The term “nurturing” broadly means “taking care, protecting during growth” or even “helping and encouraging development.” Of these general definitions, the technical language of marketing adopts the aspects of care and listening and incorporates the more proactive dimension, the one intended to affirm and encourage the replication of a positive experience over time that is useful, relevant, involving.
In this case, we’re talking about a purchasing experience, so we are therefore focusing on lead nurturing, the actions that marketers concern themselves with in order to convert a lead into a customer and, in the best of all possible scenarios, also into a promoter.
If, as statistics indicate, as many as 96% of visitors to a brand’s website are not (yet) ready to buy (source: Marketo) a lead nurturing strategy can play an important role in guiding the visitor on a progressive path of conversion. In order to implement lead nurturing actions that are effective on a large scale, marketers need the appropriate tools. This is where marketing automation comes into play.
Marketing automation refers to the technologies and methodologies that make it possible to automatically manage marketing processes and multifunctional campaigns across multiple channels. Back in 2015, 57% of marketers said they identified lead nurturing as the most useful feature of automation software (source: ventureharbour.com).
The only way to maximize ROI through marketing actions is to convert every possible lead. But doing so requires the automated collection and categorization of large, often huge, amounts of data. The manual alternative is simply no longer viable: managing thousands of leads per month without automation means wasting valuable time and sacrificing resources that could be spent on more valuable activities.
Lead nurturing: Concepts, practices, tools
Explaining what lead nurturing is and why it’s important for all companies calls into question a veritable constellation of concepts, practices, and tools that, over the past few years, have characterized the evolution of digital marketing.
Let’s start by giving some points of reference. Lead nurturing can be defined under two main aspects:
- It is the process of enhancing the brand-customer relationship that goes through every phase of the customer journey.
- It is a communication process with the objective of transforming a “potential” customer into a “permanent” customer.
Combining these two definitions, lead nurturing encompasses all the interactions that take place between two phases of the purchase path (the initial phase and the final phase, where the final phase must also be understood as a new incipit of conversation within a consumer life cycle that has never before departed from the normative rigidity of the old funnel). These phases correspond to as many states of the consumer, specifically the digital consumer: the visitor phase, i.e. the initial phase, and the customer phase, i.e. the final phase.
When the user-visitor finally becomes a customer, a transition of state takes place. The marketing team must organize their activities to best manage this transition, which is articulated in a myriad of branching steps.
Lead nurturing and customer nurturing to maximize ROI
Moreover, lead nurturing overlaps with customer nurturing, reconverting seamlessly into another system of actions, this time aimed at consolidating and maintaining an existing relationship rather than creating opportunities for preliminary knowledge. The brand must take charge of nurturing the customer for as long as they remain in contact with the company, and, for the most farsighted brands, even afterwards.
Yet, even though the results are indisputable, there still seems to be resistance. For example, consider the fact that only 29% of brands invest in lead generation actions after the initial purchase (compared to 81% who regularly invest in “before”). Nothing could be more counterintuitive: Not only are existing customers more likely to buy again than new leads, but it would be an unforgivable waste of the time, effort, and money that went into acquiring them. In fact, it would be a mistake to not try to maximize the return on each individual customer (source: Demand Gen).
It is equally true, on the other hand, that every lead that does not convert, at some point in the near future, is a “vain” expense: it is absorbing, without producing concrete effects, the resources reserved for marketing activities. For this reason, growing the number and, above all, the quality of leads has become a priority, so much so that 48% of companies agree that “long cycle” nurturing of most of their leads is beneficial (source: ventureharbour.com).
Lead nurturing: Creating engagement and enabling relevant relationships
Let’s add another element to what we’ve already written to demonstrate the importance of lead nurturing within marketing projects. The most effective lead nurturing initiatives create engagement because, by their very nature, they are inevitably relevant. Let’s clarify this concept.
While 54% of email marketers say that increasing engagement rates is the first of their concerns (Ascend2) what seems to work best is aligning specific content with certain stages of the customer journey. Knowing what stages potential customers are at along the buying process (and perhaps for how long and how often) and providing content that meets their current needs (whether it’s ads, web pages, emails, or otherwise) is by far the most effective way to move them one step closer to purchase.
Targeting users with content relevant to where they are in their “journey” produces 73% higher average conversion rates (source: Aberdeen).
Creating engagement and enabling relevant relationships (which is another way of saying “personalized” relationships) are the two capabilities that make lead nurturing strategies absolutely essential today. In fact, lead nurturing – supported, as we’ll discuss later, by marketing automation – offers brands the conceptual categories and tools with which they can exploit the potential of digitization, in the midst of the (creative and plural) “chaos” that has become the internet (creative and plural), which has become the place where companies come into contact with consumers.
Lead nurturing in the “messy” middle: How to thrive in chaos
The infamous funnel is now so articulated that it has exploded into a messy middle (hence the “chaos” at the end of the previous paragraph), which Google first described as a graphic representation of the messy and (perhaps) unpredictable decision-making process through which consumers arrive, or do not arrive, to purchase.
For any formula that claims to prescribe purchasing behavior, the only evidence that marketers can reasonably count on today is that between the trigger and the actual purchase there is a complicated network of touchpoints that differ from person to person.
Gianluca Diegoli: From the funnel to the customer journey
In Marketing Arena magazine, Gianluca Diegoli wrote about the customer funnel:
“In fact, at no time in history has a large part of the customer journey been so determined by the customer and so little by companies.”
Diegoli then talked about the “magical” powers of the funnel, whose usefulness essentially coincides with the function it is intended for, i.e. “that of de-writing how we support the customer in the purchase path, with the content, deployed on the target data and the tools used.” The conclusion that followed was clear and decisively shifted the focus to the elusive and often inscrutable behaviors of consumers: The funnel can in no way be used as a prescriptive tool because “never before has the customer journey been as important as it is today – as well as the many ways and data to be analyzed, by marketing, in collaboration with all other business functions.”
The minimal experience by Marco Cordioli
In Marketing’s Way to Digital Transformation, Marco Cordioli speaks instead of minimal experience to mean “when a designed succession of content and interactions bridges a need or desire to greater awareness and motivation to buy.” (And this description seems to harken back to that series of instructions channeled into workflows, the workflows that in marketing automation platforms are responsible for delivering profiled messages.)
This is how Cordioli describes the steps through which the minimum experience takes shape: “the ad that intercepts a search (A), followed by information that satisfies the need for knowledge (B), followed by the invitation to an in-depth study (C) become a single minimum experience. The potential customer passes through each of these steps and they serve to move the user from A to B, from B to C and transform them. In form, the structure of a minimal experience is always composed of a traffic source, an exchange element, and a conversion. In addition, it is “important that the message that invites first action is expected (or relevant), personalized and meaningful.”
If the success of lead nurturing strategies depend on the ability to be relevant, it is precisely because, as Diegoli writes, the awareness of the end of the funnel as a graphic representation of self-fulfilling predictions has now matured. And if the transition of state, which occurs through the minimal experiences described by Cordioli, are made actionable thanks to messages, then the emphasis should be placed precisely on content, through which (and the circle closes) lead nurturing can concretely be grounded.
Inbound marketing, marketing automation and lead nurturing: The strategic advantages of a synergy
Lead nurturing, as it should be clear by now, is many things. It is also a moment of what Seth Godin first called “permission marketing.” Permission marketing is the approach, made indispensable by digitalization, that recognizes the right of potential consumers to decide, respond, and participate, even the right (or “power,” according to Godin) to ignore the advertising message if they want to. Marketing that asks “permission,” as opposed to the “marketing of interruption” that had mostly characterized brand communications until the beginning of the new millennium. Put another way, permission marketing is about the privilege – in no way a right – of reaching one’s target audience with appropriate, personal, and meaningful messages.
Lead nurturing is part of this small revolution that places consumers at the center of the communication system. After capturing their attention, the goal becomes to build relationships that are as balanced and open as possible. How? By providing them with the “right content at the right time:” lead nurturing is therefore also content marketing that is developed and distributed according to a typically inbound logic.
Among other things, inbound marketing, the backbone which consists of content creation and distribution, does not only cover a hypothetical awareness crystallized in that one inaugural moment, as the funnel would have it, but in Google’s messy middle it is conceived as branding and accompanies, with varying intensity, the entire customer journey.
Marketing automation to support lead generation strategies
There’s no denying it: automation delivers better results. Eighty percent of marketers who use automation software generate more leads; of those leads, 77% of marketers who have adopted marketing automation convert significantly more (source: VB Insight, APSIS). Today’s data-driven, multichannel, fluid, responsive marketing wouldn’t work without these tools.
Marketing automation platforms, which are based on managing large amounts of data, make it possible to create flexible communications at scale, effectively supporting the lead nurturing strategies that brands desperately need today. In this way, not only can the relationship with potential customers be enriched with increasingly personalized content, but also with levels of interactivity designed around the digital habits of individual users.
Lead nurturing strategies, grounded by marketing automation tools, not only allow you to interact with customers, but also to use the data collected to assess their interest and monitor their behavior with a view to continuous optimization and constant increase in return on investment (ROI).
Let’s try now to identify the causal links that hold together lead generation, inbound marketing, and marketing automation. Behind the impulse of inbound marketing actions, which are expressed according to a content strategy, lead nurturing initiatives are implemented (as well as lead generation): leads require attention and sufficient resources throughout the purchase process to proceed to subsequent (and progressive) conversions. In order to implement lead nurturing strategies, it is necessary to adopt marketing automation tools, which will allow, first, to identify qualified leads and then to convey the most suitable content to each contact.
Lead nurturing and marketing automation: Personalized videos to provide the answers customers need
A final, fundamental clarification: if inbound marketing and marketing automation give their best results precisely in synergy with lead generation strategies, it’s mainly thanks to the high level of personalization and interactivity incorporated in the content. In fact, a successful lead nurturing program focuses marketing and communication efforts on listening to potential customers’ personal needs and providing the information and answers they actually need. This is the only way to build trust, increase brand awareness, and maintain a vital relationship, not only until prospects are ready to make a purchase, but also afterwards.
One particularly effective solution within lead generation that addresses this urgency for personalization is personalized videos.
Doxee personalized video: Authentic, Shared Storytelling
Doxee personalized videos bring out the richness in your customer data, transforming it into personalized, interactive video experiences.
Doxee Pvideo® enables the creation of truly unique videos, rich in interactive features and customizable to the highest degree because they are composed of scenes selected based on the data of each individual recipient, rich in custom text and banners, ad-hoc chosen images, and personalized voice overs.
Lead generation that is truly capable of creating positive and satisfying customer experiences is that which evolves potential customers in valuable relationships. But in order for these relationships to be valuable and meaningful, they must be built around the lives of customers and on the authentic and shared narration of their lives. Doxee videos do just that: they reconstruct a world that corresponds to that of the customer.