By Contributing Editor Janet Roberts
As soon as someone signs up for your company newsletter or requests more information, you have no more than one or two days to start moving that customer from passive observer to active consumer.
The old postal direct-mail guideline that gave you 30 days or so to make your first contact is gone. Given the Internet's speed and the typical online user's short attention span, you need to communicate as soon as you get a new registration.
You must have a welcome message -- preferably one with an offer or some other proposition to bolster your company or brand and remind people why they registered -- cued up and ready to send as soon as your email broadcast service gets a new registration or subscription.
This is what best practices in email have evolved to, given a lack of research into how long the window stays open online before users lose interest or forget about you.
That doesn't mean everybody's doing it.
We found that out when testing our new Gmail email account by signing it up to every mailing list and special offer we can find. The response times to our registrations vary from immediate to six hours to two days to "still waiting .... "
Why do you need to engage your new sign-ups so fast? Because they are more likely to remember that they really did request your information if you contact them right away instead of waiting a week or more. They'll be less likely to report you as spam. They're still interested in what you have to say or sell.
They don't represent the same value to your company as your regular customers, but reaching them right away is the best way to keep them in your pipeline and to help you start recovering your cost to acquire them.
Remember, too, that the vagaries of various email systems mean it could take your welcome message more than a day to find its way to your recipient.Four Strategies to Engage Newcomers
What's the best way to engage your newcomers? That varies by the kind of business you do, but an offer -- any offer -- is more memorable than just a note saying "Welcome!"
You need to test offers based on what works for your long-term employees and what your marketing budget will allow. It could be a free trial to a paid membership, free shipping, a price discount or extra incentive points.
Each of the four strategies listed below differs in its approach and goals, but they all do more than just say "Welcome aboard!" They give the recipient a way to get involved right away.
1. The Use-It-Now Approach: americangreetings.com
People who sign up for americangreetings.com's paid e-card service get a welcome e-card the first day, followed by two more mailings in the first 30 days after joining and five total over 60 days.
"Our objective in the first 60 days of membership is engagement," President/CEO Josef Mandelbaum says.
Instead of following a conventional 30-60-90-day schedule, AmericanGreetings.com mails new customers on Days 1, 2, 14, 45 and 60, a schedule it developed through testing.
The e-card lets the company show off its own resources and move people right into using its services, instead of waiting for subscribers to make the first move.
It seeks to get members heavily involved in a program they've paid to join, which should increase their willingness to renew when their membership term is up after a year.
It must be working: Mandelbaum says 70 percent of members who have been with the program since it launched three years ago are still in it.
Follow-ups to the welcome e-card include member-only newsletters and other mailings.
"Each mailing illustrates the value of membership," Mandelbaum says.
2. The Discount Lure: adidas America
Nothing gets people shopping like a discount. In a recent limited-run promotion, adidas America, the U.S. division of the global athletic-equipment manufacturer, tacked a 15-percent discount onto the welcome message it sent out to everyone who signed up for any of its email newsletters.
(See link below.)
3. The Free-Shipping Lure: Dutch Gardens
You have to watch the word "free," which still triggers spam filters in older or less-sophisticated filtering systems. But people love something for nothing, and free shipping has become a standard incentive in direct retail marketing.
Dutch Gardens, a Vermont-based flowering-bulb supplier, tucks a free-shipping offer on $75 orders into the welcome message it sends as soon as subscribers to its product newsletter confirm their requests. Ours came in 15 minutes with the subject line "A Special Thank You For Subscribing"
(See link below.)
4. The Points Incentive: Clubmom
The welcome message from online shopping and information portal Clubmom gives new members fast ways to earn points toward merchandise, trips and other goodies. (See link below.)
Instead of just reminding users to shop, click or take surveys to gain points, the message specifies exactly how many points a user could earn and what she has to do to earn them, along with actual examples of point rewards.
All of these strategies offer immediate and specific benefits, not vague promises. Bonus: Three Key Welcome-Message Elements
If you haven't reviewed your company's welcome message lately, see if it has these essential elements:
1. State Your Name: List your company or newsletter name repeatedly: In the subject line. In the "from" line. In the message body. Make it clear who you are.
2. State Your Business: Yes, say "Thanks for registering." But don't stop there. If you asked for a name and password, repeat it in the email body. (This assumes your email software has a mail-merge function. Check with your IT or email people to verify this.) Remind people why they signed up with you. List popular locations at your Web site, contacts for comments, help, etc.
3. Invite Them Back. This is your incentive to get them involved with you, whether it's tied to a promotion or an explanation for how to use your service. Remind them of the subscriber- or member-only benefits they get and tell them again how to use them. Link to key areas on your site, either to areas where you want to build traffic or to popular locations.Useful links related to this story:
Samples of Welcome messages: