Posted 03rd December 2012 by APSIS

How "triggers" and "service" boost your email marketing results

When people sign up for your emails, you probably send them a welcome message. For good reason: we often see clickthrough rates more than double those of typical promotional emails.

The welcome is perhaps the simplest example of a so-called trigger email: a message activated by a specific event (in this case, a sign-up). So how much more could you boost your email marketing results with more imaginative trigger approaches?

That question was a hot topic of discussion at our recent Email Marketing Evolved event in Stockholm.

Introducing the event, speaker Mark Brownlow highlighted triggers as perhaps the most promising of all current email marketing trends. But he also suggested marketers need to rethink their approach to fully profit from this exciting potential.


Why triggers work

The trigger event is normally some action taken by the subscriber, as with the welcome message, but it can also be a "real" event (like a birthday).

The messages can vary from the lowly order confirmation email through to full-scale newsletters, where the content depends entirely on what the subscriber looked at on the sender's website the day before.

These emails are far more timely, valuable and relevant than typical marketing emails. After all, the send time and content are directly related to the trigger event.

It's hard not to be timely and relevant when you send someone a "Happy Birthday" email with a coupon...on their birthday.

The result is a huge lift in response when compared to standard marketing emails.

Think in terms of service, not (just) promotion

According to Brownlow, making the most of triggers requires a change of mindset.

We're all wary of sending subscribers too much email. The more trigger emails you set up, the more you add to this “burden”.

But subscribers signed up because they want to hear from you. Of course that desire can change and this interest needs nurturing. But their perception of your emails is not necessarily that of a marketer. What we consider purely in terms of promotion is often seen as a service by the recipient.

This is particularly so with trigger emails, because of their enhanced relevancy.

In Stockholm, Brownlow cited an Amazon example. Buy a book from a particular author and Amazon often sends you a trigger email when that same author's next book is available to order.

Is that a promotional email or a useful service?

It's both, depending on your perspective.

Tolerance for more emails is closely related to the value of those mails. The more valuable they are, the more you can send. So trigger emails are a great way to introduce new email streams, particularly when you give these triggers a service tone. Such service or content-oriented messages also have three further advantages:

1. They open up a wider range of possible trigger campaigns

2. They strengthen customer relationships for better long-term response

3. They still drive immediate sales and other short-term responses

 So where do you start?

Step 1: Optimize your existing triggers

You probably already have existing trigger emails, even if you don’t think of them like that. Apart from the welcome message, what other administrative or transactional trigger emails are you already sending?

The first step is to review and optimize these existing messages, which often get little attention from marketers.

For example, another speaker at Email Marketing Evolved (Andrew Kordek) revealed how changing the subject and headline in a password reset email (!) and adding a stronger call to action almost trebled the subsequent revenue per email.

Step 2: Identify current opportunities

Next, identify new triggers that can be implemented easily using your existing system and email permissions. This is where Brownlow argues we need to be more imaginative and look for possibilities that offer both short- and long-term success.

An online purchase, for example, might trigger a variety of emails through time. For example:

• Order and shipping confirmations

Can you include recommendations for related products?

• Request for a product or service review

This produces content you can use to help sell products and services.

• Standalone promotion featuring complementary offers, or upgrade opportunities

This can be pitched as a service, much like the Amazon email mentioned earlier.

• Product satisfaction survey

This provides useful feedback for product and service development.

• Content emails, including:

- Tips on using the product or service

- Reminders of special features

- Links to user guides, community forums or support pages

Those emails that focus solely on content or service can still include promotional aspects. Offers can slot into sidebars, footers or navigational menus. Contextual links in email copy also drive sales. So a post-purchase content email with information on "Prolonging the life of your new laptop" could include links to an appropriate laptop bag, screen-cleaning kit or reserve battery.

Step 3: Identify future opportunities

Finally, many promising trigger opportunities may not be possible now because you don't have the right data, system, content or permissions in place.

Instead of discarding a great trigger idea as impractical,  start planning to make implementation possible in the future.

Missing data? Consider building the relevant field (like date of birth) into the sign-up process.

Missing the right system? Investigate a software or service upgrade or look at how your existing system might integrate with, for example, your web analytics or CRM system.

Missing content? You might be surprised how much product or service-related content is already available within your organization. If it’s not, setup a schedule for content development. Much service-related content can also be repurposed from or into your support pages, blogs, social network posts, and more.

With this three-step approach to trigger-based email marketing, the volume of high-value, high-return email you send will gradually increase with time…to the benefit of both you AND your customers!