Your Guide to Lifecycle Marketing

Picture a typical rom-com: it starts with a meet-cute, charts a budding relationship, and ends with the happy couple strolling into the proverbial sunset. Ever wonder what happens after the credits roll? If you look at the world through a lifecycle marketing perspective, you’ve already imagined the sequel: a satisfying, enduring relationship.

That’s what you need to build with your customers. There are people who want what you have to offer, and, once they experience it, they’ll stick around for the long haul if you nurture them. Lots of marketing focuses on getting customers in the door. With lifecycle marketing, you look at the bigger picture to drive the kind of relationships that deliver lasting value.

What is lifecycle marketing?

Lifecycle marketing is a holistic strategy for connecting with customers at different stages in their journey with your brand. This approach goes beyond the short-term focus on making a sale; it’s about building a long-term relationship through messaging tailored to the customers’ needs at any given stage in the lifecycle. 

You might compare it to how a friendship grows: you meet (awareness), you start texting (engagement), you get together for coffee (conversion), and eventually they’re your weekly bird-watching buddy (retention).  

From first contact to ongoing communication, you tailor your messages (both what you say and the channel you use) to connect with people based on where they are in their journey from stranger to loyal customer. Lifecycle marketers often focus on outbound channels like email, SMS, push, and in-app messages, where you can carefully control the timing and content to align with what customers need at each stage

Lifecycle marketing stages

Depending on what you’re marketing, lifecycle stages might get more granular, but at minimum your customer lifecycle marketing strategy should address four key stages:

AwarenessEngagementConversionRetention

Awareness: Say hi! 

Before someone can become your customer, they have to actually know (and care!) that you exist. At this stage, aim to show up where your customers are with messaging that connects to what they’re looking for in the moment. 

Common tactics:

  • SEO-optimized web content
  • Organic and paid social media
  • Paid search and display ads
  • Email capture through list sign-up

Engagement: Start a convo

Once a potential customer has shown they want to get to know you, it’s time to respond with messages that create value. Leverage what you’ve learned about each customer to deliver content that reflects what matters to them. 

Common tactics:

  • Email newsletters
  • Product announcements
  • Behavior-triggered email and SMS campaigns
  • Retargeting ads

Conversion: Get personal 

Your customer has done the thing! Whether your conversion metric is making a purchase, downloading your app, or creating an account, this person is now your customer. If this was a social situation, this is the stage at which you’d stop referring to them as “someone I know” and start saying “my new friend.” So, do what friends do and deepen the connection.

Common tactics:

  • Welcome and onboarding campaigns
  • Confirmation and thank you campaigns
  • Customer satisfaction surveys
  • Behavior-triggered nurture campaigns

Retention: Go from buddy to BFF

This stage of the customer lifecycle is the most often overlooked, which is a pity: it costs seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. The good news is that it’s now easy to create truly personalized content that builds an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship.

Common tactics:

  • Loyalty and referral programs
  • Brand ambassador programs
  • Milestone campaigns
  • Win-back campaigns 

Customer lifecycle marketing strategy

Customer lifecycle marketing hinges on defining the journey specific to your brand or product. Before you plot out your specific campaigns for each stage, define a lifecycle marketing plan that defines your audience, their journey, and the key milestones.

B2B vs. B2C lifecycle marketing

The lifecycle marketing process is different for every industry and company, but one of the most stark differences is whether you’re marketing to businesses or individual consumers. These audiences have distinct characteristics that will inform your strategy.

B2B lifecycle marketingB2C lifecycle marketing
Buyer intentLong-term investmentImmediate needs
Decision-making processComplex: multiple stakeholders and consideration stepsStraightforward: one or two individuals, fewer consideration steps
Sales cycleLonger (months or years)Shorter (days or weeks)
Messaging focusRelationships and trustProduct features and brand identity
Customer lifecycle lengthMany years or decadesSeveral months or years

Lifecycle marketing vs. growth marketing

Growth marketing, broadly defined, is an approach that leverages data to optimize lead generation, customer acquisition, and retention goals. While it’s often been focused on the early stages of the customer journey, it can play a crucial role in your overall customer lifecycle marketing strategy. A few of the tricks in the growth marketing toolbox that can help you personalize and optimize every stage of the customer journey:

  • A/B and multivariate testing
  • SEO optimization
  • Customer behavior analysis
  • Rapid experimentation and iteration
  • Cross-channel performance analysis

One of the most interesting parts of growth marketing is following the ongoing debate about what, exactly, it means. Some people see it as part of lifecycle marketing, while others view the relationship the other way around. Some even conflate the two approaches entirely! What really matters in the end is leveraging data to personalize your communications throughout each customer’s complete journey.

Lifecycle marketing campaign examples

Employ different types of lifecycle marketing campaigns at each stage of the customer journey, targeting what’s top of mind in the moment for each individual. For example, onboarding is crucial right after a customer converts. Retention campaigns based on milestones or notifications build long-term relationships and catch customers before they churn. Newsletters can build engagement at any time, especially early in the stages.

For a few lifecycle marketing ideas, take a look at these examples of how campaigns could play out. 

Email lifecycle marketing example

Let’s say you’re a B2B SaaS company with an online collaboration platform for hybrid workplaces. A new customer has just signed up: conversation stage achieved! A great way to build on the relationship is an email onboarding campaign that helps them discover all your product’s features and educate their teams on getting the most out of them.

Email lifecycle marketing example

Mobile lifecycle marketing example

Imagine you’re a B2C FinTech company with a budgeting app, and you’re looking to build loyalty among existing customers. A retention campaign can help make your product an indispensable part of their lives. Identify the milestones that signal deepening engagement (or potential churn) and trigger SMS and push notifications to encourage those actions and reward customers for taking them.

Mobile lifecycle marketing example

Cross-channel lifecycle marketing example

Here’s an example from the EdTech world: you have a B2C freemium language-learning app and want to convert newly onboarded customers to a paid plan. With a nurture campaign using both email and SMS, you can reinforce their product usage and entice them with premium features related to their specific interests. 

Cross-channel lifecycle marketing example

Lifecycle marketing best practices

The benefits of customer lifecycle marketing are long-lasting. You’re not only more likely to move customers from early engagement to conversion, you also have a better chance of retaining them well into the future. A few best practices to keep in mind:

Cross-channel lifecycle marketing at scale

Ready to put the principles into practice? Lifecycle marketing automation makes it easier to segment your audience, personalize your content, and send the right message at the exact right time to deepen engagement. 
With Customer.io’s robust segmentation and workflow builder, you can trigger email, SMS, push, and in-app notifications based on who your customers are and what they do in real time. Book a demo to see it in action!