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The Two-Stage Decision-Making Framework You Need to Know for Better Emails

We all have our own ways of making decisions. The pro/con list. Gut instinct. Maybe you consult your trusty Magic 8 ball. But according to psychologists like Peter Gollwitzer, no matter what methods we use to make choices—big and small—there are two distinct phases of this process:

  • Stage 1: Deliberation
  • Stage 2: Implementation

This mindset context is often missing from the strategies that companies use to communicate with their leads and customers. Approaching messaging as a way to either help people determine or implement is useful to create communication that comes off relevant and helpful, rather than random and promotional.

You can use this framework to create lifecycle messaging that aligns with a customer’s decision-making process. For example, you can send email tailored to people in these broad phases, reaching users pre-signup (Stage 1: Deliberation) and post-signup (Stage 2: Implementation).

The chart below breaks down some common customer challenges in the deliberation and implementation stages of their lifecycle, along with ways that businesses can respond:

lifecycle message strategy framework

Product and marketing teams often use this framework without quite realizing it. Used deliberately in your customer approach, the framework is even more powerful. Equally often, companies craft messages that don’t sync with a customer’s current phase. An “implementation” message to a “deliberation” customer isn’t just unhelpful, it makes for a bad experience during a delicate time in the lifecycle.

In this post, we’ve collected some examples that illustrate strategies for reaching customers in these two phases with the appropriate message at the right moment. Let the customer lead the way and use these simple guidelines to shape the appropriate messaging.

Stage 1: Deliberation

Customers in the deliberation phase are seeking—sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously—a connection that will point them in the right direction.

The line is generally clear. A customer that hasn’t yet signed up or one that has taken a soft step (a free trial, for example) is still deliberating. If they aren’t paying you, they aren’t truly implementing yet.

While people are still deliberating, communicate with them effectively by addressing the questions they’re mulling over and supplying the education and information they’re most likely seeking. To see what we mean, we’ll borrow examples from a few industries to look at how different businesses solve this problem for their customers.

Align your goals with the customer’s goals

deliberation stage: align goals

Consumers and businesses tend to make decisions in the same way, albeit with different processes. In either case, emotions, urgency and past behavior contribute to the ultimate choice. Regardless of whether you’re selling to consumers or businesses, you need to understand their goals before sharing how you can help them achieve those goals.

This email from Glassdoor a great example of high-level alignment on goals between the lead and the business. It is content-driven and sells ideas, not solutions. That helps this message resonate with their ideal customer’s goals.

Glassdoor email

A few other things help make this email successful for their audience. It’s sent on a Tuesday, smack in the middle of the busy workweek. It also leverages Glassdoor’s own data about work-life balance and the companies that are hiring—the segue to the product is both logical and useful.

Answer questions before they’re asked

deliberation stage: address preconceived notions

It’s likely that your prospect or new trialer does have a goal, but isn’t sure exactly how to achieve it. Along with uncertainty comes preconceived notions about the way things are done. You can address this by answering common questions before they’re asked. Anticipate these questions by talking to your sales and support teams. Where are people struggling? What is holding them back from implementing our product/service?

Newton is a new kind of running shoe company that launched in 2007. The shoes are built to promote better running form, but are very different from their competitors. They use their emails to explain how their shoes work and why they could be a better choice than Nike or Brooks.

In this case, the customer’s goal is likely injury-free running. They’re deliberating on the best way to achieve that goal. If they’ve already come across Newton and subscribed to the newsletter to get more information, it’s the perfect time to differentiate the product.

Newton deliberation email

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Use branding to address subconscious emotions

deliberation stage: building trust

Every interaction with your company helps people form an opinion about you. The colors in your marketing, the copy on product pages, even the tone of your tweets—it all factors into the emotional reaction. But “branding” is a vague word. There are many ways to interpret branding, but perhaps the simplest is helping customers establish positive feelings about your company (not just your product).

(It’s important to note that you can’t fake a great brand. It’s built into the DNA of the company. You can put branding to work in your emails, but only if it’s an accurate reflection of your business.)

Plenty of companies use content to provide information, but Litmus took the time to survey more than 900 email marketers to create its State of Email Design Report.

Litmus resource email

The result is a community-oriented resource that’s helpful to email marketers whether they use Litmus or not. It’s just the kind of thing that creates the positive branding connections that you can draw on later on the customer lifecycle.

Stage 2: Implementation

The deliberation phase is all about helping customers connect the dots. Not only do you want them to have positive emotions about your brand, you want to convey that you have the ability to help them achieve their desired outcomes.

Once they’ve decided that your product or service can help them, it’s about implementation. How do you get them up and running and maintain engagement?

Create a positive feedback loop

implementation stage: affirm choice

The first step is simply affirming their decision. Know as milestone emails, these messages congratulate customers on taking an important step. Welcome emails can fall into this category, as can emails that reward users for any number of breakthrough events events in their lifecycle.

Medium tackles notifications and milestone emails in one fell swoop. Their emails alert writers to highlights and comments, but also close a positive feedback loop. Here’s proof that the work you published on Medium is reaching people.

Medium milestone email

Support Ongoing usage with timely information

implementation stage: timely information

Most software products are meant to be used on an ongoing basis. Given the nature of the customer’s relationship to the product, it makes sense that people will need help getting value from it. Their relationship with your product will fluctuate—it isn’t a linear line towards greater and greater value.

Evernote sends regular emails to help their customers get more from the app. Like many software tools, Evernote starts as a blank slate—no data and therefore no value. Only by adding content and context to the app do users get a return on their investment.

They use this email to let customers know about integrations. (Rather than a one-off strategy, it’s actually a proven way to reduce to churn.)

Evernote lifecycle integration news

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Evernote does this with tips for using their software. Newton could do it by providing workout ideas. Medium can do it by sharing the work of other writers. Glassdoor can do it by offering a salary estimator and resume writing tips. In every case, ongoing usage of a product or service should be paired with timely information.

Retention = Goal Re-Alignment

implementation stage: goal realignment

Goal alignment will usually need to happen more than once. As customers lose interest and drift away from your product or service, there are all kinds of ways to re-engage them.

Airbnb does a particularly good job with this. In the example below, they’ve jogged the customer’s memory and leveraged behavioral data to suggest places to visit. They also don’t ask for a huge commitment. Instead of “Book now,” they simply prompt the customer “Start your search.”

airbnb reengagement email

Understanding where the customer is in their lifecycle is paramount to communicating effectively. It takes empathy, perspective and a bit of data to pinpoint the kind of message that people need–and then deliver it.