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Much is being said these days about how marketing effectiveness can be increased by targeting customers with the right message at the right time based on customer behaviors and buying patterns.

However, many companies have not been able to evolve past text-based confirmation messages. There are various reasons why this may be the case. It is often difficult to report on offers generated by this type of event-based effort. Many marketers believe that the expense and work of adding marketing promotional messages into their transactional emails isn't worth the effort.

And very often, marketers find they don't have the time necessary to put together the strategy and tactics associated with a solid individualized lifecycle marketing (ILM) program.

But the good news is that putting together an effective real-time marketing strategy is not as difficult as it seems and is an endeavor worth pursuing.

First off, we know that triggered messages based on consumer behavior yield great results. According to a JupiterResearch study from 2005, triggered messages yield 9 times the ROI of traditional batched messages. Therefore, the question is not whether you need to do this, but how you can get started.

Before we begin to define an effective real-time messaging strategy, let's define some terms. A real-time message, or triggered message, is one that is generated based on a meaningful change or event in a customer behavior or profile. That's a pretty broad definition that encompasses three major types of real-time or triggered messages:

  1. Transactional triggers: Messages that are based on a direct transaction with a customer target such as a purchase, profile update, opt-in, or conversion. In other words, there is an explicit event that you can react to with clear and specific data for the communication (e.g., informing customers that you have received their loan application and will begin processing the paperwork). These types of messages can also include behaviors such as cart abandons or search abandons.
  2. Recurring triggers: Messages that are triggered based on a consumer's profile or renewal terms. This would include messages such as birthdays, contract renewal messages, or monthly billing notices.
  3. Threshold triggers: Messages that occur based on a consumer exceeding a threshold within their relationship with a company. These types of triggers include account balance changes, exceeding a threshold in loyalty points, or a number of failed sends on an email message. These triggers are usually run on a daily basis.

There is a place for all three types of messages in your marketing strategy. In general, the easiest to set up are the recurring and threshold triggers. Since these types of triggers are generally less time-sensitive, they can be run as timed queries against the database and generated at a schedule that makes sense, such as a database update or, say, on the first Monday of every month.

These types of triggered campaigns, however, should make sense for your business: If, for example, your business culture does not normally relay personal messages, then a "personal" happy birthday message might alienate your audience.

Identify opportunities to extend value to your customer and take the time to personalize your offers. How many times have you gotten a credit card offer in your monthly statement for a credit card that you already have? If you are going to take the time to create an offer in the monthly statement, at least personalize the offer based on the products that a customer has with you.

Transactional campaigns are a bit more difficult to initiate. They often require some sort of real-time data integration with your operational systems. That said, a personalized offer based on a recent transaction normally offers the highest ROI, and so is always worth the effort.

So, the question is, where does a marketer start?

The process begins by mapping out your customer lifecycle. In general, there are five stages of a customer lifecycle: acquisition, conversion, growth, retention and re-activation. Within each stage, there are multiple ways to connect with a customer, as well as multiple channels for the customer to interact with your business. A strategy should be defined for each channel.

Once you understand the customer lifecycle, you can map out how you want to market to your customers and prospects throughout their lifecycle. You should then define the programs you want to run.

For instance, a marketer may define a "new-customer welcome program" based on a customer's first purchase or initial opt-in with your company. This may include a series of four messages to the consumer and a brief survey to help you gain more information about the consumer. This program can run automatically and continuously within your environment with little effort from the marketing team. The marketing group need only monitor the program to ensure that it remains effective.

Another example would be an abandonment-related campaign. When a consumer shows enough interest to search or begin a purchase process with your company, but fails to complete it, you have an opportunity to reach out. This type of program requires integration with your Web analytics product; however, it is easy to accomplish and can yield high results.

Real-time triggered campaigns offer some of the highest potential ROI from your marketing programs. A little strategic planning and knowing where to start can help you create an automated marketing environment that produces compelling results and a much greater ROI.

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Jeff Hassemer is director of product marketing at Responsys, Inc. (

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