Guest Blogs, Laura Christensen

3 Steps to a Successful Triggered Email Program

3 Steps to a Successful Triggered Email Program

Email marketers strive to build customer relationships and drive strong email revenue. Yet data shows that the one targeting strategy proven to be most effective for improving email engagement is also the least used.

According to a report by Experian, triggered emails have 8 times more opens and substantially greater revenue than standard emails. Yet an Econsultancy survey found that only 20 percent of email marketers are actually using behavioral targeting for triggered messaging. So why aren’t more senders focused on developing a triggered marketing strategy?

Building an optimized triggered email program requires marketers to initiate emails based on a subscriber behavior, profile, or preferences to keep customers engaged throughout the subscriber lifecycle. Critical to that success is understanding when and how to deliver messages that are timely, personalized, and highly relevant. But a lack of data, poor data management, limited technical understanding, and inadequate strategic planning can be significant barriers to implementing an effective triggered email program.

The following steps will help you focus on the key factors and considerations to develop or optimize your triggered email strategy.

Step I: Situation Analysis
Begin with a review of your current capabilities. Determine the key segments for your email program, including current segmentation criteria, subscriber contact strategy, and business rules.

Next, analyze your data management capabilities:

  • What data is currently available?
  • Where is the information stored?
  • How often is the data updated?
  • Is the data used with other processes within the company?

In addition to reviewing your current capabilities, you will want to evaluate your existing triggered email strategy. Analyze both your subscriber and customer experiences to identify vulnerabilities and opportunities at key inflection points across each lifecycle stage.

  • What triggered email messages are in place currently?
  • How are these messages performing?
  • What are the weaknesses in your current triggered email messages (e.g., lack of data, poor timing, etc).
  • Where are there opportunities to add triggered contacts or optimize existing messages?

Step II: Establishing the framework
Once you have completed an evaluation of your triggered email program capabilities, the next step is to establish the framework for your future triggered message strategy. Data management is the foundation for any successful triggered email program, so begin by determining how you will manage data, including:

  • Which subscriber or customer segments to ask for data that will inform triggered messages
  • When to capture that data
  • Where to capture that data
  • What type of data to capture

After you have ensured data availability, accessibility, and credibility, you can begin to create the framework for each triggered message type. Following are some things to consider as part of this process:

  • Message goal. Why is the message being sent? Is it to nurture new prospects? Improve engagement with existing customers? Capture additional data for targeting? Establishing a clear goal will help you both develop a strong message and measure email performance following implementation.
  • Purpose. What is the specific action you want subscribers or customers to take after receiving the email message? Knowing what behavior you want to encourage will help you to create a clear, powerful call-to-action.
  • Audience. Who is the intended target audience, and what is the specific selection criteria? Understanding the audience for your message is critical for segmentation, messaging, and many other aspects of a good triggered email campaign.
  • Timing. Does the email send time coincide with a specific behavior (for example, immediately following email sign-up or within two hours of shopping cart abandonment)? Or is there a date that corresponds with profile data (for example, customer anniversary or product warranty reminder)?
  • Content. How can you leverage data to tailor the message with relevant, personalized, benefit-driven content? Consider incorporating elements such as personalized product recommendations, promotions, and resources to enhance the email experience.
  • Cadence.  How often will the message be sent? Will your message be a one-time send or recurring?

Step III: Creating a Plan for Testing and Implementation
Not only is testing a helpful way to optimize your triggered email strategy, it’s also the key to ensuring continued success. Because of the complexities of developing a full triggered email program, it’s important to start by prioritizing the order in which you will test and implement triggered messages, and which specific elements you will test. To determine this, consider both the level of impact each triggered message type will have on your email program, and the level of effort necessary for testing and implementation.

Starting with your highest priority message, develop a testing outline using the following criteria:

  • Test objective. What insight do you hope to gain from the test?
  • Hypothesis. What is your expected outcome?
  • Success metric(s). What are the key performance indicators (KPI) for measuring success? Consider the targeted nature of these messages when determining how best to calculate ROI, as metrics such as sales per email aren’t as relevant with small-scale triggered sends. As a benchmark, you can look at the average performance metrics for triggered campaigns in Return Path’s 2018 Email Marketing Lookbook.
  • Approach. What is being tested? How are you testing it (for example, A/B testing; multivariate testing, etc.)? Who is the test audience? What is the time frame?
  • Results. Document test performance over the duration of the testing period, and consider pre/post-implementation performance impact as well.
  • Insights. What did you learn from the test? What changes should you make? How will you apply the results going forward?

Following testing and implementation, be sure to establish a maintenance schedule for each of your triggered emails. The automation of triggered sends puts them at risk for being forgotten, so you will want to schedule periodic reviews to determine the emails are still functioning as intended (links are working, personalized content is displaying, etc.) and performing as expected.  At minimum, each message should be reviewed once per quarter.

Targeted, relevant emails drive better results and can improve a subscriber’s perception of a brand. As marketers, we can use data to better understand our audience and reach them in a way that both resonates and inspires continued engagement throughout the subscriber lifecycle.


    Laura Christensen
    Senior Email Strategist at Return Path
    Laura is an Email Strategist for Return Path, the worldwide leader in email intelligence. As a true Maximizer, she leverages email program data and insight to identify what’s good and make it excellent, somewhat obsessively at times. After spending more than 15 years in the email industry, she’s passionate about helping her clients create better subscriber experiences for increased engagement, retention, and overall email program performance. She continues to work with clients across multiple industries to identify email program vulnerabilities and opportunities, refining strategies to achieve success.

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