Welcome Email Best Practices: Making a Great First Impression

November 17, 2020 | 8 minute read
Chad S. White
Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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When someone signs up to receive your promotional emails, it marks the start of what is hopefully a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Start it off right by sending the most effective welcome email possible.

Here are seven best practices from Oracle Marketing Consulting to follow:

1. Send welcomes immediately

The days of batched welcome email sends are long, long gone. Today, welcome emails are like transactional emails in that consumers assume either they did something wrong or your systems don’t work if they don’t get one immediately after they sign up. Don’t disappoint or confuse them. Trigger yours immediately.

An important caveat is to consider whether your service or product is immediately available to the customer, says Amy McNeil, Account Director at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “If there is an activation period for your product or service, then triggering the welcome message after activation may be best,” she says. “In all cases, remember to test your initial assumptions. You may be surprised by what your audience responds to.”

2. Ask new subscribers to do something high-value

Don’t treat your welcome email as a signup confirmation email. Yes, a welcome email does confirm that the recipient signed up successfully, but it can do so much more by capitalizing on the momentum that you have with your new subscriber. After all, this person just raised their hand and said, “I want to hear more from you.” Their level of intent is high, so act on that.

“Your welcome will be one of the most opened emails you ever send,” says Clint Kaiser, Head of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Some of our clients see welcome email open rates of over 50%. The real estate in this email is incredibly valuable, so think your ask through carefully.”

There are five principle messaging strategies for welcome email calls-to-action:

1. Promotion: The welcome tries to drive a purchase through incentives or product promotions, since getting a purchase—especially the first purchase—is a major predictor of getting future purchases.

2. Education: The welcome tries to deepen brand affinity and loyalty by educating the new subscriber about your brand’s history, products, services, values, and social causes. Today’s consumers—especially Millennials and Generation Z—want to feel good about the companies they buy from, so this approach can pay dividends long-term.

3. Profiling: The welcome tries to gather more information about the new subscriber so that the company can serve them more relevant messaging going forward. While analytics are great for long-term understanding of a customer, profiling efforts are superior in the short-term when you don’t have much, if any, customer behavioral data to leverage.

4. Expansion: The welcome tries to connect with the new subscriber through additional channels by promoting their mobile app, social channels, direct mail catalog, and other channels. The more channels that a customer uses to engage with your brand, the more valuable that customer tends to be. The welcome may also ask the subscriber to deepen their relationship via email, asking them to opt up into additional mailstreams.

5. Evangelism: The welcome tries to get the new subscriber to refer their friends or colleagues. Often this is incentivized by offering a discount to the referrer for each referee that makes a purchase or takes some other desired action.

Having a clear welcome strategy in mind can help your message grab more attention, says Brooke Dahmer, Copywriter for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Welcome messages that go beyond the standard ‘Welcome to the list’ and ‘We’ll send you updates and special offers’ resonate much more with consumers,” she says. “Make your messaging stand out by making the subscriber feel like a part of a community, speaking to their emotions, and setting out a clear path in front of them.”

Get the latest tips and best practices on email marketing and campaigns with the Oracle Marketing Consulting Newsletter.

3. Keep your copy and design focused

While some welcome emails don’t ask new subscribers to do anything, others ask too much. When welcomes are packed with CTA after CTA, the path forward gets muddied. The subscriber pays less attention and is less likely to engage, particularly with CTAs that are farther toward the bottom of your welcome.

“People are busy and easily distracted, so you really need to keep every email message as tight as possible—whether it's a new product launch, a Black Friday promo, or a welcome email,” says Marisa Crawford, Senior Copywriter for Creative Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “Rather than pack too much info into one email, a great approach is to think strategically about how to flow content into a user’s inbox gradually over a series of welcome emails. In addition to simplifying each message in the series, it gives you an opportunity to build your customer relationship more gradually over time.”

With that in mind...

4. Use a welcome email series

The perfect remedy for an overactive welcome email is turning it into a welcome series and letting your CTAs breathe. Having each email focus on a theme gives your message more coherence and helps your subscriber understand it better at a glance.

Here are some of the themes we’ve seen used in welcome campaigns (along with the messaging strategy it falls under):

  • Make your first purchase using this special discount (Promotion)

  • Learn about what makes our company, products, and services special (Education)

  • Learn about our in-store, concierge, private shopper, and other services (Education)

  • Learn about our most popular features (Education)

  • Learn how to import your data, set up your account, etc. (Education/Profiling)

  • Tell us more about your preferences, interests, etc. (Profiling)

  • Join our loyalty program (Profiling/Promotion)

  • Apply for our private label credit card (Profiling/Promotion)

  • Sign up for emails from additional departments or on other topics (Expansion)

  • Sign up for emails from our sister brands (Expansion)

  • Download our mobile app (Expansion)

  • Connect with us on social media (Expansion)

  • Refer a friend (Evangelism)

“A well-executed welcome series puts recipients on the path of being valuable customers,” says Chris Wilson, Strategic Director of Analytic & Strategic Services at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “We’ve seen that customers who engage with the first five campaigns they are sent after subscribing tend to have click-rates that are 15 times higher than the average and contribute 23% more revenue over their lifetime. This highlights the importance of creating a controlled welcome experience, where subscribers are not receiving other marketing offers while they are in the welcome program.”

In addition to the number of emails to have in your welcome series, other issues to consider include: 

  • Whether to send your welcome emails sequentially, suppressing your broadcast and seasonal promotional emails until the full series has been sent, or whether to send them periodically over the course of weeks, with new subscribers receiving your promotional emails in between your welcomes

  • Whether to suppress or skip certain emails in your welcome series based on the actions that subscriber has taken (such as suppressing a first-time buyer incentive email to new subscribers who have already made a purchase), the acquisition source of the subscriber (more on that next), or other factors

  • Whether to add a final welcome series email that’s only sent to never-actives, which are those subscribers who haven’t responded to any of your emails since signing up

“We have implemented that last strategy with some of our clients,” says Katie Baril, Senior Account Director at Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. “If there was zero engagement within, say, the first 30 days, we triggered a ‘lapsing’ offer for reengagement. If that doesn’t result in an open or click, we always recommend suppressing them from future emails.” 

Want to expand the reach of your campaigns? Find out how to do SMS marketing and combine it with email.

Whether you’re sending a series of welcomes or a solo welcome, you should also decide whether to...

5. Send different welcome emails based on the acquisition source

Once you start thinking about different potential welcome themes, you may realize that not all of your new subscribers need to hear all of those themes. That’s likely true, because every new subscriber is bringing different experiences with your brand into the email relationship.

For example, a new subscriber who signed up during checkout via your mobile app doesn’t need a welcome message asking them to download your mobile app. However, someone signing up during an online or in-store checkout would likely benefit from that message.

“One of the biggest opportunities,” says Kaiser, “is to message new subscribers differently based on whether they signed up during a purchase or not. The amount of education required is different for a non-purchaser versus a purchaser, what you’re asking them to do should be different, and whether you include an incentive will vary, too.”

6. QA and optimize your welcomes often

Along with other triggered emails, welcomes have an unfortunate reputation as being “set it and forget it” programs. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Unlike one-time sends, your triggered programs are living and breathing programs, which means that they need ongoing care and nurturing. Unfortunately, most brands don’t provide that.

For example, while 37% of brands rarely or never A/B test their broadcast or segmented email campaigns, that percentage rises to 41% for triggered emails and jumps to 50% for transactional emails, according to Litmus’s 2019 State of Email Workflows. We think that’s one of the many missed opportunities and pitfalls of A/B testing.

The same trend holds for quality assurance testing, with triggered and transactional campaigns often going a few quarters before they’re re-tested to ensure they’re functioning and rendering as intended across email clients. That means that a rendering issue caused by an update at an inbox provider or a broken link caused by a change on your website could affect your subscribers for months before you realize it. That’s devastating with any triggered campaign, but particularly so for a welcome email when you’re trying to make a good first impression.

One way to help ensure that you’re regularly QAing and A/B testing is to...

7. Seasonally update your welcomes

Whether you’re a nonprofit trying to drive end-of-year donations during December, a travel company trying to drive warm-weather destinations in January, or a retailer trying to drive back-to-school shopping in July and August, adding or updating welcome content should be a part of any broader seasonal automated campaign strategy.

Follow these seven best practices, and you’ll find that your new subscribers are more engaged early in the subscriber lifecycle and doing more of the activities that will make them better customers long-term.

Need help with your welcome or onboarding program? Oracle Marketing Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including a Campaign Automation Services team to help you setup or improve your triggered campaigns.

To learn more, reach out to us at CXMconsulting_ww@oracle.com or visit us online.

Get the latest tips and best practices on email marketing and campaigns with the Oracle Marketing Consulting Newsletter.

Chad S. White

Head of Research, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.

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