December 09, 2004
How To

Welcome Messages Get Highest Open Rates of All Email Campaigns: How to Improve Yours

SUMMARY: New data just in -- out of thousands of email sales alerts, newsletters, and other promos sent in 2004, marketers' Welcome messages got the highest open rates. That's right, more customers and prospects open and read your lists' welcome message than any subsequent message you painstakingly crafted to impress them. And let's face it, your welcome is probably pretty boring, and almost certainly doesn't include an offer. Want to improve? Here are real-life welcome samples and tactics to inspire you from Sherwin-Williams, Cartesis (business software), and Aspen Mountain Lodge:
Big news: chances are more recipients will open your list's welcome message than any other email you ever send them in the future.

We've long suspected that welcomes are more important than most marketers believe. Our theory is that response is driven by recency of opt-in. If someone just joined your list a few minutes ago, they're darn likely to open the first few messages they get from you. Today we learned our recency theory matches reality.

We asked Morgan Stewart, Director Strategic Services at ExactTarget (who sends campaigns on behalf of hundreds of marketers including Home Depot, Minolta, Embassy Suites, and Honeywell), to run a report across all their aggregated client campaign response data.

Which types of campaigns performed the best for 2004?

It wasn't sales alerts or newsletters. "The vast majority were introductory or 'welcome to the program' messages," Stewart told us.

How can you tweak your probably-standard welcome to take advantage of this extra level of reader attention? Here are four specific tactics tested by real-life marketers:

Tactic #1. Sherwin-Williams' welcome coupon campaign

Ellen Moreau, VP Marketing Communications for Sherwin-Williams, gave us a sample of their Preferred Customer welcome email to share with you (link below).

Instead of just telling customers they've been added to the list per their request, the welcome includes a coupon that recipients can print out and take to any Sherwin-Williams' store for $10 off a can of paint.

The coupon is bar coded and dated so Sherwin-Williams can track back ROI.

The program began in 2002 when marketers were brainstorming how to convince upper management to invest more in email campaigns. The measurable response rates to this welcome coupon worked wonders.

Management's happily approved launching newsletters, seasonal sales promos, and even email-based cause marketing (the "Brush for Hope" breast cancer campaign).

Plus, this now-classic welcome coupon creative still goes out once a day to every new name that's just joined the program.

Tactic #2. Cartesis' welcomes to impress high-level execs

Sales promos are fine for companies with short sales cycles, but what if you're a marketer trying to begin a long-term relationship with a high-ranking corporate executive?

Cartesis -- a company promoting its software to Fortune 100 CFOs -- has personalized its standard welcomes to a degree other marketers should copy.

o Newsletter welcomes - Instead of sending out a vanilla 'you've been added to the list, your issue will come shortly' message, Cartesis' automated system sends new names a copy of the last newsletter issue. Plus, at the very top of the issue, it adds a brief, text-look-alike personalized note from a Cartesis executive saying thanks and here's your first issue.

It's not fancy, it's not more than 20 words, it's not salesy. But it has high impact -- the best of both words, a text-note plus a glossy HTML newsletter with interesting content to click on.

o Sales lead welcomes -- If a prospect signs up for "information about Cartesis" instead of specifically for the newsletter, the system sends a very different letter. This time it feels entirely like a text-message that's been hand-typed by a Cartesis rep. It's also personalized by name.

Just like Sherwin-Williams, there's an offer. In this case it's a white paper or canned webinar. However, the offer is also personalized to match the prospect's interests as closely as possible. The CFO for a manufacturing firm will get a very different white paper offer than the CFO for a major bank. (This is where having plenty of evergreen white papers and webinars in your library comes in handy.)

Results? Alan Ginsberg, the marketer at Cartisis, told us the newsletter welcome gets higher than a 75% open rate with a 20% average click rate. The sales lead welcomes get a 62-68% open rate with a 26-29% click rate on the offer. (Link to samples of both below.)

Tactic #3. Mortgage brokers' welcome series

What if you have a long sales cycle requiring education for a fairly standard item? Instead of a special welcome message followed by standard newsletters or promos sent to the entire file, you should consider sending a longer welcome series.

In this case, the welcome is a pleasant note with an offer for a bit more information about one aspect of the prospective purchase. Then the follow-up note is pleasantly personal again with a bit more info. And then again, and again. Each step builds on the next, creating a relationship prior to the actual sale.

In fact, your copywriting voice for each step can even get progressively more intimate (not a lot, but a little) as you and the prospect get "to know" each other.

Chip Cummings, who's created many of these series for various financial and educational products, says the number of welcome steps can be as few as a half dozen to as many as a series that stretches over two years. But, each new name enters at the welcome and makes its way progressively through the process, rather than being dumped into the prospect pool as a whole.

He then measures the steps in the cycle to learn where he's losing prospects' interest -- when the initial welcome impact begins to wane -- and what works to win the interest back. We think this is much smarter than simply measuring your file's performance as a whole -- because response rates will differ so much based on name recency.

Cummings has written a how-to report on this tactic, and gave us permission to distribute it to you. (See link below.)

Tactic #4. Aspen Mountain Lodge's pre- and post-stay campaigns

Hotels and inns in the Aspen area rely on return customers for 60-70% of their annual business. Aspen Mountain Lodge's marketers figured the best way to get those return customers is to make people feel extra-welcome the first time they visit.

It's a "warm-fuzzy" that pays off in the long run.

So, last year they launched a series of pre- and post-stay emails. When you make your reservation, you receive a receipt via email but nothing more. Then 14 days prior to your stay, Aspen Mountain Lodge's system automatically sends you a special 'Trip Planning Guide' email.

At the top, it clearly states "Thank you for your reservation" so readers know this is a part of the receipt service and not unrelated sales materials. Content includes links to area dining, day-trip recommendations, etc.

"We see people show up at the hotel with the email printed out with stuff circled," notes marketer Peter Scott.

Seven days after departure the second half of the campaign hits, an HTML postcard with a photo from the lodge and a big fat button to take a customer survey online. Response rates are higher than for the traditional survey cards the hotel used to leave in customers' rooms.

Only then, if the customer has oked it, the name is dropped into the regular email newsletter file to receive a series of monthly newsletters and postcards (the format alternates to keep folks interested).

These tactics have worked well enough that tactic has spread to other hoteliers and vacation destinations in the Rockies. Expect to see it nationally soon.

Useful links related to this story:

Creative samples of all campaigns mentioned above, plus a 12-page PDF report with samples on marketing with autoresponders:

Optiem - the email agency that created Sherwin-Williams' program:

ExactTarget - the broadcast email service who handles the tech for Optiem:

Blue Tent Marketing - the email agency that created Aspen Mountain Lodge's program:

EmailLabs - the broadcast email service who handles the tech for Blue Tent:

Chip Cummings:

AWeber - the broadcast email service who handles the tech for Chip Cummings:

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