Improve the Subscriber Lifecycle, Improve Your Email Results
Crappy subscriber experiences drive crappy results. In just about every article I’ve published, there has been some variation on this theme (or an optimistic inverse). I come back to this concept again and again for three reasons: it’s simple; it’s fundamental; and it is pervasive in the email space.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss subscriber experience without delving into the lifecycle. The subscriber lifecycle gives us a brand-oriented framework to assess how subscribers are experiencing the email program and how their relationship with your brand evolves over time.
As with any relationship, there are inflection points that help punctuate the transition to the next stage. As marketers, if we fail to recognize and curate communication across those points, we’ve got some major missed opportunities holding our program performance back.
In this article, I’m going to highlight critical inflection points in the subscriber lifecycle and provide examples of brands that are using them to create better experiences. For the purposes of this piece, I’ve avoided specific focus on subscriber lifecycle messages related to the conversion path. This is a whole separate beast — and one I plan to slay in a future article.
The Acquisition Process
This is where it all begins. This portion of the lifecycle is where we set expectations and get consent to kick off a brand-subscriber relationship. This is the subscriber’s first opportunity to assess your email program’s value and decide whether they want to engage.
For marketers, this stage is all about list growth and list quality. Doubling down on list growth can be tempting, but can create a poor subscriber experience at the onset. Not only can this damage brand perception, it can take a toll on program performance. Tactics like required program opt-ins and “too good to resist” offers can compel subscribers to provide old or dead email addresses. Pre-checked boxes and poor consent can result in spam complaints and opt-outs.
Brands that excel in driving high quality subscribers into the program:
- Emphasize list quality, focusing efforts on subscribers who want to receive mail
- Convey benefits to the subscriber
- Sufficiently set expectations regarding email content and frequency
- Gain explicit consent
Here are a couple examples of great opt-in pages that set the brand up for success:
Welcome and Onboarding
Once subscribers have opted in, it’s up to the brand to make a positive first impression. The first few messages that the subscriber receives are critical in establishing value and relevance. While some subscribers may opt out, complain, or tune out very early in the lifecycle, many will remain engaged to assess content and value.
During the first few weeks, marketers should curate content and focus on putting the brand’s best foot forward. This is the time to deliver on the promises made during the acquisition process and showcase what the brand has to offer.
Brands that have the welcome and onboarding stage dialed:
- Deploy an immediate welcome message that delivers value and sets the stage for coming messages
- Implement a curated set of onboarding messages to help further educate subscribers, deliver on promises, and establish value beyond sale content
- Ensure that all messages render well on mobile devices
- Update welcome and onboarding content regularly based on changing trends, seasonality, new releases, etc.
Need inspiration? These examples capitalize on initial engagement and establish value:
Celebration of Milestones
These inflection points are opportunities to connect with subscribers with relevant, meaningful content. Milestone messages can include:
- Birthday greetings
- Opt-in anniversary messages (it’s been X years since you joined the email program)
- Purchase anniversaries
- Acknowledgement of loyalty or loyalty related achievements
- Friend referrals or social sharing milestones
This provides marketers with a mid-lifecycle check-in and can help solidify the relationship with quantifiable content.
Marketers that make the most of milestone emails often:
- Include sincere language that conveys joy, thankfulness, appreciation, and the like We’ve seen evidence that the words you use can have a major impact on performance.
- Include more than one milestone email as part of their program
- Reward subscribers with special bonuses or incentives
These milestone emails stand out in a crowded inbox:
Throughout the course of the lifecycle, subscribers expect content to remain relevant and in alignment with their current needs. It’s up to marketers to ensure that business rules and content live up to this expectation.
Brands that lead the pack understand and anticipate needs by:
- Asking subscribers to be proactive and choose their own email adventures via preference centers and in-email polls
- Leverage engagement data to determine subscriber interest, adjusting future content accordingly
- Create multiple paths or experiences within the subscriber lifecycle based on engagement level, expressed interest, transaction history, and content interactions
- Examine business rules for recommendations engines and dynamic content to account for changing needs or purchases through a competitor (i.e., don’t dynamically surface mattresses in every email for the next 6 months; periodic inclusion is fine, but also show me sheet sets, bedroom decor, etc.)
These emphasize the value of better understanding subscribers:
Let’s face it. We all want our subscribers to love us and our content forever. It can be hard to let go, especially when your brand is committed to the numbers game when it comes to list size. While it can be difficult, it’s critical to program health to cut dead weight before they drag down your metrics and, potentially, your deliverability.
One common mistake marketers make when implementing a re-engagement program is that they wait far too long. As discussed in my creatively-titled article, "How to Re-Engage Inactive Subscribers on Your Email List," a substantial portion of email subscribers churn within the first three months.
Brands that outperform when it comes to subscriber retention and re-engagement:
- Include multiple touchpoints throughout the lifecycle, addressing signs of inactivity and churn in lifestage-appropriate ways (i.e., they don’t engage with immediate disengagers the same way that they address those with prolonged patterns of inactivity)
- Employ triggered re-engagement messages to help distribute these high risk mailings, avoiding large scale blasts that are doomed to suffer high complaint, unknown user, and spam trap rates
- Allow subscribers to refine the experience, specifying their interests, the types of messages they’d like to receive, or the frequency they would like to be contacted
- Make it very easy for subscribers to opt out of the email program
- Welcome re-engaged subscribers back with relevant content that helps them get reacquainted with the brand
Here are some re-engagement examples that make for a positive subscriber experience:
As a Senior Email Strategist with Return Path, Casey specializes in driving increased engagement and boosting deliverability. Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”