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Article first published October 2015, updated March 2019

Automation is an advantage to any type of email campaign, but you truly see the available potential with automated welcome emails.

ZURB, a product design company in Silicon Valley, makes it their business to create the perfect welcome email automation setup for your campaign.

In fact, ZURB has been in the automation game since 1998 and boasts Facebook, Samsung, and Netflix as a few of their clients.

When you work with ZURB, you can be sure that your automated welcome emails are as educational as they are engaging.

How ZURB uses automated welcome emails to increase engagement

To go further into ZURB’s email automation philosophy, we talked to Daniel Codella, a marketer at ZURB, who had a lot to say about the utility of welcome emails and even offered some great tips on getting automation just right.

Tell us how ZURB uses email marketing

ZURB helps companies—big and small—design better products, experiences, websites, and services. A big part of our business is educating people and providing them with resources.

Email is a huge way that we do that—it allows us to have personal connections with our subscribers. We send them things they can really use and find valuable.

We reach a variety of people—we’re reaching decision-makers, founders, CEOs—but we’re also reaching designers and aspiring students.

There’s also a middle group of people that have been in the industry for a couple of years but want to stay fresh and keep up on the latest trends. That’s one of our biggest challenges—that we’re speaking to so many people—but valuable content is valuable content.

How did you get started with email automation?

We have several newsletters for our different products and business groups, so we’re able to give a tailored message to different groups of people.

Just recently, I reached out to the team at Campaign Monitor to learn how we could kick it up a notch and keep in better touch with people, especially during the lulls between our newsletters. The team let me know about the new email automation feature, and how we could implement it.

To be honest, when the team told me about automation, I shuffled my feet because I thought it would be confusing. Eventually, I jumped in, and I found it really easy to use.

When I was done creating our automated welcome email, I thought, “Is that it?” It was so easy. Campaign Monitor made it super simple.

We have several newsletters and have added automated welcome emails for all of them. We’ve seen these generate positive results across the board. The numbers of visits to the different resources we link to have gone up and remain steady, which is great to see.

Having that welcome letter when someone first signs up means they’re never waiting to hear from us. It starts a connection and, when we send that first newsletter, they are primed for it.

Tell us more about the automated welcome email

Immediately after someone signs up, they get an automated welcome email. We’ve tailored the welcome emails per group—but they all have the goal of helping someone get started with some great information or helpful techniques—resources they can use right away.

Our main company newsletter is ZURB News, which is written by our founder, Bryan. The welcome email that corresponds to that is a personal letter that Brian wrote that contains a couple of his favorite blog posts. That welcome email will continue to evolve, but it’s already working extremely well.

Implementing these welcome emails helped us to get on a more structured schedule. In these welcome emails, we invite people to contact us with their suggestions and ideas, and a lot of conversations are getting started because of that.

It’s really important to get in touch as soon as possible so that we connect with subscribers when they’re excited about what we have to offer.

What about iteration?

When we first began sending our automated welcome email, we had an open rate of 55%, and a click-through rate of 20% or so. We’d check analytics in the Campaign Monitor dashboard and we’d iterate.

At this point, we’ve done three different iterations, and, in that short period of time, we’ve been able to improve so much.

We cut down length—we got shorter and sweeter with our messages. We paired down the number of links to the most important ones—three or four at most. Even the tone matters a lot. We changed our emails to be very conversational, but very clear.

People don’t have super long attention spans, so we’ve tried to be really clear and cut all the fat.

It was really exciting to check back each time we changed something to see how much our metrics had improved.

How do the engagement rates on your welcome emails compare to your email newsletters?

We’re seeing around 30% open rates with our email newsletters, which is pretty high, but nothing compares to these welcome emails because we’re striking when the iron’s hot. To see 70-80% open rates is incredible—that’s a whole other ball game.

How does email marketing compare to social media and other marketing channels for ZURB?

We make good use of social media, we do a lot of events, and we also have a lot of marketing we do within our products, but email is the most effective and the most personal way to connect with our customers.

It’s led to the most amazing connections for ZURB, conversations that we just don’t get in the other mediums. It will remain the most important means of marketing for us.

We also do cross-channel work. For example, we have a very popular monthly speaker series called “Soapbox,” which we hold in our office. Email plays a huge role. We use email to promote the events, and, when people show up to the events, we make sure they’re signed up.

We also have a separate email list for Soapbox speakers so that we can maintain connections with them after the events are over.

What advice would you give to others using email marketing?

Consistency is really important. You want to try to send regularly, though it depends on your industry how often is enough. You also need to constantly test and iterate.

Always make sure your emails have a clear purpose. There has to be something that you want your users to do—make that clear, and don’t cloud it with too many different things. Usually a singular thing—such as visiting an article you’ve just posted—should be very clear in your email.

At ZURB, our audience changes over time, and lists themselves change over time. We’re always trying to stay fresh and use best practices. We want to evolve with our audience.

Emails are so easy to send. As a marketer, it can be tempting to just hit send, but people don’t give everyone access to their email inboxes. You need to have a good reason to send emails to your list.

What’s next for ZURB when it comes to email?

We’ve seen such success with these automated welcome emails that we want to figure out how to do more with automation. In the next few months, we’d like to create a drip campaign using email automation.

We are just beginning to unveil our design process to the world. It’s called Progressive Design, and our mission is to change the way people design, and we feel that Progressive Design is the way to do it.

We’ve been writing about it steadily on our blog, and we think doing a drip campaign explaining all parts of Progressive Design would be a great way to complement what we send out in the newsletter.

We’re out to change how people design—and email automation is going to help us do that.

Takeaways for your welcome emails

Now that you’ve heard from Daniel Codella about ZURB’s approach to welcome emails, you can start crafting your own.

The first thing you should be aware of in regard to welcome emails is timeliness. Sending someone a welcome email a few weeks after they subscribe to your mailing list will likely confuse them and put them off. This is why welcome email automation is so important.

You’ll also want to start off with a strong subject line. Give the reader a reason to click on your welcome email. Also, be sure to include the word “welcome” early in the subject line, so it will stand out among the reader’s inbox.

be sure to include the word “welcome” early in the subject line, so it will stand out among the reader’s inbox.

Personalization goes a long way in developing a relationship between your brand and the customer. Even something as simple as including the subscriber’s name in the subject line can make a difference.

Try to give the reader more than a simple welcome, in terms of content. Give them guidance as to how they can interact with your brand. Lead them somewhere interesting.

What are some automated welcome email examples?

Reading about automated welcome emails is a great start but, considering that emails are largely visual, examples can be extremely helpful.

Reading about automated welcome emails is a great start but, considering that emails are largely visual, examples can be extremely helpful.

Source: Really Good Emails

In this automated welcome email from NPR, we can see a few important things. First of all, they mention the reader by name, which is a great use of personalization. They also make sure to go beyond a simple welcome and present the reader with an offer to download their app.

There are also some small, easy-to-miss touches that really round out the email’s quality. Take, for instance, the signature at the bottom, which simulates an actual letter.

At first, this may sound inconsequential, but an actual letter insinuates care and attention. Therefore, by adopting the techniques and template of an actual letter, you can simulate its effects.

The graphic design in this welcome email is also quite effective, as it’s stylish and colorful without being too obtrusive.

The graphic design in this welcome email is also quite effective, as it’s stylish and colorful without being too obtrusive.

Source: Really Good Emails

After their welcome message, Barnes & Noble immediately let the reader know their potential value. Then, at the bottom, they add a store location and links to their social media, so the reader’s attention doesn’t end with the email.

As with the NPR email, the design of this one is clean, yet striking. Every inch of real estate is used with purpose. Theoretically, the selections offered here could be tailored to the behavior of the reader.

You want to make sure that your first impression on the reader includes showing them products that they might be interested in. If they immediately see products they don’t care about, they might regret signing up for the mailing list and unsubscribe.

Wrap up

Automated welcome emails have proven to be too effective to ignore. Now that you’ve seen how ZURB uses automated welcome emails to increase engagement, give it a try for yourself.

Crafting the perfect welcome email isn’t as hard as it might sound.

All you have to do is make sure you’re keeping track of a few techniques, such as a strong subject line, a follow-up CTA, and a hefty dose of personalization.

If you found this blog educational, you may enjoy our blog about boosting ROI with email marketing automation.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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