The holidays are behind us and 2017 is officially here. You’ve had time to look back on the successes and failures of the previous 12 months, and you’ve hopefully had some time to disconnect and reset—but now it’s time to get back to work. If you’re like most people running or managing an ecommerce business, you’ve likely been spending a lot of your time lately thinking about one simple question:

How are we going to drive more sales this year than ever before?

You could spend an entire week dissecting case studies, scanning blog posts, listening to podcasts, and watching YouTube videos to learn about new tactics and strategies to try this year, or you could focus on optimizing something that already works:

Email.

This guide will provide you with the information, tactics, and examples you need in order to build a stronger, more profitable email marketing strategy in 2017.

Focus Area #1: List Building for Ecommerce

Before you can send out compelling email campaigns that drive subscribers to your product pages, you have to convince website visitors to join your list in the first place. That’s where list building comes into play. Your job with list building is simple: provide website visitors with a good reason to give you their email address. The purpose is clear: to nurture qualified leads down your funnel and through the buying cycle until they become loyal, repeat customers.

There are a lot of list building tactics you can try on your website to grow your list, but what will work for one business might not work for your own. Through testing different tactics, you can determine what your audience responds to best, and which tactics drive the most list growth.

Here are six list building tactics worth testing on your ecommerce website this year:

Tactic #1: VIP Membership

The easiest campaign you can launch to drive list growth is a VIP membership campaign. The best VIP campaigns are the ones that offer immediate value to website visitors for subscribing. They also typically offer some sort promise about what kind of value (special deals, early access, free shipping, free perks, etc.) people will receive on an ongoing basis once they subscribe to your list or join your community.

VIP membership campaigns live permanently on your website. They can be promoted in a variety of ways and featured in a variety of places, such as:

  • In the navigation menu
  • In the form of a welcome pop-up
  • On product pages
  • In the footer of your website
  • As part of the checkout process

The goal with VIP membership campaigns is to make people feel like by joining, they are getting access to deals and value that other people who have not subscribed will not be able to get.

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Example from ModCloth

Tactic #2: Out-of-Stock Notifications

Another great way to drive list growth is by inviting interested visitors to subscribe for product availability updates. In the past, you may have removed products from your catalog as soon as your inventory was depleted, but keeping them up on your site and available for visitors to see can actually be a great way to connect with interested buyers and reach out to them directly at a later time through a targeted email campaign.

Once you have the email addresses of people who are interested in currently out-of-stock items, you can also take the opportunity to let them know about other related products that they may be interested in buying in the meantime while they wait for their preferred product to become available again.

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Example from Bonobos

Tactic #3: Contest/Giveaway Campaigns

If you’re relatively new to ecommerce and your email list is fairly small, launching a giveaway or contest can be a great way to drive a big amount of email sign ups in a relatively short amount of time.

To launch a successful giveaway on your website, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Make your products the focus of the giveaway
  • Make it easy for for participants to enter – don’t ask for a lot of information
  • Make your contest shareable / viral-enabled – use a tool like Gleam to build and manage everything
  • Use high-quality images and graphics
  • Promote your giveaway with Facebook ads
  • Run the contest for a limited time to drive urgency

The goal with giveaways is to raise awareness about your products and website, and to connect with people who may be interested in buying from you in the near future.

Beardbrand Beard Oil

Example from Beardbrand and Gleam

Tactic #4: Welcome and Exit Pop-Ups

The most popular and effective way to boost list growth on your ecommerce website is by creating and launching compelling welcome pop-ups and exit pop-ups for new visitors and potential customers who left before buying.

You can add more subscribers to your list by using website pop-ups to:

  • Share exclusive promotional codes
  • Offer free shipping
  • Reveal time-sensitive offers
  • Bundle and cross-sell products
  • Convert abandoning visitors
  • Invite subscribers to join your list for members-only information about your products and deals
  • Share exclusive content

To build and launch pop-ups for your ecommerce store, sign up for a free 14-day WisePops trial here.

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Example from Matina

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Example from Wishpond

Tactic #5: Gated Pages

If you want to be really aggressive with building your list, you can try gating certain products or pages on your website, or prevent visitors from accessing your entire website itself until they provide you with their email address and contact information.

With this tactic, you run the risk of creating too much friction for visitors and non-customers when they land on your website for the first time, but if your brand reputation is strong enough, it can work.

If you’re wary about the idea of gating your entire store from non-members, start small by creating gates around:

  • Your newest products
  • Your early-access product pages
  • One of your most popular products
  • Your products that are on-sale

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Example from The Honest Company

Tactic #6: Blog Forms & Free Content

You can also drive email sign ups by creating content resources that align with the products you sell, the pain points your products address, or the lifestyle your customers relate to.

Content resources can come in the form of:

  • Ebooks
  • Worksheets
  • Email drips
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Interactive PDFs or spreadsheets
  • Slideshows or photo galleries
  • Video or audio files
  • Downloadable infographics

You can find a live example of this tactic in practice on the Beardbrand website (featured below). Right now, you can visit the homepage and provide your email address in exchange for a free guide with tips on how to grow your best beard. It’s a great example of a value-add resource that aligns perfectly with the products they are trying to get people to buy. In addition to providing you with access to potential customers, this tactic also allows you to leverage your company as an influencer and thought leader in your industry and for your target audience.

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Example from Beardbrand

It’s important to remember that your website visitors may respond better to some tactics from this list than others. The point is to test as many as you can over the next 12 months in order to determine what yields the best results.

Once you start seeing steady list growth from your efforts, your next task is to figure out how you’re going to establish and nurture relationships with your new subscribers.

Focus Area #2: Lifecycle Marketing for Ecommerce

If it’s not already, lifecycle marketing needs to be a big piece of your overall sales and email marketing strategy for 2017. Rejoiner provides us with the simplest description of what lifecycle marketing is in their guide titled, How Rejoiner’s 350+ eCommerce Customers Have Used Lifecycle Email to Generate $60M+. In it, the authors write,

“Rather than sending bulk generic emails to any and all customers, lifecycle emails are targeted to specific customers at crucial points in their journey.”

The authors also do a great job in illustrating what a typical lifecycle program might like for a lot of ecommerce businesses. In the graphic they outline the following:

1. 3 clear stages of a customer lifecycle program

2. The email campaign opportunities that exist within each stage

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Lifecycle chart from Rejoiner

Digital Marketer has a similar chart in one of their guides that also illustrates what an ideal lifecycle marketing email program should look like for ecommerce businesses and where the opportunities for campaigns and subscriber engagement exist:

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Digital Marketer also breaks their program into 3 stages, and they define it in the following way:

  • Stage 1 (Interested) is for people who are interested but haven’t bought from you before. They may have signed up for a coupon or joined your membership program, but they have yet to convert. In this stage, the goal is to drive them to make their first purchase.
  • Stage 2 (Engaged) is for people who have bought before and are actively buying from you. In this stage, the goal is to get them to continue buying from you again and again.
  • Stage 3 (Lapsed) is for people who aren’t purchasing from you anymore. In this stage, the goal is to re-engage them and to give them a reason to buy from you again.

The go much deeper into each of these stages, so if you’d like to learn more from them, visit their guide here.

From these two visualizations, you can hopefully start to imagine the program you might build for your own ecommerce business, as well as types of emails that you could and should be sending in order to drive your subscribers and customers to buy from you more often.

To get you thinking even more, here is a basic lifecycle blueprint you could follow:

Interested Lifecycle Communication:

Email #1: Welcome Email – an email that thanks subscribers for signing up to receive updates and special deals from you.

Email #2: Brand Story Email – an email that tells subscribers more about who you are and why you do what you do in an effort to build trust and nurture the relationship.

Email #3: Coupon Email – an email that offers a promo code in an effort to drive them to make their first purchase.

Email #4: Cart Abandonment Email – a trigger-based email that gets sent out if a subscriber abandons their cart before purchasing (you can do this with tools like Rejoiner).

Email #5: Blog Email – an email that shares valuable content from your blog that subscribers can relate to. The blog post can feature or mention products they may be interested in.

Active Lifecycle Communication

Email #1: Order Confirmation/Receipt Email – a transactional email that provides details on an order that was made from a customer. This email should also include related products that new customers might be interested in.

Email #2: Thank You Email – a personalized and authentic thank you email to all first-time customers that also includes another promo code in an effort to drive them to buy again soon.

Email #3: Feedback/Review Request Email – an email that asks new customers to rate or review the product they purchased on your website.

Email #4: Cross-Sell / Related Products Email – an email that features other similar products that customers might be interested in purchasing.

Email #5: Special Promotions/Promo Code Email – a timely, limited-time only deal or special that you want active customers to know about.

Lapsed Lifecycle Communication

Email #1: We Miss You Email – an email that attempts to reconnect with a former customer. It could include information on new products or a special promo code.

Email #2: Replenishment Email – an email that attempts to notify a former customer that they must be running out of the product they bought for you and an invitation to buy it again.

Email #3: Win-Back Email – an email that includes a really great offer (such as 50% off) in a final attempt to win back the customer. 

Email #4: Feedback Email – an email that attempts to collect feedback from former customers about their experience buying and using your products.

Email #5: Unsubscribe Email – a notice letting a subscriber know that they will be removed from your list unless they respond in some way. This is an important step that you must take in order to keep your list healthy and your email marketing software costs down.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to note here that these are not the only emails you could include in your lifecycle program. There are many more types of emails worth considering (examples include referral program emails, event emails, birthday special emails, other incentive/reward emails, etc.). Ultimately you need to build a program that makes sense for your business, your products, and your customers.

It’s also important to note that most emails in a lifecycle program are trigger-based, so you need to use a tool or service that can help you decide when certain emails should go out based on the activity (or inactivity) of your customers and registered subscribers.

What list building tactics or lifecycle emails have worked best for you in the past? Share your experience in the comments section below.

  • Rob Wormley