USA Triathlon Analysis: How 5 Emails Can Enhance Member Engagement


Note: The USA Triathlon is not a Barrel client. The emails we’ve designed are strictly for demonstration purposes only. We sampled some content from their existing emails and website.

A few months ago, I started to train for my first triathlon event. I came across the USA Triathlon site as I tried to register for a race happening in my neighborhood. The event website required a USA Triathlon membership, so I joined.

The membership sign-up process was straightforward and I registered within a few minutes. After signing up, however, I found the USA Triathlon’s email communication to be lacking in both frequency and substance. In the span of 3 weeks, USA Triathlon sent me 2 emails that confirmed my registration and 3 emails that tried to sell me products.

Here’s a breakdown of the 5 emails in the first 3 weeks:

  • Day 1: USA Triathlon Membership Registration – a transactional email that confirmed my registration
  • Day 2: USA Membership Packet – this one is a templated email (the entire content is an embedded image although in the form of a letter) from their membership services coordinator who lets me know that I’ll be getting my card in the mail in 2-3 weeks
  • Day 5: Spring Savings on Events DC Nation’s Triathlon & TriRock Philadelphia – a promotional email telling me I can save money by registering for a couple of events ahead of time; I’m not sure if this is an email sent to me because I live in the Northeast or if it’s been blasted to everyone
  • Day 12: Save 40-55 Percent off Rudy Project Gear – promotional email for products from Rudy Project that looks like a Sunday circular
  • Day 23: Invitation: Your Virtual Event Bag is Ready – promotional email that links me to a site hosted by Virtual Event Bags that gives me discounts on triathlon gear
USA Triathlon emails

For someone who just joined and is new to the triathlon community, I felt that the USA Triathlon could have taken a different approach to email. Why the rush to sell me things? Why not take the opportunity to get me excited about my first event and to surface resources that’ll help me be prepared?

I spent some time poking around the USA Triathlon website as well as their social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. It was easy to see that there was a disconnect between their email marketing efforts and the wealth of content and social media activity.

With the help of our Creative Strategist Aretha Choi, we explored 5 ways that the USA Triathlon can enhance the onboarding experience for new members using email marketing and readily available content from their website and social media accounts.

#1 Personalized Welcome Email

The USA Triathlon registration form asks for my basic information but doesn’t ask for much more. I would have gladly shared that I am an absolute beginner and would also have volunteered information on the equipment brands I’ve bought from (e.g. Specialized road bike, Speedos, Oakley sunglasses, etc.). Instead, from what I could tell from their initial emails, their list seems largely unsegmented.

Here’s our reimagining of the Welcome email:

USA Triathlon Welcome Email
Inserting personalized information in the Welcome email is a great way to engage new members right away with relevant content.

An Experian Marketing Services study found that “personalized promotional mailings have 29 percent higher unique open rates and 41 percent higher unique click rates than non personalized mailings.” A quick win for USA Triathlon could be to add personalization to their Welcome email. Data collected about the new member’s level of experience in triathlon competitions can be used to pull in links to appropriate content on the USA Triathlon website. In my case, I could receive a few links aimed at beginners. By intelligently surfacing content that is appropriate to the new member, the email not only serves its purpose as an informational communication piece about membership details, but also works as a driver of traffic and engagement to the USA Triathlon website.

#2 Upcoming Events Near You

One way to capitalize on the enthusiasm of a new user is to place other, relevant opportunities in front of them as quickly as possible. For USA Triathlon, sending an email about upcoming events near the new member can be an automated way to drive high quality leads to USA Triathlon-sanctioned events.

Here’s our take:

USA Triathlon Upcoming Events Near You Email
Alerting members of upcoming events based on their geographic location can be a very valuable email that keeps them participating in USA Triathlon-sanctioned events.


This email should be sent the moment the user registers as a member, or at least within 24 hours. After the initial email, a weekly or biweekly cadence would be a good way to showcase new events. This email can expand to include events that may be slightly outside the member’s locality but still accessible, and the email can also feature national competitions that might require travel.

#3 Training and Nutrition Tips

Building upon the personalized content in the Welcome email, USA Triathlon would benefit from sending a series of content-driven emails that have to do with training and nutrition. Their website has a wealth of such resources, so these emails could be a powerful way to repurpose and repackage the content.

Here’s a sample, using readily available content on the USA Triathlon website:

USA Triathlon Training and Nutrition Email
An email about training and nutrition would be a great way to surface existing content.

Our example shows a brief message followed by links to a video and two links to articles. We also put in an inspirational graphic at the end to acknowledge the dedication and grueling regimen of training for a triathlon.

#4 Triathlon Heroes

We noticed that USA Triathlon publishes a magazine that features in-depth stories of triathletes. We created a hypothetical situation in which USA Triathlon could tie in their stories of athletes along with an influencer-based promotion of relevant products. This would be a softer sell than the newspaper insert-style email promotions that they currently send, and associating a product with an inspirational athlete could be an effective way to market products.

Here’s a potential mockup:

USA Triathlon Heroes email
Showcasing compelling stories of triathletes and potentially tying them with product promotions could be an alternative to a 100% promotional email.

In our example, we feature a summary of the hero’s story with a link to the full article. Below, we offer four very different products that we label as the hero’s “Ironman Favorites.”

Whether or not USA Triathlon decides to tie products to its athlete stories, consistently showcasing real athletes with compelling stories can go a long way in building the brand.

#5 Community Highlights

Our last example is an email that reinforces the feeling of community among USA Triathlon members through images and stories of people participating in events throughout the country. This could include links to blog posts, Instagram photos, Facebook discussions, and race recaps. The goal is to bring a sense of excitement and activity, and to let members know that there’s always something going on somewhere. Note that the email also asks members to share their story or donate to the USA Triathlon Foundation.

Here’s how it could look:

USA Triathlon Community Highlight Email
An email that highlights the buzz and activity of a vibrant triathlon community may compel members to share their own stories.

Send Early, Send Often

After the Welcome email, the other emails can be used as templates to send periodically to members. The key here is to establish a regular cadence and to prime members to expect a certain type of mailing at a predictable rate. If USA Triathlon can prove that its emails provide value (rather than pure promotion), it’s more likely that members will open up future emails. A study showed that 70% of consumers say they always open emails from their favorite companies. By building a sense of community and pointing members to relevant events, USA Triathlon can build itself to be a trusted and admired brand in the minds of its members.


Having worked with both for-profit and non-profit clients of all sizes over the years, we know that implementing a robust email marketing strategy is no small task. But email is still one of the most effective forms of driving traffic and conversions (nearly 40 times better at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined). We believe it would be a wise investment for any organization to thoroughly audit their existing email marketing activities and to explore the many possibilities to engage customers through email.

Popular This Week
25 Must-Have Pages for Your E-commerce Website
January 30, 2015

25 Must-Have Pages for Your E-commerce Website

By Yvonne Weng
Taking Control of Image Loading
July 29, 2013

Taking Control of Image Loading

By Patrick Kunka
Text-align: Justify and RWD
March 12, 2013

Text-align: Justify and RWD

By Patrick Kunka
New Shopify Theme: Mosaic
January 16, 2016

New Shopify Theme: Mosaic

By Peter Kang

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for the Barrel newsletter and receive updates.