The word “upgrade” exerts a magical power on email open rates. Just having it in a subject line can increase open rates almost 66%, according to 2015 research by email agency AlchemyWorx.

Doesn’t your heart beat a little faster when you see “upgrade” in a subject line? Anything could be inside, whether it’s a better seat on an airplane, new software, new VIP status or something else that tells you a brand is rewarding you for all the money you spend on its products or services.

For marketers, upgrades are a business necessity and a crucial point on the customer journey. Your company’s business model might pivot on whether customers upgrade their spending, whether it means moving up from basic to premium products, converting from free trials to paid services or paying full price instead of buying only discounted merchandise.

Key Customer Journey Interaction Point: Email on the Upgrade Path

Email is a great way to sell your customers on the benefits of upgrading. You already have their attention because they have opted in to your emails. (This highlights another reason why it’s so important to secure the opt-in at purchase or account registration.)

  • Email gives you the luxury of space in which you can lay out the benefits customers will get from upgrading.
  • You don’t have to wait for them to go to your site and click around before finding the information they want.

Instead, your emails can deliver customers right to your landing page where they can upgrade their accounts easily, and where you can give them more detailed information about what they’ll gain by paying. Tracking activity on those emails can alert you to potential inactivity or abandonment.

Another benefit: Easy automation.

  • Time messages to launch at specific to points on the customer journey (inquiries, page visits, etc.).
  • You can match messages to the product lifecycle, too, such as a specific number of days after purchase/registration or before a trial or membership expires.

Upgrade example: Moving from free to paid service

This is a crucial point on the customer journey for subscription or “freemium” business models for services that combine either free-trial or free basic service with paid premium services. Think of businesses such as streaming music (Spotify) or software-as-a-service companies (the email service provider MailChimp).

  • The free service is good enough, but the paid services offer a richer experience, whether it’s being able to listen offline or get advanced email tools.
  • Getting people to pony up is more a matter of moving the mindset from “good enough” to “this is so much better!”

Suppose your business model rides on converting 50% of your free users to paid. Depending on what you offer, that could be a lofty goal. You’ll have to gather every scrap of information you have about your customers. Then, work that knowledge that into the emails you will send to your freebie customers to put them in the pay-to-play mindset.

Customer Journey Mapping: 3 tips to build free-to-paid conversions

This list is not the definitive guide to converting to paid use, because every business and its customer base is unique. But the ideas below will help you start putting your plan together and developing ideas to test for copy, cadence and other factors in your email program.

1. Sell benefits, not features.

Your free users probably know about the features your premium service offers if you highlight them when your customers will see them, right in the application or on the dashboard.

Spotify alerts free users who skip too many tracks in a playlist that the paid service allows unlimited skips. Mailchimp’s free users see the premium services that paid users can select, such as batch-sending and send-time optimization, but can’t choose them until they upgrade using the link that the ESP positions next to the premium features.

So, talking about features in an upgrade email won’t help. Instead, focus on what your customers can do once they can use those features. “Play music ad-free” is the feature. “The party won’t grind to a halt when the ads come on” focuses on the benefit.

2. Help them imagine they’re using the premium product now.

If you’re a B2B vendor looking to upgrade users from free to paid or from basic paid to a higher tier, you might be tempted to toss in a case study showing how one of your Grade A customers benefited from the switch.

Case and user studies have their place in the B2B content-marketing universe, but it’s not here, unless you have a case study that’s so universal in concept and application that almost every one of your users could relate to or aspire to it.

Create a story that puts them in the middle of the action and lets them imagine what it’s like to use that premium product and how it could change their lives. Add a video demo, an interactive graphic that recreates the experience or a one-day test drive that helps them make that mental leap.

3. Show them the numbers.

Be as specific as you can about what your free users will get for their money. How long will it take to recoup the investment through time or money saved? If that’s not part of your value proposition, find something similar. A little FOMO might help, too – what will they miss out on if they don’t upgrade?

Upgrade examples in the archive:

The FreshAddress Email Creative Archive lists more than 2,000 unique emails over the last 12 months that use upgrading to drive action. “Upgraded shipping” is the most common use of the term, with offers for free or faster shipping around holidays.

Below are several emails that focus on different kinds of upgrades. The brand offers either a free or discounted upgrade of a product or service as an incentive to buy. Or, it tries to persuade free or basic-service customers to move up to premium.

Which do you think is most effective at selling its upgrade? Let us know in the comments. Click on the images to view the emails full size in the archive.

1. Sender: Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Enterprise Customer Journey Upgrade Email

Subject line: Xiaobo, redeem your FREE UPGRADE now

Preheader: Get more room for your passengers and luggage.

Comment: In this email, the sender uses the preheader to sell the benefit the user can realized by responding to the call to action in the subject line.

2. Sender: Willow Grove Park Mall

Willow Grove Park - Customer Journey Upgrade Email

Subject line: You’ve Been Upgraded to VIP Status

Preheader: Enjoy a VIP experience this Holiday Season at Willow Grove Park

Comment: This email combines features and benefits in an easy-to-view grid.

3. Sender: Swing X Swing

Customer Journey Upgrade Email

Subject line: Upgrade and Win Callaway’s Newest Release…

Comment: This email aims to persuade users of its free mobile golf and scorecard app to upgrade to a paid subscription for its Looper app. This one focuses on features over benefits.

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