Email Marketing Teardown – Trello

by Etienne Garbugli no comments.

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Teardown

Trello was created by Fog Creek Software in 2011.

Initially designed as a project management platform inspired by Kanban boards, Trello’s simplicity and flexibility struck a nerve.

It took no time for Trello to get adopted across industries and market segments. Soon after its launch, it was being used as a school bulletin board, for lesson planning, accounting, web design, and more.

As Trello’s user base grew north of 15 million users, competitors like Asana, Airtable and GitHub started to copy Trello’s distinctive board features.

Amidst increased competition and slower-than-expected monetization, Trello got acquired by Atlassian for $425M in 2017.

Today, Trello remains one of the most popular project management tools on the market.

Why an Email Marketing Teardown of Trello

Trello is a product we’ve used on and off over the years. It’s what we used at LANDR Audio to manage growth experiments, what I used with contractors to create the Control Alt Deceit game, and it’s still what I use to take notes on a few projects.

Over the years, the things that always stood out were the quality of their communications and the originality of their brand assets (gotta ❤️ Taco the dog 🐕!).

Although I never had a chance to truly dive into their work, we did include a near-identical version of their signup confirmation email (below 👇) in an elaborate A/B/C/D/etc test at LANDR. It didn’t win, but it inspired the winning test.

The Trello team is clearly doing a lot of really good things on the product and marketing side, but how good are they really at email marketing? Here’s my opportunity to dive in:

Trello’s Email Program

Of all the email marketing programs we reviewed so far, Trello’s was probably the most challenging to analyze.

Not only do they send a lot less emails than the other Freemium/Software-as-a-Service products we looked at, their program feels simple, but has a few hints of advanced targeting, which tells me that there’s probably more under the hood than meets the eye.

Although I signed up with different email addresses at different times, I’m not entirely sure I got to experience their full email experience. Here are the first 8 emails I received:

The Welcome Email

I’m a native French speaker, but I usually work in English. For some reason, I set my browser to French and never took the time to set it back to English.

When I signed up to Trello (twice), I explicitly selected ‘English’ before I signed up. In spite of that, I received both their signup confirmation and terms and conditions update emails in French.

It’s not a big deal, but it clearly shows that Trello has 2 different email marketing platforms (or setups), and that those setups don’t use/access the same user information.

It’s a fairly common issue. It reinforces the importance of understanding the full customer journey from the perspective of the users.

Signup Confirmation Email – Subject Line: “Confirmation du compte Trello” (Sent Immediately After Signup)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Confirmation Email

That said, Trello’s signup confirmation email is very effective.

French or not, the subject line is straightforward, the copy is short and to the point, and the call-to-action (CTA) is big and clear (Green means good!).

Notification Emails

From there, if I were familiar with Trello, I’d setup a board, invite colleagues, and emails would start flying out…

Notification Email – Subject Line: “[First Name] mentioned you on [ Card Name ] at [ Date ]” (Never Received)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Notification Email #1

Well… I’m sure that’s how a lot of people begin their use of Trello.

Based on previous experiences, this part works great; they’ve even gamified user invites with their very own currency (Trello Gold).

Notification Email – Subject Line: “[First Name] joined Trello on your recommendation. You earned a free month of Trello Gold at [ Date ]” (Never Received)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello's Notification Email #2

If you’re starting to get too many messages, you can change the frequency, which is also great…

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Notification Settings
Trello – Notification Settings

But if you don’t start using Trello right away, you get stuck with a blank canvas. No onboarding, no nothing:

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello's Blank State
Trello – Start Screen

Although Trello is a simple product, and many of their users are probably familiar with Kanban board functionalities in similar products, they’re being extremely passive with new signups.

It took 14 days to receive a second email. By that time, I was already gone using their competitor’s product… 🏖

The Content Emails

After 14 days, I received a newsletter:

Content Email #1 – Subject Line: “Highly productive morning routines.” (Sent on Day 14)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Content Email #1

The first few things I noticed – beyond the effective subject line – were the use of large fonts, the quality of the visuals, and the attractive links and buttons.

Although it’s not the email content I was expecting, the email was well designed and delivered value (I like Trello’s blog!).

Content Email #2 – Subject Line: “Working from home is not remote work.” (Sent on Day 48)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Content Email #2

Trello’s newsletters are sent twice a month (every 14 days with slight variations in timing). The articles are usually a selection from the past month’s publications. The timing and freshness of the content tells me 2 things:

  1. The emails are on a timed schedule, meaning that the emails new users receive each month change;
  2. There’s little strategy in terms of using email to activate users or influence their behaviors.

It’s very hard to get consistent results with this approach. It’s one of the reasons why I feel newsletters don’t make the best nurturing emails.

Content Email #3 – Subject Line: “You are a boss 👊” (Sent on Day 62)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello's Content Email #3

At this point, the sender for most of their emails is their dog mascot, Taco. This helps Trello create playful copy and reinforces their brand.

You’ll notice that the bottom banners changes from one email to the next. Through the email series, they use the banner to introduce events, promote social accounts, and highlight features. Although the emails have good structure and there’s clear visual priority among their CTAs, their emails have 6 or 7 different competing CTAs (too many), and none of them link to their app, which is what I signed up for

Content Email Followup – Subject Line: “In case you missed it” (Sent on Day 70)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Newsletter Followup

On Day 70, Trello sent a more-personalized recap of the top posts from their previous content emails. It’s an interesting strategy I’m definitely curious to try.

Although the email assumes that I’ve been engaging with the product – I hadn’t – the reminder reinforced the importance of these posts. Maybe I really ought to read them after all.

The Onboarding Email

Out of the 18 emails Trello sent me over the span of 202 days, only the following email felt like an onboarding email:

Onboarding Email – Subject Line: “Trello’s Inspiration Station Is Now Open” (Sent on Day 27)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello's Onboarding Email

The onboarding email introduces various ways to use Trello. Not only does this help reinforce the fact that other people use Trello (social proof), it also helps inspire new uses for the product, which helps expand my understanding of the tool.

I definitely would have loved to receive this email right after sign up, not 27 days in.

A better use of behavioral targeting and better testing (the second CTA in the email links here 👇) would have certainly help improve the relevance and effectiveness of this email.

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s 404 Page
Trello – Link to the Product

The Reengagement Emails

5 days after receiving the onboarding email, I received a reengagement email:

Reactivation Email #1 – Subject Line: “Taco misses you” (Sent on Day 32)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Reactivation Email #1

Although the email is short, straight-to-the point, and has a clear call-to-action, it’s the type of email I would have expected to receive closer to signup. At this point, if I’m not already engaging with the product, I’ve most likely moved on.

Trello could have used this opportunity to reinforce the value of creating that first board. Their copy gives me no reason to create a board at this point. What’s the benefit?

Reactivation Email #2 – Subject Line: “Empower yourself” (Sent on Day 180)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Reactivation Email #2

Much later, 6 months after sign up, Trello sent me another reengagement email. Although the copy is good and the call-to-action is clear, it also fails to give me a great reason to reactivate.

Reactivating disengaged users is one of the most challenging aspects of lifecycle marketing. It’s one of the topics we’ll cover in our new lifecycle email marketing course ✉️.

That said, the guide linked to from this email is amazing. It would have helped answer a lot of questions I might have had about Trello. I’m not too sure why it took 6 months to get it…

The Feature Launch Email

One of the reasons why I may have simply missed the guide in a previous email is because Trello combines email concepts, which makes it hard for recipients to quickly assess the value of the email they got. Is this email for me?

Content/Launch Email #1 – Subject Line: “8 new Trello features! 🎉” (Sent on Day 76)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Content/Launch Email #1

On Day 76, I received an email that instinctively felt like a newsletter – articles from the blog, same template, etc –, but had the subject line of a feature launch email ‘8 new Trello features! 🎉’.

Maybe Trello felt that the features were very minor, but including them as throw-ins means it’s easy to overlook the improvements. Perhaps one of the 8 new features would have made me engage with the product.

Content/Launch Email #2 – Subject Line: “Announcing! Over 100 Trello integrations” (Sent on Day 139)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Content/Launch Email #2

Again, a good email with a strong subject line, but it’s very easy to miss the 100 integrations, which, to me, felt like a big deal.

Launch Email #3 – Subject Line: “Trello tips for goal setting, remote work, and analytics” (Sent on Day 154)

Email Marketing Teardown – Trello’s Launch Email

The last launch email I received caught my attention. It used a very distinct template with a clear call-to-action and strong benefit statements. It convinced me to visit the mini-site they created to recap the event (Trello Day) advertised in the newsletter emails above ☝️.

Had you noticed the banners for Trello Day? Most people scan or skim email content. When emails require too much attention, offers often go unnoticed.

Email Marketing Teardown – Takeaways

No email marketing program is perfect. Let’s look at what Trello is doing well… and less well:

The Good

  • ✅ Strong brand. Distinct visual assets. Great design;
  • ✅ Most of their subject lines and email copy are effective;
  • ✅ Different templates for different email series;
  • ✅ Some emails were internationalized (French vs English);
  • ✅ Trello already has all the assets to create a great email marketing program.

The Bad

  • ❌ Very passive use of emails;
  • ❌ Very few emails link to the Trello app;
  • ❌ It takes too long for behavioral emails to get started;
  • ❌ Too many CTAs. Feature launches get lost in the newsletter content;
  • ❌ Newsletters don’t seem to tie in with the product strategy.

Email Marketing Teardown – Score

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Interested in building your own email program?

We just launched a SaaS Email Masterclass 🎉 to help increase trial conversions with email.

Trello is doing a lot of good things with emails, but their program feels scattered and overly passive. From the outside, it doesn’t feel like they’re fully committed to using emails to drive product engagement.

Their product and email notifications engage users once they’ve committed to using Trello, but a lot of use cases beyond the happy path seem to have been neglected.

Overall, Trello should make better use of email marketing automation to engage and monetize its user base. It shows that it still has room to improve the performance of its email marketing program:

Final score: 6.9/10 👍

Do you agree with us? Let us know in the comments below.👇

P.S. Enjoying our email teardowns? Sign up to our newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any.

Etienne Garbugli
Étienne is a three-time startup founder (Flagback, HireVoice and Highlights), and the author of Lean B2B: Build Products Businesses Want. At Highlights, Étienne is responsible for customer success.

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