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Create aha moments: 5 types of effective engagement emails

Create aha moments: 5 types of effective engagement emails Janet Choi

We've all experienced the rush of getting a notification on your phone for a new message or an Instagram favorite.

For Facebook back in 2009, the growth team had to figure out how to get that level of user engagement. As director of international growth at the time, Meenal Balar's job was to get everyone, everywhere using Facebook, every day.

While email and mobile push notifications were foundational to Facebook's impressive engagement, her team quickly learned that the deluge of triggered notifications based on social activity that had worked so well early on, started to wear off -- as Meenal told First Round.  When notifications aren't valuable, they feel like spam, which leads to unsubscribes, blocks, and actual churn.

The growth team realized that they needed to create meaningful "aha moments" where users experienced the product's core value. But how? Not with the noise of any old notification. Designing user communication around building aha moments involves thought and strategy. You have to prioritize relevance -- show individuals the right content, at the right time, like sending the right, engaging message to users who are likely to churn.

So what can we learn from Facebook?

Here are five kinds of highly personal and targeted engagement messages that you can use to show off your product's core value, ferry your users to those "aha moments." and get people to engage with your product and brand, again and again.

1. Deliver useful insights

Let's face it, people are most interested in themselves. There is a reason why the word "you" is the most popular word in Facebook ads.

So how can you use the data you already have about your users to teach them something about themselves? Mint, a personal online financial manager, sends a customer statement to its users every Friday.

At a glance, just by opening the email, you get a pretty good idea of where your money has gone. Mint has delivered added value right into your inbox, along with a clear call to action -- "compare to previous spending." This approach piques a user's interest and also gives them a path to re-engage with the full Mint website or app to learn more. Whether someone heads to the site or not, this email succeeds in engaging a Mint customer in the product's experience.

2. Motivate inactive users

A lack of activity is a key behavioral trigger to reach out to users. Buffer, the social media marketing tool for scheduling posts uses social proof along with education to spur people back into action.

No one likes to feel left out. Buffer plays on that by telling you that people sent 3 million updates last week and making you think, "Hmm, maybe I've neglected social media."

Notice that the message isn't designed to make you feel anxious. Maybe you simply got too busy to find posts or need a hand with social media. Buffer also includes a helpful blog post in the same email and ultimately, speaks to the core value of their product -- making you more successful on social media.

When done well -- meaning they're relevant to the recipient -- recommendations provide a path for your customers to engage more, re-discover your product's value, and stay interested in what you have to offer.

Netflix is famous for its recommendation algorithms. Use it enough, and the emails they send you about new additions to their catalog are bound to appeal, as in this email I received about a new TV show.

These emails accomplish three critical goals: timeliness of promoting new or newly available content, pave an easy way to deciding what to watch, and get out of your way by making watching or adding to your queue as easy as one click.

4. Celebrate users

Humans seek rewards, which means we're biologically motivated to repeat the experiences that lead to rewards. Engineering user success, celebrating progress, and rewarding people can be a great way to promote your brand and re-engage.

Pocket, the save-to-read-later tool, sends a "Your Year in Pocket" pat-on-the-back email to its most active users, the top 1 percent and 5 percent readers. The email links to a personalized report of how much you've read, most-saved topics, daily routine, and most popular saved articles.

This is a great retention email, providing a rewarding experience to get superusers to re-commit and level up their engagement. It boosts confidence and loyalty to the product, and it also creates an opportunity to show off, spread the word and bring in new prospects.

5. Tap into relevant industry or social cycles for promotions

We've covered quite a few ways to engage people with behavioral emails, but what about the straightforward promotion? Simply sending an email presenting your wares is pretty common — but what happens if you time it to when your customers are more likely to buy?

Thinkful, the mentor-led learning program for adults looking to advance their career, sends a Fall email, scheduled perfectly with back-to-school time.

This email is powerful because it taps into a time in your life when you were continually learning and growing, connects that feeling with Thinkful's educational offering and targets prospects who aren't already enrolled in its programs.

It's a smart move. Nearly all of us have experienced that transition from summer vacation to the leaves changing color and feeling of personally turning over a new leaf. Holidays and birthdays are run-of-the-mill and expected dates to send out offers. Remember you can take advantage of other types of signifying times to deliver relevant offers to your audience.

This is just a sampling of five techniques for engaging your customers. What are some of your favorite methods?

Janet Choi is the marketing manager at Customer.io, a behavioral messaging platform for automating hyper-personalized customer communication at scale. She writes about marketing, psychology, and how to communicate like a human being to build better...

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