Triggered campaigns let you send e-mail, build relationships and make money even while you sleep
With its silver bullet mantel long since sullied in the spam gutter, e-mail finds itself in the unfamiliar position of underdog. Discredited for prospecting thanks to plunging open rates and handcuffed by Can Spam legislation, e-mail as we once knew it is dead. Long live e-mail.
But while e-mail has devolved into a lousy way to get a foot in the door, it’s become an excellent way to keep a foot there. Using e-mail to stay in contact with current customers can reap great rewards. You can parlay the cost efficiency that sunk blast-prospecting (it’s so cheap that everyone does it; as a result, nobody opens the e-mails) into a low-cost system for extending thank-yous and special offers to your existing customer base. And the best thing about it is you can set it up to work 24 hours a day—even while you sleep.
Triggered e-mail essentially is a system that automatically sends customer-specific e-mail based on predetermined triggers. It can be time-based, action-based and/or contingent on database events. A little up-front work can yield great rewards.
Triggered e-mail may seem imposing, bringing to mind complex systems like that of Amazon.com, a company built around triggered e-mails that thank customers, alert them of order shipments, ask them to fill out surveys, etc. But triggered e-mail can serve myriad purposes, and need not be complicated.
“Triggered e-mail can be used for relationship marketing or as a ‘one-off’ value add,” says Catherine Symon, account supervisor at True North, a New York-based direct response agency.
Triggered e-mail can be as simple as a weekly newsletter. “If you’re doing regular newsletter content,” says Symon, “and you don’t want to tie up your tech peoples’ time, you could say, ‘Every Monday I want to send a piece of content I have loaded beforehand.’” Then have it automatically sent to your list.
Triggered campaigns also can have clearly defined endpoints.
“We have a client with a continuity product,” explains Symon. “[When you join] you’re entered into a series of three e-mails. The first e-mail is a welcome/customer-service/order confirmation message; the second is an offer that says you normally get this product once a month, but if you sign up to get two of these a month, you’ll save on shipping; the third e-mail that went out says if you pay by credit card you’ll save another X number of dollars per shipment.”
How to Trigger
There are three main types of triggers, all of which can be incorporated into a campaign:
• Event. This type of trigger is tied to something a customer does, or something a customer has signed up to be reminded of. In the first instance, when a customer places an order, she’s sent a thank-you message; when she registers with your site, she’s sent a welcome message; when she books a flight, she’s sent a confirmation with an offer for accommodations. In the second instance, if a customer has, for example, signed up with a news service for alerts when, say, stories about professional wrestler/actor The Rock are written, she will receive a message when that condition is met.
• Time. This category is broken into two branches: absolute time and relative time. A trigger based on absolute time can apply to a newsletter sent to all recipients every month, week or day. A trigger set on relative time can be based on a customer event, for example, three days after a customer registers, or eight months after he buys a one-year subscription to a magazine.
• Database. This type of trigger hinges on what’s in your database. When a customer reaches a certain purchase plateau, or has been a customer for a set amount of time, a special offer can be sent. When a magazine subscriber has only three issues remaining, a renewal reminder can be sent out.
A mix of these types of triggers can make a powerful campaign, but setting up the program can be challenging.
“It all comes down to business rules,” explains John Rizzi, CEO and president of e-Dialog, a Boston-based e-mail marketing services provider.
Anything you do with your business, from customer service to renewals to continuity programs to customer surveys, you should be able to do—or at least support—with a triggered e-mail campaign.
The Shape of Things
Triggered campaigns are very different from batched campaigns in which all messages are sent at once. A triggered campaign is like a program that a customer can enter into at any time and progress through at her own pace.
So it’s helpful to visualize how the campaign will work. Every triggered e-mail campaign—from simple to complex—has a shape. The key to a triggered campaign is its decision tree, a cause-and-effect flowchart that maps out triggers and their resultant actions.
“The more moving parts, the more planning time you have to spend,” says Symon. “You have to know what’s going to happen [when a customer takes each action] and what dominoes will fall.”
You must anticipate every possible response from your customers for a triggered program to work with minimum supervision.
“What if someone tries to respond outside the system?” hypothesizes Symon. “It’s easy to go to the database and say they responded to this [via e-mail], but what if that person decides to pick up the phone, and they order over the phone? How does that get incorporated? You have to look at all your possible touchpoints and data inputs.”
Certain activities lend themselves particularly well to triggered campaigns.
“In the B-to-B world, with its long sales cycles and where the product costs are very high,” says Rizzi, “you want a process to economically stay in touch with those leads.”
Triggered e-mail can be effective for “drip” marketing and for warming prospects who are not yet ready to buy.
“You might have [prospects] sign up for a newsletter, some kind of value-added message stream,” suggests Rizzi, noting this as a way to feed them content that’s informative or educational about your product.
In a B-to-B environment, where sales rarely are made without face-to-face contact, it’s important to build a shut-off trigger into the campaign for when the prospect is handed over to the sales team. “You don’t want them to get the next sequenced message … that could confuse the story. You need an event trigger that says ‘now take this guy out of the process, or put him into another process.’”
The B-to-C environment also is brimming with triggered e-mail possibilities.
A simple feature you can build into your program is the abandoned shopping cart alert. Simply set up your e-mail rules to send an e-mail to any customer who abandons a shopping cart, says Rizzi. You can alert the customer that the product is still available, or you could even have your system make a special offer on the products.
“Abandoned shopping cart mailings can be very lucrative,” says Rizzi. The trigger set-up consists of a fairly simple decision tree:
• If a customer abandons a cart, send a reminder e-mail.
• If a customer purchases, end the cycle.
• If a customer does not purchase, send a discount offer and end the cycle, regardless of response.
More involved programs are more complicated, but the payoffs can make it worthwhile. “Travel would be great [for triggered e-mail],” says Symon. “If you’re booking with an airline, it could be used as a value-add. They know when you’re traveling and you get an e-mail a month out that says, ‘Here’s what’s happening in Paris when you’re there.’ … You could get e-mails that say ‘Don’t forget to get your travelers checks’ or ‘Don’t forget your passport.’”
Essentially, any bit of information a customer gives you can be used in a triggered campaign. Birthday offers work well. As KnowledgeBase Marketing’s Vice President/Solutions Architect Arthur Middleton Hughes suggests, getting a woman to submit her birthday, dress size, favorite color and husband’s e-mail address can be a powerful tactic for a birthday campaign.
Rizzi’s e-Dialog has a book club client for whom his company has executed a triggered campaign (see campaign flow chart on page 48). “People go to the publisher’s Web site, and they might get a pop-up that says ‘Would you like to hear about our book club?’”
If they enter their e-mail addresses, they receive reader-interest newsletters every two weeks until they respond—or a predetermined cut-off is met. “If they do respond, they get a different kind of response [from the club],” says Rizzi, explaining this response asks what kind of books each prospect is interested in. The next step is getting prospects to join, by sending offers featuring current books that fit their self-selected interests. “Those [triggered e-mails] can go on every two weeks until the person purchases; then the stream cuts off,” explains Rizzi.
Focus on Content
Having all your triggers in place is but one important part of the process. You still need something to send your customers. From simple thank-you messages to protocols for pulling product offerings from your database, what you put into your e-mails is as important as when and why they’re sent.
“You want that content to be database driven,” says Rizzi. In the book club campaign described above, “it’s very important that the latest message has the most relevant book in it.”
The Pause That Refreshes
Unlike one-time-use batch e-mail that never gets a chance to get musty, a triggered campaign has a shelf life.
The idea is to set up a program that doesn’t need much attending. As Rizzi puts it, “Once you get these things going on auto-pilot, it’s very cost efficient. It’s like magic.”
But even magic tricks need to be updated. “We think you should never go more than a year without a refresh,” says Rizzi. Besides, within any given year, “it’s more likely that the business rules are going to change within a company,” necessitating a review of ongoing campaigns.
But ideally, it’s the content and not the triggers you’ll have to update. “The goal is that [a triggered campaign] can run a very long time,” says Rizzi. “If it’s a database-driven content concept, the fundamental pieces can be easily updated without having to update triggers.”
Measure by Measure
Since it’s a direct marketer’s nature to keep tabs on efforts, it’s important to note that tracking the success of a triggered e-mail campaign is not quite the same thing as keeping tabs on a batch campaign.
It’s more complicated for two reasons:
1. There are multiple points of contact.
2. Each customer in the campaign is moving through the sequence at his or her own pace.
“At what stage of the game are they completing the objective, whether it’s to sign up, buy or request?” asks Rizzi. “Was it message one, two or three? From there you can find what stages are more effective and less effective.”
According to True North’s Symon, it’s also important to put more emphasis on opt-outs than on response. “Even if people aren’t clicking through, if they’re not opting out, then they probably see some sort of value in your
e-mail,” Symon explains. Increasing opt outs are a sign that content needs to be refreshed, or the format of the e-mail tested.
A Few Cautionary Notes
Because a triggered e-mail campaign sends e-mails on its own, you might forget all about it when thinking up other customer-contact initiatives. This is a big mistake.
“Be aware of what other messages are going out to customers from your organization,” cautions Symon. “It’s great to do all kinds of complicated decision trees, and it looks great in management meetings, but if [customers] get too many messages, [the campaign] can backfire.”
Also, make sure you do all the proper planning, accounting for every possible response. “Setting these up can take a lot of work,” says Rizzi. “If you’re setting up a triggered campaign that you’re going to have to revise every few weeks, you’re not going to get your cost benefit out of it.”
And finally, make sure your customers know why they’re receiving each e-mail. “If it’s time based, but not immediately after the sale … make the customer aware of why they’re getting the message,” says Symon. “And put some value in there.”