Lifecycle Marketing: Onboarding – Blind Dating for Email Marketers

Posted by Sebastian Kluth 

Right after sign up is the short and crucial time frame to establish a strong relationship with your new subscribers. This is not easy, because for subscribers, joining an email program is a bit like blind dating!

The first impression has already been established, but it’s not yet the basis for a long-term relationship. You’re unlikely to get a load of confidential or private information on the first date—you need to establish trust first! Did you ever get all of those personal lifetime highs and lows on the first date? I’m betting not!

Time and effort are needed to build trust, which in turn creates a strong foundation for interaction and exchanging of more detailed information. Email marketing is no different. Sign-up provides the single highest moment of attention you may ever get from new subscribers. It’s one of your biggest challenges—and opportunities—towrds building a long-term relationship.

While there is an increasing focus on customer lifecycle marketing, many senders still only think of email marketing in terms of sending offers, discounts, vouchers, and free shipping notifications. This creates extremely high marketing pressure at a point when the relationship is still brand new. It may not cause complaints or inactivity directly, but this lack of differentiation already erodes loyalty because it creates doubts:

  • Why should I stay in your email program after receiving the signup discount?
  • What are you going to offer me compared to your competitors?
  • What is the long term benefit to me from remaining?

While most email programs send a single welcome message, the smart minority uses a welcome series to onboard new subscribers and showcase the value of the program. A recent Return Path report from Germany showed just 1/3 of the Top 100 e-commerce senders have a sophisticated onboarding strategy in place as part of their email program.

This feels like a big missed opportunity. The e-commerce and email marketing environment is becoming ever more competitive. Surely it’s worth showing some appreciation to your new subscribers?

It’s also in your own interests as an email program owner. Our recent Lifecycle Metrics Benchmark shows average first touch (welcome emails) read rates are a phenomenal 39 percent (compared to average read rates of 22 percent).

Additional Return Path research shows subscribers who read three messages in a welcome series will stay much longer with your program—reading 69 percent of the sender’s future emails, compared with only 5 percent from those who failed to engage with the welcome series. This creates real added value for your email program–read my colleague Guy Hanson’s great recent blog post on the value of focusing on the subscriber lifecycle.

Need further convincing? How about:

  • Make your first impression count, you won’t get a second chance.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to build strong levels of trust with your subscribers.
  • Underline and showcase the value of your brand against your competitors.
  • Leverage progressive profiling, leading to better segmentation and engagement.
  • Increase the probability of “long tail” business and repeat sales and increased ROI.

This is your chance to turn a fragile first encounter into a strong long-term relationship that will withstand even the tough times. Let’s finish up with some quick wins to help you build a high-performing onboarding strategy for your email program:

  • Fully automate the onboarding program to minimize future effort – ROI increases over time!
  • Close the loop fast, moving quickly from sign-up to receipt of the first email.
  • Make sure new subscribers quickly experience the value they were initially promised.
  • Avoid information overload – don’t push too much too soon!
  • Don’t start sending the regular emails in parallel with the welcome series.
  • Use a higher initial frequency while the relationship is fresh.
  • People appreciate dialog – subtly request additional profile data.
  • Personalize progressively as you build up a more complete picture of new subscribers.

It’s also a really smart strategy to continue showcasing value/benefits that weren’t apparent at sign-up. This teaches subscribers it’s worth reading future emails (because they will continue to add value!). Here’s some ideas you can consider to help achieve this as part of your improved onboarding strategy:

  • Include customer testimonials, sharing their positive experiences
  • Promote other products/services that complement subscribers’ stated interests.
  • Use in-email polls to receive early feedback – people love to talk about themselves!
  • Promote additional services like payment options and customer care
  • Nudge them towards creating a customer account
  • Send reminders for discounts/codes/etc that may not have been used after sign-up

Successful email programs strike a balance between the value they extract from their customers, and the perceived value they offer. When they get this right, there are big benefits in terms of improved customer lifetime value. Investing time (and a little of your email marketing budget) into a proper onboarding strategy, will generate significant payback over time from happy customers who stick around longer, transact more frequently, and spend more with your business!

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About Sebastian Kluth

Sebastian Kluth is an Email Strategist at Return Path. He has been with Return Path since July 2014. He uses email intelligence data to provide customized solutions for deliverability and email optimization. He built his experience as a Senior Key Account Manager and Project Manager working for major German brands, agencies, and an email service provider and was responsible for implementing e-mail marketing campaigns as well as consulting and project management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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