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The era of a mass, depersonalized audience is gone. The customer is no longer the traditional buyer in the sense that their value is strictly monetary. Instead, businesses have learned to see their audience in terms of their narratives, worldviews, and interests. 

This phenomenon has led marketers like Seth Godin to emphasize the role of ‘tribes’ over ‘audience.’ 

What’s the idea here? As a business, you want like-minded people. You find your tribe. You meet the needs of your tribe. You don’t try to connect with the maximum number of takers.

Your field is no longer the entire world. The world as we knew it is now a heterogeneous entity. Just like every author has their own fan clubs, every business has its own ‘tribe.’ Any expansion beyond the tribe will be spontaneous, not forced. 

Seen in this light, customer retention takes on a new look.  It’s about knowing your people more and more so that your services can be matched to their genes. This is why small ecommerce businesses derive 35% of their revenue from 5% of their customer base. Who are these 5%? It’s the tribe of course!

But what’s the role of email marketing here?

Email is just the channel you need to communicate with your customers on their terms. It’s direct. It’s personal. It is therefore the best way to know your customer. And that’s what underlies the concept of the tribe. In the age of AI-driven insights, there is virtually no end to knowing your customer. 

Customization is the key to leveraging this knowledge. In particular, custom email templates can help you drive a successful customer retention program. 

Personalization 2.0: Acting on meaningful data

Personalization is the backbone of your retention program. Every time a new contact subscribes to your brand, your brand sends out a welcome email. The welcome email addresses the subscriber by their first name.

But that’s all! You have no other meaningful data on the recipient. Over time, as you gain insights into their behavior, you know them better, and tailor your emails to their needs. 

This is what personalization 2.0 is. You are now reaching out to a member of your tribe. You have a lot of actionable data on the customer. You know their purchase history.

You know their areas of interest. You know their browsing behavior and cart habits. You are fully-equipped to send out uber-targeted emails. 

For instance, consider the following email by FilterBuy. The email is perfectly matched to the recipient’s status. The sender has leveraged meaningful data.

Now let’s look at how personalization 2.0 can drive your customer retention program. 

1. Encourage community building

Your tribe has its own tribe. In other words, your loyal customers belong to a shared community. This is something you can capitalize on. 

Take a look at this email from Treehouse. How far is it from engaging with a stranger whom you expect to buy from you willy-nilly! This email encourages community building.

There’s nothing salesy here. The sender knows the customer. So they're sending something that will create value in their life. Thanks to this one update, “Daniel” comes in contact with a like-minded member. 

2. Anticipate your customers’ needs 

By keeping tabs on your customers’ browsing behavior, you can successfully anticipate their needs. But you want to do it gracefully. You don’t want to appear creepy. Not everything that the customer looks for has to reflect their need for it. The last thing you want is to overwhelm your customers. 

The mantra is: leverage browsing data to identify customers who seem to be having difficulties or exploring a particular product category. 

For example, this email from Perc Coffee is short, simple, and to-the-point. It’s not pushy at all. It anticipates the recipient’s potential need for a related product in a matter-of-fact way. 

3. Ask for feedback

You are trying to provide value on the basis of your information about the customer. 

But email analytics is just one way of knowing about your customer’s preferences. Another proven tactic is to directly ask for their feedback. Sometimes, feedback can function as a necessary pointer.

But at other times, no matter how sure you are of the relevance of your content, you should still ask for feedback. Let’s say you’re certain that it’s going to be positive feedback. But the fact that you asked will reflect your ethos as a brand. 

For instance, the following email from Pinterest is matched to the recipient’s recent activity on the website. It’s not an assumption. It’s data-driven. But toward the end, the email asks the recipient’s help in further improving Pinterest’s recommendations.

4. Celebrate with your customer

This brings us to the heart of the tribe concept. You want to build relationships with members within your tribe. So give them something they would really like. Show them you care for them. Show them that you think about them. 

How about sending them a present on their birthday? That’s what Ray-Ban does in this email. Take a look at their message, and you won’t find anything that suggests they’re simply trying to sell or hook the customer in. It’s entirely about the customer. Just like a present from a distant friend. 

5. Thank your customers

This is the easiest thing you can do for your customer. Because customer retention is entirely about the customer, thanking them for their loyalty should be a no-brainer. Yet how often do brands do it?

If you want to see the power of custom templates, here is one from Niice. The email thanks the customer for their decade-long loyalty to the brand. It celebrates the customer. It celebrates a like-minded member. 

6. Send event invitations

Here is another way to retain customers. If you have already made them part of your journey, you should include them to celebrate your milestones. 

For instance, this email from Misc. Goods Co invites the customer to join the brand’s 10th anniversary. The email was not sent out to all subscribers. It is targeted at the members of the tribe.

It makes the recipient feel valued and appreciated. It reminds them they are not just another buyer defined by their monetary value. 

7. Spread the word, intelligently

Referral programs have a place in email marketing. However, over-reliance on them can be counterproductive to what we’re trying to achieve. 

Remember we said that the modern customer’s value is not strictly monetary. The traditional referral program seems to be an open contradiction to this idea. Give to get – this principal is antithetical to the spirit of authentic relationships. It seems crude, sounds too obvious, and reeks of old-world salesmanship. 

Mind you, we’re not arguing for the end of referrals as such. But, like we mentioned before, any expansion beyond our tribe should be spontaneous. The call to spread the word need not come off as a sales tactic. In this regard, the below email from Postmates is a great example.


The call to spread the word is tactfully hidden in the question, ‘Are You Eating Solo?’ Yes, it might seem like a shot in the dark. But think about it: there’s nothing to lose here. 

Retaining a customer is more difficult than gaining a new one. If the recipient of this email should end up sharing Postmates’ order with their roomie, the word is spread. If not, the brand does not lose a customer.

Remember, keeping a member of the tribe outweighs the advantage of expanding it by one person. If the above strategy works, you can always reward the existing customer and surprise them.

8. Educate your customers 

If you care about someone, you look out for them. You want them to know. You want them to learn, to be better versions of themselves. You can do that as a business too. How? By educating the members of your tribe.

This is yet another instance where custom emails come in handy. You’re not just promoting your product. There is no obvious sales pitch in your email. In some cases, you can remove promotional CTAs as well. It’s not being unorthodox and daring. You do these things because you really know the customer. 

Mount Sapo excels at offering educational value to their customers.  Their Science of Touch email is what we always go back to in order to illustrate this. Take a look at the below email. It’s almost entirely text, full of information. The promotional part comes at the end of the message. 

9. Create re-engagement emails 

Not all customers may be proactively engaging with your emails, even though they’re members of your tribe. They haven’t quite quit your brand. In most cases, they just need a nudge. 

And that’s the best you can do. Don’t be aggressive. A well-targeted re-engagement campaign can help you gain their drifting attention. This email from EXOH illustrates this point perfectly. It’s lighthearted, gentle, and attention-grabbing. 

10. Ask them if they want to unsubscribe

If your re-engagement emails don’t work, it means something. Perhaps the customer has lost interest in your brand. It’s not always the case that you fell short of their expectations. The customer may have their reasons, and they’re entitled to leave. 

The question may arise, What has it got to do with a retention program? A lot, actually. You can design emails giving them the option to unsubscribe in such a way as to rekindle their interest. You haven’t really lost a customer until you’ve flushed them out of your list. So even an Unsubscribe email can turn the tide.

Take a look at this email from Cuisinart. It’s a brilliant illustration of what we’re trying to get at. 

The email offers two options. The customer can customize their preferences, and get more relevant messages.

Or they can unsubscribe, and also opt in back at any time. It’s an open-ended farewell. Of course, it’s no guarantee that it will work. But the fact that you still care brings out the character of your brand. 

Still, what if it works? Your retention program will not have gone in vain. The point is: don’t count potential unsubscribes as definitive losses. 

General tips for customer retention programs

You now know how you can leverage custom templates to retain customers. But it’s important to not be lost in the details. You need a foundation to build your program on. So here are a few tips to give you a headstart:

  • Focus on shared values: Identify with your customers’ worldview. Do you as a brand prioritize eco-friendly solutions? Do you donate to charities?
  • Don’t let your customers be bored: How about changing the way your website looks? It need not be a full-fledged rebranding. But you can keep consumers engaged in this way.
  • Remember, your customers are human: You’ll be looking at a lot of data. But you must not lose touch with the human being on the other side. Ultimately, you’re not interacting with data, but with flesh-and-blood people.
  • Be accessible: In other words, people should get you. Create easy-to-read content. Explain your products in simple language. Be colloquial.
  • Streamline your operations: Make it super easy for customers to return products, get refunds, or communicate with your Support teams. Whatever it is, your customers should not be made to wait for long. Try to preempt bad experiences.
  • Adopt the BNPL approach: The Buy-Now-Pay-Later approach can stimulate customer retention. Customers are more likely to shop with brands that offer multiple payment plans.  

Next steps?

Get in touch with a trusted email marketing agency! Share your brand guidelines with an email marketing team, clarify what drives you as a brand, and define your target audience. 

If you are a one-soul business, consider trying an ESP. ESPs like Mailchimp, HubSpot, Klaviyo, etc. offer custom templates as well as drag-and-drop email builders. But remember, setting up and managing an ESP can be time-consuming. But ESPs are cheaper than hiring an agency.

If you’re going the DIY route, you may need to hire trusted developers and designers if you are not familiar with coding and designing. 

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