October 15, 2021
Members Only

Warming Users Up With an Email Onboarding Plan

There are two parts to a users’ relationship with a media company.

The first is everything done before they sign up for something. Maybe it’s trying to improve recirculation because we know more pageviews will result in people converting more. Or, perhaps it’s introducing a popup because we know they work (even though we all kind of hate them). Whatever the tactic, the first part is getting the user to sign up.

The second is everything that comes afterward. We’re talking tactics to engage the user, build a deeper relationship, and hopefully convince them to do other things on our sites. I say it often, but I find many people care a lot more about the first part and spend less time discussing the second.

However, as I’ve said in pieces over the years, it is actually how you retain a user that really defines the success of a business. If all media businesses are leaky buckets, the more holes you can plug and the longer you can keep someone engaged, the better the business will be.

That’s why a core area to focus on is email onboarding. In a nutshell, this describes the various emails that a user automatically receives after signing up for something. It could be as simple as a newsletter or as complex as a B2B data product, the principles are the same. And if we really lean into it, these onboarding flows can be used to understand more about your user.

To gain the most from onboarding, it helps to understand exactly what our objectives are. For different publishers, the objectives will vary. Here are a few possibilities:

  • To collect first-party data
  • To get them reading more content
  • To convince someone to become a paying subscriber

These are obviously random, but by understanding the core objective, you can then structure the onboarding emails to deliver the information they need for success. Additionally, it doesn’t have to be only one of those. With a single email onboarding plan (with some advanced conditional logic), you could touch on all three of those objectives.

Here’s how…

I like to think about onboarding as a series of steps that warm the user up. When they first sign up (say for a newsletter), they might be pretty cold—especially if you are relying on paid sources, they may only know as much about you as the ad copy revealed. So, while they did convert pretty quickly, they’re still pretty cold.

So, the first step is to introduce yourself again. If they’ve signed up for a specific newsletter, tell them who you are and what they can expect from that newsletter. It doesn’t have to be very long. Hey, this is A Media Operator. You can expect to receive a newsletter every Tuesday that breaks down the latest in media news. Or something like that.

A lot of email marketers will ask users to whitelist the sending email and to set it to primary in this first email. The logic here is that it’ll help improve deliverability, which we want. I’ve never seen any data to suggest this actually helps (nor have I ever moved an email to Primary), but my instincts tell me it doesn’t hurt either. Maybe some users do it.

Theoretically, the user should now understand who they’re engaging with at this point. From here, you can start to use conditional logic to move users down different paths depending on objectives and what the user has done.

Let’s say you want the user to give you first-party data. You have their email, but you want to understand more about them. You could send an email that follows up a few days after the intro that says, hey, tell us more about who you are so we can make sure we’re giving you what you want. Or something like that.

But what if you already have that information? I’m a big fan of setting up a two-page signup process where, after the user gives you their email, they’re redirected to the form to collect more first-party data. This way, if they don’t want to give you data, you can still communicate with them; but, if they are willing to give you data, you get it immediately. You’d be surprised how many will give it to you. If the user filled this form out, receiving an email that says, “tell us who you are” when they already did would be a wasted email.

This brings us to conditional logic. The simplest way to think about this is to look at it as an if/then/else statement. Written out, it looks like this:

  • If this is TRUE/FALSE, then do an action; else, do this other action.

With the first-party email, you’re basically checking your database to determine if they’ve given you first-party data. If they haven’t, you’ll send them the email prompting them to give it to you. If they have already given it to you, you can bypass that step and go to the next step. If first-party data is FALSE, then send an email asking for it; else, send a different email.

Here’s an example of how our exceptional growth team at Morning Brew thinks about it. If a user signs up for The Daily newsletter, they are prompted to tell us more about who they are. If they select that they work in human resources, they are then introduced to HR Brew, our newly launched B2B franchise. We can automate this because we know that the topic of HR Brew is related to what their job function is.

But you can also use this automated email flow in other creative ways. Let’s say your end goal is to get more people to become paying subscribers. Could you automatically introduce people to stories that are related to what they do or have an interest in an effort to have them hit the paywall? If you run an investing site and the reader says they’re really interested in crypto, connect with that. The email could say, Hey, you said you like crypto, here are a few of our biggest stories you may find interesting. Or something like that.

Even after a user becomes a paying subscriber, your email flow should still be thinking about how to keep these customers warm. The easiest way to reduce churn is to ensure that the user finds utility with your tool. There’s a reason that expensive enterprise software has onboarding teams that are dedicated to getting you to use their tool. They know that if it becomes integral to what you do, you’ll renew for years. We should treat our onboarding emails the same way; get users hooked on the content and they’ll continue coming back.

These onboarding plans start to become a bit of a game and can get very complicated. But if we return to the Pareto principle, 80% of results come from 20% of the work. Said another way, you can get to a pretty good place without having to put in an incredible amount of effort. So, the framework I like to think about for onboarding emails is the following:

  1. Introduction email: Remind them who you are, what they can expect, and try and get the white list from them.
  2. Data email: Try and learn more about who they are.
  3. Monetization/conversion email: Perhaps you want to get the subscription, so you share stories or features that are relevant to them.

With conditional logic, you can get a lot more complex. But before trying to do that, get the basics down. From there, we can have fun.

Thanks for reading today’s newsletter. If you want to chat more about your email onboarding, join the AMO Slack channel. Otherwise, thanks for being a member, and see you next week!

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