Welcome Emails: Best Practice vs. Common Practice

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

In the second of four research reports on email marketing, Epsilon’s Email Institute and Multichannel Merchant (a sister publication of Directmag.com and Chief Marketer) analyzed the email welcome programs of 200 top brick-and-mortar and online retailers and restaurant brands. Below are key takeaways from the 2010 Welcome Email Strategies Report, by Email Institute senior editor Amy Tierney, which is available at www.emailinstitute.com. To read the first article in the series, “Email Registration: Best Practice vs. Common Practice,” click here.

An email welcome program is definitely a best practice. Except for transactional emails such as order confirmations and shipping notifications, welcome emails typically have the highest open rates of any marketing emails: Jill LeMaire, director of Epsilon’s strategic and analytic consulting group, says that they have an average open rate of 50%-60%. What’s more, subscribers who receive a welcome email increase their long-term engagement with a brand by 33% until they decide to stop engaging.

Yet only 57.5% of the companies surveyed sent at least one welcome email, with another 10.5% sending a confirmation email. In other words, nearly one-third of the marketers sent no follow-up messages to their new subscribers.

Perhaps it’s because they didn’t know the dos and don’ts of welcome emails. Fortunately, we’re here to help, with the following advice:

* Unless you need to send a confirmation email as part of your double opt-in process, merge your confirmation message into a true welcome email. Double opt-in requires you to send those who have signed up to receive your emails a message in response requiring them to take an action, such as clicking an embedded link, in order to confirm that they really do want to be put on the house file. If that is your policy, you should keep your confirmation email distinct from your welcome email.

A confirmation email is usually generated automatically by the web server and not from the marketing database. Ideally it is short and focuses exclusively on confirming that the new subscriber does indeed what to subscribe. As such it is usually text only and devoid of any warm-and-fuzzy marketing messages.

The welcome email, however, is definitely a marketing effort, which is why it generally includes graphics and HTML. It’s your opportunity to tell this new subscriber, who is obviously interested enough in your brand to request messages from you, the benefits of doing business with your organization. Because you want to make sure this new subscriber doesn’t regret opting in, you should also use your welcome message to reiterate the benefits of joining your email program and provide more information about what he can expect. And because the ultimate goal is to generate revenue, of course, be sure to embed links back to your Website.

Why not send both a confirmation and a welcome email? You’ll likely dilute the response you would get for the welcome email if subscribers have already read a conformation message from you, and as you want as many people as possible to read your marketing message, that’s a drawback.

* Send your welcome email as soon as possible. Even 24 hours is too much lag time between time of opt-in and receipt of welcome email, given the multitude of other marketing messages competing for consumers’ attention. Sending the welcome within 10 minutes of the subscriber’s signing up is ideal.

* Include a thank-you in the message. In the words of myriad parents and teachers, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” Let subscribers know that you appreciate their interest.

* Remind new subscribers to add you to their whitelist. Subscribers are most likely to add your brand to their inbox address book or favorites list when they are most enthused about receiving your emails—which of course is right after they opt in. So take advantage of that by including a reminder to whitelist your brand in your welcome email. This seems a no-brainer, but only 59.1% of the marketers surveyed that sent welcome emails did so.

To increase the likelihood of subscribers adding you to their address book, have your reminder link to a page on your Website with specific instructions. And while you may want to include the whitelist reminder in your preheader in subsequent emails, make it part of the main body of the welcome message.

* Include a link to your online preference center. About 46% of the welcome emails studied linked to a brand’s preference center, where subscribers could provide additional information regarding the type and format of emails they wanted to receive as well as personal information such as postal address and phone number. To encourage them to volunteer more info, let them know that the more details they give you, the more targeted your messages to them—just be sure you then follow up on your promises by targeting your emails to their preferences.

* Tell subscribers how often you’ll be emailing them. One of the most common reasons people give for unsubscribing from emails is that the messages are too frequent. If a subscriber expects to receive one marketing email a week but subsequently receives one a day, he may well feel bombarded or duped. Yet only 10.4% of the welcome emails analyzed indicated the frequency of future messages. If you can’t or don’t want to pin yourself down too precisely, that’s fine: Instead of saying, “You’ll receive a newsletter once a week,” modify it to something like “You’ll receive a newsletter once a week, as well as occasional special notifications.”

* Include links to your privacy policy and unsubscribe page. “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Every single commercial email, legally, must include a privacy policy link,” says Lauren Skena Kimball, account director for Epsilon’s digital marketing solutions division. And while some might argue that a welcome email is transactional in nature and therefore doesn’t require an opt-out link, you’re better off enabling someone who doesn’t want to be on your list to unsubscribe than leading him to flag you as spam.

* Consider expanding your welcome email into a welcome series. The overwhelming majority of the marketers that sent welcome emails—91.7%—sent only a single message. The others sent two or more welcome messages, with one merchant, REI, expanding its welcome series over the course of a year with 13 messages. Breaking out your welcome into several message enables you to go into greater detail regarding the benefits of your email program, features of your Website or your proprietary products, and other perks of your brand such as loyalty programs, credit cards, and the like. According to Epsilon, etailers that send a welcome series tend to see twice the lift in terms of welcome program response.

If you do opt for a welcome series, include your most important messaging early in the welcome stream, as there is a natural drop-off in terms of open rates over the course of the series. Also consider numbering the emails in the subject line or header (“This is the first of a four-part welcome series…”) so that subscribers know to look out for the subsequent messages.

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