Onboarding can entail making sure your new customer/subscriber has the logins and passwords that she or he needs. Or it can be explaining where everything lives on your site and how it can be accessed. Or it can just be about establishing a personal connection. One thing is for sure though, onboarding has become even more important now, when our virtual patience may be on the thin side.
“You have to remind people why they bought [the subscription] to begin with. Restate your value proposition—99% of the renewal decision is based on engagement of that user.” Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, was speaking about renewals when he told us that last year. But there’s no doubt that successful onboarding leads to successful renewals.
“New customers—especially trials—forget why they subscribed,” Jim Sinkinson of Fired Up Marketing said. “Don’t let them forget. Tantalize them with the valuable information they will be receiving. Onboarding materials should address three things: Motivation, method and making them heroes—give them quick wins.”
Here are onboarding lessons from the publishing world that I’ve come across.
Make user log-ins a flawless process. “Our survey resulted in multiple concerns about user log-ins and passwords to the websites,” Joe May, marketing director of Pro Farmer, once told us. “So what we did was proactively remind our users the basics—how to reset their password; how to set their browser to remember their credentials so they don’t have to enter it every single time. That’s a simple action that we probably all take for granted…” Echoed Fink: “It’s critical to onboard new subscribers successfully. Make sure they can easily log in. And if they haven’t accessed anything or they’re not receiving your news alerts, you’ve got a problem.”
Be more personalized. Schibsted, a large media site in Norway and Sweden, created a “newsroom onboarding guide to welcome subscribers in a more personalized way. Now new subscribers can choose one of their renowned editors or journalists as a guide through the onboarding period. These personalized onboarding emails have a higher unique opening rate: 63% versus 38% for the standard onboarding process. The retention rate after the first renewal is also five percentage points higher,” reports Twipe.
Reach out and be in touch. “We don’t think of onboarding as a discrete activity,” Aaron Steinberg, chief growth officer at insideARM, said once. “It’s the beginning of our ongoing member service and engagement. We want to be in touch with our customers all the time, and we do a good job of that.” He spoke about the importance of design in the customer service chain. “Our materials are good, our onboarding is good, but in the middle there was a design” on the website that needed to be clearer. That changed, thanks to that good customer communication.
Show and tell. In the personalized onboarding webinars that Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, conducts, she “shows a short promotional video from ABA’s tradeshow, providing a testimonial about the value of the event. Zegeye said she often gets thank-you notes from those webinar attendees who say, “Wow, I had no idea you guys did all of these things!” “It’s a great way for me to connect with our members,” she added. The webinars immediately put a face with a name, and members are more likely to reach out to her directly with questions. The International Coach Federation also puts on a live webinar for onboarding and has found that this type of early engagement boosts first-year retention.
Provide the breadth of what you do. Especially during the pandemic, customers/subscribers/members may have come to you for one special thing, be that COVID coverage, ways to move forward or how others are dealing with this crisis. So it’s important that during onboarding you expose them to everything else that you do. “If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you?” asked Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post, early on in the pandemic. “What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”
And by exposing them to everything you do, you can get preferences to build on. From a data perspective, “this [opening 30-day] period is also crucial for us to gather patterns of user behavior,” said Katrina Bolak, manager, customer onboarding and engagement, for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “We need 30 days of data to accurately serve up future content based on interests and for our email segmentation.” After that, content consumption patterns begin to form—good and bad.” So initial engagement has to be high.