A terrible way to start

Imagine starting a new job in a busy office, but there’s nobody to greet you. You walk in, you look around. Where is your desk? You have to ask where to find it, and the kitchen, and the bathroom. Sure, you have some idea of your role, and you’ve met your new boss, and maybe you got a sense of the company culture during the interview process — but you don’t know what to expect, not really.

Obviously, no competent employer would ever let that happen. Employee “onboarding” is a huge factor in business success. New staffmembers need someone to welcome them, introduce them to people, show them where the best snacks are.

Now let’s talk about your mailing list. What’s the first message a new subscriber receives? If you’re about to answer, “whatever that day’s campaign is,” then you’re doing it wrong.

I’ll ask another question: how much time goes by between the subscription request coming in, and the first message to that new subscriber going out? If the answer is greater than a few minutes, then again, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s the good news: taking a few small steps to improve these two factors can pay big dividends over time.

How to write a great welcome message

Here’s a vision of how great this experience could be: when someone subscribes to your list, you send a welcome message right away. This practice delivers instant benefits. The new subscriber knows immediately that his/her subscription request was received. You as the marketer needn’t worry that the subscriber has forgotten about you, or forgotten subscribing — and yes, that really happens, probably in a shorter time frame than you’d expect.

Peanut M&MsWhat is the ideal content of an emailed welcome message? I recommend writing a personal message that literally welcomes the subscriber to your mission, and thanks him/her for joining. Share a bit of your company culture, and show off where the Peanut M&M’s are (virtually speaking).

More to the point, set some expectations about message content and frequency. Will you be mailing daily, weekly, periodically? State that now. Does the subscriber have control over frequency or content options? Link to that preferences page.

Offer an unsub link. Yes, really. If the person subscribed by mistake, right now is the best time to correct it.

What not to write in a welcome message

Here’s one thing you probably shouldn’t do in the welcome message: sell. This is your first date! Ease into it. Think of it as a greeting, or a handshake. Take a moment to meet the new subscriber. This person thinks enough of you to have given up his or her email address. That’s no small step for a lot of people.

Instead of going straight for the ask, straight for the conversion, maybe give something away instead. It needn’t be expensive. Offer some exclusive content. Share some insider news, or an expert tip that’s relevant to your niche. Provide access to your experts, say, an email help line or private forum. We’ve seen firsthand how effective this can be. One of the firms we work with regularly gets private thank-you messages to their well-crafted, entirely automated welcome message. How’s that for positive engagement?

Make engagement worth your subscribers’ time

One of the companies we work with is very successful at marketing paid educational content to Millennials. Their strategy is not to give something away in message one… but rather to give something away in messages one, two, three, four, and five. Only after sharing 5 pieces of exclusive content for free do they offer any sort of paid conversion opportunity. The first five pieces build trust, and the perception of value, and demonstrate the culture of the organization in a visceral way. After that, the conversion process is much easier. And more successful.

While that might be an extreme example, it works for that particular audience, and it definitely illustrates the point. Use the welcome message — or a series of welcome messages — as an onboarding experience for your new subscribers. Make them feel like they belong, and they’ll be more likely to stay.