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Make an Impression with an Onboarding Email Series

Evi Katsoulieri

Product Manager @ AdRoll

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When it comes to businesses and dealing with customers, first impressions really do matter — so it’s no surprise that most companies consider the welcome email as one of the most important emails in the customer onboarding journey. However, many brands don’t go that extra mile to invest time in creating an automated onboarding email sequence, which is what distinguishes a good impression from a lasting one. 

A New Way to Stay Engaged

Let’s take a step back and imagine that for the first time ever, you’re entering a sporting goods shop. The salesperson smiles, says “hello” and gives a brief spiel about the store — but that’s it. There are a bunch of cool things around the store, but you have no context into which pieces are best for your camping trip or even if they have what you’re specifically looking for. You’re feeling a little lost and would appreciate some guidance. 

In the digital world, cue the onboarding email series. An automated onboarding email series serves as an easy way to greet new subscribers and puts you in control of how subscribers are introduced to your brand. With a marketing automation software behind you, emails can be tailored based on a variety of factors, including what stage of the life cycle funnel your customer is in. Simply put, it’s a powerful tool to introduce your brand to new users, build stronger relationships, and set expectations about email frequency and topics. 

Love at First (or Second...or Even Third) Sight

On average, sending an onboarding email series yields 51% more revenue than a single welcome email. There are a couple of reasons why. First, customers are at their peak interest and are hungry to learn more about your brand and products. Statistically, they’re more likely to open your emails. 

Second, an onboarding sequence can act as a safety net in case the end-user doesn’t engage with you right at the beginning. Perhaps they missed the first email and it’s the second one that will pique their interest. Expanding the window to connect with the subscriber opens multiple avenues to educate and sell the user on the most important aspects of your business, including sign up instructions and product introductions.

Through trial and error, you can test to see what content resonates best with customers so that you’re able to optimize future email campaigns. So in addition to accruing a treasure trove of data, you’re also doing right by the customer — 74.4% of new subscribers expect their first few emails to have great content. They’re looking to your company to fulfill a need, so give them the best experience possible to get what they want, ASAP. 

What Makes a Great Onboarding Series?

Poorly thought out emails not only lead to low engagement but can contribute to a consistently high number of unsubscribes as well. Let’s go over how to keep the email list robust and subscribers engaged:

  • Make them feel good. Greet new users, thank them for joining your community, and excite them for what’s coming up. 
  • Share your brand values. Introduce your brand to your new subscribers or customers. Delve into the most unique aspects of your brand story and capitalize on the company’s values. Establish yourself as an expert in your industry and build trust. 
  • Point to the good stuff. Point new subscribers to the engaging content you’ve already produced (blog, help center, social media). This is valuable to them while you drive traffic to your own channels through email.
  • Show that you care. Ask them a question to learn more about your customers and find out what their challenges are and how you could help. 
  • Create a great experience. One of the best benefits of an onboarding series is the customizability because you’re able to map the journey you want new subscribers to take. Think about what you’d like your subscribers to learn about your product and show them how to use said product to achieve the desired results. 

Big Impact With Little Work

One of the biggest misconceptions is that building an onboarding series is too time-consuming to bother with. Truth is, they’re not any harder to create than a regular email campaign. 

To start, decide on the length of your sequence. This sets the expectations about the email frequency and depends on your own marketing strategy and how you want to build your relationship with new users. Then, decide what type of content you want to highlight. Your goal is to be educational and get these new subscribers excited about the possibilities you can offer them with your product or service. Think of your ideal customer profile (ICP), their challenges, and content they would value most. 

Although It’s always daunting when you first start out, just remember: You can always experiment by adding or removing steps in the sequence, or changing the order in which you’ll deliver each email. Keep optimizing your emails in the campaign until you find a sweet spot where your subscribers are responsive to your call to action.

Some Things to Consider...

An onboarding series is an excellent idea, but make sure you don’t break any of these cardinal email marketing rules: 

  • Don’t overwhelm your subscribers. Nobody has time for lengthy emails and your new customer certainty doesn’t need to learn everything about your brand and product in the first-ever email.
  • Don’t assume that every new customer will have exactly the same needs or level of commitment. Some people need more time to start experimenting with your tool. Others will dive right in. Some people are ready to make an upgrade right after a trial and others aren’t. Take that into consideration when creating your automated onboarding emails so that you can cater to different segments. As mentioned earlier, you can also create different versions of emails based on the progress your new user has made in exploring your product.
  • Welcome emails shouldn’t be email verification or confirmation emails. Confirming the email of a new subscriber is important for the health of your email marketing list, but welcome emails serve a different purpose and should be separated.
  • Take mobile experience into consideration. Don’t overdo it with images and animated banners. This is your chance to create a memorable first impression but no need to add too many elements in your email. 

For Images and GIFs...

  • Keep your file size under 400KB and your image size under 480 pixels in width and height so that mobile subscribers don’t experience delays. 
  • While most modern clients support GIFs, animations in an email are not universally supported. Note that if the GIF isn’t supported, a client will only show the first frame as a static image. 
  • Animated GIFs can pose a problem in terms of accessibility. Content flashing rates between 2 Hz and 55 Hz can harm users with photosensitive epilepsy. Double-check that your animated GIFs have smooth transitions and keep the number of frames under ten. 
  • Pay attention to the order of the frames and put your most important one first, to ensure Outlook 2007 and 2010 users don't miss the message.

They’re Excited — and You Should Be, Too

It’s important to understand that new subscribers signed up to your email list for a reason. They’re genuinely interested in your business and trust you enough to invite you into their inbox (which says a lot these days). They’re at the pinnacle of their excitement, so take advantage of this time to onboard and connect with people both emotionally and rationally. It’s your time to shine!

Speaking of first impressions, are you ready to make great second and third ones, too? Next up on your reading list — learn how to set up cart abandonment emails.

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