Brand awareness may be a key milestone in your sales and marketing process, but it’s only one early stage in a much longer buyer journey.
Reaching the level of trust that turns prospects and impulse buyers into loyal customers and brand ambassadors takes time, but there is a marketing model that will help you get there: customer lifecycle marketing.
In this article, we’ll explain the typical customer lifecycle stages and answer the question “what is customer lifecycle marketing?” We’ll give you step-by-step instructions and real-world examples to show you how to develop a powerful lifecycle marketing strategy for your business.
All great salespeople and marketers know that winning a customer over at the first interaction is extremely rare. Instead, most buyers go through a multi-stage journey filled with different emotions, needs and interactions before trusting you and becoming loyal. This journey is called the customer lifecycle.
Trust is the biggest factor in this process. In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 67% of survey respondents agreed that “a good reputation may get me to try a product, but unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it”.
Lifecycle marketing is a strategy that uses every possible touchpoint in the lifecycle to positively influence a prospect or customer’s behavior in favor of your brand. By understanding your audience’s various needs and meeting them with the right content at the right times, you’ll turn prospects into buyers, devoted customers and, eventually, brand ambassadors.
Much of customer lifecycle marketing’s effectiveness lies in the loyalty it creates, as most studies show that retained customers are more valuable to businesses than newly acquired ones.
According to research by Qualtrics, for example, loyal customers are up to 5x more likely to repurchase than new customers, 5x more likely to forgive bad experiences and 4x more likely to refer others.
Customer retention isn’t the only benefit, however. In building a customer journey that entices repeat business, you’ll also make it easier for new buyers to discover your brand and try its products.
Customer lifecycles move differently but ultimately look the same
Customer lifecycles vary in length based on the product or service you’re selling.
For companies like Starbucks and Kroger to stay profitable, they must draw customers back almost immediately after their first purchase, so the lifecycle is relatively short. Here, the customer loyalty that effective lifecycle marketing creates is quick, repeat business on a massive scale.
The lifecycle of a loyal Ford Motor Company customer is much longer as larger purchases require more trust and investment. While a Ford customer will make fewer purchases during their relationship with the brand, the value of advocacy is much greater in the long term.
Despite lifecycles varying in length between brands and customer types, the aim of lifecycle marketing is always the same: draw customers in and keep them coming back.
Customer lifecycles also contain the same stages, regardless of the product or service in question. Once you understand your customers’ needs at each stage, you can create content and design interactions that nurture them towards advocacy.
The 7 stages of the customer lifecycle
Most customers go through seven stages on their journey from first hearing about your brand to becoming one of its ambassadors. These are:
This is when prospective customers become aware (or are reminded) that your business exists.
From a marketing perspective, your goal here is to stand out from the crowd and encourage people to learn more about what you’re offering (i.e. move further through the lifecycle).
Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign is a great example. The company gained mass exposure online by encouraging customers to share their product experiences on social media using the hashtag #ShareaCoke.
You’ve attracted your potential customer’s attention and now they’re interested in what you have to offer. Start fulfilling their desire to learn more by telling your brand story and introducing your products.
Visitors to the Ben & Jerry’s website, for example, will see high-quality product imagery and snippets of brand story information as soon as they arrive on the company’s homepage. If Ben & Jerry’s has attracted the right kind of leads, this content will likely pull them in further.
Your prospect is now carefully considering their options: your brand’s product vs. your competitors’ products. Here they need information that proves your offering is the most valuable to them, so make it easy to compare features, costs and benefits.
Samsung does this well by laying out its broad product range in an easy-to-navigate format on its homepage. The user can see what’s available, what it looks like and what it costs with minimal effort.
This is where your prospect becomes a customer – but don’t celebrate just yet.
One Accenture survey found that nearly half (48%) of consumers have left a company’s website to purchase elsewhere because it was poorly curated, so to get your customers through this stage, you’ll need to provide a painless purchasing experience.
Google has made purchasing any smartphone from its website extremely straightforward by placing a “Buy” button and finance information at the top of the page, directly in the user’s eye-line.
Similarly, make sure your mobile emails are optimized so that readers can click and convert seamlessly from any device.
If you met the lead’s needs during the consideration stage and they’re now confident enough in your brand and product, an easy-to-find purchase link and simple order form will close the deal.
You might have closed the deal but your customer still has needs relating to their new purchase.
Keep communicating to make sure your customer is satisfied with their experience so far and use content to help them maximize the value of their purchase.
If you can answer queries and solve problems proactively rather than reactively, you’ll prevent the customer from having any bad experiences that could damage their perception of your brand.
Take Kia as an example. The car-maker sells itself on post-purchase support by highlighting its 10-year warranty in marketing materials. If your business offers something similar, consider following up each sale with more information on the support available: How your warranty works and what it covers, for example.
Your customer is delighted with their decision to buy from you and (thanks to your support) has maximized the value of their initial purchase. They’re now ready to come back and buy from you again, only this time they don’t need to go through the awareness stage.
The trust your customer gained during their first purchase helps them move through other parts of the cycle more quickly. With every repeat purchase, the process becomes smoother, saving you time and money.
Entice more repeat business using loyalty programs, incentives for repeat customers and personalized product recommendations.
In its Pulse Check 2018 report, Accenture revealed that 91% of the consumers it spoke to agreed they were more likely to buy from brands that recognize, remember and provide them with personalized offers and recommendations.
You’ve repeatedly demonstrated your brand’s value over time. As a result, your customer is now sharing their positive experiences with friends and family, effectively marketing your business for you.
Nielsen research shows that 88% of consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than any other form of marketing or advertising, which is why getting customers to this stage is so valuable.
Echoing the value of advocacy, author and former Leader of Customer Experience at Microsoft Jeanne Bliss once wrote:
When customers love you for what you do and how you do it, they will tell your story. They’ll want people to get to know you and your actions and your decisions. Customers are proud to compel others to try the businesses they love. Customers who love you will market for you more powerfully than you can possibly market yourself.
How to develop a customer lifecycle marketing strategy
Customer lifecycle marketing is a comprehensive model that can still be ineffective or even counterproductive without the right strategy.
Here are five tips to make sure you get it right from the start.
Get to know your customers at every stage
To please buyers in a lasting and meaningful way, you’ll first need to understand their requirements and pain points fully.
Buyer personas are great starting points, but you must also account for how your customers’ needs, emotions and behaviors change throughout the lifecycle. This allows you to compare data-driven research with curated buyer personas to create hyper-targeted segments. From there, you’ll be ready to provide more personalized, valuable content that helps customers move quickly between stages.
All buyers are different, but you can still learn a lot about future customers from the behaviors of past ones. Use the following to gauge feelings and needs at all stages of the customer lifecycle:
Customer service inquiries
Social media interactions
Build a content marketing plan that addresses every customer lifecycle stage
When you understand your customers’ shifting needs, you can build and nurture trust by delivering valuable content to the right people at the right times.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all plan, and you should base your exact choices on what you know about your customers and products, you will find that certain types of content lend themselves well to different stages of the lifecycle.
Here are some examples:
Awareness. Targeted social media and search engine ads (PPC), helpful (and non-promotional) search-optimized blog posts, shareable social media content.
Your customers need to feel valued if they’re to progress through the lifecycle to advocacy. By personalizing your digital marketing messaging, even if you achieve it through automation, you stand a much better chance of achieving customer engagement and forging meaningful relationships.
The reality is that [most] North American marketers now understand that their customers expect an experience across digital properties that is personalized to them. The question is whether you’ve already made the shifts necessary to deliver on those expectations. If not, your competitors are likely ready to fill the void.
Research supports this, too. According to a SmarterHQ survey, 72% of consumers will only engage with marketing messages tailored to their interests.
The same survey revealed the top five desired personalized marketing tactics to be:
Tailored discounts provided on websites and via email
Promotions involving recommended products and brands on websites, via email and digital ads
Product recommendations based on past purchases, delivered through websites and via email
Website graphics reminding buyers to re-purchase items they need to replace
Reminders of items left in online shopping carts, delivered through the website and via email
Use data to automate personalized sales and marketing activities
Many of the activities involved in providing personalized sales and marketing experiences, such as manually sending emails to leads and creating follow-up activities one by one, are repetitive and time-consuming.
Automation technologies can streamline processes and keep your customer lifecycle running steadily without draining resources.
For example, with Pipedrive’s workflow automation feature, you can trigger personalized emails to be sent to customers whenever they reach certain stages. You can also automatically allocate responsibilities to your sales reps as their leads and prospects move through the lifecycle.
You should fuel your automation efforts with data collected throughout the customer lifecycle. Website analytics, social media activity and CRM data will all enrich the audience profiles you use in automated email marketing and ad campaigns, allowing you to segment and contact customers based on their behavior and current needs.
Measure and monitor your customer acquisition cost (CAC)
Lifecycle marketing is as much about gaining new customers as it is about improving customer lifetime value (LTV).
Each part of your strategy should focus on making it as easy as possible for buyers to move further in their journey with your brand, whether it’s their first visit or tenth. Customers who do reach advocacy will then help you grow your customer base organically, bringing new people back into your optimized buying experience.
With this in mind, you should track the impact of any changes you make as part of your lifecycle marketing strategy so you can see what’s working and what isn’t. Over time, you’ll be able to streamline your efforts for even better results.
One way to gauge success is using customer acquisition costs (CAC). This metric measures the total cost to hire a single customer and is calculated by dividing your entire marketing and sales spend by the sum of new customers added (use your CRM to access and track the relevant data).
Over time you should see evidence that there’s more value in building a memorable customer experience than there is in working solely on customer acquisition.
Communicate with existing customers directly, too. Find out what stops them from completing orders or causes them to go elsewhere and apply what you learn back into your strategy.
A marketing strategy that accounts for customers and needs at every stage of the lifecycle will help you generate the right leads and turn them into brand ambassadors in the shortest time possible.
It will take time to collect the necessary data, learn about your customers’ behavior and implement the right automation tools to get going. Once you do, you’ll have a slick marketing machine that does much of the hard work itself.
Above all, remember to personalize your content wherever possible, embrace sales and marketing automation technology and measure your results to find every opportunity for improvement as you go.
Share your thoughts with our Community
Start or continue the conversation with like-minded sales and marketing professionals on our Community.