5 keys to success with triggered email campaigns

Triggered email messages – those which are sent in direct response to an action taken by the recipient – are hot.

The Q2 2015 Email Trends and Benchmark Report, published by Epsilon, was released last month. Q2 2015 benchmarks for business-as-usual (BAU) message open and click-through rates were 31 percent and 4 percent, respectively. Amidst the continued decline of open and click rates for BAU email, there were a couple bright spots:

  • Click-through rates on triggered email messages rose 25 percent over last quarter – from about 10 percent to 12 percent.
  • Open rates on triggered messages were also up, but only by 3 percent – the average here went from 53 percent to 55 percent.

So you can see why rates that are nearly double and more than triple the BAU message open and click-through rates would be intriguing to a marketer.


Many of us have been huge fans of triggered messages for a while now (in my case, years) for a number of reasons:

  • Relevance: Since they are a response to an action, they tend to be addressing topics that are top-of-mind with the recipient. As a result, they get more attention than BAU email.
  • Shelf life: Triggered email messages are set up once and can run for months or even years with just minor updates. They don’t require large resource commitments on a continual basis.
  • Performance: As you can see from the Epsilon benchmarks, triggered email messages are the uber rock stars or super models of the email world. They turn many more heads (open rates) and garner much more interaction (click-through rates) than BAU messages.

But here’s the rub – it’s not enough to take any old email message and set it up as a trigger.

The most successful triggered campaigns can actually generate much higher open and click-through rates than the industry averages referenced in the Epsilon report. Even better, their conversion rates and revenue-per-email (RPE) are much higher than BAU messages. But you have to put some thought into your triggered program to be rewarded with these stellar results.

Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Don’t limit yourself

The simplest triggered messages are things like single effort “Thanks for signing up for our list” missives.


There’s nothing wrong with these, but adding marketing copy to these messages will give your bottom line a boost.


If you’re really looking to move the needle on revenue, think in terms of multi-effort triggered messages, which nurture your prospects over time.

2. Create prospect personas

Every marketing initiative should begin with a sound understanding of the prospect personas. Who are the members your target audience? For our firm, this includes what target audience members are thinking and feeling in general, as well as what their goals are for interaction with our client.

Here is the good news about personas: Most marketing people I meet intuitively have a pretty good grasp of who their target audience is.

But here’s the bad news: Few have committed their thoughts to paper, and even fewer have shared them with anyone else in their organization. This means that institutional knowledge will be lost if the person holding it leaves the organization.


It’s important not just to know your personas like the back of your hand, but to write them down and share them with your colleagues. You can use pretty pictures and PowerPoint slides to accomplish this, but plain old pencil and paper can also do the trick, when it comes to capturing the knowledge.

3. Map your prospect journey(s)

After you’ve documented your prospect personas, the next step is to document each of their journeys from prospect to customer (or from customer to repeat customer, as the case may be).

There are two big picture ways to tackle this. One is to get some smart people who know your target audience and the sales process in a room, and have them brainstorm on the journey each prospect might take. The other is analyze all the data you have about your target audience and their actions prior to the sale, and use this as the starting point for your journeys.

For instance:

  • With one client, I found that watching a certain video on the website made people 78 percent more likely to purchase – so this definitely needed to be part of the prospect journey.
  • With another client, a non-profit, I found that connections with local members make them more likely to join – so my firm made attendance at a regional networking event part of the prospect journey.
  • Another client offered free webinars to entice people to buy their educational materials, with one webinar host that had a conversion rate that dwarfs all the others – so attending a webinar with this particular host became part of the customer journey.

Now don’t get me wrong – you can’t force people to take the exact customer journey you want or feel you need them to. But if you have an effective customer journey mapped out for each of your personas, your marketing can be focused on driving them down this path.

4. Identify and repurpose your most effective email messages to date


Once you have defined your prospect journeys, it’s time to map out how you’re going to get and keep prospects on that path. I always start by looking for existing email marketing messages that have been successful at driving the forward motion we’re after. Sometimes you can use these just as they are, other times they need a little massaging. However, it’s always better to work from something that’s been proven effective than to start from scratch.

5. Look at what’s working for others

It’s good to repurpose your organization’s best ideas and efforts. When you add to those the best ideas and efforts of others, you can truly super-charge your program. The key is identifying these outside ideas.

Published case studies are a good start. You can also read articles written by thought-leaders in your particular industry or in the email marketing industry, and look for conference presentations. If you’re working with outside consults or an agency, they can likely bring this information to the table for you.

It will take a little effort, but gathering this information will help you move up the learning curve more quickly and get to your end result, a more effective and more profitable email marketing program, sooner.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Until next time,

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