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The problem with Welcome Email Programme Best Practice

“You need a welcome programme – it’s the best performing emails you will send”

We keep our ears close to the ground listening to best practice in the email industry. Some of the most frustrating comments we hear are around welcome programmes like they are some magical deliverance that boosts email performance beyond all recognition.

It is not so much we dislike a welcome programme – we more dislike the justifications given for it and the recommended content from some of these advisors suggest, like it is a one size fits all for everyone.

Let us start with the justification.

Great Open & Click Rates

Normally you will hear about the great open and click rates a welcome programme receives compared to other types of campaigns. We have seen case studies where the whole basis of it is to talk about the increase in open and clicks compared to the normal ‘business as usual’ (BAU) sends that the whole database receives.

Well duh you don’t say – someone who has just joined the list is going to be far more active and engaged than those who have been force fed generic emails for the last few years. In fact, if you simply pushed these people into your normal list and sent them your BAU emails straight away you would almost certainly see similar open and click rates from this audience would get on the welcome journey.

Even those case studies that talked about revenue usually did not talk about incremental revenue. The customers most likely to purchase are your new ones, even if they just made their first purchase. So many of these would happen anyway.

The real justification for welcome programmes is not these meaningless engagement statistics but it’s about driving action. In fact, welcome is usually the wrong name for these programmes. Instead ‘activation’, ‘repeat purchase’ or ‘onboarding’ are usually better names for their proper purpose.

And this leads onto my second problem with this advice – the nature of the content.

What most welcome programmes look like

A typical welcome programme based upon industry conventional wisdom is send a different email based upon a different topic every few days for a few weeks. These topics might be different features your service offers, or different product categories. Usually it is simply all the different things you want to talk about spread out over several emails.

Segmentation is limited and might if you are lucky have re-sends to non-openers or stop sending the emails when they buy for the first time.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What typically happens is a customer might open half of these emails (very few will open them all) and therefore they will be exposed to a mish-mash of content, not necessarily the most important things you want them to see.

What a welcome programme should focus on

This programme of emails needs to be focussed around the objective of what you want them to do next, that will lead to a pattern of self-teaching behaviour – by that we mean they will build up a habit and knowledge allowing them to remember to shop or use your service without having to be prompted through email campaigns.

For online retailers this can be simply shopping again – the more times they shop with you the greater the habit. For travel brands this could be running more searches or contacting the call centre on a specific trip, building a connection that makes them more likely to book with you. For other sectors it might just be about consuming more content on your site until they are ready to buy, keeping your brand front of mind.

It really is not all about telling them everything you do, or randomly scattering product selections hoping some of it might stick.

Knowing this we say these are the important factors to consider when designing the welcome programme:

What is their specific interest and intent?

If they browsed holidays to Spain then the most likely content to engage with them is more holidays in Spain. If they bought a particular item what does that item tell us about their next purchase? Perhaps its more items in the same category, or the same brand. If they read a particular article on your site what other articles might they therefore be interested in?

Without this personalised approach you can’t be customer centric and won’t resonate.

It is OK to repeat?

There is a myth that you can’t repeat content in emails. What if they read it twice? Will they think you are idiots? Or actually will repeating content ram home your points. Just because someone doesn’t act upon your email the first time doesn’t mean they are not interested. And if its OK for TV advertisers to repeat adverts over and again its OK for emails to contain repeat content.

Stay Front of mind

Not every email you send will be able to convert the customer to their next sale – that is beyond your means as if the customer is not in the market to buy, they won’t buy. Yet every email in the programme should be able to keep your brand front-of-mind.

Each email with something of interest in will have a longer term impact in their sub-conscious. Next time they are thinking of researching that holiday, or buying new items they are more likely to hit your site first rather than using Google.

Speed of 2nd purchase

Most marketers make assumptions about how quickly someone who has just made their first purchase will make their next without checking the data. In nearly every instance we have seen with our clients is the most popular day for the 2nd purchase is the day after their first. The longer the gap after the first purchase, the less chance you will ever get that 2nd purchase.

Speed to 2nd purchase is usually also a driver of lifetime value. Typically, the shorter the time between 1st and 2nd purchase, the greater that customers lifetime value will be.

Knowing this changes how marketers plan the programme – speed and frequency is far more important, and emails should be delivered much earlier and more often than normal best practice would advise.


If we are building a welcome programme that aims to achieve strategic objectives then using targeted incentives will increase conversion rates to 2nd purchase, conversion to booking or whatever other metric you are looking to improve.

The key here is to make sure the incentive will deliver more overall than it costs in terms of margin if it’s a discount. You will only know this by running a control test with a percentage of the base held back from receiving the incentives and comparing overall actions, revenue and costs to see if incrementally it improves performance.

Is the welcome programme really your biggest priority?

One of our biggest criticisms of the classic welcome journey best practice is at the point of the final email there is an instant switch from talking differently to the customer as a newbie, to throwing them into a pot with everyone else. The idea that one minute they are new, the next they are the same as someone who has been on your database for 5 years does not make sense.

This is as much a problem with the ongoing emails that are sent not being tailored to the individual. So, it is why we don’t think most brands should prioritise the welcome journey but focus the same amount of effort on getting BAU emails personalised to the customers taste and interests in some way. The scale of benefit will dramatically outweigh that of the welcome programme which is reaching a tiny fraction of your overall base.

And by having personalised emails – perhaps featuring the latest products of the customers favourite brands, or travel destinations from the customers nearest airport, you are achieving a big chunk of what a welcome programme should do anyway.

But when should welcome emails stop?

Let us say you are focussing on a welcome programme – how long should it go on for? You will never expect us to give you a specific answer here, namely because each brand is different.

The way to gauge this is to look at the data around new customers, and identify where it’s likely that if they haven’t made the next purchase or behaviour you wanted them to, they are really unlikely to do so. For some this might be a few days, for most it will be a few weeks.

There is a point of diminishing returns where its not worth your effort to build the extra emails for little expected return, and that judgement will be different for all, and perhaps different for different segments of customers.

Final thoughts on the ‘Welcome Programme’

The welcome programme is nothing you have to have like the email industry will tell you. Fundamentally the best email programmes for your brand will be those which deliver the most strategic results – whether that be increasing 2nd purchase rate, reactivating lapsed customers or increasing spend of active customers.

The chances are that focussing on new customers will deliver strong incremental benefits as new customers will be the most engaged. But this will only deliver strong benefits if it is aligned with the objectives for this segment – and done by talking to the customer about their interests and tastes, not a scattergun of messages you think they might need to know.

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