The Welcome Email Is Dead!

I can hear you now: "What??? You always say I'm supposed to send a welcome message to new subscribers, and now you tell me it's dead? What gives??"

No, I haven't flip-flopped. A single welcome message is still better than no message at all if you want to build up subscriber engagement early and head off inactivity.

But the stakes are higher now for marketers who are under pressure to generate maximum value from their subscribers, and who would rather focus limited budgets and resources on retaining existing subscribers over acquiring new ones.

Think Onboarding Program Rather Than Welcome Message

An onboarding program evolves the initial greeting into a strategically designed, calibrated series of automated messages designed to convert your new subscriber into a regular customer in a highly personalized and systematic way.

These multiple-message email series can warm up new subscribers and provide a positive experience for the all-important initial phase of the relationship by doing the following:

  • Answer questions and provide how-to info and FAQs on using your website, buying from you or setting up an account.
  • Educate users on specific features of your service or website that they need to know in advance.
  • Set email expectations.
  • Present options for creating a highly personalized experience for each subscriber.
  • Move subscribers closer to purchasing or becoming engaged users.



Onboarding can help you address specific challenges or objectives, especially when you incorporate data on subscriber behavior and demographics:

  • Sort email subscribers into tracks and targets with specialized information based on the areas your subscribers visited on the site, or the demographics and interests they provided.
  • Track potential user abandonment by triggering follow-up emails for subscribers who haven't completed account registration or taken other actions they need to do to become engaged customers.
  • Educate users who sign up via one mode, such as a mobile app, in order to promote additional features available on your Web interface as well. 

As a secondary benefit, these emails can become a handbook that users can save to a folder or print out and consult before going to customer support or an FAQ page.

Use Onboarding to Manage the New-Subscriber Experience

The 30- to 60-day period after opt-in is typically the most crucial in the email relationship, whether you're an online retailer or service provider, or a non-retailer that has moved offline operations such as account creation and customer service online.

Onboarding messages allow you to control which emails your new subscribers see first. If you drop newbies into your regular broadcast stream, the first few emails they see might get them off on the wrong note.

A few years ago an email marketer from an energy utility told me that volatile natural gas prices sometimes caused the utility to send rate hike messages more than once a year to customers.

“So, as a new customer, my first email might inform me that my energy bill is going up?” I asked. She immediately understood the value of a good welcome experience in that initial email contact.

Onboarding in Action

A publishing client collects opt-ins from multiple sources for email newsletters, each of which promotes one of its nearly 20 paid-circulation hobbyist and special-interest magazines.

Its three-message onboarding program aims to promote each magazine's reader benefits and its hobbyist community, and to sell subscriptions to the corresponding magazine.

Results: 35% of email subscribers register at their magazine's individual website, while 18% subscribe to the magazine itself, and 6% buy other program add-ons. These figures represent a 175% improvement over its previous welcome program.

Use a Phased Approach to Get to the Next Level

A single welcome message is better than none, but you can do much better.

Here's the simplest approach. Expand your single welcome message -- which treats every subscriber alike whether she opts in at your website or from a transactional email, mobile app or bag stuffer in one of your stores -- into a multi-message format.

Each message in this format warms her up with a different value proposition or call to action keyed to her point of entry, her interests or what she needs to do to become an experienced user of your product or service.

Then take your lessons from this approach and build a truly sophisticated onboarding program that responds to each individual's behavior and interests.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

9 comments about "The Welcome Email Is Dead!".
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  1. gianfranco cuzziol from everywhere CRM, May 31, 2012 at 3:45 p.m.


    I totally agree.

    Recently we ran a very successful Welcome Programme for a large UK multi channel retailer. By streaming customers into various segments we were able to test a variety of propositions to determine the optimum solution for timing, offers and product placement.

    This helped reduce the time frame to first shop and those all important second and fifth shops that are key in the online grocery space


    ps Looking forward to seeing you at the Silverpop Amplify in London in June

  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, May 31, 2012 at 4:48 p.m.

    Thanks Gianfranco! That's a great case study example. To your point, part of this is about moving up the concept of segmenting and targeting at the time of opt-in and during the welcome/onboarding period - as opposed to waiting for selected campaigns. See you in a few weeks! Cheers.

  3. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, May 31, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.


    As always, great article. I think brands need to understand that the first few weeks are the most critical and treat their email program like a party. Introduce me, show me around and make sure I am enjoying myself.

    This takes more than one email and the more organizations can make it on brand and make the experience a fun one for the subscriber, the greater chance they have a person who will want to get emails from them.

    Its all about expectations...make it count.

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder Trendline Interactive
    A Strategic Email Marketing Agency

  4. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, May 31, 2012 at 7:28 p.m.

    Andrew thanks for chiming in - you made a key point about expectations. The beginning of the email relationship is where they are set and then met of not met. Get it right and you might have a long-term engaged subscriber...get it right and they are emotionally unsubscribed to use Dela Quist's term.

  5. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, May 31, 2012 at 10:03 p.m.

    HI Loren, you almost got me with the Subject Line. I thought, "What?? Has he Loren Gone Crazy??" I agree with your content wholeheartedly. Email Marketing is about 1. The List 2. The Relationship with your list and 3. The Offer you make them. By providing value and meaningful, worthwhile information the Relationship builds. Email marketing is not about...SELL, SELL, SELL. It's about building rapport, informing and then the offer can be made. If a business has done their job, the transaction will happen. The bottom line is People Buy From Friends. Regards Kurt Johansen - Australia -

  6. Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx Ltd, June 1, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.

    Hi Loren
    Good article and I agree with your central premise, however unlike Kurt I do think that there is a place for including a sales component to your welcome or on-boarding program without upsetting the new subscriber
    Here's an example of why.

    A consumer is thinking about purchasing a new camera. As part of their research they visit 2 retailers’ websites and after looking around for a bit decide to subscribe to both their email programs.

    Retailer 1 sends a thank you for subscribing email with a voucher offering 10% off any camera (better still the camera they were looking at) if purchased online or in-store within 10 days.

    Retailer 2 spends several days/weeks over multiple emails building rapport, setting expectations, trying their hardest to sell the email program rather than a camera(s).

    Who do you think will get the sale? My bet is retailer 1.

    BTW The term I coined is Unemotionally Subscribed which I use to describe what I believe to be the largest group of people on your list; they are happy to be on your list, but have either not opened your email for a while because they haven't needed your product or service in that time or are buying regularly from you via other channels and do not feel the need to open your email.

    I derived it from the term emotionally unsubscribed which was in widespread use a couple of years ago which describes the same group of people but implies that they DON'T want your email at all, but just can't or won’t unsubscribe. As a result every email you send them makes them hate you more

    See you in London


  7. Andrew Kordek from Trendline Interactive, June 1, 2012 at 1:50 p.m.

    I have a post coming out next week, that is right up your alley Dela and Loren. This welcome series is tied to the mobile app and includes everything the both of you will love.

    It will be out on Tuesday on the Trendline Blog.


  8. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, June 1, 2012 at 2:08 p.m.

    Dela, I couldn't agree more with you. In re-reading my column, I realize I left out the selling part/incentives. For retailers, for example, including 10% off or similar promotion in the onboarding process is typically hugely successful - and goes farther than anything else you could say to get them warm and fuzzy. Have a good experience with the brand via a purchase experience - they are now engaged. So oversight on my part Dela - but couldn't agree more.

  9. Dylan Murphy from Email & Online Marketing Consultant, June 8, 2012 at 9:06 a.m.

    Good article Loren. I try to stress the importance of delivering your strongest value propositions with a relevant CTA to all my clients in their welcome emails. I agree with Della as well. It is obvious that if someone is willing to give you their email address, they are most likely interested in your product and an incentive might be just what is needed to create a conversion. @DylanMailz

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