Build (Or Transform) A Birthday Email Program In Seven Steps

If you've been following my Email Insider columns for a while, you probably know that I'm a big fan of the "Happy Birthday" email.

It's a "high ROI/low LOE" (level of effort) email that is customer-centric, can delight your subscribers, enhance your brand and engagement, and also add a revenue stream to boost your bottom line. 

But even with all the advantages birthday emails can provide, my company found in a recent benchmark survey that seven in 10 email marketers don't send them. Further, 76% percent of those who don't send birthday emails aren't planning to start.

What's holding marketers back? Primarily a lack of data (48% said they don't collect birth date information). Others said they have some data but not enough to launch a program, or they're concerned that collecting the data is too big a challenge.

A Blueprint for Birthday Emails

If you have decided to take the plunge or take your existing program to the next level, I've developed the following birthday-email blueprint, which lays out the seven steps that go into building a birthday email program. 



Step 1: Set your birthday program goals. Your birthday email programs can serve one or both of these basic goals:

  • Goodwill, branding and customer engagement: You send an attractively designed message that doesn't include an incentive or reward with the "Happy Birthday" greeting. This approach dings your marketing budget the least, but you might still realize some incremental revenue.
  • Drive online or offline visits and revenue: Using a purchase incentive such as a discount, upgraded service or no-strings freebie generates measurable results but also affects your margins or marketing budget.

Step 2: Determine a delivery schedule. If you don't use incentives, you can send the message on or near the recipient's birthday. At the other extreme, a travel company sends its birthday emails six weeks early to give recipients time to plan a trip.

Step 3: Collect the data. Decide where and how to collect your data, whether to require birth year and how much data to collect. Your delivery schedule and the number of other required fields drives some of your decisions.

Requiring day/month/year data will give you the richest amount of data but can reduce form completion rate. If you aren’t going to use birth year for targeting or other purposes, day and month will suffice.

Step 4: Greeting or incentives?

If using incentives is a common part of your email approach, then incorporating them in your birthday messages should be a no-brainer. Over half of the marketers in our benchmark study do provide some incentives.

Without an incentive, your email content must be strong and very creative to make an impression.

If you're unsure, or you need to sell management on the benefits, consider testing both approaches side by side for a few months.

Step 5: Single or multiple emails? Sending a single birthday wish is the most common and easiest approach. However, sending a series of emails can greatly increase results. A sample series might include the first email a week before, then day of birthday and a reminder a week or two later if an incentive has not been used.

Step 6: Design your message. Because birthdays are usually fun days for subscribers, your creative approach should reflect this. Push your designer to create something fun and engaging, distinctive from your other messages while still following your graphic standards and email design best practices.

Copy styles can take many forms. Be sure the copy drives the action you want, is simple and straightforward, and meshes with your brand or corporate image.

Step 7: Testing and optimization. Although listed last, testing and optimization should be part of every step in your pilot program as well as after as you refine it.

Here are some facets to test:

  • Data capture: Try different form layouts and data-field locations to see which ones deliver the highest completion rates.
  • Incentives: Try at least two to see which drives the most customer action.
  • Subject lines: Consider whether tactics such as first-name personalization or listing the incentive in the subject line affect conversions or opens.

The Next Step

Your birthday program can be your springboard to more event/date-based email programs that increase your contact with subscribers outside of your standard emails, such as birthdays (spouse, family, pets), wedding anniversaries, product/registration anniversaries or other recurring events.

And now, your thoughts: Are you also a birthday-email believer, or do you still need to be convinced? Let me know your thoughts.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

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