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3 steps to stellar welcome emails

3 steps to stellar welcome emails Chris Marriott

I'll admit it. I'm a fan of 1980s teen coming-of-age movies. Maybe I'm just a product of the time, but I find something irresistible about their odd mix of teased hair, suburban princesses, troublemakers, and post-punk music.


A recurring plotline from the genre goes something like this: There's a guy (usually a popular but clueless jock) who ignores the new, awkward girl at school (usually played by an absurdly hot actress whose beauty is obscured by a pair of glasses). It's not until late in the movie, after she gets a makeover, that he realizes how totally awesome she is. But by then it's too late. The goofy brainiac has stolen her heart. The credits roll while "I Melt With You" blasts over the soundtrack.


Sound familiar? It's a common theme -- one that extends even to the world of email marketing, where a similar plotline often unfolds. Here, the marketer (usually a popular but clueless company) ignores a brand new subscriber (usually an insanely hot prospect) by failing to mail to her for days or weeks on end. By the time the company finally gets around to getting her into its regular message stream, it's too late. She's moved on to other things, bought elsewhere, or forgotten why she even subscribed.


I'm talking about welcome emails and onboarding campaigns. Why is it that so many companies miss this golden opportunity to interact with new subscribers when they're at their absolute peak of engagement? According to the Email Experience Council's Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, more than one-fourth of major retailers never send a welcome message. Ever. MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Survey puts the figure even higher at 38 percent. Instead, they wait -- often as long as two weeks -- before sending a message of any kind. And some of them, amazingly, fail to respond to subscription requests at all.


When it comes to onboarding campaigns -- extended welcome streams customized to the particular needs and opportunities presented by new subscribers -- a paltry 6 percent of retailers do it. Instead, they drop new subscribers into the regular cadence and message stream, which can be a jarring experience -- especially if the lead was acquired through co-reg or list rental.


But ensuring a smooth transition into a campaign isn't the biggest problem. The real issue is that too many marketers are failing to engage with their prospects at the moment when response is guaranteed to be at its very best.


Let's think for a moment about who this new subscriber is. This person just raised her hand to say that she'd like to be in a relationship with you. She's at her computer. She's thinking about your company. She just volunteered some personal information. She's asking you to contact her. If this was a John Hughes movie, she'd be standing by the door in her prom dress, waiting for you. Right now!


Yet, what do many email marketers do when faced with this dream of a moment? They wait. Sometimes for weeks. Then they spit out generic and uninspiring auto replies that fail to make a sale or move the relationship forward.


What gives?


Welcome messages enjoy the highest open rates of any email campaign type -- often surpassing 50 percent. And when it comes to revenue, we've seen clients who implement even one simple welcome message generate a more than 100 percent lift compared to the initial message in their regular campaign stream.


If you ignore the welcome message or wait too long, and you're not just leaving money on the table. Some subscribers will forget who you even are or why they opted-in -- resulting in higher unsubscribe and spam complaint rates.


Welcome campaigns aren't difficult, but there are a few guidelines that will help to ensure success. Remember, of all the emails that you will send to a new subscriber over the coming months or years, that first welcome message will likely be the most read. Here are three rules to help you get the most out of this big opportunity.


1. Be prompt. When an individual subscribes, send your welcome message within 10 minutes. There are few, if any, legitimate reasons to wait longer than that. Send while you're still fresh in subscribers' minds, while they're at their computer, and while they're actively considering your products or services. Your timeliness will definitely be rewarded.


2. Provide value. Don't waste those high initial open rates by saying "thanks for subscribing" and leaving it at that. Provide a welcome gift or incentive to make them feel appreciated and get them shopping. Show them how to best use your services. Tell them what to expect. Point them toward the resources that other subscribers utilize the most. Do something that makes them feel absolutely great about making the decision to opt-in, and excited to start interacting with your company.


3. Be direct. Direct marketing is no place for subtlety, and no communication should ever lead to a dead end. Tell your subscribers what to do next -- whether it's completing additional preferences, checking out a targeted product offer, or inviting a friend to subscribe. Get them engaged in your discussion forums, product reviews, blogs, and other social media now, while they're feeling game.


Segmenting out your new subscribers and showing them this special attention is similar to any campaign that targets recency. Among all your customers, those who engaged or purchased most recently are the ones most likely to do it again. New subscribers can be your very best customers. Make a point of capitalizing on this fact.


A single, well-crafted welcome message can do wonders for a campaign -- both in terms of immediate response and long-term engagement. If you have several objectives for new customers, an expanded onboarding strategy that includes multiple staged messages over a period of weeks may be in order.


If email marketing is a relationship, then the welcome message sets the tone and often represents one of the most rewarding moments for you and your new subscriber. Do it well, and before you know it, you'll be in a, great, committed relationship with someone who, like, totally appreciates you. (Cue: "Heartbreak Beat" by Psychedelic Furs.)


Chris Marriott is vice president and global managing director for Acxiom Digital.

Chris is the President and Founder of Marketing Democracy, LLC. Marketing Democracy provides email marketers with a range of consulting services around vendor selection (RFPs), vendor migration, and email marketing optimization.  Clients...

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