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Jun 25, 2008 | 4 minute read

Trigger Email 101

written by Linda Bustos

I recently caught up with Bronto Software's Online Marketing Manager Sally Lowery to chat about trigger-based email campaigns. Think sending welcome emails, reminders to repurchase or hey, "you haven't been interacting with us for a while and we'd like to win you back" emails.

Q: Can you explain trigger-based email messaging?

A: 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. Trigger-based messages can create a truly relevant email campaign to customers that yields a greater ROI, because it is a customer-facilitated exchange that triggers the campaign.

Q: What are some things to consider when implementing a trigger-based email program?

A: To be successful with a trigger-based automated email program, consider the following:

Define Business Rules. A well defined trigger-based program can create a significant return. Be certain to recognize where it’s appropriate to create trigger-based campaigns and where there may be little benefit. Creating a business rule that sends a transactional message that includes an up-sell opportunity only makes sense if the product that is promoted matches the customer’s interest.

Set Frequency Limits. Don’t oversend. After you have established your business rules, review your plan and determine instances where a customer may be sent too high a frequency. If your email service provider enables a frequency limit, take advantage. You don’t want to send three trigger-based campaigns to a customer in one day...or possibly even one week.

Remember Recency. When was the last time the customer or prospect received something from you? If you are able, create business rules around when your prospect or customer was last sent a message.

Think customer first. What frequency of trigger-based campaigns will not bombard your customer or prospect leaving them fatigued from over-sending? What promotional opportunities make sense: cross-sell, up-sell, discounts, free shipping? The possibilities are limitless for how you will use trigger-based email campaigns, but always be cognizant of the impact on the customer. You want it to be a positive experience that reinforces trust.

Keep it simple. Your automated plan should mirror your brand. Once you’ve done the tricky part of configuring your trigger-based message, you'll be able to learn and test on the fly, so pepper in new business rules and continue to polish messages.

Q: Can you give some examples of trigger-based email campaigns?

A: Trigger-based email programs can include transactional, recurring, and threshold triggers. The most commonly used are transactional and threshold.

Transactional triggers: Messages that are based on a direct transaction with a customer target such as a purchase, profile update, opt-in, or conversion are an underutilized tool in the world of email marketing. Think brand reinforcement, promotional opportunities, and trust recognition.

Recurring triggers: These messages are based on the customer’s profile. It could be a simple birthday trigger or a more complex product re-order message. For recurring triggers, the opportunities are limitless, but be cautious as these are easily the most recognized place for over-mailing.

Q: How will these trigger-based email campaigns help e-commerce clients?

A: E-commerce can easily integrate and have a successful return with a trigger-based email program. There are several places where a trigger-based campaign can be integrated with their customer behavior.

Welcome Programs. Incorporate trigger-based email messages into your welcome messages. Create a welcome message when one of the following actions is completed: download, purchase, sales inquiry, or registration.

Cross-Sell/Up-Sell Programs. You can create effective cross-sell and up-sell email campaigns using trigger-based actions based on your customers purchase profiles.
Abandonment Programs. When a customer abandons their shopping cart, trigger a message regarding their abandoned items and offer an incentive to complete the purchase.

Win-Back Programs. If you haven’t had a customer return to your site or make a purchase in six months or more, integrate a win-back email that entices the customer to return.

Q: Do you have any rules of thumb to offer after a client’s transition?


1. Plan for your content and promotions. Remember, that despite the fact that these are transactional campaigns, the message that you communicate to your customers and prospects should align with your business objectives.

2. Use HTML. Enhance your messages with html. Incorporating your brand, as well as look and feel of your other marketing touches, can add to your transactional messages. Many companies spend very little time on their transactional messages, despite their significantly higher open rate.

3. Customize. Relevancy means customizing your messages to the individual recipient. To create an ongoing dialog with customers, consider dynamic content in your campaigns. Your customers are far more likely to respond to messages that include information that relates to their preferences, behaviors, or past purchases.

4. Measure. Just like any other email marketing campaign, don’t leave it on its own. Test and review and find ways to optimize your trigger-based email program to increase your ROI.

Thanks again to Sally and the Bronto team for sharing these tips with Get Elastic. If you're interested in more information about trigger-based email campaigns, you can check out Sally's white paper The Need for Ease.