Daniel Burstein

Automatic for the People: The pros and cons of triggered emails

September 6th, 2012

Pilots have it easy. All they do is flip on the autopilot, order some Sleepytime® tea from the galley, and get a little shuteye, snoozing across the Atlantic, until they land at Schiphol (word of caution: this is based on my utter lack of knowledge of what pilots actually do … but thanks for getting us there safely).

In all seriousness, marketers have an autopilot, too … of sorts – the automated, event-triggered email. When I read Megan McCardle’s line in Newsweek, “Looking for a fail-safe plan to get rich without working?” I thought, “That could almost be a description of triggered emails.”

Think about it: Triggered emails offer the Holy Grail of email marketing that is so difficult to achieve – relevant, timely information.

I sign up to your email address, you welcome me … right at the moment I am most interested in receiving emails from you. And, perhaps, I hop right on a promotion in that welcome email, since you’re reaching me at the peak of my interest in your company (hey, I just signed up for your list).

Or I abandon a shopping cart because the product is 20% too expensive and then, poof, like magic, I get a 20% discount code in my inbox.

Or it’s my birthday, and you give me a free bottle of prosecco or wine to celebrate (hey, I’m going out tonight anyway), as Pizza Express did for Kate …

It sounds almost too good to be true, so let me tell you the second half of Megan’s quote referenced above. “Sure you are – and that’s the problem.” So, before I hit you with the cons of triggered emails, let’s look at research from the MarketingSherpa 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, showing the most commonly used automated emails to give you an idea of some ways you can use automated email messages.


Click to enlarge


No marketing tactic is only puppy dogs and rainbows, so let’s look at the downside of automated emails.

Triggered emails can be the Ponzi scheme of marketing tactics … if you’re not careful. In the quotes I use above, Megan was writing an article on being conned. And, it’s all too easy to con yourself into believing a piece of marketing technology can engage and convert customers. Technology can send email based on an action, but you, dear marketer, must keep the message relevant and timely.

First of all, triggered emails can hit the wrong tone if not executed correctly: “You went to our website and didn’t buy anything. We’re watching every move you make.” (Cue deep breathing)

“Write them like a person,” said Pamela Markey, Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy, MECLABS. “We noticed that you did X, so we thought you might like Y.”

“Don’t be creepy though,” Pamela added.

Second, to use the strained, uninformed pilot analogy I started this blog post with, if the pilots don’t wake up in time to turn off the autopilot and land the plane, you’ll wind up in Odessa instead of Amsterdam.

Keep an eye on your automated sends, and make sure you have a periodic review process in place. They can quickly become outdated or filled with inaccurate information. If not, you’ll end up sending welcome emails that invite customers to join you on Friendster, or brag about being the top ranked site on Excite.

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of triggered emails, in the end, as with any tool, it’s all about how you wield it. Triggered emails should always focus on the customer and the value your customers can receive through your conversion goals.

“The most successful digital marketers are really defining the action they are trying to drive, and then building triggered campaigns, and more importantly integrated campaigns, to get the customer to the desired action – whether it is a purchase, a quote, a form download, etc. — and using email in a smart way to achieve this,” said Scott Olrich, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, Responsys.


Related Resources:

Responsys Look Book (source for above creative sample)

Trigger email with care instructions (via Responsys)

Trigger Happy: Why emails are the magic bullets of marketing automation and shopping cart recovery

Email Marketing: How Microsoft used triggered email to increase open rates 800% and clickthrough 2,100%

Shopping Cart Recovery: Triggered emails recapture 29% of abandoned carts

Remarketing Emails: How JetBlue’s automated triggers get 1,640% more revenue-per-email than promotional emails

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

Categories: Email Marketing Tags: , , ,

  1. September 7th, 2012 at 09:21 | #1

    When crafting triggered emails, it’s important to remember that “Everybody hurts, sometimes. Everybody cries.” If you can tap into those hurts, you’ll find that “you are not alone,” and that your customers “hold on, hold on, hold on.”

  2. November 2nd, 2012 at 14:58 | #2

    Sending automated emails without continuous follow up is very risky business.. Keep track of what you send I recommend!

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