Segmentation Strategy: The Welcome E-Mail Series

  |  August 20, 2009   |  Comments

Build on information and processes already in place to lift your e-mail program's performance. Five tips to get you started.

Once you see how e-mail segmentation can help lift your e-mail marketing program's performance, you'll want to find more ways to apply it. The welcome e-mail series is an excellent place to start, because you'll be able to build on information and processes you already have in place.

Your welcome program should dramatically outperform the rest of your e-mail program. If not, you're really doing something wrong. Recency is a powerful tool for direct marketers.

In a quick (unscientific) review of clients I've worked with, the average welcome series generated six times the revenue per e-mail sent when compared to the rest of their e-mail program. The worst performing welcome message had over twice the revenue per e-mail sent compared to the total program.

The welcome e-mail has been getting more attention lately as a way to build customer engagement beginning immediately after opt-in. However, it also helps you build your segmentation program because it requires you to market differently to a specific subscriber segment: the newbie.

Why a Welcome Message?

Let me be clear right at the start. When I talk about welcome e-mails, I don't mean the terse text-format message your e-mail program generates when someone opts in to your program: "You have successfully subscribed to Acme's e-mail program." Several great brands, such as American Eagle Outfitters and J.C. Penney, still use a simple plain text message like this.

How do customers respond to a "mission accomplished" message? They delete the message and go on to the next. Out of sight, out of mind.

A well-done welcome e-mail says "Thanks!" and so much more. It draws the new subscriber into your e-mail program right away by:

  • Reminding them about opting in.

  • Confirming subscription details.

  • Restating your e-mail program's branding and value proposition.

  • Reinforcing your company's brand identity.

  • Providing contact information.

  • Delivering subscription incentives.

  • Helping them find stuff they may have missed on their first site visit.

  • Selling, often with simple tactics like "Top 10 most popular products."

  • Inviting subscribers back to your Web site right away to fill out a profile or preference page or redeem a thank-you offer.

Why Segment for a Welcome Series?

Although the welcome e-mail starts the subscriber relationship on the right foot, about one quarter of retail-oriented e-mailers don't send one, according to the "2009 Retail Welcome E-mail Benchmark Study" done by the e-mail agency Smith-Harmon. Only about 9 percent go the extra mile to create an automated welcome series, sent over a set period of time to warm up new subscribers.

The most sophisticated e-mail marketers send a different e-mail stream to new subscribers. Instead of dumping them into the heavy traffic of weekly or daily promotions and offers, these welcome programs send a specific set of messages that can include:

  • A profile- or preference-page invitation that asks for more detail than the subscriber might have provided at opt-in.

  • A questionnaire assessing the new subscriber's experience and initial impressions.

  • A walking tour of the Web site, detailed use instructions, or links where a purchaser can seek help, ask questions, or contact employees for support.

  • Invitations to spread the word to family and friends.

When you segment out new subscribers for special treatment, you can also watch for telltale signs of discontent, such as immediate opt-outs, spam complaints, or lack of activity. The previous list can help measure engagement, such as filling out profiles or seeking instructions on using a service. Subscribers who don't click those key clicks can be segmented again and sent reminders or surveys explaining why they haven't acted yet.

Quick Tips for Better Welcome Messages

Your efforts to segment your database and send these targeted, automated messages won't pay off unless your messages can deliver their payload every time. These tips will help you get started:

  • Replace your automated "mission accomplished" language with a message that includes elements from the earlier list.

  • Create an HTML design that renders well no matter how or where the recipient views it: images on or off, preview pane or full screen, cell phone or desktop environment, with a text version for subscribers who request it.

  • Add a preheader (first line of copy visible in the message body) that reflects the message purpose instead of the standard "click here if you are having trouble viewing this message." In most e-mail clients, this preheader is what subscribers see during their read or delete e-mail triage. Sell your benefits here in the first line. L.L. Bean and Zappos do a nice job of this.

  • Test the message for deliverability and for rendering before you go live with it via your e-mail program.

  • Optimize for your mobile e-mail viewers. Beside the design elements listed in this list's second item, add a phone number near the top that mobile viewers can call for help or to act on the message. Good mobile clients make phone numbers clickable by default, which can help you make a quick sale while your customer is on the go.

This gallery of welcome messages will show you what's possible and what works. You might be amazed to see how much you can accomplish with just a few tweaks, a little design upgrade, and a few added dimensions in a single message. You'll also find more explanation in this blog post.

Bottom Line: Start Today!

You don't have to wait until your segmentation process is complete before upgrading your welcome e-mail. Begin today by replacing the default or standard automated message with one that truly welcomes your new subscribers, makes them feel part of your program, and encourages better interaction.

Have an opinion about any of the welcome messages posted in the gallery? Comment below!


Ed Henrich

Ed Henrich is vice president of professional services for Responsys, leading the company's creative, campaign development, strategy, and analytics teams to produce award-winning and profitable client e-mail marketing programs. Ed is a pioneer in the e-mail marketing industry, having joined Post Communications (now Yesmail) in 1997 when it was a five-person startup. For eight years, he was the company's vice president of client services, then president. Before that, Ed was a venture capitalist at Internet Capital Group and a senior consultant with McKinsey & Company. A former Fulbright Scholar to Australia in Control Systems Engineering, Ed holds a PhD and an MS from UCLA and a BS from Drexel University. Follow him at his blog, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

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