What If You Could Predict Subscriber Value With a Single Message?


How valuable are welcome messages to an email marketing program? Can they really predict the success of an entire campaign?

How many best practices outlive their usefulness but survive unchallenged for years as conventional wisdom? Marketers routinely re-test offers, creative, and just about every campaign-level element of their email programs, but the grounding assumptions beneath entire marketing initiatives are rarely subject to the same scrutiny. So we’ve been doing just that – exploring foundational truths behind email optimization to see what’s really true. The latest example is welcome messages. No one argues they’re not critical to the success of an email program, but should they?

The short answer is no, they shouldn’t argue. When we looked at the value of welcome messages for 75 of the biggest online retailers, the data mostly confirmed that the messages are valuable, but probably not for reasons you’d expect. First and unsurprisingly, people pay attention to welcome messages. They read them, but they also complain about them – the price of a highly engaged audience is a higher-than-usual dose of negative engagement. Second, incentivizing that engagement with an offer simply didn’t work, at least in the 2 million inboxes we analyzed – people read or ignored welcome messages at the same rate whether or not the subject line promised a discount. And third, what you can learn from that simple distinction – read or ignore – turns out to be extraordinarily predictive; so much so that it can and should change the way you communicate with your subscribers.

Statistically the people who read your welcome message (and didn’t complain about it) are highly likely to become loyal and active subscribers. Across the entire sample, this audience went on to read almost half of their mail from the brands whose welcome messages they read. They not only read faithfully, but they placed more orders and far outspent non-readers during the six months after receiving their welcome messages. They effectively signaled to retailers that they wanted to become good customers and were ready to respond to email campaigns.

On the other hand those who ignored their welcome messages were sending an even stronger signal: don’t bother. By and large the people who went silent stayed silent. Their read rates were immediately among the worst of any segment, often single digits, and they never improved. For marketers, this is great, valuable information. With a single email message these senders learned, in a matter of hours, that an identifiable segment of their new subscribers were probably never going to fully engage with marketing email. Instead of waiting months or years to take a shot at reactivating these people after hundreds of ignored messages, marketers have an early warning and the opportunity to do something – anything – to start engaging these subscribers.

Virtually every marketer has the analytical capacity to test this element of email optimization, validate these findings for their subscribers, and take action. A typical action plan for every new subscriber might look like this:

  1. Send a welcome message as soon as possible after acquiring the address. Don’t bother with a discount or offer, or at least test against an offerless version.
  2. Add readers who didn’t opt-out of your regular direct response program, or even better, market more aggressively to them to capitalize on their immediate interest.
  3. Add non-readers to your regular win-back program, or even better, create a customized early intervention program to learn as much as possible about how to engage these subscribers. Offer different types of content, an opportunity to select custom offer types or frequency. You can even analyze competitive programs that land in the same inboxes to examine the messages that these subscribers value and engage with.

However you handle subscribers who don’t read your welcome messages, please don’t treat them like the ones who did. You’ll miss an opportunity to find value from this segment and you’ll add unengaged subscribers to your marketing file, ultimately signaling to mailbox providers that a big segment of your audience is indifferent to your email. Eventually that can weaken your ability to reach the segment that wants to hear from you.