When I teach email marketing, I always explain that there are two main "flavors" of commercial email messages: (1) broadcast email—a uniform message sent to everyone on the list, and (2) triggered email—a message triggered by an event, time, or an action sent to a specific person for a specific reason.

Although you can segment your list and version your broadcast campaigns to specified groups with different offers and creative for, say, men vs. women, the real power of personalization and relevance lies in trigger-based email.

Jupiter Research (see its "The ROI of E-mail Relevance") has found that behaviorally targeted trigger-email campaigns get 30% higher open and click-through rates and three times the conversion rates of broadcast email. (That response is even higher than that of tightly segmented broadcast campaigns.)

And if that's not enough reason to get on board, eMarketer recently reported that twice as many marketers are planning to use triggered remarketing campaigns in the next year than the number who do so now.

Event- or action-triggered automation makes it possible to send relevant emails to list members at exactly the optimum moment based on a specified time, date, event, or action. Marketers using triggered-email automation solutions are able to map out each element of a triggered campaign, including the following:

  • The event, action, or specified time (the "trigger") that initiates the sending of an email
  • Timed delays for scheduling and initiating message delivery
  • The subject line and content of the message
  • The person or group of persons who should receive it
  • The cadence of messages in a sequence, or "track"
  • The number of messages in a track

The three main characteristics of trigger-based email are as follows:

1. It's specific to a recurring need or objective. Triggered-email campaigns are ideal for communicating in response to regularly recurring actions, such as when a new member subscribes to your list, a shopper leaves an item in an online shopping cart, or a product warranty is about to expire.

In all three cases, you can develop a campaign ONCE to address the situation, and send the same message to a person when the trigger is tripped.

2. It's automated. The key to successful trigger-based email is automating the triggered messages. This is "set and forget" email.

Caution: Don't completely forget about it! Review your triggered-email campaigns at least twice a year.

3. It's individualized. Often, the audience for a triggered-email is one person. Triggered messages are sent only to specific people who have taken a specific action or inaction on your Web page or website, or with your previous email. The emails deploy only when relevant to the person receiving them.

Mastering email marketing means creating a blend of broadcast and triggered email programs.

Naturally, there are times you justifiably need to communicate the same message to everyone at the same time (your email newsletter, your holiday free-shipping offer, etc.), so broadcast email has its place.

Triggered email is for those times when you need a confirmation, a follow-up, a prompt, a reminder, or an alert.

Parts 2 and 3 of this series will explore four must-have triggered-email campaigns that no business should be without. Stay tuned in as I explain how to use triggered email for…

  1. Welcome and onboarding programs
  2. Remarketing to boost conversion
  3. Product up-sells
  4. Reactivation

And that's just for starters. Specific behavioral actions in your target audience can trigger an entire special series of email messages (known as a "dialog track") limited only by your imagination (and maybe a little by your creative resources)!

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Why and How You Should Be Using Triggered Email, Part 1

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.