What content strategy and technology will leading brands use in 2024?

The state of digital content 2024

Marketing communication

How to turn leads into customers with lead-nurturing emails

by Kate Lindemann  |  January 20, 2021

7 min. read
A man in a white shirt plans an automated email cadence on a whiteboard.

Between discovering a brand and making a purchase, every customer goes on a journey. They shouldn’t have to travel alone, and lead-nurturing emails are one of the best ways for your brand to go with them every step of the way.

This article will cover the basics of lead-nurturing emails, including how they work, inspiring examples and tips for making them more effective.

What are lead-nurturing emails?

Lead-nurturing emails are a type of marketing email designed to keep potential customers engaged with a brand until they’re ready to make a purchase. They are usually automated and guide people through the marketing funnel, strengthening their connection to the brand along the way.

Why lead-nurturing emails work

They keep the conversation going

Even if they’re not ready to commit just yet, anyone who’s given you their email address is interested and wants to know more. It’s up to you to keep that conversation going. Delivering quality content straight to people’s inboxes keeps your brand at the top of their mind.

They build familiarity and trust

Consumers are more likely to buy from brands they recognize. Like a familiar friend, the more people know about a brand, the more they trust it. Lead-nurturing emails are a great way to build that relationship.

Help potential customers get to know you now, and they’ll be more likely to choose you over competitors when they’re ready to buy.

A lead-nurturing email from Adobe on a laptop screen.

They’re timed just right

Email automation makes it easy to time lead-nurturing campaigns precisely to each individual’s journey with your brand. Here’s how it works:

A potential customer shows interest in your brand. Maybe they signed up to a newsletter, downloaded a resource or booked a demo with your sales team.

This action triggers a series of lead-nurturing emails to keep them engaged.

By the time they’re ready to make the purchase, your brand and products are an easy, familiar choice.

Examples of lead-nurturing emails

What kinds of emails work well in lead-nurturing campaigns? Here are some fantastic examples of lead-nurturing in action:

Casper shows off their expertise

Screenshot of an email from Casper showing how to reset your sleep schedule.

A classic type of lead-nurturing email is the educational email. Educational content has two benefits. First, it highlights a brand’s expertise. Second, it provides a helpful resource subscribers will want to engage with.

This email from mattress company Casper reinforces their reputation as a company of sleep experts. It doesn’t even mention mattresses, because it has another job: building a specific brand image.

Lead-nurturing emails should be perfectly aligned with a brand’s overall strategy, and Casper is 100% on-message here. They’ve made sleep science expertise a core part of their identity and highlight it across all their channels.

By the time subscribers are ready to buy a mattress, they’ll feel confident the people who design Casper’s products know what it takes to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Patagonia highlights sustainable production

Screenshot of a Patagonia email about turning fishing nets into hats.

Outdoor apparel brand Patagonia knows their customers care about protecting nature. After all, enjoying natural beauty is a big reason people go outdoors in the first place. As a result, many of Patagonia’s lead-nurturing emails show what they’re doing to reduce pollution and protect the environment.

By highlighting sustainable production practices, Patagonia presents themselves as the ethical choice for outdoor clothing. That makes customers feel good about buying from Patagonia, and reminds them of the downsides of cheaper alternatives.

Brooks provides a helpful tool

Screenshot of a Brooks email promoting their online shoe finder.

Lead-nurturing emails offer the opportunity to give customers shopping online the same great advice you’d give them in-store. Let’s say someone has signed up for your newsletter, but hasn’t bought anything yet. They’re likely still in the research phase of their shopping experience.

This email from Brooks directs people to the company’s online shoe finder, helping them find the perfect Brooks shoe to fit their running style. That way, when they’re ready to make a purchase, they’ll feel confident in their choice and remember a positive customer service experience.

Airbnb jumpstarts the imagination

Screenshot of a lead-nurturing email from Airbnb featuring houseboats and ships.

Airbnb’s lead-nurturing emails inspire people to start planning their next vacation. This example (an ode to the houseboat) promises quirky travel off the beaten path, a key part of Airbnb’s image.

By focusing on a type of accommodation instead of a specific destination, Airbnb appeals to a wide range of travelers. Need a quick change of scenery for the weekend? Find a houseboat nearby. Planning a romantic honeymoon? They’ve got houseboats in Paris. Yearning for an epic adventure? Let’s talk historic ocean schooners.

What’s more, this email puts accommodation at the center of the trip. A hotel is just a place to sleep at night after a busy day of sight-seeing. A houseboat in South Africa is a destination unto itself.

Mailchimp tells a customer success story

Screenshot of a Mailchimp email highlighting a customer success story.

So far we’ve looked at consumer brands, but lead nurturing is just as important in B2B marketing. This email from Mailchimp is a great example. It highlights quantifiable results, an especially compelling approach in B2B.

Every story also needs a protagonist, and a customer success story is a classic way to put a human face on impressive statistics. Marketers will recognize themselves in the team Mailchimp highlights and want to replicate their results. It’s a compelling case study: Who wouldn’t want to improve their email click-through rate by 525%?

Squarespace ensures free trial success

Screenshot of a Squarespace email sent during a free trial.

Free trials present the ideal opportunity for lead-nurturing emails. When people enter their email to start the trial, it provides a clear trigger for an automated campaign.

Plus, someone starting a free trial is right on the verge of becoming a customer. Walking them through their trial to make sure it goes smoothly is well worth the effort.

A typical lead-nurturing campaign for a two-week free trial might looks something like this:

Email 1 – Welcome email
Welcome people to the trial with a short email, and provide a link to get started.

Email 2 – Introduction
Send another ‘how to get started’ email with a few easy tips. This reminds people to actually use their trial, since an unused trial won’t do them (or you) much good.

Email 3 – Highlight a core feature
Highlight one of your product’s most popular features.

Email 4 – Guides and tutorials
Provide links to more in-depth resources, like video tutorials.

Email 5 – Highlight an advanced Feature
Now that the trial user is familiar with your product, highlight some more advanced features they might want to try.

Email 6 – End date reminder
With a few days left, remind people that their trial is about to end.

Email 7 – Next steps
When the trial is over, guide them to their purchasing options or connect them with your sales team.

J.Crew draws customers back to their carts

Screenshot of a J. Crew abandoned cart email featuring a shirt.

Another great trigger for lead-nurturing emails is an abandoned cart. Customers putting an item in their cart have shown a strong interest and may just need a little nudge. You could try sweetening the pot with an extra incentive like free shipping, or simply remind them what they left behind.

Customized abandoned cart emails showcasing the actual items left in the cart are especially effective. With an abandoned cart, each person has shown you exactly which products they found appealing enough to (almost) buy.

How to create your own lead-nurturing emails

As you’ve seen from examples above, there’s a lead-nurturing email for every brand and marketing situation. While there are no set rules for what a lead-nurturing campaign should include, there are a few things you should always keep in mind as you set off to create your own.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes

While lead-nurturing emails are a chance to showcase your excellent products, don’t make them all about you. Instead, put the focus on the potential customer. What are their needs, and how can you help meet them?

If you center campaigns around what you want, you risk pushing too hard and scaring people away. Instead, always ask yourself: How will our customers and potential customers benefit from this email?

A customer reads an email from Adobe on her phone.

Pay attention to cadence

In addition to choosing the right triggers for different kinds of lead-nurturing content, also pay attention to email cadence: Don’t send too many emails (or too few), and time key pieces of content strategically.

For example, a free trial nurture is limited in scope, so you’ll need to send out emails several times a week. The same aggressive cadence after a newsletter sign-up, however, comes on too strong. Over longer periods, once a week is a more comfortable cadence.

Let your personality shine through

Finally, for customers to get to know you, you have to be yourself. Make sure your brand identity shines through consistently in every lead-nurturing email.

Have a bit of fun with it. Think outside the box and find creative ways to showcase your identity. If you enjoy creating your emails, people will enjoy reading them.