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In the early 1990’s, I walked into my boss’s office. He ran a $300M technology R&D organization and was extremely excited. He said, “Look at this,” as he was pointing at his computer, “this just came online today. It’s called the World Wide Web.” About the same time e-mail started to take a foothold in the market. With the onset of e-mail and e-marketing the door was opened for marketing automation and the idea of Marketing Drip Campaigns was born. The name originated from the idea of agricultural drip irrigation systems that cultivate a healthy, lush harvest.

Drip campaigns are particularly useful for products with a long sales cycle, like independent retirement community living, because it is difficult for sales people, who need to focus on current hot leads, to follow up for years in order to move people from cold to warm to hot. Sales people can make occasional touches. Drip campaigns, however, help keep you top of mind and move the process along faster. In general, the sales cycle for Retirement Communities is 2 – 3 years and typically requires 25 touches or more. That’s a touch every 30 to 60 days, which is a lot if you have a prospect list of a hundred people or more.

“One of the best things about a drip campaign,” says Juanita Fox, Director of Media Experiences for Garden Spot Communities, “is that with the right messaging people decide they are ‘ready’ faster. It helps alleviate the age old overused objection, ‘I’m not ready.’”

Another outstanding benefit of drip campaigns is that they can help to create a sense of urgency, causing prospects to call in as opposed to sales people always needing to call out. They help free the sales team to work on hot leads and make strategic calls to those who are hot in order to add personal touches, encouraging people to move along the process faster.

Garden Spot Communities’ first drip campaign began in 2009 with the introduction of Destination: Garden Spot Village magazine, which publishes twice a year. Over time, Garden Spot developed a series of best practices and today the drip campaign adjusts depending upon where people are in the sales cycle. A combination of unique periodic e-mails, videos, podcasts and printed collateral are “dripped” to prospects as soon as they provide contact information and they continue to receive stories and invitations to events until Garden Spot becomes their home.

Drawing from Garden Spot Communities pool of best practices that have developed over the years, below are five elements for consideration as you develop your strategy for drip campaigns.

Know Your Sales Cycle. It is important to know your sales cycle. Your sales cycle begins with your promotion and advertising and the initial aspects of your marketing are critical. Once someone gets in touch and they share their contact information including name, address, e-mail and phone number, you have an opportunity to begin a drip campaign. As people move through your sales cycle, an effective drip campaign adjusts to where they are on the journey. For example; at the beginning, the information may be broad and general in nature and as the relationship develops, their content becomes more focused and exclusive.

Experience is Everything. Drip campaigns need to be general enough to cover a wide audience and yet interesting enough to draw people in. Think experiences. The way in which people experience your marketing will determine whether or not they engage. Experiences create feelings. If the experiences your visual and written materials provide creates adverse feelings or re-enforces stereotypes, it is likely people will ignore your touches. On the other hand, when your messaging is positive, thereby generating good feelings and emotions, people are much more likely to engage by calling or visiting.

Think Worthwhile Soft Touches. Imagine what it feels like when someone gently touches your arm to get your attention. Not in an offensive way but a very gentle almost apologetic way. We tend to receive those touches well. Compare that with someone yelling, “Hey you, buy this!” Think of your touches as first establishing a relationship then building upon it.  People buy from people they like and trust. The same goes for organizations. Communicate a sense of authenticity, transparency and respect for individuals as opposed to someone with a wallet and you will be much more successful.

Determine Frequency. The frequency of your touches is critical. During a branding campaign, you are working to create awareness so that when people consciously recognize you there is a sense of familiarity. People do not appreciate feeling pestered, however, it is important to stay top of mind. It is a delicate balance. Frequency directly relates to your sales cycle. It also depends upon your available inventory. A branding drip campaign, which focuses on awareness, requires lower frequency than a sales campaign, which focuses on creating an urgency to buy. As people move through the sales process and a deeper relationship is cultivated, the addition of frequency and content is welcome.

Be Consistent. Consistency is as critical as frequency. If you touch people in a certain way once in the spring and once in the fall people come to expect those touches. Consequently, it causes confusion if suddenly the touch comes in the summer when unexpected. If you touch people in a certain way weekly, they come to expect that as well. If the touch occurs on a Tuesday one week, a Thursday another week and a Friday another week the lack of consistency may reflect poorly on the organization. Pick a day, commit to it and stick to it. It will cultivate confidence in your audience.

These five elements are important and you will serve yourself well to think them through in detail. When starting out it’s best not to take on too much at once. Garden Spot started out with two touches a year. Today, depending upon where people are in the sales cycle they may receive over 75 touches a year not including social media posts, advertisements and personal interactions with the sales team.

In Part II of this series, we will address additional topics including content, channel/media mix and calls to action.