatisfied, or maybe they just forgot about you. Thankfully, email is ready to save the day again.

The email strategy for Re-Engagement

You may want to stretch your creativity beyond the standard “We’ve Missed You!” subject line. But optimizing inbox display is going to be important if you want disengaged customers to start opening your emails again.

Give them a reason. Use the fear of missing out (FOMO) to your advantage. And use both the subject line and pre-header text strategically to spark curiosity or communicate urgency.

HubSpot has 13 examples of brands using different email re-engagement strategies. They include offering surprise discounts and free gifts, highlighting new features, or prompting users to install an update.

Deliver the perfect emails for your customers’ journeys

With the potential for multiple campaigns at every step of the email customer journey, it’s plain to see just how important, complex, and challenging the email marketing team’s job can be. At Email on Acid, our mission is to simplify many of those tasks.

Our email readiness platform is designed to help you feel confident when it’s time to hit the send button. Check your content for errors, optimize for deliverability and accessibility, and preview your campaigns on dozens of clients and devices.

From your welcome series to your re-engagement campaign, Email on Acid has your back, helping you deliver email perfection every time.

Get insights on customer journey mapping success

Wondering how other teams tackle customer journey mapping? Our exclusive white paper, Effective Customer Journey Mapping: Keys to Success for Email Marketers, includes survey results that shed light on the entire process.

Download your copy today before you start mapping journeys for your buyer personas!

woman maps customer journey with dry erase board
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Author: Betsy Grondy

With a decade of email marketing experience, Betsy has done email strategy and execution for more than 36 countries (for local brands as well as Fortune 500 companies) all from the comfort of her North Carolina home. As Email on Acid’s Senior Email Marketing Manager, she’s enjoying being meta in email marketing and striving for email perfection in every send. When she’s not pushing the boundaries as an #emailgeek, you’ll find her scouring flea markets with her husband for cool vintage toys and mid-century modern furniture to restore.

Author: Betsy Grondy

With a decade of email marketing experience, Betsy has done email strategy and execution for more than 36 countries (for local brands as well as Fortune 500 companies) all from the comfort of her North Carolina home. As Email on Acid’s Senior Email Marketing Manager, she’s enjoying being meta in email marketing and striving for email perfection in every send. When she’s not pushing the boundaries as an #emailgeek, you’ll find her scouring flea markets with her husband for cool vintage toys and mid-century modern furniture to restore.

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