Clément Hurstel
VP Demand Strategy
  linkedin      twitter

Yes, content is king. Yes, marketing automation is at an all-time high. Yes, everyone from SMBs to large enterprises need an email nurture programme. But what is still missing is a clear understanding of the difference between outbound email blasts and nurture streams.

What's the real difference between Outbound and Nurture?

Outbound email is an email sent by a company to its database or subset of known contacts. These emails can be sent at any cadence and be designed to support anything from thought leadership content to product or special offers. Nurture on the other hand, as defined by Marketo is :

 the process of building a relationship by conducting an informative dialog that helps qualified prospects who are not yet sales-ready, regardless of budget, authority, or timing – and of ensuring a clean hand-off to sales at the right time.

Real Nurture

So what does it mean for a company to truly nurture its contacts in its database? Unfortunately, what we keep seing most is a series of outbound emails sent on a set pace that Marketers define as “nurture”. The logic behind outbound emails is to start with thought leadership contents for the first 'touch'. Contents get progressively more product focused as the series of emails continues. Sure, that sounds like an email nurture stream - in theory each email is moving prospects down the sales funnel. However, all of it relies on two assumptions. The first is that everyone in the database is really a quality prospect. The second is that everyone will engage with each outbound email and progress down the funnel as planned. Sure, but things don't happen that way in real life.

First, there is no way to guarantee that every contact in the database is a prospect. But there are smart ways to help navigate and ensure the right users receive the experience you intended. The first rule is to check how you segment your database. Bucket your users based on the channel they were acquired. Here are a few common ones.

  • Existing customers
  • Events and tradeshows visitors
  • Registration forms on company owned and branded landing pages
  • Content syndication and other paid content promotion
  • Purchased lists

What is interesting is that each channel requires a different level of engagement from the user. For instance you can qualify your audience segments by the effort it took the user to register. Existing customers and those who engaged with a company at a tradeshow or event are at the most involved end of the spectrum. At the other end are those who registered for a whitepaper through a publisher programme. Finally, contacts from a purchased list are considered to be at the lowest level of engagement. Segmenting the database like this means you can start speaking to each segment in a unique manner, logically gauging what contacts are most likely to become prospects.

Next, as mentionned previously, it's important to remember that not all contacts in a same segment will engage in the same way. Often nurture streams are built with the assumption that the user will engage with each and every email. Thankfully, marketing automation platforms allow logic to be built into your nurture streams and profiling programmes; meaning emails can be sent based on the contacts' actions. For example, if the contact downloads a thought leadership whitepaper sent to him in the first email, the second email should acknowledge and thank him for the download and suggest he views another asset. If the user did not engage with the first asset, a second email can suggest him to download it again and push alternative assets as well. In this way the user is 'driving' his own email nurture track at his own pace and in return, you'll be able to get meaningful data and results back that will educate your future programmes.

Thought leadership as it should be

For contacts in your database that were acquired through channels that required a lower bar of engagement (i.e. purchased lists, content syndication, and/or paid content promotion programmes), thought leadership email programmes are a perfect fit. You can reach two goals with this. First, by offering a mix of thought leadership emails you can start to further qualify and segment your audience based on their actions. This will provide you with data on the type of content they are engaging with and what topics resonate with them.

It will also allow you to create a new audience pool based on those who are most engaged and will help you decide when is best to move them into a more traditional email nurture campaign. For these contacts, thought leadership content plays a very important role and should not be overlooked. Engage with them with industry trend subjects, strategic stakes, pain points and related news. It's a great way to increase your database with quality contacts.

Keep thinking

Marketing professionals, be smart! Take users' experience in consideration and let them dictate their own path. In return you will get higher engagement and conversion rates, and collect more meaningful data that can inform your future programmes. Ready to add another piece to the puzzle? Watch this free On-Demand Webinar here and learn how Modern Marketers are mapping messaging and tactics to the buyer’s journey.