what is triggered email marketing?

What is Triggered Email Marketing, Really?

by | Apr 26, 2021

What is Triggered Email Marketing?

Triggered email marketing is a method of planning and automating email marketing based on customer behavior.  

Triggers are the timely signal of an opportunity to reach out. Triggers fall into two broad categories.

  • Event-based: Customer behaviors like creating an account, abandoning a cart or browse session, or completing a purchase. 
  • Segment-based: Changes in attributes or activities, like a marriage, birthday, change in LTV, or relocation.

The main difference between triggered emails and general emails is that triggered emails are automated, one-to-one messages, and promotional emails are manually sent on a one-to-many basis.

Why is Triggered Email Marketing Important or Useful?

The entire point of triggered email marketing is time-based personalization. 

By this point in the evolution of digital marketing, all of the stats in the world only confirm our deepest intuition that the old marketing chestnut is totally accurate:

Marketing will see the greatest success if they can deliver the right message to the right customer in the right place at the right time.

If you’re not convinced, then:

  1. Triggered emails have been found to contribute over 30% of overall email revenue. (DMA
  2. Personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14% and conversions by 10%. (Aberdeen)
  3. Personalized emails have been shown to deliver 6x higher transactional rates than non-personalized emails. (MarketingProfs)
  4. Relevant emails drive 18x more revenue than broadcast emails. (Emma)
  5. Personalized email marketing generates a median ROI of 122%. (eMarketer)

 “Right-time marketing,” though, is getting harder and harder. 

  1. The scale at which marketers must communicate makes manual personalization impossible. 
  2. Attention spans are getting shorter. In a world where analysis paralysis is more common than the old-school “confident purchase,” being in the mood to buy a particular item is fleeting and fast.
  3. The death of cookies and the release of iOS 14.5 is knocking out a huge chunk of the marketing playing field.  
  4. GDPR, CCPA, and VCDPA all point to a path of narrowing data availability that will require companies to own their data and (to a large extent) their channels.  

The only way you can deliver relevant messages every single time is by responding to actual customer behavior. 

An Email Marketing Caveat

It’s not as easy as simply deciding to send more emails. Consider the fact that more than 290 billion emails are sent daily, a number expected to balloon to 347 billion by 2023. Just sending more emails is likely just an ocean-boiling exercise. 

But sending more emails that are even more relevant to the customer is a strategy with some promise. If we can replace reliance on third-party data with rich, democratized first-party data, then we stand a chance of getting real traction.

Customers expect certain types of triggered notifications, like a purchase confirmation or customer service question submission. But there’s no reason to stop there. The only thing that’s limiting you is your imagination — and maybe you’re current technology stack. 

Automation is Much Longer than Four Letters

The term “automation” skews toward the robotic, so “automated personalization” might sound oxymoronic. But planning, designing, launching, learning from, and iterating upon an automated communication process is one of the most humanistically informative activities in all of marketing. 

Building a triggered workflow that can personalize itself to an individual at a moment’s notice is a creative and technical miracle when done well. It’s not unlike building a video game world that can respond to and evolve with your players. 

A well-designed trigger flow requires minds that are comfortable with: 

  1. Branching Logic: If-this-then-that statements are the mathematical bedrock of triggered flows. 
  2. Empathy: Marketing is the art of building emotional connections, and a well-designed trigger flow can be the best tool to make your customers feel seen and heard. 
  3. Creativity: Go beyond the purchase confirmation or the Happy Birthday Discount emails. How your triggers respond to customer behavior is just as representative of your brand as your logo or design choices. 
  4. Experimentation: Nothing is ever perfect out of the gate. Monitoring performance and progress will fill in the gaps where the first three bullets are insufficient. 

As you learn and iterate and as your customers pass through your workflows, each touchpoint has the opportunity to become more relevant and timely

According to Digital Commerce 360:

  • 77% of online shoppers say they’re more likely to buy from a retailer when its emails are personal. 
  • 82% of web shoppers say they’d likely buy more items from a retailer if its emails were more personally relevant.

Don’t Let Your Automation Run Out of Gas.

Data powers personalization. If this weren’t the case, you wouldn’t need to know anything about a person to make a personal connection. But we all know that getting to know someone requires finding commonalities. 

Your data can tell you where your value proposition intersects with a customer’s hopes, needs, desires, and interests. This intersection might not be apparent to the customer, which is why data and marketing make such nifty bedfellows.  

But timely messaging requires timely data. For instance, if there’s a delay, you could send a promotional cart abandonment email after a successful purchase of that item. You could market wedding inventory to someone who canceled their wedding two years ago

This is where marketers start to run into problems. The list of possible messaging collisions and gaffes is endless. Insufficient or slow data can turn the marketer’s boon into the consumer’s bane. 

It’s not that their martech stacks have been pumped full of sugar water instead of gasoline. It’s that their fuel is being lobbed into the tank in an ad hoc fashion from across the organization, and only when it’s explicitly requested. That’s no way to drive a car. 

Marketing triggers — though not necessarily new — have gained sophistication concerning both intake and output. But the sad reality is that marketing departments don’t own the inputs, which makes the outputs inconsistent at best. All of our powers of logic, empathy, and creativity are for naught if the data isn’t democratized to power performance at the outset and deliver accurate reporting in the end. 

To learn more about how marketers can own their customer data to build more nuanced marketing communications, click over to Chapter Three of our CDP Buyer’s Guide, “Why is it Necessary to Understand Customer Data?”

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