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Elements of Effective “Building Block Feature” Emails

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Every SaaS product has that ONE feature. The one everyone uses over and over again. The one you can’t do anything else without.

I call these features “building blocks.” These are the features, steps, or tools you should boldly label START HERE. They deserve their time in the spotlight without having to share it with a ton of other features. If you throw too many features at a new user at once, you risk losing them or confusing them.

SaaS onboarding emails that introduce your building block needs to teach a user three things:

WHAT it is

Obviously. The building block email needs to tell the reader what the feature is. The simpler the explanation, the better. Ideally, your customer would be able to articulate back to you what the feature is with a single sentence.

WHY it’s useful

Why and when a customer would use the building block tend to go hand in hand. This explanation can preview a few different use cases, or it can just outline the benefit. The “why” behind can also be the fact that it’s the first step required to reach the ultimate goal.

HOW to use it

The building block should be a simple feature, which means it will translate to a short GIF or image. Your CTA should also drive customers to use it for themselves.

The Elements of an Effective Building Block Email

Building block in the subject line (what)

The first step in introducing the building block lies in the subject line. Let the reader know you’ll be tackling a “first” or giving them useful information.

Evernote introduces their building block, a note, with a question. Most people assume they know what a note is, after all, we’ve probably written thousands of them through school + work. However, the subject line “What is a note?” hints there’s more to learn about Evernote’s core feature.

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FreshBooks and monday.com take a more straightforward approach in the examples below. The building block is a capability a trial user is already aware of, such as an invoice with FreshBooks. These subject line examples start to jump ahead to the “how.”

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Animation, Icon, or Photo (what)

Another way to explain “what” your building block is, is with a visual. If you have the capability, a simple animation can tell the whole story. Evernote does this well, and the example below illustrates the making of a note.

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FreshBooks also uses animation to show “what” the building block, as well as “how” it’s done.

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Even a simple icon is useful to connect a text description to a visual. After all, everyone learns differently. Offering a few ways to learn about a feature, such as a headline and an icon, makes the idea more concrete.

Not able to include an icon, either? They try a screenshot of the feature interface. Or, make a simple GIF interacting with the feature using a screen recorder.

Benefit (why)

Everyone is busy, and nobody wants to waste their time. So how do you make sure your customers use the feature that you know will make their lives better/easier? Let them know why they should care.

Early in the onboarding email series, Shopify introduces shop themes. Their reasoning as to why a user should care? Well, it’s simply something that has to be done before you can sell. The sooner you do this one step, the closer you are to becoming an online millionaire. Or something like that.

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FreshBooks makes the why even more to the point. If you’ve ever sent invoices, chances are you’ve come had at least one you had to chase down. In reality, it’s more likely to be the client’s fault than an ugly invoice. Nevertheless, if FreshBooks says they can help me make the most payable invoice ever, I’m in.

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How-To Explanation (how)

Finally, your building block email needs to get the ball rolling by telling users how to use the feature. In the example below, FreshBooks breaks it down into three easy steps.

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The “how” in your building block email can also just be a very enticing CTA button. If you’ve nailed the “what” and “why,” readers will already be looking for a “how.” Go ahead and serve it up hot and fresh.

Not every building block email you come across has these elements, though perhaps they should. Do you have any favorite examples of building block emails? I’d love to add them to the list.

Have questions about SaaS onboarding emails? I’d love to chat! Send me an email at steph@stephknapp.com — I’m a real person :)