Subscription Marketing Strategy
For your email marketing efforts, it’s best to create different content based on the tier each subscriber is in. When your audience is split by tier, you can effectively give them the best messages concerning your business and products or services. While there will be some overlap, you will often want to let your biggest fans know about your latest updates before you let your casual (not paying) subscribers know.
Sender Address & Name
When you create your email address for your email marketing program, use your domain (this builds trust) and get creative, as long as it fits in your messaging guidelines. For example, try [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected]
The key is to create an email address for each section of your sales and marketing efforts, so your customers can keep each aspect of your business separate in their email according to their personal preferences. e.g. [email protected], [email protected], or [email protected] Plus, if they unsubscribe to your marketing emails (or mark them as spam), for example, they’ll still receive transactional emails.
This setup is critical, so be mindful of this decision and get feedback from your team before setting up the email addresses and email marketing account. You want these email addresses to be used by your customers and prospects, so be sure to include that note in your emails, too. Then, be sure to assign team members (or add it to your to-do list as a solopreneur) to monitor each email account so you can provide customer service through these avenues.
Tip: Avoid using [email protected] or any free email address (e.g. @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @outlook.com) as they reduce your overall trustworthiness to customers. They also show customers that you don’t want to communicate with them via email, showing them that email is only a one-way ticket for your sales and marketing efforts. Don’t make these mistakes. Make your email addresses friendly so your customers feel comfortable communicating with you via email if they need your assistance. (Most customers prefer email communications, so let it be two-way.)
As a small business, you will likely want to say that your emails are from your Business Name. Typically, only celebrities can get away with being recognized by using their First and Last Name or Name from Business Name.
Tip: If you’re unsure of what sender name to use, A/B test. Then, once you have your winner, be consistent. Lacking consistency will only confuse subscribers and may lower your open rates.
Choosing an Email Marketing Platform
Using an email marketing platform is important to organize subscribers, review analytics, and automate the business’s email marketing program. Email marketing cannot be done effectively in Gmail or Outlook. It’s best to start by using a free email marketing platform, such as Zoho Campaigns, Mailchimp, MailerLite, SendPulse, or Sendinblue.
There are also industry-specific platforms available. Strategically, there are no big differences between each platform. The important thing to do is to choose a platform, and start creating and sending emails, and gathering subscriber email addresses. Once you do gather subscribers, it’s important to organize them in some way, either in different lists or by tags. This will not only help you send better campaigns to each audience, but it will also help you transfer lists to a different platform if you decide to use a different one later on.
Collecting An audience
Subscription-based businesses should never pay for an audience. Instead, they should create a simple system to request a prospect’s or new customer’s email address when they inquire about your business, sign up for a free trial, or purchase discounted products. The key is to separate prospects and customers so you can send them different email content that relates to their unique needs; this should be done based on your audience segments (tiers). This helps you better serve them wherever they are in the customer journey.
We recommend using a lead magnet to encourage your audience to sign up for your email list. This opt-in process typically involves a landing page on your website encouraging sign-ups in exchange for the lead magnet itself as well as the email that contains the lead magnet download. The email containing the lead magnet download should be a trigger-based automated email (stand-alone or sequence, though we recommend a full sequence) that automatically sends to your new subscribers when they are added to your list.
Use several custom lead magnets and calls to action so you have at least one unique lead magnet and CTA for each audience segment (tier). Creating these kinds of specific lead magnets is going to give you more information about that person because you know what they were interested in before they interacted with the CTA. Then, when they receive the email with the lead magnet, you can set your email marketing automation software to tag each subscriber based on which lead magnet they downloaded, offering you insights into their unique needs concerning your products or services.
Depending on your audience, it may be best to offer multiple lead magnets for each audience segment (tier). This will depend on your products or services, too. For example, an accounting software business may have lead magnets for consumers and businesses. To further target their audience segments, they may develop lead magnets for businesses by industry as well as a lead magnet for entrepreneurs who may need help separating their personal and business accounting needs.
To determine what will work best, start by offering lead magnets for the bulk of your audience. Then, when you start learning more about these subscribers and sending them successful email sequences, expand the number of lead magnets to narrow your audience targeting based on unique needs.
Tip: Never use generic forms or CTAs that say “Sign up for our newsletter,” “Sign up for updates,” or “Subscribe to our mailing list.” They rarely work anymore and don’t offer any benefit to your prospects.
Email Creation & Design
Most emails are opened on a cell phone, which means campaigns developed solely for large computer screens are often useless on a small screen. Simple, mobile-friendly emails that are responsive are more effective than immaculately designed campaigns that aren’t responsive, so businesses should be sure to use a simple layout and test all emails on multiple devices (or use a service like Email on Acid) before sending them out. Within most email marketing platforms, businesses can see what devices their subscribers are using to view each email. Combined with testing, you can ensure that every email looks good on those devices.
Depending on the products or services offered, a subscription-based business will want to showcase long- or short-form content within their emails. The length of the content depends on the intent of the email. If an email’s purpose is to provide a transactional purpose, such as confirming an account update or sending a digital bill, the content should be very short. If an email’s purpose is to provide an informative purpose, the content can be longer.
When a business uses both marketing and transactional emails, it’s best to have the same basic look for all emails to offer a better customer experience to each subscriber. It can be jarring if the latest campaign emails are on brand and inviting, and then the “Thank you for your purchase” email is colorless and stale. When beginning an email marketing program, you should unify the look of all emails. Yes, the look can change over time and adapt for individual campaigns, but there still needs to be cohesiveness among all emails so subscribers know it’s your business within the first one-second glance (see Visual Branding in Foundation).
Newsletters primarily educate and engage subscribers on a recurring basis, such as weekly or monthly, to help keep your brand top-of-mind with your subscribers. Newsletters are a great place to showcase customer reviews, blog articles, product and service updates and launches, and more.
Newsletters should follow the same format each time so subscribers can recognize it. Be sure to split test frequency as well as send days and times to see what works best for your subscribers, and then be consistent for most of your newsletters. To start, send a monthly newsletter after a Welcome email.
Tip: Make your newsletter about the inside scoop on your products or services. Let your email subscribers be the first to know anything about your products.
In addition to regular newsletters, we recommend sending promotional emails as needed. These are one-time emails that promote a product or service launch, company news, sale, contest, survey, or something else. Typically, promotional emails promote one thing with one call to action.
When you do send promotional emails, you may benefit by using scarcity marketing tactics. This means you showcase the limited amount of your product or limited time frame of the sale. Whichever way you use this tactic, make sure it’s accurate. Only promote the limited amount of your product if you literally will be sold out for a short period of time after that amount is sold. Only promote the limited time frame of a sale if you are not going to extend it. Scarcity marketing can increase the urgency and effectiveness of a sale when you do it with honesty and integrity.
For occasional promotional emails, you can increase the frequency (e.g. daily for three days for a three-day flash sale) and change the send days and times.
Tip: When determining whether to include a promotion in a Newsletter with other updates or in a separate Promotional Email, consider how big the news is that you’re sharing. If it’s time-sensitive or you want to maximize click-throughs, send one or a few Promotional Emails. You can also tease a promotion in the Newsletter you send before the promotional email, if time allows, and on social media to drum up excitement.
Sending specific emails at the right times during the customer journey can improve the customer’s experience. These emails include:
- Welcome email
- Follow-up emails
- Thank you emails
These short and sweet emails show the subscriber that the business cares about them in a timely manner. These emails can be automated and trigger-based or they can be created in advance and sent in batches, depending on the structure of the business. Either way, they can help customers stay engaged with the business and help them through the customer journey in an automated fashion.
Tip: These emails are critical for subscription-based businesses. Send them right after a prospect or customer signs up for a free trial or purchases from you, and be sure to remind them when their free trial or special offer is expiring. Also remind the subscriber of what they signed up for and what your business does in these emails, especially when they are in tiers zero and one.
Automated Email Sequences
The best approach for each subscription-based business is to have a different sequenced email campaign for each tier of customers. For each sequence, it’s best to utilize ebook, blog, and video content to help customers through the tier they are currently in (within the customer journey as it relates to your products or services) and gradually push them to the next tier.
For example, if you have a 12-email sequence for new free trial users, you will create emails that showcase content you already have that explains how to use your products or services. The first few emails will give basic tutorials to navigate your software, products, or services, as well as a CTA to create their free account. Then the next few emails will start talking about the tricks of using your offerings. Then, gradually incorporate your tier two offerings as the primary CTA. By the end of the sequence, they will have had the opportunity to use all of your basic offerings (with guidance) within the trial and can sign up with just one click.
For all email sequences, it’s important to use data to validate and utilize the latest information about your subscribers. If a free trial user becomes a paying customer before the trial is over, you need to set the email marketing software you use to automatically update the subscriber’s details so they receive the appropriate sequence with the appropriate CTA.
To provide a personal touch, especially for SaaS businesses, include statistics in the emails. For example, if you are an accounting software business, then when your free trial user uploads their first contact and starts using your software, congratulate them in an email with statistics specific to their usage of your software. This can give them the motivation to continue using your software while providing a necessary personal touch.
Remember: Not every email in your sequences should push and sell. Instead, use email sequences to largely inform your subscribers; the information you include will help them make the decision for themselves. Just be sure to add a clear CTA for what action you want them to take, even if your copy is informative and entertaining rather than sales-focused. (Also, your clear CTA should be the same on every platform according to the tier your customer is in, but you will likely only use tier two and three messages less often than tier one messages overall.)
Tip: Try including social media share buttons in your emails, especially when statistics are involved. If your customer saved so much money or time by using your software or products, let them know—and make it easy for them to tell their friends.
Email Marketing Best Practices
Resend to Non-openers: Email is effective, but subscribers are busy. To increase the performance of campaigns with minimal additional effort, you can resend campaigns to non-openers. This can be automated in most email marketing platforms by checking a box or copying an email and setting the trigger to “did not open” the initial campaign. However, this should only be used on the most important campaigns because some subscribers may see the duplicate content as spam. To mitigate this possibility, businesses can limit the use of resends and be clear in the subject line that it’s a resend. In fact, you can A/B test your resend subject lines to see what performs best.
Segment Subscribers: Segmenting your audience is a great way to personalize messages to groups of your audience. Segments should be by tiers. Segments, however, can also be used with tags to increase personalization, allowing the business to send a specific message to a specific group of subscribers, increasing ROI immensely because the subscribers will find the email highly relevant based on their needs and place in the customer journey.
A/B Testing: Creating and sending content to subscribers isn’t enough for subscription-based businesses. Emails should be tested using the A/B method. Testing means taking a small portion of the business’s list, say 10% each, to send two versions of the same email to see which one leads to more opens, clicks, and appointments. Each test should only test one thing, such as:
- Subject line
- Sender email/name
- Call to action button color
- Plain text vs. HTML
- Long- vs. short-form email content
After the test is done, the business can wait about 24 hours for the results to see who won. Which email led to more clickthroughs? Then the business should use the winning email to send to the rest of the audience.
Note: Some email automation platforms, like Mailchimp, don’t offer A/B testing for lists that have less than 10,000 subscribers. This is because they recommend a test group of 5,000 subscribers each. (Mailchimp also does not offer A/B testing on their free plan.) However, if your list is small, you can still A/B test sequences by copying and modifying them, and testing each for a certain number of new subscribers before determining the winner. Just remember to only change one thing for each test.
Email Scrubbing: Even with subscription-based businesses, email subscribers can become unengaged. When more subscribers than usual are unsubscribing or reporting the business’s emails as spam, it’s time to scrub the list because an email marketing program is only as effective as its lists. Before scrubbing a list, it’s important to attempt to re-engage the unengaged subscribers first, especially if you are informing a subscriber that their account will be closed. This can be done by sending a re-engagement campaign to try to get them interested in the business again. This campaign can include a lead magnet or special promotion from the business. Those who open the re-engagement campaign stay. Those who don’t will be scrubbed from the list.
Scrubbing an email list means deleting inactive subscribers, looking for and removing spam and duplicate subscribers, and narrowing down the list to active subscribers who are likely to benefit the business. Spam email addresses can be easily spotted by searching for letters and numbers jumbled randomly in an email address. Duplicate subscribers can be found using a spreadsheet. There are email scrubbing services, but a small business can manage these processes in-house better because they know their customers.
Our team works as a fluid extension of each of our member’s businesses by developing strategies and executing projects in whatever capacity is best for their unique needs.