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The anatomy of highly-converting activation emails

So, you’ve acquired a new customer—time to celebrate, right? Hang on a minute. Just because someone’s come on board doesn’t mean they’ll stick around. In fact, new customers need just as much attention as leads if you want them to stay engaged for the long term. To bring them fully onboard, you need an activation email—the first step in an activation campaign that creates the kind of loyal customers who become recurring revenue streams and promoters for your brand.

A customer activation strategy is one of the most powerful levers for growth. It builds on people’s enthusiasm early in their journey and gives it a high-octane boost. You’ve invested a lot of time and money to acquire new customers (not to mention building an awesome product!)—but if people aren’t activated, you risk losing them and wasting your investment.  

New customers are primed for further engagement: you have their attention, and they’re eager to get value from your product. With a well-thought-out activation campaign, you can bring people to the crucial aha moment and inspire the behaviors that keep them around for the long haul. 

Dive into everything you need to know about customer activation:

What is customer activation?

Customer activation is when a new, passive customer becomes an engaged and enthusiastic user of your product. Functionally, it’s the sweet spot after initial acquisition and onboarding—when your customer truly recognizes and receives value from you. 

Brand activation marketing is the process of introducing your customers to your product’s benefits so they fully engage and become loyal. To craft an effective activation strategy, you’ll need to identify a customer activation moment: the specific behavior that signals someone’s full adoption of your product. Your activation campaign will focus on nudging people toward that crucial action. 

For example, here at, we divide the early stages of our customer journey into two stages: onboarding (right after someone signs up for a trial) and activation (once they’ve completed the setup process and are ready to start using the product). As customers continue their journey, we apply brand activation marketing—engaging activities and campaigns that bring the brand to life and drive customer actions—across their lifecycle, helping move people through important moments in each stage to get (and keep!) them activated, even at the later monetization stage. 

What is the customer activation moment?

The conversion that makes a customer “active” depends on how and why people use your product. Your activation email should help trigger the aha moment when someone first realizes how your product is valuable to them. While they may have understood in theory, now they truly get it.

Customer activation moment examples:

  • For a social media management tool: When they schedule their first post
  • For a messaging platform: When they create their first marketing campaign
  • For an analytics tool: When they generate their first report
  • For a team collaboration platform When they add five teammates within one week

For example, the initial customer activation moment for Journeys subscribers happens when they launch their first campaign and send their first message through the platform. We use a multi-channel activation campaign (email and in-app) to guide people through the how and why of reaching that milestone. 

What is a customer activation email?

An activation email is a crucial part of your customer activation strategy: a touchpoint that spurs the specific action you want people to take after initial acquisition/onboarding. Some of your customers will move ahead independently, without any extra urging. But those who don’t might need a little nudge. 

Activation emails can take many forms: welcome messages, account confirmations, feature prompts, trial-expiration reminders, or milestone celebrations. The messaging depends on your activation strategy and the activation moment that moves the needle for your customer journey. Ultimately, the most important part of your activation email is a CTA that prompts people to perform the desired behavior. 

What’s the difference between an activation campaign and a reactivation campaign?

Your activation campaign targets new customers who have yet to reach your customer activation moment and therefore haven’t fully experienced your product’s value. Reactivation campaigns, on the other hand, are aimed at existing customers who have gone dormant. If they’re not using your product much (or at all), they’re at risk of churn; a reactivation campaign urges them to re-engage before that happens. Typically, you’ll want to set a timeline after which customers who haven’t recently been active are targeted for reactivation. 

The goal of activation campaigns and reactivation campaigns is ultimately the same—getting customers to use your product. But the messaging differs. In reactivation, instead of teaching people about your value for the first time, you’re reminding them how much it has benefitted them already. On re-engagement, you can assume a greater level of existing knowledge about your brand and typically have more data about each individual. You can personalize your reactivation campaign to a greater extent based on what they’ve done in the past. 

How to create a customer activation strategy

Once your lead has become a customer, it’s time to turn them into a fan so they’ll deliver higher customer lifetime value. Your customer activation strategy lives within your overarching lifecycle marketing strategy. Use the following four steps to build an activation strategy that hinges on the vital aha moment in your customer journey.  

1. Identify activation moments

Your initial customer activation moment propels people into product engagement, but it’s not the only event that matters for an ongoing relationship. To build out your entire activation campaign, identify the first key action and a series of follow-up behaviors that signal ever-deepening engagement. You can then use these as data points to determine where your customers are in the journey and target them with specific messaging. 

Here at, we use a personalized, triggered activation campaign to drive movement through the events that deliver more and more value for customers. For example, here are a few of the customer activation moments we focus on once someone signs up for Journeys:

  • Sending their first message in Journeys (the first customer activation moment)
  • Creating a segment (a high-value feature that customers love)
  • Building a multi-step campaign with our workflow builder (one of the features that sets Journeys apart)
  • Implementing Data Pipelines (our CDP with a robust free tier—a cross-sell that amplifies the benefits of using Journeys)

Remember, customer activation moments can occur throughout the customer journey as you educate your people and guide them to engage with your brand further. So, your activation campaign will likely have multiple touchpoints for a series of conversion steps, kicking off with that first activation email. 

2. Segment your audience

Contextual personalization is about more than customizing emails with a customer’s name. It’s about sending a highly relevant message at the just-right time. You want to speak directly to where a customer is in their journey, which can be achieved with segmentation. Creating thoughtful, triggered messages for precise segments is almost always the best use of marketing time and budget—it allows you to deliver personalized messaging across your audience at scale. 

You can segment your audience in many ways: by lifecycle stage, activation moment, feature adoption, and much more. With real-time personalization, you can react to customer’s behaviors, delivering activation emails and messages that reflect what they’ve done and lead them to the next step. That way, you aren’t asking someone to take a downstream action (like using a specific feature) when they haven’t completed a necessary prior step (like completing their profile)—or, even worse, urging them to do something they’ve already completed.  

3. Create targeted multi-channel campaigns

Activation emails are only one element of a successful activation campaign. Email is a tried-and-true way to connect with customers, but it’s not your only option. In fact, multi-channel campaigns perform better than single-channel (source). You want to reach your customers where they are, so leverage all the messaging options available: email, SMS, push notifications, and in-app messages. 

For example, your activation campaign might kick off with an email that brings people into your app to complete a core action. You could then send an in-app message congratulating them for taking that step and leading them to the next one. If they don’t complete it, you could follow up with a push notification reminder the next day. You could even create a segment for people who don’t open your initial activation email, sending an SMS message in case they prefer to communicate via texts. 

4. Measure and optimize

When measuring the impact of your activation campaign, go beyond the what and understand the why—discover what motivates people to activate and why some don’t. Unfortunately, your customers rarely just come out and give you the answer. That’s why you need to test, measure, and optimize. 

Start with your hypothesis, see which activation emails and messages boost conversion, and then A/B test based on your findings. Through experimentation, you’ll learn what activation moments are the highest priority, what messaging resonates, which channels are most effective, and even what segments can be converted most readily. 

5 types of activation emails + templates

Based on your customer activation strategy, you know what you want recipients to do in response to your activation email. But how will you entice them to act? Activation emails come in many flavors, and the one that makes sense for you depends on where in the customer journey you need to activate people. The following five types of activation emails provide templates for different varieties of messaging you can apply when building the first touchpoint in your activation campaign.

Activation email template #1: The welcome message

A welcome email is your chance to bring new customers into the fold and build relationships. You may have sent a welcome email early on—like when someone joined your mailing list or started a free trial—but when they’re moving into the activation stage, it’s an opportune moment to welcome them again as a fully engaged customer. 

Example template: Interconnected

Interconnected welcome email example

Interconnected greets their customer with personalized content, including their name and their current account status, then gives them a four-step checklist of activation moments. They even include a getting-to-know-you video to roll out the red carpet! 

Activation email template #2: The feature prompt

Have you identified a specific feature that makes people stick around longer and engage with your brand more? That’s an ideal candidate for customer activation! A feature prompt email zeros in on a specific feature of your product; this type of activation email prompts people to start using the thing you know will provide immediate value. 

Example template: Semrush

Semrush activation email template prompting a new feature

In their activation email, Semrush focuses on a single feature that both provides instant benefits to a new customer and differentiates their platform from competitors who don’t have this functionality. The value of the feature is clearly conveyed, and with two CTA buttons , there’s no way for the reader to miss what they should do next. 

Activation email template #3: The reminder 

At some point in your onboarding campaign, you’ll have provided customers with things they should do to start using your product. If they haven’t completed those processes, there’s a good chance they’re not taking full advantage of your offerings. That’s why a reminder can be an effective type of activation email—catching people before they churn. 

Example template: Zapier

Activation email from Zapier reminding to share your zaps

Zapier makes their activation email super personal by telling the customer what their last activity was (and when it happened), then reminding them about what they haven’t done yet—the crucial customer activation moment. It’s easy for the reader to act on this reminder: the instructions are right there in the body, with a highly visible CTA button. 

Activation email template #4: The account activation email

For some brands, the right time to activate a customer is immediately after they’ve created an account. It’s a critical conversion moment if people can’t use your product until they confirm their information. This type of activation email often comes very early in the customer journey and serves as a kick-off to your brand activation marketing. 

Example template: Superpeer

Superpeer account activation emailail

This account activation email example from Superpeer compels customers to act by letting them know they’re just a click away from using the platform. When someone signs up, they’re poised to engage right away, so triggering an account activation email ASAP can keep the momentum going.    

Activation email template #5: The cross-sell message

When you think of your activation campaign as part of your full customer lifecycle, you’ll identify many stages in the journey where you can inspire people into deeper engagement. Once they’re on board with your brand, you can amplify the value they’re getting by leading them to additional products or versions. Bear in mind that a cross-sell email doesn’t have to be selling something in the sense of pushing for a purchase; offering a free companion product is an effective type of activation email that deepens the relationship. 

Example template: Grammarly 

Grammarly cross-sell email example

Grammarly customers who use the service on their computers may already be engaged. Still, the product isn’t reaching across their entire digital landscape if they’re not using it on their mobile devices. An activation email inducing them to download the iPad app shows them the extra benefits they could enjoy and incites greater brand adoption. 

6 activation email tactics + examples 

No matter what type of activation email you send, there are endless options for getting your message across. In the examples below, you’ll find effective tactics and elements you can mix and match in a variety of ways as you put together your own activation email template. 

Activation email tactic #1: Provide quick-start resources 

An ongoing problem for SaaS companies is the time new customers have to invest in set-up before they reap any rewards. When people start with a blank slate, all they see is the upfront work they need to do to make your product work for them. Use your activation email to make it easier for them to get started with templates, example campaigns, data to test with, etc. Your features will make more sense when a new customer can visualize their own data or content inside your product. 

Check out this activation email example from Framer: 

Framer activation email tactic providing quick-start resources

Activation email tactic #2: Include social proof

Social proof is a tried-and-true marketing tactic that’s particularly powerful in brand activation marketing. It adds oomph to the “why” behind the “what” of the action you’re asking someone to take. This can be as simple as name-dropping well-known customers or as in-depth as including reviews and case studies in your customer activation emails. 

In this example, italki lets their satisfied customers do the talking in their activation email, spurring customers to book a lesson—the aha moment that will give them value from the platform:

italki email sharing student success stories

Activation email tactic #3: Add contextual personalization

When someone takes action for the first time, respond with a logical next step. Contextual personalization puts your customer at the forefront of your messaging, reflecting what they’ve already done and showing them the path forward. By providing the context of a customer’s actions to date, your activation email feels relevant to their experience.  

Miro’s customer activation email connects the dots between past, present, and future:

Miro activation email example adding contextual personalization

Activation email tactic #4: Start a supportive conversation

Your activation email doesn’t have to be a directive—sometimes, asking questions is a powerful approach to customer activation. This activation strategy opens a conversation, which gives people the warm fuzzies of personal attention, and you might gain a lot of insight from the feedback. And while you might file this under “things that don’t scale,” the message itself is easy to automate, and the feedback is so valuable that it’s worth the time it takes to read and respond. 

Bonjorno’s example is a great place to start for creating this kind of activation email template:

Bonjorno plain-text activation email example from the CEO

Activation email tactic #5: Leverage data

Data works—it’s a proof point that reinforces your customers’ decision to try your product in the first place. You can use internal data, industry statistics, data from reviews, etc. And if you tap into your customer data, you can make your activation email ultra personal. 

This activation email from Really Good Emails combines their business data with personalized customer data to show the recipient what they’re missing out on by not fully engaging—a dose of FOMO to motivate them into action! 

Really Good Email activation tactic leveraging data in an email

Activation email tactic #6: Express urgency

You may think of urgency as a sales tool, but it can be a handy part of your activation strategy too. The sooner customers hit that aha moment, the less likely they are to churn. A bit of urgency can keep up their momentum, propelling them toward the customer activation point you want—especially when you make it clear how taking quick action benefits them. One caveat with this approach: it’s not very motivating to get a “time’s running out” message for something you don’t care about anyway. Segment your audience so that you only target unactivated customers who show engagement with your brand and remind them of your product’s benefits while you’re at it. 

Busuu’s activation email makes it clear why customers will get more value from their platform by continuing their journey immediately: 

Busuu start your 2-day streak email

4 activation email best practices

With your customer activation strategy and the email templates above, you’re ready to create activation emails that guide customers toward significant moments in their journey. As you begin crafting those messages, keep these activation email best practices in mind:

  • Personalize your activation emails: Even at a fairly early stage in the customer journey, you have a good amount of data about each individual: who they are, what they like, and how they behave. Put that intel to use with highly personalized messages.  
  • Convey the aha moment: Activation emails are all about making a lightbulb go off in your customer’s head—that sense of “Eureka!” when they see why your product is valuable to them personally. Don’t just tell people what to do; highlight the benefits they’ll enjoy. 
  • Make taking action easy: It’s called an activation email because the goal is to get your customer to, well, act. Reduce any potential friction by providing an easy-to-find CTA button, clearly explaining the next step, and ensuring they don’t encounter blockers when they land at their destination.
  • Build high-performing emails: Even the best activation email will fall flat if it doesn’t perform flawlessly in the inbox. Pay attention to the details when designing your email: use responsive design so it works well on any device, follow best practices for images in email, and employ CSS wisely if you include special content. 

Create activation emails that really convert

Between generating leads, onboarding new subscribers, and catering to long-time promoters, it’s easy to lose sight of customer activation. But it’s a vital part of your lifecycle marketing. And activation campaigns can have great ROI. Set your customer activation strategy, create effective activation emails and accompanying messages in other channels—and you’ll be ready to build automated activation campaigns that amplify engagement at scale. 

The activation email templates and examples above should get you started on your brand activation marketing. Start a free trial and build your first activation campaign to onboard, engage, and retain your audience.