Topic Guide
Posted: March 28, 2019Read Time: 15 minutes

Snakes & Ladders: how to shed the 5 common mistakes in retention marketing

Snakes Ladders Board


Customer retention marketing is, simply put, all about creating experiences that make shoppers keep coming back to you. And the marketing experience they have with you is everything. It decides whether they see your brand as ‘getting’ them completely and worthy of engaging with, or irrelevant and ignorable. A poorly executed retention strategy is the difference between the two.

And with so many methods for delighting your customers, whether using insight to tailor personalised campaigns or consistently rewarding them for their loyalty, there are equally as many pitfalls in the quest to keep them happy.

It’s pretty much like playing a game of snakes and ladders. With every experience that accelerates them along the customer journey, just around the corner and usually feeding off a lack of insight, resources and actionable knowledge is a large snake ready to nip at your customers’ ankles and send them running in the opposite direction.

So, how do we go about avoiding these slithery hurdles? This post will highlight the biggest snakes that damage your customer relationships and explain how to build the ladders to overcome them.

Let’s take a trip along your customer journey….


Snakes Ladders Board

Snake #1: Too many marketing messages

Too Many Marketing Messages

72% of consumers are frustrated with you sending too many emails and, in turn, are only opening between 1 and 5 emails a day . Scary stats and even scarier facts to take in, considering you want their attention.

But, they feel pestered. Constantly throwing emails your customers’ way, in the hope that at least one of them feels relevant and sticks, is the wrong approach – but that hasn’t stopped it being a popular one amongst marketers.

It can also be caused by a lack of joined-up cross-channel strategy. We’ll cover it in more depth later, but when retailers take a siloed approach to different marketing channels that doesn’t consider the overall number of messages a customer is receiving, there’s a very real risk that you could be bombarding customers with messages from all angles.


The overwhelm illustrated

  • 15:00: Sam receives a cart abandonment email following their activity online earlier that day
  • 15:47: Sam receives a newsletter about your brand new product line
  • 16:03: Sam gets an SMS message encouraging them to browse your new line with an offer of 25% off as incentive  
  • 16:49: Sam scrolls social media and sees multiple messages about the new line with a differing offer of 15% off  
  • 17:00: Sam is fed up

It’s clear to any marketer that the above customer experience is rife with snakes. So, how do you work to fix this slithery issue?


Ladder #1: A joined up marketing strategy

A Joined Up Marketing Strategy

We have a ladder for that – a unified cross-channel approach to marketing. This means using tech with the power to understand each customer’s behaviour and preferences, and orchestrate all the messages you want to send your customers – whether SMS, email, direct mail or across social media – from one place. With everything being sent from a centralised place, you are able to not only time and prioritise the messages appropriately – so they don’t overwhelm your customers – but you will be able to control the messages you send to ensure consistency.

The overwhelm rectified

  • 15:00: Sam receives an email about your latest line and clicks through the CTA to browse
  • After 3 days Sam still hasn’t interacted with the email
  • Sam is added to a cross-channel segment that will be target using custom audiences on Facebook and Instagram
  • 09:00 Sam sees the messages on instagram about the new line and clicks through to view products


Snake #2: Irrelevant content

Irrelevant Content

Otherwise known as ‘throw-it-at-the-wall-and-hope-it-sticks’ marketing. This is a hydra of a problem and one of the biggest to try and get around. Simply put, customers don’t feel understood by brands, and this usually reflects in what they are sent and whether they respond to it. In fact, 67% of customers are frustrated with emails that don’t contain products and content that is interesting to them.

‘Irrelevant content’ sounds like a broad stroke but it can be boiled down to not having a distinct view of your customer, so in essence, not being able to reflect what you know about them in the messages you send them, leaving messages that make little sense to them and feel generic.

A lack of knowledge about their customers usually leaves marketers resorting to ‘batch-and-blast’ methods and bewildered customers wondering why they’re receiving offers on golf clubs when they’ve never touched a putt.

This leads to common mistakes like:

  • Sending marketing messages themed about the wrong gender interests
  • Messages about products customers have already bought
  • Messages about products customers have already returned
  • Sending generic recommendations that don’t align with shoppers’ interests
  • Inviting customers to brick-and-mortar events miles away from them

Sending irrelevant content is a symptom of two problems: 

  • Not having enough data: You don’t have a joined-up picture of each shopper, usually because the data that you hold on each individual is siloed across multiple solutions (your ecommerce platform, ESP etc.). This limits your ability personalise without a hefty amount of manual work (usually in spreadsheets) trying to tie together different customer data sources.
  • Not being able to act upon insight: While having reams of data is a great foundation, if you can’t make sense of it in actionable customer insight and put it to work in your marketing messages, all your work collecting that data is meaningless.

What does this mean?

This means that you won’t be able to create real-life personalisation for your customers beyond knowing what you should be doing and can’t. Marketers are often held back by a lack of real-time insight, meaning a reliance on agencies or an in-house team to provide insights which may be out of date by the time you get them. The second issue is associated with workflow. Greater personalisation means more templates and content creation, and having an inefficient setup that doesn’t do the heavy lifting can put marketers off personalising at all.

Ladder #2: A campaign foundation in insight

A Campaign Foundation In Insight

This all comes down to having the right tech in place to support personalisation. Sending highly personalised messages will set you apart from the crowd, and with actionable insight as your starting point you can continually mould your messaging to suit your variety of customers.

What’s more, picking a solution that fits with your workflow and eliminates manual, repetitive tasks will save you hours of manual work and joining up data and getting insights yourself, which is not only pretty boring but as with most tedious tasks, leaves you prone to human error.


What does this look like?

An example of an advanced campaign may be using:

  • Campaign segmentation: creating differing experiences depending on criteria like gender, lifecycle stage and CLV.
Sigma Sports Welcome Campaign

Sigma Sports’ segmented welcome email, based on gender and cycling interest

  • Dynamic content: incorporating dynamic elements into marketing messages that change to reflect the profile of the recipient. This includes hero images, product recommendations, special offers and copy.


Real-life example: Maniere de Voir

Online fashion retailer Maniere de Voir, along with our latest innovation stream Ometria Labs, wanted to move away from a batch-and-blast approach of marketing and tailor its newsletters so that each individual felt like they were being sent an email specifically for them. Using AI-powered predictive segmentation the brand was able to see an uplift of 40% to their newsletter revenue. Using this experimental too Maniere de Voir sent emails to its customers that were tailored based on insight such as browsing history, relationship between similar products and customers that purchased them and buying cycles of products.

Mdv Email Image

Maniere de Voir’s segmented ‘new in’ newsletter


Snake #3: No customer context

No Customer Context

This snake focuses on recognising where a customer is in their journey with your brand. Much like “irrelevant content”, this scaled foe can lead to a lot of frustrated and confused customers

  • Triggering anti-lapse “We miss you” messages when you haven’t seen a customer online in a while, when they shop in-store with you all the time
  • Sending follow-up and aftercare emails to a customer who has returned an item
  • Bothering loyal customers with abandonment emails when they are likely to come back and shop again anyway
  • Failing to recognise customer loyalty (more on that in the next point)

This is just the start but it all highlights that a lack of customer context means that you resort to one-size-fits-all marketing, which very often leads to customer-suddenly-disengaging-and-subscribing-marketer-now-with-head-in-hands-because-needs-not-met.

Ladder #3: Knowing your customer

Knowing Your Customer

This may seem obvious, and in truth it is a simple way to describe using the data customers provide to learn about how to communicate with them. Not merely the method of communication they prefer, but where they are in the customer journey, their usual shopping habits (so a loyal in-store shopper isn’t bombarded with lapse campaigns), their browsing history and how frequently they spend with you.

Having a single customer view means you also take into account their offline activity. This creates a complete picture of your customers and in turn means you can adapt your campaigns to the context of that specific shopper or use the platform to segment them into groups with similar behaviours.

Recognising where a customer is at in their journey with your brand – often called ‘customer lifecycle marketing’ is a great way of creating more relevant customer experiences. Common lifecycle-based campaigns include:

  • Welcome campaigns: aimed at customers who have just signed up to receive your marketing messages
  • First-time purchase campaigns: aimed at shoppers after buying their first product from you
  • Post-purchase campaigns: usually consisting of aftercare information or further suggested purchases, sent after an item has been bought
  • VIP campaigns: these are messages and offers specific to your customers with the highest lifetime value; the definition of that may be based on average spend over time or how frequently they shop with you (and in some cases considering their average basket value).
  • Win-back campaigns: aimed at those who have lapsed and not shopped with your for a set amount of time to encourage them to spend with you again

Using this data empowers you to create campaigns that resonate with the customer on the receiving end; you create personalised messages that – even if automated – really feel individually tailored. As the platform is made specific to the customer journey of retail marketers and not generic in its approach, you have your pain-points addressed to ensure the best results possible.

This looks like:

  • Identifying replenishment rates so that you can remind customers to repurchase consumables when they’re likely to be running out
  • Identifying VIP shoppers so that you can offer them special treatment
  • Segmenting campaigns based on factors such as lifecycle stage (this means sending lapsed campaigns at the right time!)

Snake #4: Not recognising loyalty

Not Recognising Loyalty

Customers want to feel like individuals when they shop with you, they want to feel that their experience matters and that you recognise them and their habits. Especially if they make shopping with you one of them.

A great, (well actually not great if you’re the customer) example of this is not making customers feel special is not recognising their loyalty. According to our research, 61% of them are frustrated with you for not doing so.

Every time they come back to spend with you over a competitor, they’re making a choice to place value in what you can provide for them – and they would like this to be recognised (something that many retailers forget to do). Your loyalest customers are driving the most revenue for your business, yet you’re treating them like everyone else. Would you come back if it were you?

Often, new customers are welcomed and rewarded for subscribing to a newsletter or making a first purchase – keeping a consistent level of enthusiasm for your loyalest customers is a strong way to keep them happy. So, what do their current frustrations look like?

Nothing. No discounts or perks, no anniversary emails, no incentives for top spenders. Oh, and a lot of fed up loyal customers.  


Ladder #4: Show your loyalest some love

Show Your Loyalest Some Love

Whether through special VIP recognition programmes, or throughout all of the marketing messages you send, it’s entirely possible to offer your best shoppers a premium experience, without investing huge amounts of extra time and resources. There are ways to show your loyalest some love even if you don’t have an in-house rewards scheme:

  • Tailoring your marketing messages to a VIP audience: create tailored messages that show products that reflect what they’d want to see. Maybe even show them specifics from a new line before other customers to show how much you value their loyalty. You could try things like:
    • Updating copy to reflect their VIP status
    • Including specific offers for your high value customers (you may not want to offer a discount as an incentive as they are likely to purchase regardless, and at full price). Personal shopping experiences or invites to private events are a great way to show your appreciation towards them
  • Let them know they’re a VIP: simple but effective. Letting customers know they’ve reached a VIP status – whether via email or maybe even direct mail for more luxury or niche brands – highlights you pay attention to them and want them to feel important. For those who are loyal but not necessarily VIP status, you can send them a thank you email with an incentive.
  • Go cross-channel: if some of your loyalest are more responsive to social media campaigns, send that segment marketing messages highlighting specific perks and offers available to them – you can even send personalised direct mail. As they are your most consistent customers it’s worth splurging out on them with the more pricey channels such as direct mail and a customer service call.


Snake #5: Cross-channel inconsistencies

Cross Channel Inconsistencies

This scaly problem is caused by having multiple solutions, all working to speak to your customers – but not each other. This might take the form of using different solutions for newsletters, automation (such as cart or browse abandonment), or other marketing channels such as push or SMS.  As we know, communication is key. But if your stack is fractured, your messages will be too.

This means that your customers end up:

  • Being bombarded with messages
  • Seeing and being sent mixed and confusing messages

What does this look like?

  • A barrage of emails in your customer’s inbox, one after the other – seemingly with no focus on who they are being sent to or if they may in fact contradict with one another (whether that be differing incentives on the same item or irrelevant products entirely).
  • A confusing brand message and identity across multiple channels.
  • You come across as two very different brands and it feels disjointed to customers seeing it. This can apply to any form of marketing you send to shoppers – direct mail, sms, emails, social and even your chat bots.

Ladder #5: A channel-agnostic platform

A Channel Agnostic Platform

A platform with cross-channel capabilities will keep not only your marketing messages aligned but your brand image overall. Customers who shop with you want to see that they are investing in a brand that understands them and works to provide messages that will resonate.

A lack of cohesion means that both strategically and aesthetically – you will lose customer trust.

What to look for in a cross-channel marketing platform

  • Unified cross-channel campaigns

Be sure to choose a platform that allows you to combine channels within a single, unified campaign. Not only does this help to create consistent experiences across all channels, but it also helps you to be more cost-efficient by prioritising cheaper channels (like email) before resorting to more expensive channels (like social retargeting).

  • Channel agnosticism

Centre your retention marketing stack around a platform that focuses on both data and customer intelligence, which can be fed into whichever channel best targets customers – making it future-proof and ready to adapt should the tide suddenly turn.

  • Customer channel preference

Different customers prefer different channels. It’s important to be aware of which channel your customers are most engaged with and choose a solution that intelligently lets you target them on it to increase the likelihood of conversion.


Meeting the expectations of the modern consumer may seem like a tough task. Your customers want to shop with you, but the barriers between keeping them and losing them ultimately come down to your ability to provide a great customer experience.

With a strong foundation in actionable data, marketers can not only learn about their customers but you can continually work to create personalised campaigns, even going so far as to preempt their needs.

As a brand you want to ensure the customer journey is one to remember for all the right reasons. You have to avoid feeding the snakes and reinforce those ladders so every online experience is worthy of your customer, their lifecycle stage and expectations of you as a brand.