Ever wonder how you could implement email automation in a simple way that gets results? ZURB.com, a product design company based in Silicon Valley, is doing just that.

ZURB caters to a large community of aspiring designers, in-house designers, and students. ZURB wants to help designers be the best they can be. Since 1998, they’ve helped companies like Facebook, Intuit, Samsung, Netflix, SAP, Walmart, Yahoo, and over 300 startups. They see email marketing as a platform to educate their subscribers. With the goal of delivering valuable content, email helps ZURB connect with their audience.

We talked to Daniel Codella, Marketer at ZURB, to learn how the company is using email automation — particularly welcome emails — to increase engagement rates. Daniel works on all aspects of ZURB’s emails, from writing to list management.

 Daniel Codella

Here’s what Daniel had to say about how email marketing works at ZURB:

Tell us how ZURB uses email marketing

ZURB helps companies big and small design better products, experiences, websites, and services. A big part of our business is educating people and providing them with resources. Email is a huge way that we do that — it allows us to have personal connections with our subscribers. We send them things they can really use and find valuable.

ZURB’s mantra as a company is “design for people.” People are at the center of everything we do. We think about who is the user is, and what they need. The emails we send are going out to thousands of people. We don’t think of the members of our lists as numbers — we think of our users as people, and constantly consider what value we can provide them.

We reach a variety of people — we’re reaching decision-makers, founders, CEOs — but we’re also reaching designers, aspiring students (who are looking to get into web design and web development), and there’s also a middle group of people that have been in the industry for a couple of years but want to stay fresh and keep up on the latest trends. That’s one of our biggest challenges– that we’re speaking to so many people– but valuable content is valuable content.

How did you get started with email automation?

We have several newsletters for our different products and business groups so we’re able to give a tailored message to different groups of people. Just recently, I reached out to the team at Campaign Monitor to learn how we could kick it up a notch and keep in better touch with people, especially during the lulls between our newsletters. The team let me know about the new email automation feature, and how we could implement it.

To be honest, when the team told me about automation, I shuffled my feet because I thought it would be confusing. Eventually, I jumped in, and I found it really easy to use. When I was done creating our automated welcome email, I thought “Is that it?” It was so easy. Campaign Monitor made it super simple.

The metrics that Campaign Monitor provided made it really easy to optimize our automated welcome email, which is sent as soon as someone signs up for our list. Now, through a little bit of iteration, these emails are getting upwards of 75-70% open rates, 40-45% clickthrough rates, and they’re able to give us an extra touchpoint with our audience that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. They’ve opened the door for a lot of interesting conversations.

We have several newsletters and have added automated welcome emails for all of them. We’ve seen these generate positive results across the board. The numbers of visits to the different resources we link to have gone up and remain steady, which is great to see. Having that welcome letter when someone first signs up means they’re never waiting to hear from us. It starts a connection, and when we send that first newsletter, they are primed for it.

Tell us more about the automated welcome email

Immediately after someone signs up, they get an automated welcome email. We’ve tailored the welcome emails per group– but they all have the goal of helping someone get started with some great information or helpful techniques– resources they can use right away.

Our main company newsletter is ZURB News, which is written by our founder, Bryan. The welcome email that corresponds to that is a personal letter that Brian wrote that contains a couple of his favorite blog posts. That welcome email will continue to evolve, but it’s already working extremely well.

Implementing these welcome emails helped us to get on a more structured schedule. In these welcome emails, we invite people to contact us with their suggestions and ideas, and a lot of conversations are getting started because of that. It’s really important to get in touch as soon as possible so that we connect with subscribers when they’re excited about what we have to offer.

What about iteration?

When we first began sending our automated welcome email, we had an open rate of 55%, and a clickthrough rate of 20% or so. We’d check analytics in the Campaign Monitor dashboard and we’d iterate. At this point, we’ve done three different iterations, and in that short period of time, we’ve been able to improve so much.

We cut down length– we got more short and sweet with our messages. We paired down the number of links to the most important ones — three or four at most. Even the tone matters a lot. We changed our emails to be very conversational, but very clear. People don’t have super long attention spans, so we’ve tried to be really clear and cut all the fat.

It was really exciting to check back each time we changed something to see how much our metrics had improved.

How do the engagement rates on your welcome emails compare to your email newsletters?

We’re seeing around 30% open rates with our email newsletters, which is pretty high, but nothing compares to these welcome emails because we’re striking when the iron’s hot. To see 70-80% open rates is incredible– that’s a whole other ball game

How does email marketing compare to social media and other marketing channels for ZURB?

We make good use of social media, we do a lot of events, and we also have a lot of marketing we do within our products, but email is the most effective and the most personal way to connect with our customers. It’s led to the most amazing connections for ZURB, conversations that we just don’t get in the other mediums. It will remain the most important means of marketing for us.

We also do cross-channel work. For example, we have a very popular monthly speaker series called “Soapbox” which we hold in our office. Email plays a huge role– we use email to promote the events, and when people show up to the events, we make sure they’re signed up. We also have a separate email list for Soapbox speakers so that we can maintain connections with them after the events are over.

What advice would you give to others using email marketing?

Consistency is really important. You want to try to send regularly though it depends on your industry how often is enough. You also need to constantly test and iterate.

We use Campaign Monitor’s A/B testing feature and have been learning a lot. You can never trust your assumptions–you have to test them.

Always make sure your emails have a clear purpose. There has to be something that you want your users to do– make that clear, and don’t cloud it with too many different things. Usually a singular thing– such as visiting an article you’ve just posted– should be very clear in your email.

At ZURB, our audience changes over time, and lists themselves change over time. We’re always trying to stay fresh and use best practices. We want to evolve with our audience.

Emails are so easy to send. As a marketer, it can be tempting to just hit send, but people don’t give everyone access to their email inboxes. You need to have a good reason to send emails to your list.

What’s next for ZURB when it comes to email?

We’ve seen such success with these automated welcome emails that we want to figure out how to do more with automation. In the next few months, we’d like to create a drip campaign using email automation.

We are just beginning to unveil our design process to the world. It’s called Progressive Design, and our mission is to change the way people design, and we feel that Progressive Design is the way to do it. We’ve been writing about it steadily on our blog, and we think doing a drip campaign explaining all parts of Progressive Design would be a great way to complement what we send out in the newsletter.

We’re out to change how people design– and email automation is going to help us do that.

Wrap up

Now that you’ve seen how ZURB uses automated welcome emails to increase engagement, give it a try for yourself.