Tag: behavioral messaging

The Keys to Smart Behavioral Push Notifications

Imagine getting woken up by a push notification telling you that President Obama eats seven almonds as his nighttime snack.

Not exactly the breaking-news alert you signed up for.


The New York Times was recently called out for their push notification experiment that sent mobile users who’d opted in to receive urgent alerts from the publication quite the opposite.

Push notifications are a tempting channel for mobile marketers, what with app users just a swipe away. But as more and more apps turn to push notifications, the channel has become saturated.

Let’s have a little almond snack and then dive into how to use push notifications carefully.

The Roots of Push Notification Effectiveness

After conducting extensive research on their efficacy, Forrester Research called push notifications “the ideal tool to combine mobile marketing’s unique benefits: intimacy, immediacy, and context.” But the “ideal tool” can only work those magic benefits if two things are true: people are opted in and haven’t uninstalled the app (which has an 80% and above chance of happening).

Like email and SMS, users have to agree to receive push notifications. Opt-in rates vary widely across verticals. For example, business apps have a relatively high rate. It might feel mandatory to receive urgent Slack notifications from your team versus notifications about all the new shoes. (Note that Android users respond to push notifications more than twice the rate of iOS—20 vs. 8 percent—because they are defaulted to opt in.)

Push notification opt-in (across Android and iOS) Source: Urban Airship

The Art of the Ask

You wouldn’t ask someone you’re meeting for the first time for a big favor. That’s the time to get to know each other. Timing is key to navigating relationships and requests.

Let users in on the value they’ll get out of your app before asking them to opt in to push notifications. This is especially relevant to your iOS users, who need to explicitly allow push notifications before receiving them.

Social photo-sharing app Cluster does this particularly well. They fold the push notification opt-in process into their broader onboarding flow. The completion of a key onboarding action like sharing a photo or sending out an invitation for someone to join the group triggers the request for push notification permission.


This way, Cluster makes sure people get to an aha! moment in their first-time user experience, which makes saying yes to push notifications easier and far-reaching. When users have indicated some meaningful engagement, having seen enough value (or potential value) in the app to upload photos and invite friends, they’re more likely to want to engage with Cluster. They can clearly see how they’ll get more value out of the product notifications too.

Target Notifications Based on Behavior

Broadcasting one-size-fits-all push notifications, like batch-and-blast email, can harm the consumer perception of your brand and product. It’s no wonder that push notifications have a reputation for being irritating. In fact, in an interesting survey Localytics found that over 50% of app consumers find push notifications an “annoying distraction.”

While the practice of broadcasting push notifications is on the decline, it’s worth restating the value of personalizing messages based on user behavior. A study about triggered push notifications found that the effectiveness of push notifications based on behavior is 2,770% better than the batch-and-blast approach, with a “726 percent higher click rate and a 420 percent higher post-click conversion rate”!

Tailoring your messaging to individual user actions is the kind of personalization that helps deliver value. That gets people back into your app, boosting mobile app retention. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Segmenting by user actions

Ticket retailer SeatGeek sends push notifications about events you might like to attend. But they don’t just blast notifications at anyone who chose a bunch of pre-determined genres and interests. As SeatGeek marketing analyst Nick Adkins explains, the context you know about people should shape your messaging approach:

If we’re smart about how we send pushes, each notification serves as an opportunity to inform users and find out what they care about (and hopefully drive some revenue). … If we notice patterns in users’ behavior, then we can send them information about events they’re likely to find of interest.

Seatgeek push notification

Nick explains what SeatGeek’s strategy would be for a targeted one-off push notification about tickets for Opening Day at Wrigley Field, based on past behavior. They would send something like this push notification to users who had:

  • Purchased a ticket to a Cubs game
  • Clicked out on a ticket to a Cubs game
  • Tracked the Cubs or a Cubs game

Netflix uses a similar approach based on their data on what users have watched. They deliver notifications when a show they know you’d liked and seen releases new material.

Netflix push notification

Nudging Inactive Users

Duolingo‘s push notifications are a great example of getting specific. Every user sets goals during onboarding for how many experience points (XP) they want to gain per day. When they don’t achieve that goal, they get a friendly push notification (featuring Duolingo’s owl mascot) reminding them to come back into the app to complete their goal.

Duolingo goal reminder

Onboarding experts Appcues explain that this is particularly effective because it applies the psychological principle of commitment/consistency. Committing and setting goals themselves, as Appcues writes, “has a massive impact on a new user’s eventual success with the platform.”

Persistent inactivity, even in the face of nudges, is a reliable sign of disengagement. Duolingo’s approach of making sure their push notifications remain useful and motivating stands out. When they realize their messages are failing to move you, they stop pushing reminders.

Duolingo push notification checkin

What’s really remarkable about Cluster’s strategy behind asking for push notification opt-ins is that in basing the timing on app behavior, they also priorize the customer experience. Cluster co-founder and designer Brenden Mulligan describes how their approach was built on increasing “users’ comfort and trust”, and explains, “We asked ourselves, what value would our users get out of push notifications?”

The discipline and intelligence to not immediately ask for an open channel to contact people, to stop sending push reminders that don’t work like Duolingo, or to even simply not blast people with the same generic message is all too rare. Each push notification is an opportunity to deliver information that people care about—and behavior is a reliable indication of what they care about and when.

Urban AIrship ActionWe’re tickled pink about our new Urban Airship Action for adding push notifications to Customer.io triggered campaigns! Learn more about the new Urban Airship Push Action!

Create Your Own Company Slack Assistant with Customer.io

Edward always has a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the product, despite having neither fingers nor pulses. Edward is a bot!

DigitalOcean, a cloud infrastructure provider for developers, built Edwards-Bot to help tackle VIP customer churn. As Edward Chiu, Director of Sales and Customer Success, explains:

You have excellent relationships with all your customers and a pulse on every single one of their needs, right?… It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of this.

Enter Edward-Bot, who diligently checks on DigitalOcean users. Edward-Bot flags whoever might need help from a real human representative:

Edward-Bot in action

When VIP users exhibit behavior that indicates intent to churn—defined here as destroying “droplets” at a high rate—Edward-Bot alerts the DigitalOcean team by delivering notifications in real-time to the company’s #customer-success Slack channel. From there, the team knows immediately who to reach out to and when. Edward-Bot is even programmed to share the user’s typical behavior pattern to help give the humans important context.

Edward-bot frees up the customer success team to focus on more complex priorities while alerting them when it matters. It’s part of the company’s customer-first approach of paying close attention to user behavior and account health to create a great customer experience. In fact, this strategy helped decrease VIP churn to 0.69%.

Of course, not every team has the developer-time or resources as DigitalOcean to create their own Edward-Bot. That’s why we’re excited that our new integration, Customer.io’s Slack Action helps any team create their own customer pulse Slack bot.
Let’s explore what types of customer data to send into Slack and how this automation can help your team work better, together.

How to Curate the Push of Customer Data to Slack

Responding intelligently to customers requires understanding how they’re behaving. If you’re using Customer.io, you’re already sending that behavioral data through to create segments and messaging workflows. Simply add Slack Actions to funnel that data into Slack.

By setting up super-precise automation rules based on your customer attributes and behavior, you can trigger messages to designated channels or directly to team members. Create specific channels for behaviors to monitor, like #new-users or #VIPcustomers, or add them to existing ones in use.

Activity Stream for Critical Events and Transparency

There are broad customer behaviors that everyone on your team would find interesting. These tend to be critical events in the user lifecycle, such as:

  • signups
  • cancellations
  • upgraded plan
  • downgraded plan
  • conversions to paid accounts
  • invited team member

This type of information works well as an activity feed in dedicated channels. That provides a lightly-curated stream into which people across teams and roles can dip their toes but not have to constantly pay attention.

Creating Slack notifications around user behavior can prove costly if it adds to notification overload. Dedicated channels are a good defense, as people can mute the channel to avoid getting pinged with every message but still check in.

Use targeted notifications for priority intelligence

The ability to pick out the signals amidst the noise is powerful, because it helps you prioritize well. That’s why you wouldn’t want Edward-Bot to necessarily report on every single user’s droplet destroyage. It’s not efficient to spend time reaching out to small customers who switched from $5 to $2 a month payments. But dropping from $5,000 to $2,000? Now that’s worth at least a follow-up email from a customer success rep. Maybe even a phone call!

There’s an easy solution here: get targeted with customer attributes and behavior triggers to create purposeful notifications. What these look like will probably depend on your particular business and team goals, but here are some ideas for more specific triggers:

Important positive behaviors:

  • New signup from a customer with high MRR
  • Customer increased their plan to enterprise account
  • Someone has been a customer for 1 year
  • Key activity has increased, indicating readiness to upgrade
  • High NPS rating

Churn intent flags:

  • When a customer drops off in key activity (like Edward-Bot)
  • When a VIP customer increases key red-flag activity, like exports of their data
  • When a customer hasn’t logged in to your app in 14 days
  • A very active user’s free trial expired AND they haven’t logged on in 3 days
  • Low NPS rating

Here’s an example of a situation where your customer success or account management team would want a very specific notification. Let’s say annual billing for your product usually requires a conversation to figure out the best plan together and make sure the customer is happy. A quick timely notification set to trigger a month or two ahead of the renewal day helps everyone stay on track:

Slack Action customer success example

Use and enrich attribute data

Don’t forget about attribute data to give context to behavioral events! If you’ve captured information from any signup forms or are using a data enrichment tool like Clearbit, your Slack Actions can get very specific. This can be especially handy for managing lead or sales stages, when you haven’t had as much time to create relationships and history with a customer.

For example, the sales team can get pinged when Customer.io and Clearbit register new accounts from:

  • leads from companies in software industry
  • someone with a target persona title or seniority, like “VP of Marketing”
  • companies with over 300 employees

Or whatever is important to you! It’s important to keep iterating to figure out what your most important user actions and attributes are, so that you respond to important behaviors right when they happen.

Here’s an example of a Slack Action that triggers upon account signup when someone enters comments in the signup form, furnished with a combination of user-entered and Clearbit-enriched data that help give context.

Slack Action customer success example

When our sales team sees a Slack message like this, where someone signing up has relevant questions, shows a ready willingness to buy, and has target attributes — they know it’s go-time to get in touch!

Slack Brings Teams Together to Do Their Best Work

At many companies, employees might not have much, or even any, interaction with customers or visibility into what users doing in the product. Even those who do, like people in customer success or support, probably hold pieces of the puzzle rather than the whole.

While this could be a transparency or access issue, the culprit is often time. Who has time to be rooting around in user accounts and dashboards every day for slivers of information, with everything else already on your plate? And when you do search, it can take a long time to get what you need. (According to some surveys, people spend 20-30% of their time at work looking for information!)

When information you need isn’t in easy grasp, you risk missing opportunities and operating in the limited confines of a knowledge gap. Surfacing key information right in Slack provides an easy path to understand what’s going on with customers—without having to context-switch—and kickstart real action. Everyone can gain some knowledge of key activity going on in the product, which leads to better alignment and collaboration. When there’s a new feature release and churn spikes, for example, engineers should know that, not just product managers!

Let’s get meta with one way we’re using Actions at Customer.io. To keep an eye on the new feature usage, we set up a Slack Action that triggers when users configure a Customer.io Action:

Slack Action monitoring Actions example

Here’s what the Action looks like under the hood, in the workflow composer:

Slack Action composer

One of our company goals for the Actions launch is strong customer adoption. Using the Slack Action is a neat way to see if we’re making adoption progress and identify which Actions are getting faster uptake (Slack is winning!).

Customize Your Notifications for Powerful Communication

Customer actions speak a thousand words, but if you’re not paying attention to behavioral context, you’re letting lots of opportunities slip by.

As (human) Edward from DigitalOcean says, it’s impossible to know exactly what everyone is doing in your product at all times. And it doesn’t make sense for jobs like Edward-bot’s to belong to humans—those tasks are boring, repetitive, and distract from higher-impact work. Instead, the smarter choice is to automate around that issue to deliver critical nuggets of intelligence.

Creating your customized customer-pulse Slack app helps you grow by providing the seeds for increasing team collaboration, alignment, and agility. We’re excited how Slack Actions unlocks your customer data from dashboards and disparate sources to make it transparent, timely, and actionable.

Learn more about how our Slack Action works. Share your smart Slack Action workflows here or come chime in with questions and feedback in Product Hunt!

How to Power User Onboarding with Small Wins

Onboarding new customers is like teaching kids how to swim. You want everyone to be a future Olympian but have to start from scratch with how to blow bubbles in the kiddie pool first.

The big problem with mastering a new skill is that the kiddie pool is frustrating when that’s not your primary goal. When you’re learning something new and you don’t have a lot of experience, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up.

Wistia’s CEO Chris Savage says that the best way to encourage people to learn something new is to change the shape of the learning curve.

Progress is toughest in the beginning

The most important component of learning something new is setting small goals on the road to achieving a big one.

“Here’s the secret: You can change the graph of happiness to skill learning if you can measure improvement in smaller increments, deriving joy from each achievement along the way.”

By setting small goals, you can feel more joy and thus, motivation, even at a low experience level. Instead of a slog, the onboarding experience should feel like barrier-free advancement.

Smaller goals make onboarding smoother

Onboarding is all about coaching users to achieve their goal, from the kiddie pool to swim floaties and beyond. Design and communicate a series of small wins to build and maintain motivation. Here’s how to get started.

Provide a Small Milestone

We all tend to approach motivation with the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal in mind, whether we’re product-makers or consumers. It’s all about running the marathon, getting rich, learning French, nabbing the promotion rather than all the little steps in between. But as it turns out, the thing that motivates us most is small wins.

For one, it boosts our mood. One study asked employees what affected their mood during their day. When they made progress towards a work-related goal, they felt happy. What’s particularly surprising was that in 28% of these instances, the mood-boosting step forward didn’t even majorly affect the progress of the project.

We love to make progress, even if the win is not that important. That provides the motivational fuel to keep going.

Getting customers to experience meaningful progress in your product requires their activity and engagement. That feels like a chicken-or-egg problem when they don’t even want to use the product yet! As CEO of Chameleon Pulkit Agrawal argues, you can’t assume that people want to learn how to use your product.

“Users don’t churn because they can’t figure it out — they churn because they don’t want to.”

At the very beginning of the product journey, provide smaller goals to get people a little more excited about figuring stuff out.

Codecademy Provides an Introductory Small Win

When people sign up for online learning platform Codecademy, they have one big goal: learn how to code. But mastering a brand new subject is incredibly daunting. So Codecademy breaks up their onboarding process into smaller-scale goals with a quick lifecycle email.

Codecademy onboarding message

They provide a mini coding project to make it feel like you can actually complete something. By the end of this assignment, you’ll have a completed project that’s unique to you. It’s like an amuse-bouche to get you hungry for more.

Help Customers Visualize Their Progress

Sometimes, it just takes a little more encouragement to help people accomplish their small goals. One of the most powerful tools in your arsenal is showing people their progress.

In one of Dan Ariely’s studies, students were paid to build Lego figurines called Bionicles. Every figurine they built earned a decreasing amount of money, and both groups were told that their Bionicles would be disassembled once they were done. In Group One, though, the participants watched as their completed figures were dismantled. Group Two, on the other hand, placed each completed toy on a desk like a trophy before continuing onto assembling the next one.
Group Two built eleven, and Group One built seven.

Seeing that visible accumulation of Bionicles drove Group Two to keep building. They did so even though they knew each completed figurine earned less and less money and would be undone.

The progress meter is a common tactic in products and apps, whether it’s measuring the completion of a profile for a social site or encouraging the next step in an online course. Knowing where you stand in a process or reaching a goal is motivating because you can see how much you have left to go.

Songkick’s Motivating Progress Bar

Songkick helps you keep track of when your favorite artists go on tour near you. But for you to get any value from their service, they need to know which musicians you like. Otherwise, you’d never get a concert alert and Songkick would never have a chance to prove itself.

So here’s what happens in their mobile app onboarding: Songkick wants you to choose 20 artists to track, but if you stop before you reach 20 in the setup phase, you get this notification:

Songkick onboarding notification

There’s a bar at the bottom of the screen that indicates your progress as you scroll through their recommended artists. But they also don’t give up too easily on the less motivated folks like me who clicked “Done” after choosing 5. They keep up the encouragement with an offbeat mini-incentive to finish the task.

This is truly a small win from the user’s perspective. But it’s a fun way to get a little more invested in the app and brand that pays off to reach the larger goal of keeping up with concerts better.

Reinforce Progress By Celebrating Wins

Positive reinforcement for small wins is an effective strategy for many kinds of behavior modification, from dog training to classroom management to motivating employees in the office. But it’s especially effective when people are just starting something new, as there’s so much inertia to overcome.

One study examined different ways of motivating people to donate to a charity called Compassion Korea. In an email marketing campaign, researchers sent out two emails to people who’d just completed a donation. One email said that they were halfway towards their fundraising goal, and the other version said that half the money still hadn’t been raised.

Both campaigns raised the same amount of money by soliciting this second round—but from different kinds of donors.

New donors, that is, people who had only donated to Compassion Korea once or twice before, were much more likely to respond positively to the “glass-half-full approach”. As the researchers noted, “Novices feel uncertain about their level of commitment… and increase their efforts in response to success (versus failure) feedback.”

Newbies need positive feedback, more so than old hats. This applies to your onboarding. Your feedback needs to be encouraging and positive to drive further engagement, especially in the early stages.

AddThis Reaches Out with Win Notifications

AddThis sends customers an email to notify them when something good happens, like a spike in traffic or shares on their site.

AddThis win email

It’s a simple message that provides not only a positive psychological boost for the reader but also a valuable alert. AddThis knows that their customers’ big, hairy goal is to grow their audiences and celebrating a small win like a spike in new visitors helps you feel like you’re moving forward.

Consider designing and orchestrating some of these small wins as part of the initial onboarding experience.

Your Customers’ Wins are Your Wins

Your small wins aren’t necessarily the same as your customers’ — and that’s one of the most important principles to remember when designing the user onboarding experience.

You want to drive engagement, get people to keep using the app, or elicit referrals and invitations, but the odds very much are that there aren’t your users’ goals. The user’s goal is to experience some real-world value.

You can’t motivate people to achieve even the smallest of goals unless you think about it from their perspective. Inch by inch, their small goals will make a big difference.

Behavioral Email Ebook!Check out our webinar on demand where we shared 6 ideas to make your onboarding sing … and maybe a funny drawing too.

Watch it now!

Best Practices for Engaging SMS Messaging Campaigns

It’s fall, folks. Kids are back in school, the heat is finally breaking, and if you find yourself near a Starbucks, the sweet smell of Pumpkin Spice Lattes is wafting through the air.

The infamous Starbucks signature drink came back to menus across the country on September 6th. But for select customers, Pumpkin Spice Latte day came early: Starbucks sent superfans an early access code for the drink through a clever Short Message Service (SMS) campaign.

SMS messaging isn’t just for big retailers anymore—everyone from on-demand economy startups and software services are using it as well. Why? It’s an incredibly effective means of communicating with current and potential customers: marketing SMS message click-through rates hover around 35%, over ten times the click through rate of marketing emails.

And if companies follow best practices for incorporating SMS into their customer messaging strategy, it can be even higher.

As with email, developing your SMS campaign is all about combining three key elements: relevance, timing, and a clear call to action. But while there are many parallels with email marketing, there are a few key differences worth highlighting, or you risk getting blocked.

Here’s what you need to know to get started:

1. Relevance: Is this valuable to the reader?

Spammy emails are annoying. But spammy texts are reflexively insufferable. No one likes this coming from out of the blue:

unwanted SMS message
In order to build a long and happy relationship between company and customer, tailor messages to customer interests as much as possible.

This is doubly true for SMS, since you’re reaching a customer’s direct line. That’s why SMS should be reserved for really relevant messages to users, not a spray-and-pray technique.

A little personalization goes a long way

Finding a business-related message in your text messages is inherently less personal than a friend texting you, especially when it starts out loaded with industry jargon, the legal disclosure that “Messaging and data rates may apply” and the mandatory cancellation option (e.g., press STOP to cancel).

That’s why a little humanizing personalization goes a long way, even just using someone’s name, or adding a conversational touch of personality or pleasantness.

This SMS from 1-800 Contacts sounds human, not robotic, when they say “Thanks for sending your Rx.” It also wishes you a great day and uses the recipient’s name, much like they’re talking to an actual help desk.

1-800 Contacts SMS sound human

Segmenting by behavior makes messages relevant

Liquid tags for inserting personalized details into messages is one step to making messages feel relevant. Using user behavior data to craft your messaging strategy helps your messages feel personalized to that reader. It’s a strategy that scales, even though it feels one-to-one.

Use segmentation to send personalized SMS messages to groups of people whose behavior you’d like to impact. Here’s a couple examples:

  • Behavior: User hasn’t ordered from you in 14 days.
  • SMS: It’s been a while since you ordered from us! Your next order is 50% off.
Customer.io trigger segmentation example
  • Behavior: User is about to hit their cap for widgets.
  • SMS: You’re about to run out of your allotted widgets for the month! If you want to keep using our tool, upgrade now or wait until the next billing cycle.

2. Timing: Is this exchange urgent?

When it comes to messaging, timing is everything.

In a study conducted by Dr. James Oldroyd of MIT, researchers found that real estate agents who contacted inbound leads within 5 minutes of receiving their information are 100 times more likely to hear back from them.That’s why real estate company Trulio started using SMS to talk to leads.

As soon as the agents received information from new leads, they sent them an SMS, and the response was way higher than when they had used email. SMS messages, as a medium, conveys urgency in a way that email doesn’t.

Airbnb brings users back to the app

Airbnb does the same thing for people who are renting out their homes. Unlike Trulia, where users are professionals, Airbnb hosts are often people who aren’t doing this for their livelihood.

As users may not be actively in the app all the time, Airbnb uses SMS to guide users back into it for time-sensitive situations and even explains the importance of timing for their success as an AirBnb host.

Airbnb SMS guidance
By writing “To maintain your response rate, reply in 18 hours,” readers know that there’s a clock ticking, and that they’re risking something by not responding. Since Airbnb does a good job of succinctly conveying urgency and a next step, the text doesn’t feel spammy—it feels important and merits taking action.

3. Call to Action: What is the reader supposed to do now?

Starbucks has had success with SMS for years now, largely because of their strong calls to action. They’ve been using the technique to great effect, engaging their customers with exciting text messages like pop quiz questions that, if answered correct, resulted in a Starbucks coupon.

The Pumpkin Spice Latte example is no exception. It had a really strong call to action that Starbucks knew was aligned with something the user wanted: insider access to a limited-edition favorite. When SMS messages have strong CTAs that align with customer desires, they’re much more effective.

Give a Clear Path to success

Customers need a little guidance when it comes to knowing what to do next. Thats why SMS communication, even though it’s really brief, needs to illuminate a clear path.

Facebook Messenger, for example, draws users back into the app by reminding them of events they’ve been invited to where they haven’t given an RSVP. Rather than just saying “Reminder: Michael’s party is coming up,” they pose a friendly suggestion: “Tell him if you can make it.”

Great SMS Call-to-action example
By gently suggesting what the reader should do, they encourage behaviors that will make the reader more successful Facebook Messenger users.

Provide sample responses

People don’t always feel comfortable responding to marketing SMS messages, so offering prewritten answers for an SMS keyword response interaction can be helpful. That’s exactly what Seamless does here, where they tell users exactly how they can respond. For certain questions, they give a simple “Yes” or “No,” and for others they rate the service on a scale of 1-5.

Seamless SMS interaction
By eliminating any uncertainty regarding how they’re supposed to respond, Seamless removes all friction from a 2-way interaction.

Combining SMS and Email

SMS can be a stand-alone messaging strategy, but it makes sense to couple SMS messages with other channels like email. Some important rules of thumb to consider include avoiding bombarding people with messages, delivering messages according to user preferences, and formulating an approach that considers multiple channels holistically.

Instacart’s deliberate email and SMS message approach

The food delivery service Instacart sends customers both email and SMS, which combine for an overall great experience. They use the channels to serve up different kinds of messages with purpose.

For instance, let’s say I use Instacart’s service without having the app installed or push notifications turned off. Here are the types of SMS messages they send: alerts and notifications about the status of my order. News of replacement items, especially, are important do deliver via SMS so that I can review them quickly.

Instacart SMS examples
Instacart sends me order confirmation and receipts via email, which are types of messages that can be asynchronous. Plus the format of emails are best for confirming details and record-keeping, since they’re longer form, searchable, and archivable.

Instacart order confirmation email
Emails also allow for extra engagement opportunity. This email, even though it’s primarily transactional, is able to convey a quick call-to-action for Instacart Express. It doesn’t feel salesy, because you know that this recipient just got value out of your app. It’s relevant and well-timed.

Instacart receipt email
If an SMS is over 160 characters, your message will get broken up into a bunch of texts, which comes across as spammy. That’s why SMS is awesome for conveying information when it’s really urgent, but email can be better for communicating a lot of information.

When should I use SMS vs. email?

SMS is All About Trust

When a customer hands over their phone number and agrees to receive SMS, they’re putting a lot of trust in you.

It’s your responsibility to show them the same level of trust and respect—it’s what your customer relationships are built on. Scaling trust with customers is important for email marketing, but even more important for SMS. Keep delivering them messages that are relevant and well-timed, and you’ll build a great relationship with your customers.

We’re so excited to introduce the new Twilio Action for adding SMS messages to your Customer.io triggered campaigns! Learn more about the new Twilio SMS Action!

3 Behavioral Messaging Workflows to Improve Churn

In 2013, Groove got serious about combatting churn.

Customers were leaving at a higher rate than ever before, but Groove wasn’t sure why. After all, a customer who feels lukewarm about your product isn’t going to go out of their way to explain that their issue. So Groove wanted to reach out to at-risk customers. But how could they do that if they didn’t know who their at-risk customers were?

That’s when Groove started examining user behavior. By looking at what actions customers were (or weren’t) taking inside their helpdesk app through Kissmetrics, they were able to learn about someone’s likelihood to churn. On average:

  • users who didn’t churn after a month spent 3 minutes and 18 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 4.4 times a day.
  • users who did churn after a month spent only 35 seconds using Groove in their first session, and logged in an average of 0.3 times per day.

Customer behavior shows reliable signs of intent, almost as if customers were telling them, “Hey, I love your app!” or “Hey, I’m getting stuck.” Customer actions, Groove realized, spoke 1,000 words.

How did Groove make a huge difference in their churn rate? Whenever they saw one of these key actions that indicated churn, they reached out with a tailored message. This helped them cut churn by 71%.

User behavior speaks to you. What

Why was Groove’s approach so effective? For one, it was responsive — by using behavioral signs of intent to trigger customer communication, it was easier for that message to be relevant, timely, and helpful to the situation. Also, the approach was systematic, as the company applied their data-driven approach to retention.

Today we’re going to talk about how to set up your own system of responsive customer communication by showing you 3 ways to automate behavior-based messaging through Customer.io.

How to Automate Your Behavioral Messaging

For behavior-based messaging, first identify the behaviors you want to see. You’ve probably already identified key actions that users need to take — or learned where drop-offs occur from analytics tools and user interviews. Once you identify the desired behavior, translate that it into a line of conversation that bridges the gap between one step and the next — as well as the user’s point of view to your own.

A super common example is when users don’t complete the very first key action that they need to see success or gain value from a product. Here’s what translating that into a line in a conversation might look like:

  • Behavior: People aren’t finishing that first key action (like integrating, filling out a profile, setting up a project, completing a game) and not coming back.
  • What does it mean for the customer?: I’m not getting value out of your app yet so I’m not motivated to return. Maybe I got stumped somewhere, or I don’t really understand the product. Maybe I got busy with other stuff, or I simply forgot since I’m just starting out and your product hasn’t stuck with me.
  • What you should do: What will help spark a little motivation to engage and get to that aha moment? Help people make progress and get to the next step. That could mean teaching them how to do stuff, helping them remove barriers and obstacles, or inspiring them with specific examples and stories.

3 Ways to Keep Customers on the Right Track

Okay, you’ve got a strategy for when to reach out, to who, and why. Now let’s set up some automated campaigns that trigger based on specific user activity. Here are 3 types of messaging campaigns that you can set up using Customer.io’s triggered emails and webhook Actions.

Action 1: Trigger Helpful Email Messages

Nudge people who haven’t completed those key tasks with an email or drip series.

Elevate, a game-based brain-training app, reaches out if you don’t complete your first training session. Instead of nagging you to return, their message starts off on a positive note of congratulations. Then the email proceeds to address different problems users might be having.

Elevate onboarding emails

From feeling too challenged, pressed for time, or wanting more option, there’s a specific clarification for why you should return to the app in the email. At the very least, it’s a succinct nudge to remind folks about the app. The clear, customer-oriented call-to-action “Train Today”(“training” sounds pretty valuable) encourages users to get back into the app and finish that first game.

Action 2: Create a Support Ticket

Triggering external communication to customers (like emails or even postcards isn’t the only method at your disposal for helping them make progress and preventing churn. Triggering internal communication is also vital.

Internal notifications based on user behavior not only helps your team keep a pulse on what’s happening but also equips them with the information they need to take charge. Sometimes, a situation calls for a more involved conversation or a more manual approach like proactive support efforts or hand-written customer appreciation notes.

Trigger a notification into your helpdesk service like Zendeskor Help Scout for your support team to reach out in specific situations. That lets your team know when someone’s first exhibiting signs of churn, for example. Escalate outreach if people have been unresponsive to your triggered outbound messages, customize your requests for feedback, or simply say thanks for sticking around, all based on customer history and context.

Let’s take the example of a low NPS rating. You can connect Customer.io to Help Scout, Zendesk, or any other helpdesk with a public API, using Webhook Actions to create new conversations when customers enter a “Low NPS Rating” segment.

Customer.io webhook Action sending NPS to Help Scout

Even if you’re tracking NPS ratings within Customer.io to make segments for newsletter and automated messages, you may want to reach out to detractors personally to address their specific concerns and reasons for their rating.

Customer.io webhook actions Help Scout conversation

Getting these workflows into your current helpdesk allows for better record-keeping and opportunities for proactive communication, with ticketing systems that ensure that things don’t fall through the cracks.

Action 3: Get Productive with Trello

Team workflows may involve productivity and project-tracking tools like Trello — and it’s often helpful to build a bridge feeding data about what’s happening with customers in your product into that task management flow.

Here at Customer.io, for example, our success team keeps a careful eye on the health of our customers to make sure we’re doing all we can to help them be successful.

The team uses a Trello board to keep track of proactive outreach tasks. One list on that board is the “New Customer Checklist” and, using webhook Actions, automatically create a Trello card in this list every time an account converts into a paid subscription. Each card contains a checklist to manually go through and verify in the account whether everything is set up for smooth sailing ahead, from making sure the integration is set up correctly to double-checking that the account is complying with our anti-spam policy.

Customer.io webhook actions Trello

We supplement the Trello Action with a triggered internal message into the #team-customer-success channel in our Slack account. Not only does this help keep the success team up to date in realtime, it creates more transparency for the whole company about what’s happening around conversions.

Customer.io Success Team webhook actions campaign

Customer.io is a powerful platform that can get complex depending on your knowledge level and your objectives — and our philosophy as a company is that we can only succeed if our customers do. Being able to automate very specific notifications around our customer data to then extend a proactive, human, and very personal approach is vital to that goal.

Deepen Customer Relationships

Your probability of making meaningful connections with your customers is much higher with specificity and relevance — a personalized approach that offers support and the real opportunity for dialogue, carried out over time. Then your messages go out to people willing to actually listen.

Automating your messaging, external and internal, by responding to actual user behavior is the smartest way to maintain specificity and relevance at scale. Over time, that will help you build much deeper, more trusting relationship between you and your customers.

Supercharge Your Mobile App Engagement with Behavioral Emails

Behavioral email can take a back seat for mobile app marketers, who focus on communicating with people through in-app messaging, push notifications, or within the product itself.

The problem with that strategy is that it relies on how much customers are using your app. And no matter how good you are, your app probably isn’t a core part of your customer’s day-to-day lives.

But email is. People check their emails 15 times a day on average. And according to email analytics platform Litmus, over half of all emails are opened on mobile. Your users are just a thumb-swipe away from your app.

Behavioral email act like an extension of your product by relating directly to the actions your customers have taken — which means you can reach people with relevant, personally-tailored calls-to-action that feel like a natural next step for them to take. With mobile deep linking, you can even decide exactly what part of your app to send those users to, prompting the exact behaviors you’re looking for.

Behavioral email is the perfect way to get your customers in the habit of using your app. Here are five examples of behavior-triggered emails to get your mobile app users engaged and coming back.

Onboard New Users from the Inbox

User onboarding is the most important moment of the customer lifecycle. 80% of users delete the average app within just three days. But on the flip side, apps with great onboarding see retention boosts well beyond those three days, throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

Early retention is crucial, but also incredibly difficult. When most people open an app, everything is unfamiliar. If it’s not immediately obvious what they’re supposed to do, they’re not going to spend all day figuring it out. After all, they were doing fine without the app. They feel no attachment to it yet, which makes the decision to uninstall it really easy.

The flight-finder app, Hitlist, fights those obstacles by setting triggers for new users to receive a behavioral email if they haven’t planned any trips after a few days past signup. At first glance, this is a pretty plain email but what they’re saying is helpful to a new user, explaining not just why using the app is worth your time but telling you exactly how to make that happen.

Hitlist onboarding behavioral email

The reinforcement of why and how you should try the app out makes starting much easier — now that I know I don’t need to know exactly when or when my trip is to get value out of the app, I can go hit that button to poke around the app the try planning my first trip.

Onboarding is all about getting users to that aha moment—the time when your app delivers whatever improvement or value it promises—as quickly as possible. Onboarding software experts Appcues explains how “your product’s onboarding process is where users will learn how to use their newfound powers” — and sometimes you need to prompt people to get to those learnings and aha’s by communicating outside of your app.

Introduce Users to an Unfamiliar Feature

Check out how Swarm hypes up its new messaging feature in this email. It gives users a quick overview of why the feature is valuable and how to use it, followed by two buttons inviting them to try it for themselves. Those buttons then use deep links to open Swarm and send them right to the messaging feature.

Swarm app feature adoption email

What’s great about this email is that it quickly explains the value of the new messages feature and sets the stage for the customer to try it immediately — it’s just a tap away — while their curiosity is highest.

But this strategy applies to more than new features you build. Many people will gravitate towards the one or two features of your app they like the most and then don’t try out any others. That means they’re missing out on some of the best parts of your app. Getting them to use those other features and discover new value works wonders for retention.

You can use an analytics tool like Amplitude to see which features are underused or to identify which parts of your product are most popular. Then trigger an email like Swarm’s above to get them to try something new.

Pro tip: If your mobile app also has a web version, make sure your deep links account for that. If the customer opens the email on their desktop, the link needs to send them to the appropriate part of the web app.

Remind Users How Valuable You Are with a Milestone Email

Fitness tracking app Strava sends users emails like this when they hit certain exercise milestones.

Strava app milestone retention email

Each triggered email automatically pulls personalized data on the user from the app to make it feel crafted just for that recipient. In the short-term, an email likes this makes people feel good about how much they’ve worked out, plus there’s the handy reminder that it might be time to invest in some new shoes. But in the long term, it also reminds people of the value they get from using the app.

It’s a classic positive feedback loop. Psychologically, we get a rush from these kinds of rewards and are motivated to repeat the actions that lead to them. It reinforces the feeling that you’re helping your customers make progress on their way to real achievements.

The key is to monitor your customers’ success metrics—the number that shows the customer is using your app productively. For Strava, that number is miles run while using the app. For Uber, it would be rides taken. Whatever it is, celebrate your users with a personalized email whenever they hit a new meaningful milestone.

Send Notifications Your Customers Want to Know About

Great behavioral emails aren’t sales-y. They focus on building a relationship with the customer that’s based on trust, even when it comes time for the upsell.

Most upsell emails come off like a bad cold call: unwanted, one-size-fits-all attempts to get more money. But behavior-triggered emails like the one here from Instapaper are more successful because they take the users’ activity into account, and offer them a way to get more out of the app. It’s not about selling the product, it’s about making sure the customer can continue using features they like.

Instapaper app upgrade email

Instapaper lets users save articles they want to read later across all their devices. Premium users also get to make highlights and add notes to pieces of text, but free users can only do that five times a month. When those free users get close to the limit, Instapaper alerts them by email and invites them to try out the premium service.

By emailing free users who push the monthly highlight feature to the limit, Instapaper is targeting the people most likely to upgrade. That, combined with the free month, is a strong incentive for them to try premium. And since the email is also alerting the user that they’re nearing the limit, it feels more like a helpful reminder than a hard sell.

Cancellation Emails

One of the biggest mistakes users make with retention is assuming that people are gone for good when they cancel (or uninstall!). Don’t abandon people just because you think they’ve left you. Re-engage churned users with a timely email like this one from Spotify.

When premium Spotify users cancel or downgrade to the free plan, they get an email like this — which includes a little reminder of the features — like no ads — that they’ve grown accustomed to and will lose. Then, it provides the chance to reverse the cancellation with a single click of the eye-catching “Go premium” CTA.

Spotify cancellation email

With this email, Spotify takes the time to make the argument that canceling might not be the greatest decision — but without being too pushy or weird about it. Then, it makes resubscribing to the service pretty easy — just a click away!

The key is to have this email trigger as soon as the user cancels. It serves as a transactional record but also makes a pitch for when someone might still be on the fence about their decision and be willing to listen to you. Take the opportunity for your communication to go up to bat for your product.

Behavioral Emails Feel More Natural

In order for your emails to improve the customer experience, they need to fit seamlessly with the experience each user has already had with your product. Behavior-triggered emails are the simplest way to achieve this sentiment. It makes your email messaging feel like a natural conversation rather than a one-way megaphone that people will want to shut off immediately.

Thanks to the rise of mobile email and the power of deep linking, behavior email is even more powerful with mobile apps. If you reach your users with relevant mobile messaging, it won’t be hard to get them out of their inbox and onto your app, no matter where they are in the customer lifecycle.

Have you seen any great or terrible examples of engagement emails from your mobile apps? Do share in the comments!

How to Leverage the Familiarity Principle in Emails

Which do you prefer, Coke or Pepsi?

In blind taste tests, consumers regularly cast their vote for Pepsi. But here’s the catch: as soon as consumers knew they were drinking Coke, they preferred it more. When scientists studied why people picked Coke over Pepsi — even though they liked the taste of Pepsi better! — they found that people had stronger mental and emotional associations with Coke’s brand.

Marketers leverage this type of finding with an all-too-simplistic formula: the more touchpoints a consumer has with a brand, the more they’ll like it. In fact, there’s a psychological phenomenon called the familiarity principle, which states that the more you see something, the more you prefer it. But the number of touchpoints simply doesn’t cut it. It’s not like Pepsi doesn’t advertise. In fact, they spend copiously, often advocating that they have a superior taste.

Create positive familiarity

Yet it’s clear that Coke has the superior branding. Whatever they’re doing is able to outweigh Pepsi’s touchpoints because theirs matter more. The real magic of the familiarity principle is creating interactions that cut through the noise to actually stick with people, boost mindshare, and build trust.

Here’s how you can use it in email marketing and communicating with your customers:

Dude, Where’s My Czar?

The clothing company Burberry was having an identity crisis. The 150-plus-year-old company was underperforming and seemed stodgy, all while trying to appeal to too many people. Burberry’s genius solution: implement a “brand czar.”

The brand czar’s sole job was to regulate every consumer-facing part of the business. Everything from their product offerings, their brick-and-mortar stores to their online ordering system to their customer support scripts to their emails had to feel consistent. With the brand czar, consumers would walk away from every interaction, knowing that they dealt with Burberry, a luxury brand.

It worked. The company transformed its brand, spurred growth, and affirmed its place in the luxury sector.

This takes advantage of one of the most crucial elements of the familiarity principle: consistency. Sociologist Robert Zajonc, the first person to study the familiarity principle in a lab setting, discovered that the principle only works if few variables are changed between touchpoints. Humans like consistency.

For users to connect with a consistent brand, there should be an identity that comes through each experience — and that includes how you talk to people in your emails. Second, there can’t be a “too many cooks” problem. The experience should feel continuous, from your email headings to the copy and tone of your messages.

Introducing: Taco from Trello

Trello users sometimes get an email from an interesting address: taco@trello.com. Taco the Husky is Trello’s mascot, a literal embodiment of a brand czar. As the mascot for Trello, the dog “sends” emails too, including feature updates, news, and a helpful “how to get started” message.

Trello welcome email with Taco

In addition, Taco has a Twitter account. It’s goofy, but it shows the brand’s personality and gets people to want to engage, instead of shoving touchpoints in their faces.

Trello Taco meme

A presence like Taco’s helps make the brand feel consistent over time, which is what the familiarity principle is really about. It’s not necessarily about having an actual person to latch onto but an identifiable presence that users can get to know and even engage with.

To build a consistent presence with your emails, first, consider the elements that can become familiar to someone in their inbox — like design, tone, and having designated, identifiable senders. People feel safer opening an email from a friendly name, (like Janet from Customer.io) rather than a do-not-reply address. And as Kristen Craft, Wistia‘s director of business development, puts it, showing character is a great way of getting touchpoints that matter.

Over time, the more people see this identifiable, positive presence, the more that identity will stick. You’re increasing trust and recipients’ inclination to open and pay attention to you, message-by-message.

Tell Stories to Engage Emotions

Political canvassers have a tough job. For every unsubscribe we might get, they get a literal door closing in their face. But recently, a team of researchers examined how going door-to-door can actually change people’s minds, even on really hot-button issues. The most effective canvassers don’t throw facts at people or present a laundry list of reasons to vote for this candidate or against a certain policy. The most effective canvassers tell stories.

Specifically, they tell stories that really get the listener to empathize, and allow the listener to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation. As one study found, perspective-taking, or “imagining the world from another’s vantage point,” is a cognitive-active process that can have huge effects, from changing someone’s mind to even reducing prejudice.

Branding these days can seem like it’s all about being catchy and viral, but it’s quality touchpoints like stories that connect with and involve people that stick around.

How Watsi Tells Stories that Matter

Watsi enables people to directly fund patients in need across the globe. The nonprofit saw the great impact of telling their patients’ individual stories, including updates on their treatment and beautiful photography, via email.

For Watsi, this “user experience” has become an important part of their brand. It feels much different when you make a donation through Watsi than another organization. I love getting updates about patients whose treatment that I’ve helped fund.

Watsi update email

Instead of getting a receipt for my donation as if it were any other type of cold purchase, Watsi allows me to become more involved in the narrative, which accomplishes many things. I get to feel like a caring, informed person, which makes me think of Watsi in a positive light. I feel more engaged with their work, which makes me want to continue to engage with them and continue donating. And it aligns with the company’s main value of radical transparency, which creates a consistent experience.

Here’s one of Wati’s best-performing email campaigns. The message is personalized based on a patient previously funded and brings in the perspective of the patient’s doctor, recalling the familiar and weaving a continuing narrative journey of support, care, and hope.

Watsi email campaign

“We realized the closer we can bring people to the work we’re doing on the ground — to the patient, to the hospital providing the care, to the person’s family — the more they will feel like they are having a signficant interaction, and that’s the product we deliver for every donation,” co-founder Grace Garey told First Round.

What Good Can You Do?

One big common mistake is abandoning your audience and customers too early, before making a lasting positive impression, or even before they even know who you are (which is why sending the odd blast email to everyone at once can seem so terrifying). That requires more than just showing up to push a holiday promotion to drive sales or random news blast to drive traffic. For marketers, this means investing in interactions that are more than strictly transactional.

Another huge mistake is that you grab the wrong takeaway from the familiarity principle — to win, talk more. That’s the fast track to acting like an annoying spammer, barraging your recipients with empty, impersonal messages.

So your job isn’t done after one more signup or subscription — nor is it done by adding yet one more piece of noise to mix. Your job’s done when your brand comes off more like Coke than Pepsi. And when it comes to email marketing, one way to do that is by doing some good.

First Rule of Email: Add Value

We talk a lot here about the value of great product-driven behavioral emails — they give direction to people who get stuck and help users make progress towards their goals in your product.

So today, let’s examine another way of adding value via email: provide helpful content that helps people do their job or accomplish their goals outside of your product or service.

This type of engagement improves your relationship to people at any stage of the buyer’s journey or customer lifecycle. Instead of a sales-y exhortation to “buy something now!”, it’s an offering. Not only do you start — and continue — conversations with folks you want to engage, you build trust and connection to your brand, all without focusing on yourself.

Wistia does a great job of this by providing tons of educational content — whether you’re a free user, newsletter or community subscriber, or a power team mega player. Everyone needs a hand when it comes to being successful with video. This isn’t a new tactic of course, but what makes Wistia stand out is their quality and personality. Because they deliver this value, over and beyond their video-hosting product, consistently and with such character, they stand on the Coca Cola side of the branding spectrum.

Wistia add value email

The company, Mention, collects job information at signup, which enables them to send content customized to those roles, from blog posts:

Mention role-targeted content email

click to see full email

to relevant webinars:

Mention role-targeted webinar email

By continuing to engage users even after signup — and personalizing content to make sure it’s relevant and useful — Mention is building a familiarity that matters.

The Crazy Thing About How You Communicate

The familiarity principle seems like a bunch of common sense. Repeat positive interactions — get happier audiences and customers — and ultimately, happier business results.

But there’s still one profound lesson we haven’t talked about yet: the fact that how you communicate with people changes their experiences and perceptions of your product. Positive contextual associations that you create have an ability — on a neurological level — to affect someone’s enjoyment of your offering, over someone else’s.

The potential for your customer communication and email marketing to make that difference is enormous. Data allows you to get even more personalized and relevant to your customers. Combine that data with a consistent voice and branding, great storytelling that brings people closer, plus valuable, helpful content — and you’ll supercharge your marketing.

What’s another company that you think does a great job of branding and customer communication?

How to SMARTen Up Your Lifecycle Emails

Let’s face it: sometimes we have dumb goals. We want to be fitter, happier, more productive without bothering to sit down and figure out why and how.

SMART goals is a popular framework used for productivity and management to break down those lofty goals into something feasible. The idea is that if you deliberately design your objectives, you can better set yourself up for success in accomplishing them.

The SMART acronym provides 5 criteria to help set effective goals:

  • Specific: Is your goal specific?
  • Measurable: How do you know whether you’re making progress?
  • Achievable: Is the goal realistic and attainable?
  • Relevant: Is this a goal that matters? Will it drive you forward?
  • Time-related: What’s the timeframe for the goal to be achieved?

Bringing clarity and concreteness to goals clears the path to actually taking steps. With a well-defined, worthy objective, you can tell how you’re faring in reaching it and figure out what you need to get there.

Applying the SMART goals approach is also useful for planning great emails — which, like all human goals, has an inclination to stay fuzzy until we deliberate on them.

S.M.A.R.T. Email goals

Here’s a 5-criteria checklist, adapted for SMARTening up your emails:

  • Specific: Did you define a specific conversion goal?
  • Measurable: What metric are you going to use to indicate progress?
  • Achievable: Is the conversion goal realistic and attainable?
  • Relevant: Is your goal relevant to users at this point? Does your message resonate because it provides value and helps drive them forward?
  • Time-related: Is this the optimal time for this type of conversion goal? What is the behavioral trigger and timing for the emails?

You can use SMART goal-setting for any type of marketing email, but it’s especially handy to apply to lifecycle emails. SMART goals can provide a blueprint for architecting a lifecycle email program that increases engagement, builds trust, and gets people where you want them to go.

First, Start With Smart Conversion Goals

The first step to getting lifecycle emails right is analyzing your customer’s lifecycle. Your hope is that people will perform key actions to derive value from your product at certain stages of interaction. Frameworks and funnels like the pirate metrics model can help you plot out these key actions. These are the conversion goals around which you’ll orient your lifecycle emails.

Here’s how SMART helps determining and refining those goals:

  • Defining a specific goal that is relevant to users forces you to crystallize each conversion goal and prioritize it against everything else you’d like people to do. For instance, is it more important for you to ask new users to follow you on Twitter or to show them a key feature?

  • Designing a conversion goal with the constraints of making it timely and achievable also pushes you to consider your user’s experience and perspective. Is upgrading to a premium plan right after signup the best timing and most realistic goal to set? Yes, in your dream universe, that’s how it would work — but for new users, who are feeling the most unfamiliar and uninvested in your product, no.

  • Often with funnel- or lifecycle-based goals, you’ll think of quantifiable actions — people will do them or they won’t. But sometimes there are fuzzier-natured conversion goals, like “strengthen community.” Making sure your conversion goal is measurable allows you to know if you’re making headway, as well as A/B test and iterate towards better results.

Let’s take a look at MailCharts, an email marketing intelligence tool that e-commerce marketers use to track their competitors, create competitive email marketing reports, gather email ideas, and keep up with industry trends.

Here’s how MailCharts typically wants to see people behave. A new customer:

  • Visits the website (acquisition)
  • Signs up for a free trial (activation)
  • Gathers first email insight using app (activation)
  • Returns every week to use 1 key feature (retention)
  • Becomes a paying customer (revenue)
  • Invites someone to check out MailCharts (referral)

Now, let’s zoom in on MailChart’s onboarding flow in particular. After someone signs up, we want them to gather their first email insight using the app. Now, this sounds like a vital step — without seeing what type of insight the tool can deliver, new users won’t be able to experience the value of MailCharts.

But when you apply SMART criteria to this goal, you start to see how it isn’t specific enough. MailCharts wants new users to gather email insight so that they can experience one of those “aha!” moments and start realizing the value of the MailCharts app. It’s a great first step because we’re thinking about what the benefit is for the user, plus it seems very relevant, achievable, and timely.

But the goal of “gathers email insight” isn’t specific or measurable yet. What does gathering your first email insight mean in MailCharts? What features or actions does that involve? We need to break it down further into discrete steps like:

  • Performs first email search in MailCharts
  • Generates first report with MailCharts

Now we have a SMARTer onboarding flow with specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based conversion goals.

Add Your Smart Communication Layer

Now that we have some clear conversion goals, we can build on them by adding in behavioral emails (triggered messages based on what people have done) to educate and convince users to complete the goals. Let’s continue applying our SMART criteria as we plan this communication layer.

  • Specific: Is your call-to-action specific? Does it align with your conversion goal?
  • Measurable: How are you going to measure whether people heeded your call-to-action? For many types of lifecycle emails, you’ll probably want to go beyond opens and clicks and look at actual behavior.
  • Achievable: Are you clearing the path to action? (e.g., Can you include the direct link to where users need to go?) Are you asking the right person to carry out the goal? (e.g., Are you asking all users on a team to update billing details rather than the team admin?)
  • Relevant: Have you personalized the message with a meaningful purpose and resonancne for the reader? Is it based on past behavior so that you’re not nagging people to do things they already did?
  • Timely: Getting message timing right is vital. Trigger your messages based on what has or hasn’t happened, and stop sending messages when people accomplish the conversion goal.

Let’s look at MailChart’s onboarding flow again, from signup to paid subscriber. We’ll map out the conversion goals and the communication strategy for a drip series at each step.

Goal: Prompt new users to run their first email search in MailCharts
Show how easy it is to search with a gif
Show the value of email search by framing it as new A/B test ideas
Highlight a cool feature like search by email type
Provide the results of a sample search and share 3 types of insight

MailCharts lifecycle email

sample MailCharts email prompting users to run a search

Goal: Prompt new users to generate first report with MailCharts
Talk about the different types of reports you can run in MailCharts
Send snippets of a sample company overview report to show what it looks like
Offer suggestions on how to analyze a report like looking at send-time strategy
Show an example of a report and the types of insights you can glean

MailCharts onboarding email

part of sample MailCharts email showing value of their reports

With behavioral emails, you’re able to stop a series mid-drip once the user accomplishes the conversion goal or exclude them from getting it at all. For example, you might get one series of messages encouraging you to generate your first report and not get the email search messages if you already did it.

As Olark’s Sunir Shah says, “A huge mistake with drip emails is asking users to complete actions they have already done.” This way, you start crafting a personalized email experience based on the specific actions and journey of each individual user.

Goal: Returns to app during free trial to continue creating reports and searches
After running 3 reports or searches, send a high-five and a freebie resource.
Remind users that MailCharts can add companies to the database on request.
Send a weekly digest of activity.

People abandon their apps all the time, but that’s no time to abandon your users. Learn some lessons from abandoned cart emails by reminding users of your value and offering help to make progress on their goals. Maintain or increase engagement with positive reinforcement, celebrating achievements and delivering value and insight based on past activity.

Goal: Trial user becomes a paying customer
Time’s running out.
Social proof story.
Reminder of some of the user’s insights and activity.

Goal: Superuser becomes a paying customer
Awesome work getting email insights. Do you want to upgrade?
Do you want to upgrade? Here’s an incentive for our VIP power-users.
Social proof story.
Time’s running out.

Here’s a great example of how thinking about SMART criteria can unearth some new email opportunities with your conversion goals. Even within your typical free trial, different kinds of behavior may emerge — which means you want to further personalize your goal and message.

If a new user seems to be getting a ton of value out of your app right away, then it could be an opportune time and a relevant and achievable goal to speed up the ask for a paid subscription.

After you plot out your SMART conversion and communication goals, go back and fill in your recipient segments and the timing for those triggered messages. Now you’ve created a basic lifecycle email plan that’s actionable for you to create and actionable for your users!

It’s easy to say that lifecycle emails are all about delivering the right message at the right time but like personal goals, it takes a bit of smarts and effort to translate that into reality.


p style=”border: double #FFD700 10px; padding: 15px;”>Behavioral Email Ebook!We’re cooking up a whole ebook on how to plan and create powerful lifecycle emails! Learn how to build your email-based growth machine.

Pre-order your guide now!

How to Write Emails that Pave the Way Towards Action

What does it take for an idea to register? The challenge is that information alone isn’t enough to convince or teach. The way you deliver information matters.

When Melissa Studzinski joined General Mills as a brand manager for the product Hamburger Helper, she got binders of data, market research and surveys, and briefs to help do her job. These “death binders,” as she called them, overwhelmed her with information in the abstract. What clicked for Melissa and her team was when they started visiting moms cooking in their kitchens. She says,

“I’ll never forget one woman, who had a toddler on her hip while she was mixing up dinner on the stove. We know that ‘convenience’ is an important attribute of our product, but it’s a different thing to see the need for convenience firsthand.”

Chip and Dan Heath tell this story in Made to Stick to illustrate the power of concreteness, how decision-making can be easier when guided by specific experiences. For Melissa, actually seeing moms in their homes delivered insights into the value of predictability and convenience for mothers and the kids they were feeding, over the extensive variety the company had been pushing. After simplifying the product line and adapting the ads, sales of Hamburger Helper increased by 11%.

"Information alone isn

In email marketing, it’s easy to deliver death by confusing abstractions or to take haphazard stabs at what we think will motivate. Instead we can educate, nurture, and convince much more effectively by using concreteness.

How Concrete Language Motivates

Concrete things exist in the real world. You can reach out and touch them, or stub your toe on them, and that vividness provides an entry-point into your audience’s reality. By doing some of the mental work in how your message is presented, people don’t have to expend extra brainpower unpacking fuzzy abstractions and figuring out exactly what you mean.

Whether it’s Aesop’s fables or a punchy elevator pitch, concreteness makes messages easier to understand, remember, and even believe. Concrete language is easier for the brain to parse and recall, and as psychologists Jochim Hansen and Michaele Wänke found in a 2010 study, the mind takes speedily processed and recallable information as more true and believable.

Take this pair of sentences used in the study:

  • In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe. [concrete]
  • Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges. [abstract]

Even when meaning and level of detail are the same, as in these Hamburg bridge descriptions, subtle linguistic framing makes a meaningful difference in how the information is digested.

“Linguistic concreteness makes the described situations more imaginable,” Hansen and Wänke write. “Increased imaginability, in turn, causes people to believe the statements with greater likelihood.” Framing the information as an experience that the reader is performing instead of plainly stating the fact that Hamburg has the most bridges in Europe feels more concrete, and so, adds credibility and persuasiveness.

Concrete language also paves the way for easier judgment calls and decisions. Because people can imagine and believe concrete statements, they can also envision outcomes and feel more comfortable making decisions towards those outcomes. For instance, researchers found that using more concrete language like “one share of IBM stock” rather than a generic “asset” in disclosures increased investors’ willingness to invest in a firm.

The researchers also found that highlighting concrete language reduces feelings of psychological distance. If you’re not familiar with something, confusing jargon, vague generalities, and abstract ideas end up becoming reasons to lose interest. In email of course, those are immediate reasons to unsubscribe, delete, ignore, or even spam.

Concreteness offers a bridge of believability and affinity to cross over and explore new things.

Applying Concreteness In Your Emails

So what does communicating with concreteness mean in practice? Present your message in a way that’s easy to imagine, visualize, and even feel as a reader. That may involve:

  • vivid storytelling
  • specificity and contextual details
  • images, graphics, and photos
  • illustrative examples, like testimonials and case study details
  • language of the senses
  • personas and personalization, speaking to the experiences and needs of specific people (or types of people)
  • describing a shared experience, like coming together to solve the same problem

You’re using details, but not just any old details either. They have to be specifics that take into account the audience’s point of view. That way, they can inhabit, imagine, and absorb.

As the Hamburg bridge examples shows, word choice and framing matters too. Here’s a brief primer from psychologists Gün Semin and Klaus Fiedler’s “Linguistic Category Model” which categorizes types of words from concrete to abstract:

  • Descriptive action verbs describe specific behaviors in specific situations, with little room for interpretation. They’re less likely to have positive or negative connotations. e.g., count, crouch, kiss, run
  • Interpretive action verb describe general behavior in a specific situation and requires some interpretation. These verbs also tend to have positive or negative connotations. e.g., help, cheat, threaten
  • State verb describe emotional, mental, or feeling states that have no clear beginning or end. e.g., believe, love, admire, envy
  • Adjectives are the most abstract type of word and require a lot of interpretation. e.g., creative, impulsive, reliable

To aim for concreteness, then, use more descriptive and interpretive action verbs and hold off on the adjectives.

Since concreteness helps close gaps with psychological distance, it’s especially useful when you’re dealing with newness — new users or audience members, new features, and other types of new situations. Concreteness, funnily enough, is your welcoming, pillowy soft landing for your readers’ minds.

Let’s look at a few email examples:


About a week after a new app signup for Close.io, a sales CRM tool, they trigger a very long email from CEO Steli Efti.


Click for full, epic email

Why does this message clock in at over 1,000 words? It’s sharing many stories, all designed to build a bridge to the reader and hopefully ferry them over closer to activation and engagement.

Instead of saying something like “Get started because Close.io is the best!” — Steli shows you why with a resonating origin story. You learn that the Close.io team is solving a pain they had experienced firsthand. That’s why the specific descriptions of existing solutions that turn people into “manual data-entry-monkeys” feels magnetic. They’ve walked in your shoes, their product started out as their own secret sales sauce — this is Close.io’s version of showing that they’ve been in moms’ kitchens and understand their needs.


After testimonial quotes from real-life happy customers, Steli brings the focus back to you. Envision your future — you’ll make better calls and emails, escape the data-entry monkey zoolife, and gain sales data insights — and here are all the details on how that all comes into existence.


Casetext is a handy platform for legal writing, research, and publication. Their mission is to make legal knowledge and resources free and understandable. Here’s an email Casetext sent out about one of its contributors Leah Litman, who has written about retroactivity of a law affecting convictions.

Casetext newsletter email

Click for full email

The message describes how Leah’s Casetext piece was cited in a legal brief to the Supreme Court, providing a concrete example of the reach and impact that publishing your work on Casetext and being part of its community can have. Your words can go all the way to the top!

Instead of listing out cool, snazzy features or even a bunch of abstract benefits, Casetext succeeds in making all that come together in telling Leah’s story.

The call-to-action button is a great concrete touch, too:

Casetext newsletter call-to-action

Instead of something generic like “learn more” or “sign up” — it’s a specific and relevant direction: start writing!


Appcues, a user onboarding tool, unsurprisingly has put some thought into their triggered activation emails. A few days after you sign up for the product, you get an email with the subject line “Honestly, I was blown away…”

Appcues triggered onboarding drip email

Click for full email

The email highlights one specific company, StoryboardThat, and the specific successes — 112% increase in conversions! — they had using Appcues.

This is a story that will resonate with Appcues’s target audience: here’s a real-life small team that has to deal with many competing priorities but wanted to make their user onboarding more effective. Here is what actually happened after they starting using Appcues, including this impressive A/B test result that blew the customer away.

Appcues onboarding email concrete A/B test

Their call-to-action button copy is on point too. Even though the link simply takes you into the app, the message is not about signing in or checking Appcues out. Instead, it’s about the very clearly defined goal that the reader has: increase your conversion rate.

Appcues onboarding email concrete example

Finally, the Appcues team includes the picture of the person featured in the story, which makes it easier to see and understand who was impacted. Aaron is a real person, very much like you, who wants to increase conversion rates without having to wrangle a bunch of code.

Telling relevant stories, showing specific examples, and using concrete language is simply part of good writing and effective communication. Still, concreteness is a remarkably helpful principle that keeps you thinking about your reader and customer’s experience. It battles against your curse of knowledge, the fact that your product or business takes up such a large part of your mind compared to a visitor or prospect, or even loyal customer, and often gets in the way of getting your actual point across.

Our emails and messages shouldn’t be death-by-information but helpful bridges and balloons that bring people up and over to where they want to go.

Do you have an example of super concrete or super abstract language in an email? Share with us in the comments

The Pirate’s Map to Valuable Lifecycle Emails

Getting caught in the trap of thinking about your email campaign to-do’s in a scatter? Gain direction with a map of a comprehensive customer lifecycle — one like Dave McClure’s 5-part pirate metrics model of Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue (AARRR!).

Then, treat email as part of your broader user experience — triggered by behavior and informed by lifecycle stage — to make customers happier and more successful in your product over the long-term.

pirate metrics lifecycle emails

Here are 5 specific email campaigns for each stage of the pirate metrics framework:

  • Acquisition: People become aware of you and give you their email address to become users or subscribers.
    Email Campaign: forking newsletter drip
  • Activation: People experience the aha! moment(s) necessary to grasp your value and hook them.
    Email Campaign: account activity notification

  • Retention: Users keep coming back.
    Email Campaign: inactivity email
  • Referral: Happy users and customers refer friends to try the product.
    Email Campaign: referral progress email
  • Revenue: People become paid customers, upgrade to larger plans, and give you their moneys.
    Email Campaign: personal new feature update
  • 1. Acquisition Is Easier With Familiarity

    A regular newsletter is one of the best ways for people to get to know you. The rhythm of newsletter emails trigger the familiarity principle, which states that the more people are exposed to something, the more they tend to prefer it (like that new song you hated the first time you heard it but now find yourself humming after a few more listens).

    That doesn’t mean you can just churn out a generic email once a week. These emails are extensions of your business, which means that like any good product, they should provide value to people and express who you are as a brand. So the trick is harnessing the effect of familiarity and exposure with regularly-delivered relevant information.

    Customize your newsletters or product welcome emails from the start to create positive familiarity and increase your reader’s inclinations to give your product a try.

    How KISSMetrics tailors newsletters to customers

    When you sign up for the newsletter from Kissmetrics, which offers marketing analytics for SaaS companies, you get to choose your own adventure with an “email forking” campaign that tailors subsequent emails.

    Click for full email

    Welcome emails have some of the highest open rates. At this moment of heightened interest, Kissmetrics asks what you’re interested in and empowers you to choose a personalized email experience (which they’ve likely set out based on their internal buyer personas). Offering that fork not only makes it more likely that readers will receive emails they find valuable, they’ve had a hand in choosing their own fate, which can increase motivation to open and read future messages.

    Kissmetrics understands that people have different goals, and that a marketer’s job is to help people reach those goals. If your emails are just “showing up” in people’s inboxes, they’re going to end up archived, deleted, or even spammed. When your business feels like a familiar presence that consistently delivers value, it shows you care, builds trust, and helps convince them that you understand their pain points and how to solve them.

    2. Activate Users With Helpful Updates

    Between the time of sign up and aha! moments, email updates can provide vital evidence of your product’s value. New users aren’t in the habit of using your app or service yet, and that means their relationship with you is still tenuous. Any friction point, including forgetting about you, could end it.

    Appeal to a users’ self-efficacy, or belief in their own ability to perform tasks and reach their goals. If people are convinced that they can meet their goals by spending more time with your product, they’ll keep making progress towards activation and beyond.

    Account activity notifications, for example, appeal to self-efficacy in two ways. First, even when people aren’t using your app, emails can remind them how your service is working for them. Second, if they haven’t completed important steps in the process, the email can show users that it’s easy to set up certain features or tasks to reach their goals.

    How Linkedin uses account activity to inspire users

    Like any social product, LinkedIn, the professional network, runs on user content. In their case, they’d like you to build detailed profiles. When you have a substantive profile, you can increase interest, connections, and the likelihood of finding jobs and other professional opportunities. With an empty or sparse profile, you’re probably missing out on key benefits.

    Value or no value — most people simply won’t fill out their profiles upon signing up, because there’s so much work involved in doing so. That’s why LinkedIn reminds users of that value every so often with a notification email when their profile gets viewed.


    If you don’t have LinkedIn open all the time, you gain some feedback about how your profile is working — along with easy next steps towards activation — in this case, making sure you add and curate your endorsements.

    Keep in mind that notification emails can backfire if the information in them isn’t helpful or impactful, as Facebook’s growth team learned. These messages should help users realize the core values of a product.

    3. Retain More Users By Triggering Loss Aversion

    It’s not a good sign when people stop using your app or service, but don’t quit on them so quickly either.

    While it might be counterintuitive to call attention to a cancellation, there’s an interesting psychological phenomenon called loss aversion where people find it more painful to lose something than to gain something. Two keys to note here: for loss aversion to kick in, people need to have felt a sense of ownership first and the loss tends to be felt around benefits, rather than attributes.

    If you can reach out and remind people of the benefits they’re letting go of, summoning that initial motivation of why they tried and enjoyed your product in the first place — you can inspire them to come back. If you’re tracking your user cohorts to see when people stop using your product, you can figure out how long you have before they drop out altogether.

    Send people showing signs of inactivity an email before that moment to remind them what they’re missing — instead of saying that you miss them.

    How Grammarly Targets Churned Users to Win Them Back

    Grammarly is a free browser extension that provides accurate grammar and spell checking online. But if people turn off their extension, it’s not going to be long before they forget about it or uninstall it and churn out completely. So when Grammarly notices that the extension has been deactivated, they trigger an email.


    Grammarly’s email doesn’t dictate to people that they’re losing out. They hit you with persuasive proof and numbers. It’s a strong combination punch of social proof (500,000+ people!), desire not to waste time (over 3 hours!), and fear of mistakes (36 a day!) to make you feel like there’s more than just a random browser extension at stake.

    If all those stats are convincing, Grammarly makes it easy to reactivate and get back on the grammar horse with a prominent red call-to-action.

    4. Spur Referrals By Asking

    Word of mouth is one of the most persuasive marketing means out there. Yet it’s often the case that we forget to actually ask people for referrals.

    Your referral program could simply consist of well-timed, targeted emails with your request, tapping directly into the intrinsic motivation happy customers feel to help spread the word and help their friends.

    Or maybe there’s an incentive, depending on the nature of your business or product. You might be familiar with Dropbox’s famously successful refer-a-friend program, which increased signups by 60%. They offered the referrer and referee extra storage space, framing the incentives and call-to-actions around their core value — a triple-win for all parties.

    While it may feel like a tightrope walk to get the tone and pitch of referral emails to feel right and not spammy, the goals are straightforward: ask nicely, at an opportune time, and clear the path for the referral to happen. If something is easy to do, it’s more likely to be done.

    How Mention inspires people to refer at the right time

    Mention, the social monitoring tool, takes an interesting approach to referral emails. Like Dropbox, they offer an incentive around their core value — the number of mentions that you can access. What’s smart about their approach is their timing. Mention triggers an email when you’re about to exceed the mention quota allotted to your plan as well as right after you’ve exceeded it.


    The opportunity is ripe here. If someone’s coming close to going over their limit, that means their usage is high and they’re probably pretty happy with your product. It’s a perfect time to ask if they need to increase their limit, and here, Mention offers two paths forward — upgrade and pay more or invite friends to get a quota boost. Combining referral and revenue here works because the message is well-timed to consider the state of the user.

    5. Grow Revenue With Relevant Email Updates

    To grow a business, there’s the cold fact of having to turn users into paying customers and get paying customers to upgrade. You might have identified and created features that your customers will love so much they’ll upgrade, but people aren’t necessarily spending time looking at your pricing page or paying attention to in-app feature announcements.

    That’s why every new feature you release should be accompanied by personalized new feature updates that target the specific customers who have expressed interest in that feature. Getting a personalized email with a clear path to upgrading will remind users you paid attention to their request and want to improve their experience with your product.

    How StatusPage Used Email To Upgrade Existing Users

    StatusPage, the server status communication platform, approached their feature roadmap with their revenue stage in perspective, designing a process that culminates in a perfectly timed, personal email campaign.

    Their engineering team didn’t just build random features and pray that customers liked them. They began by keeping close track of what customers actually wanted. For every major request, they recorded the number of people who expressed interest in it, the price tier the feature would live in, and the additional MRR expected from implementation.

    StatusPage feature requests

    When enough users requested a feature that aligned with their business goals, the team prioritized building the feature and made it happen. Then, when the feature rolled out, StatusPage sent personalized emails to the customers who’d made the request.

    personalized feature announcement and upgrade opportunity
    sample email

    The email also encouraged people to upgrade. There’s not much more of a prime opportunity to suggest an upgrade upon delivery of super-relevant, valued improvements that you already know specific customers want.

    It worked: that strategy resulted in increasing ARPU by 2.4x. To date, they’ve had over 4x as many upgrades as downgrades and over a fifth of all their users have upgraded from a lower to a higher-tier plan.

    Make The Hard Work Look Easy

    Designing relevant emails to feel personal and well-timed, even as they go out to a multitude of people, is a worthy challenge and an iterative process that’s going to take time and effort to get right. But tying your emails to a clear framework will provide structure, guidance, and alignment with how your business goals. It’s a smart way to work.

    Remember though, that people don’t live out their days in your pirate metrics funnel. They don’t care what stage you categorize them in — they care whether you’re addressing their needs. As Samuel Hulick points out, it’s much healthier to focus on how you can “help further the customer’s relationship with their greater need.”

    The pirate model helps map your planning and process, but if you get it right, your customers won’t feel like they’re getting shoved around in your various stages and funnels. Your emails will play a part in furthering people’s goals, while you can make progress building relationships and your business.

    Do you plan your email campaigns around pirate metrics? Share your experience with us in the comments!

    Behavioral Email Ebook!We’re cooking up a whole ebook on how to plan and create powerful lifecycle emails! Learn how to build your email-based growth machine.

    Pre-order your guide now!

  • 1
  • 2