You probably already know that onboarding is critical to engaging and retaining users. But are you actively thinking about where and when you’re onboarding new users?
If you’re only contacting users via their inbox, or only during an initial onboarding tour, or exclusively through push notifications—chances are you’re either missing out on some critical touchpoints or abusing that single channel of communication.
That’s why the best user onboarding experiences are omnichannel—involving cohesive, thoughtful messaging across multiple marketing channels, and which take the full user journey into account.
One of those channels should indeed be email. Even with all the other means of engagement available, email remains surprisingly effective. And, crucially, email doesn’t require active user engagement to work.
Email can help you stay top-of-mind and drive re-engagement so that users—especially new ones who aren’t fully invested yet—don’t churn.
When done well, onboarding emails can provide just the gentle nudge that’s needed to get new users up and running, and help them stay on track.
The qualities of a great onboarding email
Let’s face it—marketing emails are tricky. There’s often a fine line between being interesting and downright spammy. So how can you ensure your onboarding emails fall into the former category? By ensuring that they:
Personalized and timely
Complement your in-app onboarding experience
Reiterate your app’s value
All good emails are personalized to the reader. When it comes to onboarding, this doesn’t just mean adding a recipient’s first name to the subject line. It means ensuring that each email is relevant to where a user currently is in the onboarding process.
The best way to accomplish this is to trigger your emails based on the actions users take inside your product. This ensures the communication is both timely and relevant.
When done effectively, onboarding emails are a powerful tool to keep users on track and help turn them into engaged, long-term users. And as a bonus: The more helpful your early emails are, the more likely your users are to trust and engage with your email outreach in the future, enabling more successful marketing down the line.
The 3 essential types of user onboarding emails
There are few steadfast rules when it comes to onboarding emails, and creativity can be a powerful thing. That said, the following 3 types of user onboarding emails should be considered an indispensable part of your onboarding comms.
1. The warm welcome email
Never underestimate the power of a warm welcome. Welcome emails produce some of the highest open rates of any email. Why? New users are excited about your product. They have made the decision to engage with your brand and are therefore highly receptive to hearing from you at that moment.
Don’t waste this opportunity by turning it into a hard sell. (Remember, your onboarding emails should complement the in-app experience—which should in turn be designed around getting new users to their first aha moment.)
Instead, use this email to lay the foundation for a meaningful relationship with your users. Be genuine. Welcome them to the community, but also be sure to highlight the benefits they’ll receive by using your product.
By doing this, you will help drive new users to their aha moment and keep them excited about what’s to come.
Below are a few examples of effective welcome emails:
Headspace’s welcome email is simple. It reiterates their core value without overwhelming new users and makes it easy to take the next step by only having one CTA. For those users who need that extra push, Headspace provides more context, including compelling, science-based testimonials.
Homeaway’s welcome email uses the header to highlight their mission and the body to drive home the point with 3 key features that help accomplish this. The email functions like an in-app onboarding experience, helping users understand the benefits that Homeaway provides.
Zapier takes the welcome email a step further by tailoring it to the end user—based on how they signed up. Since this user signed up with Google, Zapier provides helpful tips about how to integrate Zapier with a Google account for a more seamless workflow. Since the welcome email is highly personalized to the recipient, that user is far more likely to meaningfully engage with the product.
2. The social proof email
People already know you think you’re great. But they might not know how much your current customers love your product (and why). That’s why customer testimonials are so powerful. A recent study found that 77% of B2B buyers in the evaluation stage cited testimonials and case studies as the most influential types of content.
Sending along an email highlighting successful case studies and customer testimonials is the perfect way to convince the new or reluctant user to give you a shot.
A few great examples of testimonial emails:
Thumbtack uses video to showcase a customer testimonial—which is smart, since video is known to increase click-through rates by 300%. Below the video, Thumbtack follows with some more reasons why they’re worth a second look, making this email a powerful pitch from start to finish.
Invision takes a straightforward approach to their customer testimonial email with a feature image showcasing all the brands—but more importantly the designers—that use their product. Below it is a short paragraph and CTA inviting users to get inspired by these stories. The result is one powerful testimonial email that sticks with Invision’s underlying theme of aesthetically pleasing and understated design.
Asana takes a different approach to the customer testimonial email by using their own team as a case study. This is a cool approach, since it shows they trust their product enough to use it to accomplish their own business goals. But just in case that wasn’t enough, they also include an eBook with Eventbrite as a secondary testimonial.
3. The early re-engagement email
Customer churn and app abandonment is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers today. Statistics show that 21% of users abandon an app after just a single use. Having a re-engagement email as part of your onboarding strategy is a good way to motivate new or lapsed users, and give people the gentle nudge needed to pick up where they left off and continue down the path to adoption.
Here are a few examples of great re-engagement onboarding emails:
Slack entices lapsed users with a FOMO play. The email encourages users to explore Slack channels to discover what their teammates have been talking about. Below the CTA, the email provides a short synopsis of the three conversation types that happen within Slack and a link to their Essentials guide to learn more. Providing hesitant users with more context about what they’re missing out on can help inspire engagement.
Squarespace’s re-engagement email offers encouragement to lapsed users stating, “It’s not as hard as you think”. By providing a wealth of resources and a sense of empathy, hesitant users feel more inspired and confident to take the next steps.
Todoist takes a fast-ball approach to a potential customer churn problem by showcasing just how much they have to offer. Their point is simple—Todoist makes work life easier through countless integrations that streamline a user’s workflow. Their compelling pitch is meant to remind unengaged users just what they’re missing out on every day that they don’t use the app.
When a user clicks-through to your application from an onboarding email, your in-app messaging should be primed to take over and continue the process. Use an omnichannel approach to reinforce core value props, repeat essential information in new contexts, and maintain user engagement both inside and outside your app.
Jared leads demand generation for Appcues and is a full-stack digital marketer. When he's not marketing software, he's probably cooking up a new recipe, playing music with friends, or going to a concert somewhere.