Hey David, I made this short video teardown because I started using Airtable this week and it’s a pretty great product. So far I’m finding that it’s really helpful for organizing a lot of different kinds of information for a side project that I have.
But at the same time, I also noticed quite a few things in your onboarding emails that have led me to form a hunch that you may not be getting the kind of engagement that you would hope to receive from your onboarding emails. So we’re going to look at some of the elements in your emails and some of the areas where you can get the biggest wins and improvement.
So this is the welcome email that we’re going to start with. Let’s start with the subject line. It says “Welcome to Airtable” which is a fine subject line if you want to blend in with all of the other apps that are sending an almost identical subject line that says “welcome to the app name”.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but what it doesn’t do is really connect with your reader. It misses an opportunity for you to make a strong first impression that shows folks who are coming to Airtable just to give it a try that you are in their corner and that they are top of mind for everything that you do at Airtable.
And this kind of product-focused messaging continues throughout the email. We see your logo, we see “Welcome to Airtable”, we see an image of Airtable, you say, “Not sure where to start? Become an Airtable Pro”, “Here’s some videos about Airtable”, watch Airtable, Airtable support…
It’s all about Airtable.
Now you may have heard this common piece of copywriting advice before which is that your copy should be about your customer, not about your product. You should sell them a better version of themselves, rather than a list of features. And unfortunately, this email doesn’t really do that. If I’m coming to Airtable, I could be coming for any number of reasons.
I may have a project I need to manage. I may have a business I need to run.
But this email doesn’t show me how Airtable will help me do that more effectively. The only forward-looking, future-pacing language that we see here is “Become an Airtable Pro in 12 minutes”. And I have to say: despite the welcoming and friendly tone that you have here, no one is reading this email saying, “Yes, this company gets me.”
They’re not waking up in the morning saying, “I want to be an Airtable pro.” They’re waking up in the morning saying, “I need to manage my content marketing.” “I need to run my cattle ranch better.” (I saw that was one of your interesting use cases.)
When we include language like, “Become an Airtable pro”, we’re really making the product the star instead of our customer.
And this is something that continues throughout your messaging, not just in this email here, but I also see this other email. You’re launching the Airtable Universe. Okay, so the subject says, “Explore Airtable Universe”. Again, this is a very product-focused subject line. I’ve never heard of the Airtable Universe before, so what’s in it for me? What have you done for me lately? This subject line doesn’t stick out, nor does it convey any reason why I, the customer, should actually pay attention to this email.
When I open it, you say “Have you ever wondered how other people use Airtable? Now you can find out.” Now, in conversion copywriting we have a principle that you only want to ask questions where you know the answer will be yes. But if I’m someone who’s relatively new to Airtable, and I’m trying to figure out how I can use Airtable to manage my side project, I haven’t actually wondered how other people are using Airtable. This is not a question that’s on my mind. You’re giving me some information that I haven’t really asked for.
Now, there very well could be reasons for why I need to hear how other people are using Airtable. Maybe I will learn from them. Maybe I’ll learn better technique. But as someone who’s brand new to your product, this isn’t something that I can really see as being useful.
So then we scroll down, we see that we have this image and some text that says, “Airtable Universe, officially launching today, is a platform for users like you to publish the workflows they use to run their businesses.” And then you have some examples here. I’m really unclear when I read this email why I would want to publish my workflow, what a workflow is, and why I would want to look at other people’s workflows.
Honestly, even starting with some of the templates I found to be a little bit confusing. When I would bring in a template and I would see all of the information that someone else added, I had to stop and think about it. So I ended up making a lot of my templates from scratch because I knew the information that I had and that I needed to manage.
I would be really interested to hear what made you decide to build Airtable Universe. Maybe you have some really great information. user research, or conversations with customers where folks have come to you saying that they want to see how other people are using Airtable. I’m not really sure, but none of that messaging is here. When I read this email, there’s nothing in it that says why I should care about this. There’s nothing that connects Airtable Universe to the pain or the problem that I may be facing as a customer.
You sent another email about the same topic. It starts off by saying, “Have you check out Airtable Universe lately?” A little typo there, typos aren’t the end of the world here. But we see some other things to discuss.
In the subject line, “Real workflows from real people,” the “realness” is very interesting thing to focus on in a subject line here because I don’t why that’s what you chose to focus on. It strikes me as very interesting because I would assume that people would be real if they’re using Airtable, but why would that matter to me. I don’t really understand what your angle is there.
I also don’t understand what a workflow is. It could be because I’m new to your product and this email has been sent to me after I’ve already been on your trial list for a while, but I also haven’t used the app much until today. It’s using language that I’m not really familiar with.
We see the text, “Hundreds of creators have used the exact workflows they use to run their businesses…new ones are published every day.” Again, I’m not sure what’s in it for me. If I click this button to browse the universe, why? Why would I do that? I don’t understand why it matters. Now, you could have a very good reason. I’m not saying you don’t. It could be very cool that you have this universe. But as someone who spends a lot of time managing a lot of projects, I’m not really sure what I’m going to get from this image. I see staffing, digital media editorial calendar, projects…I’m not sure what I get out of this.
This trend continues in emails where they seem like they should be customer focused, and yet aren’t. You have a case study here, but there’s very little information about why I would want to read this case study. “The PBS show ‘Secrets of a Chef’…manages their entire post-production process in Airtable.”
What I’m noticing here is that this is a story about a customer, but it’s still not customer-focused messaging because it’s not responding to any pain that the reader has. As I’m reading this, I’m thinking, “Cool, I bet they did some interesting work,” but I don’t need a story of how someone used a solution the same that I could. As someone who hasn’t yet been sold on Airtable, I want to hear a story about how someone solved the same problem that I had–but there’s nothing in here about the problem.
You don’t need to put the entire case study into an email, but this doesn’t really whet my appetite, it doesn’t show me anything about what their problem or pain was, how badly they were feeling that pain (there’s no sense of urgency).
So that’s one major element that could be improved in your onboarding. They copy is all about Airtable.
You may be getting great engagement. But what I would recommend what I recommend that you consider doing is rewriting your emails so that they’re focused on what your customer is going through. Talk to your customers, gather something that we like to call “voice of customer data”, which is that raw, exact phrasing that your customers use to describe their pain. And use it to form messages to join the conversation already happening in your readers’ heads.
The second thing that I noticed that’s missing from your onboarding emails is a clear sense of what your onboarding actually is. Looking at this welcome email, I don’t see a single clear call to action besides watching this video. I’m not really sure what I should do first. But what we’d really like to see in our onboarding sequence is something that is built around encouraging new users to complete certain steps within your app that will help them be successful.
They come to your app with a problem, and it’s up to you to show them how your app can help them solve that problem and help them experience it for themselves. It’s less helpful to throw them into the fire and say, “Here’s a 12-minute video, which is actually pretty extensive. I’d be very curious to see the analytics on whether people implement what you’re teaching them in the 12-minute video. I’d also be curious to see if there is any difference on the click-throughs for the 12-minute and 2-minute videos.
And I’d also be really curious to see this email tested against an email that says something along the lines of, “The first thing you need to do is to create a base.” Or, “The first thing you need to do is to look at a template.” I’m not really sure, and that’s where looking at your user behavior data will come in really handy.
So, David. You have a lot of really interesting opportunities here to improve your onboarding. These are some of the big. quick, well, they’re not quick. It’s a lot of work to optimize your onboarding. But these are some of the big wins that are the lowest hanging fruit for you to look at how you can bring more folks who are coming in to try Airtable and many other project management apps to show them that Airtable is going to be the best fit for them.