So you’ve got subscribers signing up to your database in droves – nice one! So what next? They’re expecting to hear about some awesome stuff about your brand, and maybe even specific areas of your business. You don’t want to leave them hanging like a Guns N’ Roses gig. 2 hours late – I mean, come on.
This is where an automated email nurture sequence comes in. In its most basic form, it’s a string of emails that drip-feed into a subscriber’s inbox with messaging and content related to preferences they indicated when signing up to hear more from you. In strategic terms, it’s a way brands can communicate with subscribers to ‘warm up’ their interest to a point where they are ready to take the next step towards purchasing something. You’ll have come across the funnel model – nurture sequences are usually found at the top of the funnel, helping to pull people through to mid-funnel where their interest is sufficient to warrant more contact with the brand.
Nurtures are an important part of any marketing and sales strategy, yet getting them right is far from simple. Knowing where to start and what to consider can be a bit of a minefield if you’re just asked to ‘make one’. Who are they targeting? What do you put in them? What’s the end goal?
We’ve put together 10 essential areas to consider when planning, writing, and running your nurture sequences. You’ll be smashing them out in no time (and your management team will love you for it!)
1) Know its purpose from the start
You may get a request from management to create a nurture sequence because they’ve seen the benefits of one. Great, but it’s not enough to just go away and create one. It needs a distinct purpose. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who are we targeting with the sequence?
- What are we aiming to achieve by setting this sequence up? Is it re-engagement? Is it warming up leads?
- What do we want to say to people in the sequence? What topics shall we cover?
- How do we want to focus their interest and attention as the sequence progresses?
This helps focus your writing, the journey you want to give your subscribers, and what content you will include. If the journey becomes vaguer, it decreases the effectiveness of the ‘warming effect’ of the nurture.
2) Plan out how the email nurture sequence flows
A typical starting point for any email campaign, but one that sometimes is either rushed through or missing key components. Pre-writing and planning out the copy and email designs is standard practice, but also you should consider how the sequence will flow.
Considering how, and when, your sequence presents certain types of content and messaging to your audience is key. An inconsistent sequence can look haphazard and illogical – making the reader wonder what (and why) they’d signed up for.
Plan out which types of content you want to use, if they thematically relate to each other, and which ones are the ‘heavy hitters’ (the more popular or high-value pieces). You can then order them in your sequence in the way you think is most effective.
A rule of thumb for this is to start your sequence with the more high-value content that covers why they signed up to hear from you, then get more specific as the sequence progresses. Why? You’ll get the most traffic in the first few emails of the sequence, and some subscribers inevitably drop out / stop reading as it continues. Also, a sequence is about ‘warming’ interest, so jumping in with very specific or deep content can discourage subscribers from jumping in straight away.
Also, when planning the flow of a sequence, think about how the emails ‘talk’ to one another. This is where an email might mention a previous one (e.g. ‘If you missed out on our guide on email production, we’ve included it here too!’), or one that might hint at content in an email further along in the sequence. This can maintain interest as the sequence continues to land in their inbox, but also needs to be remembered when tweaking the sequence later on. Otherwise, you risk becoming nonsensical.
3) Have great content available
The cornerstone of any great email nurture sequence. Offering amazing content works on two levels – as a great hook to open and consume the email’s content, and as a powerful data collection tool for sign-ups if it is gated.
Whilst the emails should be designed with care and attention and made to entice and excite the reader, the real meat will be within the content. That is the showcase for your brand’s passion, knowledge and commitment to the industry and specific topic. And this will be what inspires subscribers to enter further discussions with you to hear more or even to continue their interest on demos or in chats with your sales team.
Having a strong, coherent and long-term content strategy will enable you to have a steady stream of excellent, class-leading content that will work well in both your nurture sequences and other marketing campaigns.
4) Know your audience – who is the email nurture sequence targeted at?
Another point that may seem obvious, but that includes a lot of thought behind it to make sure your sequence is effective. Your audience may react to different types of content, email design, and even tone in different ways depending on where they sit in the email marketing operation.
For example, addressing a sequence to C-level staff / high-level management will usually focus on a more direct tone, and with content that might highlight the wider business benefits of improving email marketing. Whereas a sequence that is targeted at more tech-minded subscribers, such as those in IT roles, might use more in-depth content with a technical standpoint about how it elevates their own agenda.
Everything – from the types of content to the tone of the email – needs to be positioned toward the audience it is going to. This helps them feel like it’s totally relevant to them and their needs, which will increase engagement. To make sure this is going to the correct audience, be sure to look at, and invest time in, getting your segmentation right. An errant email sequence that pushes technical content to an email copywriter, for example, will seem out of place and risks not only unsubscribing but also a hit to your brand reputation.
5) Keep it simple
It’s common to feel as though you need to cram as much information into an email as you can, so that the reader gets as much as possible in one go. However, keeping it simple can be much more effective. And the beauty of nurture sequences is that you have plentiful emails to get your point and content across.
Nurture sequences, by their nature, appear in inboxes on a regular basis. So you can drip feed content and information to your subscribers without over-complicating each individual email. Besides, readers generally don’t want to trawl through loads of script and imagery to get to the ‘selling point’ of any email, especially one from a regular sequence.
Keeping your emails direct and to the point helps subscribers digest emails more efficiently and without confusion. It also helps keep any fatigue from regularly reading these emails on the same topics at bay.
And on the point of cramming as much as you can in – resist the temptation to ‘over-link’. That is, to include many links throughout the email, especially if they are to different pages or pieces of content. The best places for links generally are in the header CTA, the footer CTA and with limited use (once or twice) within the copy, depending on its length. Unless you are promoting multiple pieces of content in one (in which case a header CTA can be dropped in favor of a column approach with CTA’s), try and focus links to one piece of content, alongside a link to an RFI page or demo request. This helps with focusing the customer journey and data analysis from link tracking.
6) Talk like a human and personalize
We are huge proponents of this at SparkPost. Creating emails that approach the reader with empathy, friendliness and fun are vastly more beneficial than those that sound stiff and corporate. The former approach promotes engagement and a long-term understanding and relationship with your brand.
Using humor, colloquial grammar and language, and text formatting that replicates natural speech patterns (ellipsis, italics etc) help the entire email to portray that human quality. It resonates immediately with the reader as it helps disarm any hesitance whilst seeming more personal. This keeps their interest as they digest the content and subject, and helps connect them to your brand on a more human level.
Personalisation is also a key tool in promoting the human connection of an email to its subscriber. It boosts engagement and helps increase long term retention because subscribers like being addressed personally and with content specific to their wants and needs.
Some statistics from LinkedIn (2021) show that:
- Using the recipient’s name in the subject line boots opens by 26%
- 72% of people only respond to communications directed specifically at them.
- 74% of customers become frustrated when presented with a non-personalized email experience.
It doesn’t have to be heavily personalized either if you don’t have the capabilities. Start with simple personalization (such as first names and company names) – this ensures the email speaks directly to them. You can then look at building out further personalization capabilities, such as specific product offerings, discount codes based on loyalty/ customer worth, etc.
7) Keep it consistently branded
Ensuring your emails are recognizable to your brand is a standard (and important!) practice. The design might alter between different email campaigns, but the general brand colors and logos should all be there. This should be no different with your nurture sequences.
You may want to adjust your design slightly so that your email nurture sequences have their own look and ‘personality’. And that’s ok, in fact, it’s a really good idea! But, alongside making sure you’ve got the right branding, you need to also make sure that all emails in the sequence are recognizable to one another.
For example, if your brand colors are blue and pink, it’s no use making the first email in the sequence blue and the next one pink. Yes, they are in your brand palette but if you are a subscriber you will have difficulty visually relating one email to the other, even if the content relates. Being able to visually link emails in a nurture sequence is key for recognisability and also engagement – especially since they land in inboxes regularly.
8) Be sure about your triggers and cadences
This is a more technical point but equally as important as everything else! It also necessitates a sound knowledge of your target audience, as you’ll need to know what ‘entry points’ to your sequence (types of content, forms, webpages, events, etc) they will typically use. For example, a CMO will likely consume different content than an email marketing manager, and so will be entered into a different email nurture sequence.
Mapping out key web pages, pieces of content, and any upcoming campaigns is a good start. You can then make a note of what ‘persona’ they are aimed at. Then work with your Marketing Ops team / CRM software to set up the following:
- The cadence of their release (once a week is a pretty good rule of thumb, but you can adapt – just make sure they aren’t released too close to one another or they will be seen as spammy.
- Ensure that the nurtures are being triggered to the right people. You’ll need a data expert here! Look at how your CRM software and your link tracking/promo code capabilities can help here.
- If they ‘exit’ the nurture (by fulfilling the purpose of the nurture or by unsubscribing), make sure that they are dropped out of that particular one.
9) Don’t be afraid to A/B test!
A/B testing is a great way of gathering data to optimize your nurture sequence. This is especially the case if you are unsure how your audiences will react to messaging, content, or even subject lines. Experimenting with your emails doesn’t mean they have to be drastically different either – different subject lines, imagery, or a slightly different tone.
Just make sure that once you’ve got good data on your A/B test, you sunset the ‘losing’ email. Otherwise, you’ll have a section of subscribers receiving an email that you know isn’t the best version of itself!
10) Once it’s going, don’t stand still! Analyze and optimize.
Speaking of gathering data, don’t just leave that to an A/B test. Look at how your overall nurture sequence is performing regularly. Your offerings and the likes/dislikes of your subscribers are always changing, so you’ll need to continuously review and adapt your nurture sequences to stay relevant.
- New content may be available for inclusion.
- Pre-existing content may be time specific and may become irrelevant / superseded by more up-to-date content.
- Industry trends and cultural shifts may necessitate a change in approach for any nurtures you have going.
Email nurture sequences are a fantastic way to warm up new leads and those that have signed up to hear from you. But they need to be planned, built, and executed properly to maximize their effectiveness. Follow the 10 tips above and you’ll be creating amazing sequences that your subscribers will enjoy (as well as your sales team!).
~ Matt Parsloe, Brand and Content Marketing Manager