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Happy Birthday Email 2.0: Now with Dynamic Awesomeness!

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
04 December 2013

The "happy birthday" email is a staple of B2C marketing programs, but it’s time for marketers to rethink and upgrade this automated email.

Most marketers who send birthday emails know the value that these personalized messages can drive:

  • They're easy to launch and send. All you need is a birth date and a nicely designed and tested creative message.
  • They can drive incremental income or build the brand in the customer's mind.
  • They can help reduce list inactivity, which in turn reduces list churn.

So far, so good. But once your birthday program is up and running and you've worked out the initial kinks, it's time to look for ways to drive even more value for both your customers and your company.

Try these approaches that use automation and data to kick up the response to your birthday emails:

1. Create a message that reflects each customer's actual relationship with your company using dynamic content blocks that incorporate behavior and preference data.

2. Add reminders to a birthday greeting that nudge more customers to use your incentives before they expire.

I'll provide more details about these two approaches below.

Tip: If you're still on the fence about launching a birthday email program, check the resource list at the end of this blog post..   

Part 1: Add Dynamic Content Blocks

Most birthday emails are simple, static greetings with perhaps just first-name personalization. This one-size-fits-all approach might help you get your birthday program off the ground quickly (it beats no birthday program at all), but it doesn't reflect things like your customer's website behavior or past purchases.

Today's email climate and customer expectations demand that your message evolve to a more sophisticated approach. Combining demographic, psychographic or preference data with behavioral data (browsing, buying, downloading, cart abandonment, information requests, etc.) is just the trick to take your program to the next level.

Use this data to pull content into dynamic blocks in the birthday message and create a targeted birthday email that engages based more on content and relevance than just a discount offer.

Some examples:

  • Incorporate browse data to offer a discount on a specific product or category of products that the customer has researched on your website.
  • Suggest cross-sell or upsell products based on a subscriber's recent purchase or browsing/cart behavior.
  • Create a collection of products that tie in to any persona data you have on your customer, such as female mountain bike riders or male downhill skiers.
  • If you use persistent shopping carts, use images of products your customer has placed in a cart but not purchased yet.

You could retrofit your original birthday message template to accommodate these content blocks, but you're probably better off creating a fresh message with a multi-screen responsive design, workable on different screen sizes.

Here’s an example of how a birthday email that incorporated dynamic content blocks might look:

Birthday Email 2.0 example

Part 2: Add Reminders

Using automation and data to create a birthday message tailored to each recipient is as close as you can get to a handwritten birthday card. But it's only Part 1 of the new birthday email program.

If your birthday greeting includes an incentive, and most likely a deadline to claim it, you're leaving money on the table if you don't send gentle "use it or lose it" reminders.

Because I'm a big fan of birthday emails, I keep tabs from year to year on who's sending me messages and how they do it. In the two years I've been tracking messages, only one marketer has reminded me to use my incentive before it expired. More specifically, only one brand in two years has sent me a follow-up email after the initial birthday email.

If you want to drive incremental sales, you must take the extra step. This is especially important if you batch birthday emails and send them to everyone one who has a birthday in a specific month.

So, say you send out all birthday messages for that month on the 1st, but your customer's birthday is on the 27th. They'll appreciate the message, but they probably aren't wearing their birthday party hats yet. They're more likely to ignore or forget your message this far from their actual birth date.

Assuming you have a subscriber’s actual birth date, not just birth month, here's a sample sending schedule for a multi-message birthday email program with an offer that expires 30 days after the birthday:

  • Email 1: Pre-birthday greeting sent three to seven days before actual birthday: "Keep an eye out for your special birthday email coming in a few days."
  • Email 2: Birthday message sent on the subscriber's actual birthday.
  • Email 3: Reminder message sent seven days post-birthday to all subscribers who have not converted.
  • Email 4: "Last-chance" email sent 24 hours before expiration to all non-converting subscribers.

This is just one example of a follow-up approach. Create and test a series that works best for your company, subscribers, offer and birthday approach and maximizes conversions and revenue.

More Awesomeness: Extend the Birthday 2.0 Email Concept to Other Date-Based Programs

Although this post has focused on birthday emails, the core "2.0" concept also applies to upgrading other date-based events, such as purchase, subscription opt-in, account-creation anniversaries, wedding anniversary, gift reminder, save-the-date notice and the like.

Once you have your behavioral and other data feeds, business rules and dynamic content blocks mastered for birthday emails, you can leverage this groundwork further by adding them to any existing or newly launched date-driven program.

Your Comments and Resources

Below are resources that explore the birthday email program in more depth. If you have questions about launching or upgrading your birthday email, or if you have a success you'd like to brag about, I welcome your comments.

1) Blog: “Birthday Emails: Analysis and Samples from My Inbox

2) SlideShare Presentation: “10 Email Marketing Ideas to Take Your Program to the Next Level” (birthday content begins at Slide 25)

3) Email Insider Article: “Build (Or Transform) A Birthday Email Program In Seven Steps

4) Video: “Happy Birthday Email Tips


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