Today we’re moving into the tactical phase of our multi-week Leveraging Retention to Optimize Customer Acquisition series. In our last post we discussed the importance of turning more browsers into buyers in order to reduce your customer acquisition costs, and today we’ll highlight some marketing tactics that can make that feat achievable.

To start, let’s talk about improving overall customer activation, i.e. getting a user to buy for the first time. The list below is a quick summary of some of the most tried and true approaches.

Warning: this post is rather email-centric, but it should go without saying that your product marketing should complement your email efforts (think about product tours for new users, overlays with custom messaging, etc.).

• Products that Activate – When thinking about which products to feature in your early messaging, make sure to showcase those most likely to activate first-time buyers. In other words, run a historical analysis of all first-time purchasers and try to distill which types of products are most likely to drive those conversions (both specific products as well as general attributes like product type and price). And even more importantly, make sure those products ultimately also breed repeat buyers!

• “How-To” – If your model is anything other than straightforward commerce, you’ll likely benefit from putting some kind of how-to in front of a user (either an infographic or a 30-60 second video – test them both!). If you’re a traditional retailer, tell the user how you’re differentiated.

• Popular Inventory / Customer Favorites – While you accrue data on the new customer, it never hurts to show him/her what others like! If you can capture some data upfront (gender, age, etc.), these messages can be that much more powerful.

• Address Misconceptions – Yes, we hate to burst your bubble, but there are people out there who don’t “get” you. Customer focus groups can help identify popular misconceptions, but our preferred “quick and dirty” way to get ideas is to send non-buyers a survey asking them why they haven’t purchased – these surveys will leave you with an arsenal of marketing ideas!

• Discounts – Be careful! Test a variety of promotions to understand which offers are most likely to convert (e.g. $X off of $Y or more vs. a blanket X% discount) and more importantly, make sure you understand the downstream impact of those discounts. If a retailer seems to always be running sales, will you ever be willing to pay full price?  We recommend giving users a bit of time to pay full price before offering the discount (read: don’t offer it up right in the welcome email).

Critics will argue that the welcome message often get more eyeballs than any other message, making it the most effective place for a discount; we politely disagree. More often than not, brands are better off holding a discount a few days even if it means fewer conversions –because often day1 discounts complete erode repeat propensity as well as long-term willingness to pay.

Now that we’ve reviewed some ideas for improving overall activation, let’s now dive into some powerful tactics for accelerating the time to first purchase. Why is this important? Intuitively, accelerating the first purchase sets you up to accelerate subsequent purchases, meaning that more often than not, faster times to first purchase breed higher customer lifetime values.

• Dedicated Welcome / Activation Series – This is the lowest-hanging fruit opportunity for accelerating the first purchase. When I ran marketing at Savored, we were able to drive a 4x lift in first-week buyers by constantly refining our welcome series.

• Don’t Give Up! – Many clients tell us that they throw in the activation towel after 30 days if historical data indicates that it’s unlikely for customers to activate post-day 30. This may be the case, but it also may be a chicken-egg scenario in that the brands aren’t trying to activate users post-day 30. We don’t suggest bugging these people once a week, but it can be incredibly helpful to nudge them every month or so with a compelling reason to give the brand a try – use those survey responses we mentioned above as an idea factory!

 To paint a better picture of what successful activation tactics look like, the next post in this series will highlight some successful welcome and activation series – stay tuned!