Handy "How Tos"

Email Marketing Customer Journey: A How-To Guide for Digital Marketers

  Gregg Blanchard     March 10, 2023    

When we created SendView, one of our goals was to create a way for marketers to better track the email marketing journeys of their competitors. These journeys are really hard to track in an inbox like Gmail that's built for reading emails, so we set out to build an interface that was designed for tracking journeys and learning from their tactics.

Simply put, an email marketing journey is a marketing campaign that sends automated email marketing campaigns to your target audience over time. Journeys inform strategies to attract leads, nurture customers, educate prospects, or encourage subscribers to take action through emails.

Businesses use customer journey mapping to strategically plan email subscriber experiences through visual representations of customer interactions – a journey map. Email journeys allow digital marketers to create a sense of personalization, build brand loyalty, and save time while increasing engagement and revenue.

This complete guide will walk you through how to plan an effective email journey. Plus, we’ll cover what a customer journey is, why you need one, and the dos and don’ts of a compelling strategy.

Pull out your whiteboard and get ready to map. First, let’s begin with the basics.

What is an email journey?

An email journey is a series of automated emails that are sent over a period of time, triggered by specific user behaviors. They can attract leads, nurture customers, educate prospects, or encourage subscribers to take action. Customer email journeys are sometimes called programs, emails series, or even autoresponders depending on the context. In some cases, email journeys are used to describe must larger maps of email campaigns. In this case, these other concepts may be parts of an overall customer journey rather than a synonym for this idea.

In the case of SendView, we went with the name "Timelines" to describe the interface our customers can use to browse their competitors' email marketing journeys because they may look at the full journey or simply evaluate specific series or program within it.

screenshot of competitor email journey in sendview

What is customer journey email mapping?

Customer journey mapping is a tool businesses use to plan customer experiences strategically. Journey maps visually represent each customer interaction with a company, from initial contact to post-purchase follow-up. By mapping out customer and lead touchpoints, businesses can identify opportunities to improve their processes and meet customer needs.

For example, if you understand a potential customers' knowledge of your products when you capture their email, a journey may involve building interest, awareness, social proof, and more through various campaigns before leading to a more clear, specific call-to-action designed to drive revenue.

Why do email marketers need to map our email journeys?

Email journeys enable digital marketers to foster relationships with their customers and cultivate loyalty. They can create a sense of personalization and build excitement as customers move through the funnel, increasing the likelihood of interacting with the content and ultimately making a purchase.

Email journeys can – and should – be customized to match individual customers' unique interests and preferences. Keep reading for more pro tips like this. You can find a dos and don’ts section at the end of this article!

The Benefits of an Email Journey

Email Journey is a powerful marketing and customer engagement tool. Journey maps are a tool businesses can use to create strategic emails to push their customers through the funnel. Automating this journey allows them to efficiently reach their target audience with relevant and engaging emails.

#1) Email Journeys Increase Engagement

An Email Journey allows businesses to tailor their emails to their customers, encouraging them to take action. This personalized marketing approach helps companies to establish a more intimate relationship with their customers. Automating outreach and follow-ups can increase reply rates by 250%.

#2) Journeys Can Increase revenue

Digital marketers who automate their email campaigns see up to 359% higher conversion rates than one-off email campaigns. This means that businesses can quickly increase their revenue with email journeys.

#3) Journeys Can Build Brand Loyalty

Customized, consistent emails sent strategically make subscribers feel like they are part of a special club, increasing loyalty. This loyalty can translate into brand advocacy – customers are more likely to recommend the brand to friends and family.

#4) Email Automations Can Save Time

Email marketing automations with the right dynamic content blocks can save email marketers 6 hours per week on average. That gives any email team more time to leverage other conversion methods and increase revenue elsewhere.

#5) Journeys Can Increase Personalizion

Email Journeys enable businesses to create email content that is highly targeted. They can easily segment their list based on customer data or create personalized emails to specific customer segments; based on shopping or browsing patterns; or other general user data like their name or location.

How long should an email journey be?

The length of an email journey can vary significantly depending on the goals and audience of the campaign. Generally, keep email journeys as short as possible; each email should have a clear and specific purpose. An email journey can comprise as few as two emails and as many as six emails. That said, let the bandwidth your team has and the unique goals within your business dictate the right length for the journey.

I've worked in complex, B2B marketing where we're designing year-long nurturing journeys with dozens of campaigns. I've also worked with simple, retail products where I can do what I need within 2-3 campaigns.

How to create and use your customer email journey map

We’ll talk about creating an email journey next, but first, let’s familiarize ourselves with the traditional marketing funnel. Email journeys can serve different purposes. Each one of those purposes will start at a different point in the funnel.

Start with your marketing funnel.

A marketing funnel outlines your customer’s email journey from the first time they hear about your company to when they purchase. It’s essential to meet your subscribers where they’re at in the funnel.

The five stages of a marketing funnel are:

  1. Awareness - someone hears about you for the first time.
  2. Consideration - they start thinking about buying a new product or service, might research, be nurtured, or need to hear about you multiple times in this phase to move on to the next phase.
  3. Acquisition - conversion copy, ads, marketing emails, and more will convert someone from considering to a new customer.
  4. Retention - they’re already your customer; now you want to keep them around and potentially buy more from you.
  5. Advocacy - the customer loves your brand so much that they recommend it.
marketing funnel visualization

Step 1: define your goals

You can make dozens of email journeys if you want to. Many successful companies do! Before creating your first email journey, consider what you want to achieve. Also, consider where your customer is in your funnel and meet them there.

You might want to get someone from the awareness phase of the funnel to the consideration phase. Maybe you want to nurture someone who’s abandoned their cart to purchase what they left behind. Perhaps you want them to refer their friends after they buy a product. You could aim to educate them after they sign up for a discount code.

Here are 18 types of user journey automations you can use to grow your email marketing strategy:

  1. brand awareness
  2. lead acquisition
  3. research
  4. comparison
  5. purchase
  6. onboarding or education
  7. upsells
  8. cross-sells
  9. retention and loyalty
  10. advocacy
  11. abandoned cart
  12. re-engagement or win back
  13. next steps
  14. reminders
  15. birthday offers
  16. VIP offers
  17. feedback
  18. welcome series
visualization of first step

Step 2: Create a strategy

For each of your goals, you’ll need to come up with a strategy to achieve them. In this phase, create a list of steps to take them from where they are in the funnel to where you want them to go. Then, plan one email idea for each of those steps.

visualization of step 2

Step 3: Plan your automation

Now that you know which emails you want to send, think about how you’ll create a workflow for that email. You’ll need rules and triggers that indicate to your email marketing software (EMS) what actions will add people to this workflow and the intervals at which it will send your emails.

List out the following to prepare your automation sequence:

  • What segment will these subscribers be added to?
  • How often will you send your emails?
  • What will your subscriber's actions lead to?
  • At any point will some subscribers be removed from this workflow?
  • Are there places where you want to include multiple if/then options?
visualization of step 3

Step 4: Create content

Now you know which emails you need to create and how you’ll lay them out in your EMS. It’s time to create the actual emails that you’ll send! Use personalization and dynamic content blocks to boost loyalty and conversions wherever possible.

Think about the pain points of the audience you're trying to reach. Are they existing customers, new customers, new subscribers, or referrals? How do they need to be nurtured? The user experience will be the difference between an effective journey and an annoying one.

Here are some examples of great abandoned cart emails from our friends at Really Good Emails:

abandoned cart email from explore cuisine's customer email journey
abandoned cart email from better brand's customer email journey
abandoned cart email from luno's email journey

Step 5: Built the automation in your email marketing system

You’ve done the hard work. Now all that’s left is bringing it together in your EMS. Build an automation workflow out of your newly minted content, the triggers and rules you planned, and the segments you outlined. Watch the change it creates over the next few months!

Customer/email/User journey example

Let’s put it all together now! Here’s the complete example of an abandoned cart email journey map from start to finish.

  • Goal: nurture abandoned carts to purchase
  • Funnel phases: consideration → acquisition
  • Strategy: automate reminders, offer discounts, offer free shipping
  • Automation plan: wait two days between each email, and matriculate users into customer segments once they buy
  • Content: reminder email, free shipping email, discount email

We planned this out on a Canva Whiteboard, but you could also use Miro, paper and a pen, a real whiteboard, or another similar tool! It’s easy to create a quick visual map of these ideas once you know the process.

visualization of step 4

Email Journey Dos and Don’ts

Now you know how to create an email journey! But before you go, there are a few dos and don’ts to remember when crafting an effective email journey. Here are a few tips:

#1) Do allow self-segmentation on your subscription forms

You can segment your audience based on their preferences. This makes them more likely to open your emails, find them relevant, and eventually purchase. If you allow them to pick these interests themselves when they subscribe to your email list, rather than get annoyed by your emails, they will likely enjoy the journeys you map out for them.

#2) Don’t send emails too frequently

Be timely when you’re reminding subscribers of sensitive things like abandoned carts and events. But don’t bombard your lists. Sending emails too frequently can annoy your subscribers and lead them to unsubscribe. Add an option to hear from you less often in your unsubscribe form if this is something you worry about! Watching your competitors' email sending frequency on the aggregate and with individual brands can help you learn from other teams who may have already found the sweet spot for your audience.

screenshot of email frequency report

#3) Do automate

Automate your email marketing campaigns! Save yourself time and brain power by creating an automation for every email journey you have in mind. In some cases, your full customer email journey can be automated. Look for campaigns you send frequently and see if there aren't ways to automated the content, timing, or audience of each email in your journey.

#4) Don’t overload your email content

Keep each email short and sweet. It’s better to have more emails with less content than a few jam-packed emails. Each email should have only one obvious call to action, and no more than three bite-sized pieces of information. You can use tools like SendView's Word Count trend report to see how long your competitors' emails are and understand the context of what your audience might be used to in terms of length.

email marketing word count screenshot

#5) Do personalize your messages

Use the subscribers’ first names, suggest products they’d like based on their e-commerce habits, add them to segments based on what they’ve bought, and offer special deals for the products they’ve had their eye on. Customizing your emails with dynamic elements will make your customer feel seen and increase your conversion rates.

#6) Don’t ignore the data

Look through customer feedback, check the metrics on your automations, and track your customer’s actions in your e-commerce platform to optimize your email journey results. Even making small tweaks can lead to big results in email automations. Try some A/B testing while you’re at it! Testing at least once every six months is necessary. 

Get insights on your competitors’ customer journey mapping.

Need inspiration for your own customer journey mapping? Want to see what your competitors are up to? You can use Sendview to track your competitors’ email marketing strategy!

With trend reports, email timelines, detailed company comparisons, and split test programs, you can see it all on your Sendview dashboard. Let's look at a few of those features.

1) Track the Timing of Your Competitors' Marketing Journeys

How frequently a company sends emails is a key decision with an email marketing journey. You don't want to overwhelm your customer but you also don't want those customers to forget about you or not be able to remember your previous messages and connect all the dots. One simple way to see the timing your competitors' use within their customer journey strategy is the Send Volume report in the Trends section of your SendView account.

screenshot of timing report

You can see how frequently your competitors send email campaigns on the aggregate during any stretch of the email journey, but don't forget to scroll down so you can see these stats for each individual sender as well.

2) Email Journey Calendar View

As we've just discussed, timing is a key aspect of a company's strategy around the customer journey. In your SendView account you can use the calendar view in any competitor's Dashboard to see the exact timing of a series of email marketing campaigns on a simple calendar. This allows you to really get a feel of where the frequency overlaps with the most common days of the week they like to send emails. This will give you a visual view of an email program.

screenshot of competitor email dashboard

Now, that's great to see and you can start to get a feel for how they are balancing timing and frequency with the design of their email journey, but you can also view these calendars side-by-side with the comparison feature within the Dashboards feature.

compare email timing in dashboards

It's one of my favorite features because it lets you visually compare each company's strategy as they communicate with their audience.

3) Visual Timeline of Email Journeys

The previous features are giving you a nice high level view of an email journey, but nothing beats just scrolling through the emails themselves and seeing exactly how the subject line, imagery, copy, calls-to-action, and more compare from one email to the next.

screenshot of timelines feature

Even more, with each email you can preview the email on mobile, see the source code, share the email campaigns with your team, add a campaign to a collection or your Favorites, and start to dig into each phase of your competitors' email journeys from the timing of each email to the exact purpose of one campaign to the news.

Track Your Competitors' Email Journeys with SendView

SendView a powerful tool that allows you to make strategic decisions and follow your competitors' email journeys from the moment you subscribe to their emails. For example, the Timelines feature allows you to see the full HTML of each email in a journey in sequence, how many days pass between campaigns, see how each email looks on mobile, dig into the source code, and more.

Want to track your competitors' email journeys? You're just a few minutes away from getting started, just start a free trial of SendView!