Four life stages that trigger sales

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Carolyn Goodman
Carolyn Goodman

Send the right message to the right customer at the right time. Most marketers can figure out how to accomplish the first two tasks. But determining the best time to communicate with a customer is often elusive. To meet that challenge, a growing number of marketers are recognizing the value of trigger marketing, which is based on reacting to predictable life events or in response to specific customer behaviors by marketing to a consumer at that time.

“Life stage” is one of several broad categories of triggers that marketers can apply.  Life stage triggers include significant events in the life of a customer that present a multitude of opportunities for marketers, including customer acquisition and retention, as well as sales, up-selling, and cross-selling.

“It's all about relevance. Instead of marketing a product or service by benefit, you're serving it up to the audience based on where that product or service fits within their life stage,” says Carolyn Goodman, President of Goodman Marketing Partners, a San Rafael, CA-based direct response marketing firm. Goodman has helped clients develop and execute highly successful trigger-based marketing campaigns. She says the basic premise works in any industry. 

Good customer data and strong analytics capabilities are keys to success. “The payoff is well worth the effort,” Goodman says. Highly personalized mailings based on trigger touchpoints can produce significant improvements in response rates, up to 10 times higher when compared to traditionally-timed campaigns.

Goodman describes four life stage triggers and associated sales opportunities.

1. New teen driver

Parents have many needs and questions when a teenager reaches driving age. “The first thing they want to know about is what they can do to lower the cost of insurance, for instance,” explains Goodman. “So they're open to educational messaging to learn about safe driving courses and services that can improve their teen's academic grades, since that can play a factor in reducing auto insurance premiums.” Some teens and their parents will also be in the market for a new or used automobile and automotive accessories, plus preventative maintenance services, automotive products, and education.

2. Baby's arrival

“Pull out your credit card and hand it over,” Goodman says, half-jokingly. Parents are typically the prime target for outfitting nurseries, wardrobe purchases, food, diapers, furniture, and many other items. But Goodman says today's grandparents shouldn't be overlooked. “Grandparents are playing a bigger role in the lives of their grandchildren these days, far more than in previous generations,” explains Goodman. “They're more active and better able to take grandkids on trips and vacations and they spend money on fun stuff like toys, games, books, music, and camps.”

3. Newly independent

“These are young adults graduating from college and setting up an independent household. Like newlyweds (another life stage trigger), newly independent adults need everything,” says Goodman.  Marketing directly to college graduates is obvious, but don't overlook parents of college grads and young adults who establish their own homes a couple of years after they've been in the workforce.

4. The “sandwich” generation

These are moms and dads with children at home, but they're also taking on some or all the responsibility for caring for their own aging parents who may not be able to make decisions for themselves. They're identified by the age of their parents. “They need services: help with maintaining or selling their parents' homes, maintaining their own homes, organizational help, choosing medical services, home health services. The list goes on and on,” says Goodman. “They've got long lists of things to do, crucial things in many instances, and no time to do it all themselves.” 

Goodman says most good marketers understand needs-based marketing. Think of trigger-based marketing as a significant refinement of that philosophy. “Needs change with each life stage,” she says. “The challenge to successfully marketing to customers at each life stage – delivering the right message at the right time – is to have the right data so you can organize people into the right category.”

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