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Getting Subscribers Onboard

Getting Subscribers Onboard

Subscribers: Activate! aka Getting Subscribers Onboard


You’ve set up your email marketing software, Websand of course.  It’s connected to your website, using our API, Zapier or our WordPress Widget.  And you’ve got those carefully crafted welcome emails are landing with a digital thud into inboxes.

That’s only the start of your journey in email marketing. Yes, you’ve introduced your new users to your service or product. They’ve signed up to use it.

But what now? You’d never introduce two people at a party and disappear after ten seconds. That leaves them floundering in a sea of small talk. You hang around and ease the transition into regular conversation.

Now? You need to do this. Ease the transition from ‘new user’ into ‘seasoned pro’.

That’s why you need activation and onboarding emails.

How to use activation emails

Whenever the bank sends you a new card, you activate it before you can use it. Activating your subscribers is the same thing.

Getting them onto your list is like receiving the card in the post.

They have to ‘activate’ before they can use your product or service.

You can’t rush this step because you need subscribers to know what to do next. You could also call activation ‘orientation’, ‘a guided tour’, or ‘debriefing’. Whatever term you use, the end goal is the same.

Subscribers start as new numbers in your Websand dashboard. They become new people in your email marketing community.

So how do you do that?

Enter the Onboarding Sequence.

Onboarding might sound nautical (or like something out of Star Trek, depending on your preference). But it just means getting users ‘on board’ with what you’re trying to do.

If you’ve ever signed up for something yourself, you’ll have undergone a similar process. You get those ‘getting started’ emails, or they take the form of tutorials. They function like a user guide and tell users how to achieve the results promised before they signed up.

The easier you make this step, the faster users ‘activate’.

Some companies rush this step or skip it entirely. They’re so focused on getting people into the top of the funnel they forget to help users move through it.

But you won’t do that. That’s why you’re here.

AIDA – Not Just an Opera.

AIDA is one of the most famous copywriting formulas in marketing. In case it’s new to you, it stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Your audience passes through each stage depending on their needs.

Through your marketing efforts, you’ve got their Attention. By persuading them to sign up, they showed Interest in your solution. The onboarding sequence helps build their Desire to use your product or service. Which leads to them taking Action.

So how do you do that?

You first need to understand what stops a subscriber taking action once they’ve signed up. It could be something within your power to fix. If that’s the case, stop what you’re doing now and get it fixed.

Or it might be getting the hang of a complicated user interface. Do you offer so many features, subscribers don’t know where to start? Whatever the barrier, your onboarding emails are their cheat sheet to overcome it.

So, a drip campaign?

Not yet! You will need to create a drip campaign. They’re an effective way to automate the activation process.

But before you can create one… what are you going to put in it? Yep. It’s not as easy as it looks.

There’s an easy way to find out what the ‘pain points’ are. In fact, it’s so easy, most businesses don’t even think to do it. It serves a dual purpose too. It gets you the information you need and helps build relationships with subscribers.

What is this magic process? You ask them.

That’s right. A straightforward, personal email is more effective than a million poor drip campaigns.

There are three major benefits to flat out asking what’s difficult about using your solution.

  • You get first-hand information about what it’s like to use your service or product. It’s crucial to get this from someone who didn’t have the luxury of creating it.
  • You show your subscribers you care about their experience and want to make it better. (And that you value their feedback).
  • You can reuse their language in your marketing to better speak to the pain points of other subscribers.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to email every single subscriber you ever get. The first 1000 will do. After that, you’ll have either fixed the problems or created a drip campaign that helps overcome them.

There’s a lot to be said for embedding the human touch in your marketing.

Now can I build an onboarding campaign?

Yes. Your first job is to map out the funnel.

Think of it as a diagnosis point. Here, you can see where there are problems in your onboarding process. That way, you can send new users an email when/if they’re struggling.

Your funnel needs to;

  • Track users’ activation goals
  • Pinpoint problems
  • Find solutions for those problems

Hang on! What are activation goals?

These are not your goals. They’re the goals of the user. And they’re tied into their motivation for using your solution.

The user’s motivation ties into your value proposition. In other words, what does your product or service help the user do or achieve?

Let’s look at Evernote as an example. A user’s motivation is to become more organised. Which reflects their value proposition.

A user’s activation goal is a series of small actions they need to perform to get from total newbie to seasoned pro. This latter part is the user’s motivation for signing up. For Evernote, users go from being a total newbie to a slick organised professional.

And when we talked about ‘activation’ earlier? Much of this relates to the speed with which the user achieves their goals. The easier this process, the better.

Let’s look at how an onboarding funnel works. We’ll keep using Evernote as an example.

We need to start by tracking activation goals. People sign up because they want to get organised. But that can only come later. What do they need to do in the first place to get up and running? We’ll assume this is for the desktop version and not the app because they’re slightly different.

A first-time user needs to;

  • Sign up to Evernote
  • Install Evernote on their device
  • Create at least one notebook
  • Share notebooks with colleagues or friends
  • Create notes
  • Activation!

Granted, not all users will want to share notebooks. And there are hundreds of features new users will need to learn, like tagging. But once they’ve run through this sequence? They’re closer to using Evernote than they were before they signed up.

Each of those steps represents an activation goal.

Not all users will get from point 1 to point 6. You need to understand where they drop out of the process. In other words…

Where is the friction in the funnel?

You should have access to the conversion rates for each point of the process.

Say 1000 people sign up for Evernote but only 300 install it on their device. That marks a conversion rate of 30%.

If 290 of those 300 create a notebook, then 97% convert at that point. And if 280 create notes, then this point in the process converts at 96%. So, you can see the point of friction is the installation.

Now you’ve identified the pain point, you can find a solution.

Sending a reminder is sometimes a simple fix. If a user hasn’t added information to their profile yet, then that would work.

For software installation, examine the user experience to find out why users aren’t installing. And fix it.

Now can I write the emails?

Have you identified the pain points and fixed them? Now you’re ready to write your onboarding emails.

This is often the point where email marketing goes wrong. There’s a line between ‘helpful’ and ‘pushy’, and too many marketers fall off on the wrong side of the divide.

The worst mistake you can make is to focus on you. You need to flip your thinking to focus on how you can help the subscriber. Not how you can get them to give you money.

It’s a weird concept but the more you give, the more you get. And it links into our ‘human touch marketing’ that we talked about earlier.

So, focus on putting as much value as possible into your onboarding emails. Teaching users how to get the most out of your product or service is a great option. You’re helping them to achieve their goal.

It also has a sneaky side effect of proving how helpful you are. Rather than telling your subscribers how great you are, you can show it by giving them what they need.

But above all? Do not attempt to make the sale yet.

Your customers aren’t ready to buy at this point.

Think of it like dating. They signed up, which was the first date. Would you propose within hours? I hope not. Onboarding is the dating phase. They’re still in the Desire phase of the relationship. They want your product or service, but they’re not ready to commit. Yet. By proving how helpful you are, you make it more likely that they will.

Now we’ll look at what you need to do to bridge the gap between sign up and activation.

Include a single CTA in each email.

We’ve all had those emails which provide eight different things to click on. While that’s fine in a newsletter or a digest email, it’s horrific practice in an onboarding sequence. It leads to a paralysis of choice and users end up doing nothing. Sheena Iyengar explains in her TED talk on choosing that too many choices become overwhelming. Clicking away is the easiest choice.

Instead, pick the ONE thing you want users to do after reading each email. Highlight it in a nice big button so users know exactly what the next step is.

Whirlpool ran an experiment along these lines. They found emails with a single CTA achieved 42% more clicks.

Keep your CTA simple and clear. And let users know they can email you with questions or problems.

Create or Re-Use Content.

You don’t need to pitch your users anymore. They’ve already signed up. Your task now is to educate them.

Have you got video tutorials? Or blog post walk-throughs? Share it with users in an email. Re-purpose old blog posts by turning them into infographics. Or share podcast episodes where you’ve discussed tips and tricks for audio learners. But make sure you keep a single rule in mind.

Does this content support the user’s motivation?

Yes? Then share. No? Save it for later.

Provide Links Direct to your Service.

Whether you’ve created an app or a website, provide the link in another email. If it’s an online course, remind students where to find it.

Your sole goal here is to get users out of their inbox and into your service. This serves your users because they can’t achieve their goals unless they use your product.

Not only that, but providing a link eases the friction in the onboarding process.

This is all great, but WHEN do I send emails?

Glad you asked. You want to email while they’re still enthusiastic… but you don’t want to bombard them.

Let’s look at that first impulse. It makes sense. The point of sign up marks the highest point in the user’s interest in your offering. Unless they become evangelical after using it? That excitement will only decrease.

If you subscribe to this line of thinking, you put all your best resources up front. Offer personal help in getting set up if sign ups don’t move through the process fast enough.


Remember activation doesn’t happen overnight. Maybe your user’s goal is to improve their confidence with technology. Flooding them with ‘helpful’ technical information will probably switch them off.

And some marketers don’t give new users the time to use the content they’ve shared. New emails become irritating.

One solution is to space out your emails over a series of days. Maybe even two weeks. Check the funnel to see where users are getting stuck. Email them with extra resources (or offers of help) if they aren’t hitting goals.

It sounds like I could automate that.

And you’d be right. But only once you’ve worked out the drip campaign by running a test version with early subscribers. If you try to create a drip campaign without this test, then you’re only guessing at what your users need. You hit the Knowledge Gap. Because you forget what you didn’t know about your service or product at the beginning. Because you were there, you got to learn its foibles and quirks.

Your user doesn’t have that luxury. They’re back at square one. Use your test campaign on real subscribers to learn what later subscribers will need. Then you can automate the lot and know your new users will get the content they need to progress.

So, you could (and should) use segmentation for this part. Set up triggers to send the next content (or a gentle nudge) when users haven’t hit their activation goals.

In our Evernote example that might be users who haven’t shared a notebook. Or users who don’t have any notes yet. A simple tutorial showing how to share or create notes could be enough to get those users to act.

There’s also nothing stopping you setting up triggered emails when they do hit those goals. Fast-paced users get your content at the rate that suits them.

Test out different strategies and choose the one that keeps most of your users happy. And on track to activate.

Phew, is that all?

Pretty much. The success of your drip campaign rests on your understanding of your new users. You need to feel their pain and be able to help them solve it. Listen to your existing users and craft something helpful for those who come later.

Activation is that step between Desire and Action. Let’s return to our dating metaphor. It’s the part where you convince them you’re not like the bad girl/guy of country music and you agree to go steady.

The onboarding process is their first experience of you, so give them a good one.

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