Let me tell you a quick, real-life story that ties directly into the importance of personalized marketing during a customer’s journey from awareness to conversion to full on brand enthusiast. The day my fiancée moved in with me, an hour after we sat down the last box, the hot water heater exploded. Rapidly, about 80 gallons of water flooded the second floor, then waterfalled down the stairs, and eventually caved in my kitchen ceiling. “Welcome to your new home,” I said to her while trying to laugh through the ordeal. (We still plan to get married, so she was a good sport about it).
Of the damage, my wood floors had to be replaced, and here’s how that process went for me: Firstly, I didn’t know a thing about wood floors other than that they’re pretty. So, what did I do? I hit up all the big box hardware store websites looking for ideas and advice. I needed help.
When I got to any one website, the same thing happened again and again. A popup would take over my screen, each with a similar message: “Sale! 50% off a random product that has nothing to do with what you need!.” If we’re thinking in terms of the customer journey, these companies were putting roadblocks in my path that I had to physically remove with my mouse. I was looking for flooring tips. I wasn’t ready to buy anything.
I got away from the popups and finally made it to the wood flooring options. But, was there any help then? No. Just page after page of close up wood images – nothing that could show me what a particular sample would look like in a room, or what would match the color of my walls. Nothing to tell me what types of wood are best in humidity or for longevity. I just had more questions, which quickly felt overwhelming. Since these companies weren’t meeting me at the right cognitive phase of my journey, what did I do? I left their websites and they lost the sale.
Funnily enough, I then went to Pinterest and searched for hardwood floors. Boom. Hundreds of images and home renovation posts. THERE were my ideas. There was the help I needed, from DIY tips to what to look for when hiring an expert. I couldn’t help but compare the difference in experience. If a hardware site would have let me search for what I needed and then guided me along my path with recommendations, it would have begun a real, trusting relationship. Instead, I was bombarded with ads trying to sell me something, with a false sense of urgency (hurry now, save today!), that ultimately turned me away.
Notice how my customer journey for buying wood floors started with Pinterest. You may have heard of a “sales funnel” before – one identical path that each shopper takes to become a paying customer. But that’s just not how it works anymore. Customers can become aware of your company through a myriad of channels from social media, to webinars, to email, word of mouth, radio ads, physical postcards, and more. A basic buyer flow would look like this:
But, the key thing to remember is that everyone may not follow the same exact path forward. There are several branching off points at each step listed above, and prospective customers may even circle back. They might love your brand, but need to consult with a spouse or business partner before proceeding. Maybe they saw your email, but want to read reviews to decide. Today’s consumers are informed, resourceful, and smart. To be a business that stands out and stays top of mind, you have to meet them where they’re at and thoughtfully breadcrumb their path forward. Otherwise, it’s like dropping them in the woods without trail markers and hoping they find their way through. Some might, but most won’t.
"I like to do research...to ask questions and get an immediate answer." - Jeanne O. Ebay Usability Study
Now let’s apply this concept to email marketing. Customers are empowered with more choice than ever. There is a value exchange that must happen today in order for you to stand out. With each email you send, you have to pause and ask yourself: “What is worth interrupting someone’s day over?” If you can’t answer, then you’re just jolting someone, adding to the clutter in their inbox, and risk getting marked as spam. It doesn’t have to be complex either. Maybe it’s just a helpful tip, a common question about your industry you keep getting asked, a quick check to see how their family is doing, or even just a nice happy birthday message that makes them smile. As long as it is authentic - you will be remembered.
If only a hardware store emailed me and actually tried to help me solve my problem. Something like: “Hey AJ, I see that you’re on our site looking for wood floor solutions. Let me know if you have any questions. Meanwhile, here’s what I recommend because it’s easy to install and will stand up to scratches really well.” Wow. I would have dropped what I was doing and emailed back thanking that person for the extra care and attention to my issue. Then, I would have proceeded to post it all over social media as an awesome experience. As a small business, you are uniquely positioned to do personalized outreach like this in a way that big box stores can’t (or choose not to).
Your customer needs to be the hero of the story today and it’s all about how your business can help them level up and be a super version of themselves. It’s less about the product you sell and more about how you can help them accomplish a goal that they couldn’t before. When you create memorable connections with people, they’ll start a talk track in their mind that goes like this: “Wow, this company helped me, then helped me again. They really get me and my needs. Why wouldn’t I do business with them?”
There is enough noise from companies out there as it is. You can associate your brand with being a stress reliever by pulling a prospective customer along a journey instead of shoving them down a funnel. Solving a problem instead of selling something. It’s one of the reasons Levitate emails see 10% average response rates. Our clients’ customers not only open emails, but actually reply back with questions or thanks--and yours will too.