Email isn’t the only way to retain customers but it’s low-hanging fruit for most businesses.
While most customers stay for a great product and exceptional customer service, you must acknowledge that some churn is caused simply by apathy. Most of your customers don’t have time, or simply don’t care enough, to squeeze every last drop of value from your product. Even the best products have features that are lightly used, and customers who forget why they signed up in the first place.
Your product team is constantly improving the product – that is the core of retention – but the marketing team has something to offer too: communication.
That’s where retention emails come in. These are emails designed to get customers more engaged, whether they are totally inactive or just not taking full advantage of your product. If you fear that your customers aren’t getting value for their money, retention emails are a great way to show them what they’re missing.
I’ve pulled 15 great retention emails from my own inbox. Some are true retention emails in the sense that I abandoned a product and they are trying to bring me back, while others are lifecycle emails trying to draw my attention to features, products or events I’m missing out on.
I’m labeling them all as retention emails because they …
- Are automated as part of a drip campaign;
- Are triggered as a result of behavior (or lack of behavior);
- Encourage me to get more engaged, or;
- Notify me of features, deals or events I would have otherwise missed.
Newsletters can accomplish some of the same objectives but they aren’t automated. Email blasts could let people know about upcoming events but they aren’t triggered. All true retention emails are smart – they are sent only to the people that need them, when they need them.
Targeting Users in Limbo
How do you know if users are at risk of churn?
Look for users in limbo. Users in limbo have completed one or more important actions – i.e. they signed up or created an account – but haven’t made the jump to happy customer. They might be stuck in a freemium plan, let a free trial lapse or even forgot they were paying for your product.
After the initial welcome email, onboarding emails are used to get new users acquainted and active. If those don’t work, retention emails can be used to communicate. The goal is to turn new users into happy customers, then use lifecyle emails to keep them engaged.
These examples are highly practical and actionable, and meant specifically for users in limbo. I’ll address the merits of each individually. You can add them to your Evernote account for inspiration later on.
Calm: Stress-Free Design
The line between newsletters and retention emails can be blurry. That is especially true here. Calm’s email could easily have been sent to their entire userbase but I suspect they targeted me because I downloaded the mobile app and didn’t complete the initial seven-day meditation program. They likely recognize my interest and are trying to encourage me to try a new meditation. Something fresh and different might stick, and that could lead to a new paying customer.
This email has more white space than most, and for good reason. A 2011 study by the Institute of Psychiatry and Kings College London examined aggressive behavior by mentally ill patients in hospitals. They found that violent incidents dropped on weekends, when they hospitals were quieter and less chaotic.
Roger S. Ulrich, Ph.D., an expert in architecture and healthcare design, wrote about the study in the New York Times, emphasizing “that there’s an effective solution that has largely been overlooked: designing hospital spaces that can reduce human aggression – to calm emotionally troubled patients through architecture.” Some psychologists are now working with architects to design less stress hospitals.
Noise, chaos and clutter cause stress. Space, order and emptiness promote calm. It makes perfect sense that a meditation app would utilize white space in their emails. It makes it easy for the recipient to focus and eliminates the overwhelming feeling that some emails create.
ClickInsights: A Product Demonstration
ClickInsights, a one-click email survey tool, has the opportunity to demonstrate how their tool works within their retention emails. Clicking a link tracks an event that can be used to trigger another email and record data about the user. It’ the type of email marketing that can create an “aha” moment for the recipient.
The message is short and sweet. It’s purpose is primarily to give users an idea of how they could use the tool for their own marketing. The simplicity and plain text design makes this message easy to read and respond to.
You can read more about how to use ClickInsights in your own marketing here.
Disqus: In Between Two Actions
It’s hard to know the exact formula for triggered emails, but in this case I know exactly why I received this email. I started the process of adding Disqus to a new site but never finished.
Disqus is likely tracking two events:
- User clicks “Add Disqus to Site”
- User registers new site
They can see who triggered the first event but has yet to trigger the second, meaning they send emails like this one encouraging those users to continue.
The email uses the 1-2-3 method to guide users through the process, which can seem overwhelming at first. By breaking the setup into chunks, it’s easier for users to visualize the process and take action. I also love the orange “Still need help?” button that serves as a safety net for users who still aren’t sure where to begin.
Dollar Shave Club: FREE
If you create a Dollar Shave Club account but don’t enter your credit card information, you’ll soon be the recipient of several excellent retention emails.
In this email, Dollar Shave Club goes all-in with one of the most powerful sales words in the English language: free. The subject line and entire body of the email stress the fact that you can try a razor for free. This is just the nudge new customers need to get over the hump.
The email does two other things really well. First, it uses a bold button with clear, friction free copy – “Get Your Free Month” – to entice recipients to click. Then, it shows a picture of the box you’ll be receiving. Nothing eliminates the anxiety of something new like a preview.
Elevate: Copywriting 101
Retention emails are the perfect medium for addressing resistance. If, for example, you know that some people believe your app is too complicated, use email to tackle that issue head on.
This is a common copywriting technique called the Problem-Agitate-Solve formula. On Copyblogger, Demian Farnworth explains the basics.
The formula works like this:
- Identify a problem
- Agitate that problem
- Trot out the solution
Its applications are endless.
This is the tactic Elevate employs in this email. They identified three reasons that users abandon their app, then address them. Authenticity and empathy are key to pulling this off, which Elevate does elegantly.
We previously used this email to demonstrate the 1-2-3 method. Read more on that here.
Goodreads: A Formal Invitation
A few weeks ago, I organized my Goodreads account by making a list of books I’ve read and another of books I’d like to read. Goodreads took note of this, and when they ran a giveaway for one of the books my “to read” list, they triggered this email.
As an Amazon company, I’m not surprised that Goodreads builds these kind of triggers into their product. (Read more on Amazon’s emails here.) While this may not initially strike you as a retention email, keep in mind that it’s triggered, personalized based on my behavior and it creates engagement that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
As Jeff Bezos said, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
Grammarly: You’re Missing the Best Part
This is a more traditional retention email. I created a Grammarly account but wasn’t taking advantage of a popular feature, their Chrome browser extension. They sent this email to explain what it is, how it works and why I should install it. And it worked! I installed the extension and now use it every day.
By tracking events throughout your application, it’s easy to see missed opportunities. And it’s even easier to trigger messages to people who are missing out on valuable tools. I barely used Grammarly before installing the browser extension, and now it’s a vital part of my writing process.
Grammarly alternates information with calls to action several times in this email. The bold buttons and succinct descriptions make for a compelling message. It’s hard not to click.
Graze: A Proven Model
Graze explains exactly why I’m receiving this email. As a copywriter, I wouldn’t always advise this approach but it’s highly useful for the purpose of this post.
We noticed that you previously visited us at graze.com but haven’t yet tried one of our handpicked snack boxes.
Still, the copy works since it guides me to most important part of the message, the free food.
This is almost identical to the Dollar Shave Club email in that it includes the word “free” multiple times, employs a bold button to entice users to click, and shows a photo of what customers can expect in the mail.
That’s no coincidence. If you’re in the business of subscription boxes or e-commerce, take note of this strategy.
NPR: Compound Interest
Is this an onboarding, lifecycle or retention email?
It doesn’t really matter to the recipient but it matters to us, the marketers. While I don’t know exactly why this email was triggered, I do know that I downloaded the NPR One app on my phone and never used it. That means I triggered one event – the download – but never triggered the next – listening to my first track. I’m a user in limbo.
This gap is where retention emails shine, and it’s the reason I love this message from NPR. Suggested content is the perfect way for NPR to poke around and see what really interests me. (Amazon and TripAdvisor do this all the time.) Once they know, they can send more personalized emails. This creates a compounding effect where every new email is more personalized than the last.
Pinterest: What’s Behind Door #3?
Pinterest also uses the suggested content model. They send me this email every week, each with different topics. I’m not an engaged user, so they are mostly guessing based on the few boards I already created. The idea is to pique my interest, then get way more targeted.
They employ a few email best practices like social proof and buttons, but they also take the opportunity to explain what you can expect to see if you click. The psychology is very similar to Dollar Shave Club including a photo of the box.
At the 2014 Authority Intensive conference, Joanna Wiebe likened buttons to doors. They are much easier to click (or open) if you know what’s behind them. Providing a preview or explanation adds important context that drives clicks. Pinterest does this with the blue callout – it explains exactly what these links are.
Read way more about this in Joanna’s deep dive on Copyblogger.
Rogue: The World’s Most Expected Email
Recently, I was browsing the Rogue Fitness website and found a hat I really liked. When I tried to add the hat to my cart, I was presented with this message:
Still, I wanted the hat so I signed up to get a notification when it was back in stock. The stage was set for the world’s most expected, relevant and contextual email. Sure enough, a few weeks later I received the email below and made the purchase.
This is some of the best email marketing out there. Rogue knows for a fact that I want this product. The email is not just expected, it’s anticipated. I checked my email each day hoping it would arrive. And when it did, I took immediate action.
When customers can’t wait for your emails to arrive, you know you’re doing it right.
RunKeeper: Benefits, Not Features
There’s a good reason why fitness apps have become so popular. They do two things really well:
- Help users set goals, track progress and become healthier
- Make users feel guilty when we don’t exercise
There is a lot of emotion tied to self-confidence and body image. When RunKeeper emails their users to reactivate them, they are asking for so much more than logging data in their app.
RunKeeper faces an interesting challenge. If their users don’t go out running on a regular basis, they have no reason to use the app. In order to keep user engagement high, RunKeeper actually has to focus on motivating people to exercise.
It’s an enviable position in some ways. People know they should be exercising and they know that using RunKeeper can help them lose weight and run faster. Both parties agree that app usage is a good thing. Instead of begging users to login and use their app, RunKeeper simply reminds users that getting back into an exercise routine is a good idea. It’s a perfect example of selling benefits instead of features.
SumoMe: A New Way to “Sell”
“This is a report, not a retention email,” you mutter as you scroll to the next example. Think again.
Personalized reports are one of the easiest ways into the inbox. These emails look and feel transactional, meaning that users open and read them without the fear or being sold to. I’m not suggesting you should use a Trojan Horse to trick people into opening emails, but you can use reports to “sell” in a different way.
One of the best ways to retain customers is to constantly remind them how much valuable you are. Sending a report like this highlights that value in black and white. I got seven new subscribers on my site last week without lifting a finger, so I definitely plan to keep using SumoMe. Now that is retention.
TaskRabbit: Email Smarter
Here’s another email that doesn’t immediately scream ‘retention’. A closer look, however, reveals that’s just the goal.
I signed up for TaskRabbit last year, checked it out but never actually used the service. Until I do, I’m in limbo – a segment of users who has expressed interest in TaskRabbit but never really acted on it.
Marketers should celebrate users in limbo. A signup is strong indicator that a person has real interest in your product. Never assume these people aren’t the right fit as customers until it’s been proven. The Internet is a busy place and it’s easy to get distracted. Use retention emails like this one to bring them back.
You didn’t think I could make it through an entire post without using a TripAdvisor email, did you? (I love TripAdvisor’s emails.)
This is similar to the SumoMe report we looked at earlier but the psychology is different. SumoMe used the report to remind customers why the tool is so great. TripAdvisor uses the report to encourage users to pat themselves on the back for contributing to the travel community.
This email is designed to build on momentum. TripAdvisor is rewarding me for good behavior, but you’ll notice opportunities to leave another review scattered throughout.
You may not be in the business of user-generated content but you can still borrow from this strategy by making users feel great about progress and encouraging them to take the next step.
More reading on this topic:
- TripAdvisor’s Unfair Email Marketing Advantage
- The Amazon Experience
- Triggered Retention Emails That Keep Customers Engaged
- 19 Important Tips About Retention Emails
- How to Send Retention Emails That Are Useful to Your Customers
- 8 Ways To Use Email To Improve Your Customer Retention Strategies
Have any questions or suggestions about retention emails? Drop a note in the comments.