Email is the lifeblood of a DTC / CPG brand's relationship with subscription customers, especially when it comes to retention (aka increased LTV). Master it, and you've established a reputation for sending relevant messages at appropriate times. But do it poorly, and you risk losing that subscriber you worked hard to win.
Email marketing gives you a chance to reach out directly to customers and guide them toward sales. Having such a straight path to your customers does come with challenges, though. Good emails lead to growth. Bad ones lead to poor brand reputations and annoyed customers.
So how do you strike that balance between the good and bad emails? How can subscription businesses know which emails will increase retention?
We recently spoke with Jon MacDonald, Founder of The Good (a conversion rate optimization agency), and Kristen LaFrance, Director of Community at Repeat, as part of our discussion series Subscription Ecommerce Live, to get their thoughts.
Retention follows conversion in the customer journey. That's why it's critical to connect with subscribers between order and delivery.
Customers usually feel pretty good after they make a purchase. But then they have to wait for the arrival of the product. Reaching out to them during the time between initial order and delivery will build anticipation, giving them a better, more exciting experience when it finally gets to their door.
Jon outlined 3 critical emails to send customers before they receive the product. While you can use these tips to optimize your subscription business, they also work for one-time buyers.
According to Jon, every ecommerce business should start its post-purchase email campaign with a confirmation email. These quick messages need to acknowledge the purchase and provide a receipt so that the customer knows you've started processing the order.
Confirmation emails should:
While you’ll want to send a little nudge informing customers that their first product has shipped and is standard practice in ecommerce, an order that reminds subscribers their next order is about to ship can significantly impact retention.
For the first order, Jon suggests these emails go out a day or two after the initial confirmation, so your brand can stay at the top of your customers' minds without overwhelming them with irrelevant content. Instead, you're providing them with the information they actually want to know.
Most first-order shipping update emails will include:
A subscription shipping soon email should
These touchpoints both remind customers that you’re working on the shipment and give them options to make adjustments, which is proven to increase customer lifetime value, improve customer experiences, and reduce churn.
Pro tip: ARPU helps subscription businesses optimize the benefits of “shipping soon” emails by offering 2-click upsells and 2- or 3-click delays.
The third and final message before delivery should orient the customer to the product somehow. This message will require the highest effort level in terms of content creation because you'll want to think of creative ways to get them to look forward to the delivery.
Jon used a food subscription business as an example, creating a hypothetical purchase of mayonnaise. The subscription business could send a popular recipe with a shopping list, so the customer can prepare for the product’s arrival.
Note: This is likely something you’ll want to do for the first order, then consider skipping or adapting for future renewals, unless you have the bandwidth to create an email journey with a new email for the subscriber as each renewal occurs. If you want to do that, think about what it might mean to subscribe to a product over time and what sort of content you’d find helpful 6 months in. It could work great for some brands but be overkill for others.
Purchases provide one great opportunity for connection, and deliveries offer another. Often, the excitement customers feel when they click “buy” is renewed when the product arrives on their doorstep.
Jon identified 2 post-delivery emails that help your customers sustain that feeling, so they keep coming back for more.
It's good to check in on customers once they have received their orders. Ask how they enjoy the item and see if they need anything from you.
Reaching out like this provides them with preemptive service if there is a problem, and it shows them your brand cares about their enjoyment of the product, not just the purchase.
Jon recommends waiting a few days after delivery to send this email, giving customers enough time to experience the product in some way. He also points out that this email shouldn't ask for anything. The point is to show you care about their experience, not to get anything additional from the customers.
While you’ll want to send this follow-up for a first subscription order, you may not send it for future renewals, unless the subscriber added a new item as a one-time purchase or tried a new flavor.
Reviews are one of the most vital sources of social proof. Research suggests that:
Getting customers to write reviews sometimes takes a little effort, though. Jon suggests that subscription businesses send a review request as the last email in the post-purchase sequence before adding the customer to your regular marketing email list. You can include prompts and links to make it as easy as possible for them to leave a review.
Jon also says that sequencing the review request before the first renewal notice works best for subscription businesses. Over the years, he has seen that those who leave a review often become loyal customers because they feel like they've contributed to the brand—giving them a sense of ownership before renewal makes it more appealing to stick around.
After sending the post-purchase/post-delivery emails, you can pick and choose which of your regular recurring email campaigns should be sent to subscribers. Remember, one perk of subscribing to a subscription product can be fewer sales emails, especially if you send an upcoming shipment notification that provides the option to add on items or adjust the subscription.
Kristen LaFrance explained the importance of striking a balance between serving and selling. The key is to add value to their lives without asking for too much in return. She says it's an easy way to give back and appreciate what they've already given you: a credit card number and recurring purchase.
Here are 4 helpful tips she gives for ensuring your email marketing actually matters to your customers.
What matters to your brand doesn't necessarily matter to your customers. They don't care about customer acquisition or retention rates. Instead, they want a few simple things:
Make sure your emails aren’t putting what your brand values (increasing revenue) ahead of what your customers need to know to stay happy and subscribed.
Have you ever received an email clearly not meant for you? It feels off-putting and frustrating.
Your customers have those same feelings when they experience it.
That's because email marketing is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Instead, you need to send the right content to the right people. That starts with separating your email list into different segments.
Kristen recommends segmenting based on things like:
Pro Tip for subscription messages: ARPU campaigns empower you to segment your messages based on products in their orders or renewal count to provide existing customers with more relevant upsell and cross-sell options.
If you really want to go out of your way to help customers receive the emails they want, allow them to customize their preferences.
Some may like product updates and marketing material. Others will want to know when their order has shipped. By giving them the power to choose, you show that you value their preferences and establish trust in your process.
As a bonus, you won't have to clean out your email list as often since your customers will likely engage with the material they deliberately ask of you.
Who doesn't like a little pat on the back every once in a while?
Kristen says little celebration emails help build trust and rapport with your customers. Look for opportunities to celebrate like:
These small, no-ask messages allow you to create another touchpoint with your customers in a way that doesn't overwhelm their inboxes.
There’s a great balance act in email marketing to ecommerce subscribers. You want to reach out; you want to connect. But you absolutely do not want to overwhelm.
As a rule of thumb, consider making your content 80-90% editorial and 10-20% promotional. Subscriptions are long-term relationships between buyers and brands. Every email should serve the subscriber first. Then, after it does that, you start trying to sell something.
Some of the best emails don't have to sell anything at all; they provide only valuable information to the customer to build the relationship. If your goal is subscription ecommerce retention, prioritize building a solid relationship with your customers. Email can help you do that, but only when done responsibly.
Want more insight from industry leaders? Subscribe to attend Subscription Ecommerce Live (free series) or catch replay episodes here. You can also check out ARPU if you want to send shipping soon emails that make adding a one-time purchase or delaying a shipment a frictionless experience for subscribers.