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Making Email Your Greatest Retention Tool

When it's done right, email can be the most powerful channel you have for connecting with your customers. In this lesson, find out the key pillars for using email to boost CLTV.

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Chapter 4
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Agata Celmerowski
klaviyo logo Agata Celmerowski
VP Marketing at Klaviyo

In this lesson, find out the key pillars for using email to boost CLTV.

The Built-in Advantage of Email

Email — along with SMS — is one of the few channels where the person on the receiving end of the marketing message has already raised their hand to say they’re open to a relationship with a brand. That’s what sets it up to be such an effective vehicle for driving retention and advocacy.

As long as you continue to provide your subscribers with the value that prompted them to opt into your emails in the first place, you can make this your top-converting channel. On average, our customers sell one out of every five dollars directly through Klaviyo, and top brands are driving close to half of their sales through email.

Why D2C Brands Do Email Well

I think the greatest competitive advantage you have as a D2C brand is that you’re in a position to own the customer experience end-to-end. You’re in a position to fundamentally know more about your current and prospective buyers: when they browse, how often they shop, what they’ve looked at, what they’ve bought. And what you know about your customers is the first step in building the type of strong relationships that fuel growth for the most successful brands, because you can take that information and use it to direct how and when you engage with consumers.

Traditionally, only brands with significant resources could afford to get this level of insight into consumer behaviors. But that’s no longer true. Today it’s possible for eCommerce businesses at every stage to pay attention to what actions consumers take, learn from those actions, and react appropriately with compelling, engaging, and effective marketing.

There is no universal right email cadence for every customer, much less for every customer across every brand. However, by responding to customer behaviors, you can make sure you’re sending relevant messages at the right time. Every single company that sells something online should be reacting to purchase signals with things like abandoned cart flows, back-in-stock notices, and post-purchase email series. For customers who prefer to receive these communications via SMS, you can create the same type of flows on that channel as well.

Segment With Purpose

In a study we conducted, we found that brands with higher annual revenue also tended to have more segments in their email lists. On average, companies with an annual revenue of under $100,000 had 13.36 segments. Those with annual revenue of $100,000 to $1 million had 29.96; companies with $1 million to $10 million had 43.96. Meanwhile, companies with more than $10 million in annual revenue had an average of 133.97 segments.

The more refined your segmentation, the greater chance you have of resonating with your customer, building a deeper relationship, and encouraging them to come back. Take sunglasses brand Sunski as an example: they used stats like the number of dollars spent, amount of orders placed, or amount of sunglasses purchased to create lists of customers they deemed as VIPs. Ahead of Black Friday, those VIP lists got special messaging thanking them for being loyal customers and offering them exclusive discounts.

Dividing customers into these segments improved revenue from the campaigns not just because of how the lists were created, but also because of how Sunski communicated with them. They used copy that talked to the VIPs like they were friends and family. Smart segmentation goes beyond data-driven lists — if you don’t tailor your messaging and communication channels, you’ll be seen as out of touch.

Chubbies is another brand that does a great job of getting the right messaging to the right people. They go the extra mile to test their messaging with relevant audiences before sending it out. As they shared with us: ”We luckily also have a whole group of brand ambassadors and male models [that includes] people from different walks of life… we have a bunch of military guys. And when we do something for Veterans Day, I will always hit them up first and say, ‘Does this speak to you in a positive way? Is there anything we’re missing here? Is there something else we should be doing? What would be impactful for you?’ And that’s super cool because those guys are brutally honest with us and say this is cool or not cool and here’s what I recommend. We’ve changed entire campaigns based on what other people think because we trust that someone who lives that life, and is a fan of Chubbies, would know what’s going to speak to our customers the best.”

Know When to Say Goodbye

Many brands, especially newer ones, focus on growing their total list or number of emails sent rather than growing the number of engaged contacts. But, with any type of marketing, the size of your audience is meaningless if people don’t want to hear from you.

You should take care to respect the signals someone gives you, even if they did opt-in at some point. It’s best to operate under the understanding that permission can be revoked passively if there are people on your list that haven’t engaged with multiple marketing attempts over the course of a few months, it’s time to remove them from your list.

The worst mistake you can make is sending a marketing promotion without someone’s permission. Don’t be seduced by things like buying lists; they ultimately do a lot more harm than good because they can destroy your sender reputation and eliminate your ability to get in the inbox of people who do want to hear from you.


  • Listen to the data. There is no universal perfect email cadence; you need to follow the signals your customers send you to know when and how to communicate with them.
  • Segment, segment, segment. The more personal and relevant your email is, the greater chance your audience will be responsive.
  • Stick with your fans. You don’t lose anything by letting unengaged subscribers go.