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Updated Oct 23, 2023

How to Create Triggered Emails

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer

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One of the best ways to reach customers when you need to – without wasting hours of your company’s time – is to use triggered email campaigns. Triggered emails streamline customer communication by automatically sending emails to clients when they indicate a need. In this guide, learn what triggered emails are, why they’re important, how to create a campaign and the best practices to ensure your campaign is successful.

What is a triggered email?

A triggered email, also known as a behavioral email or transactional email, is sent automatically based on a preset event, condition or user behavior. For example, you can set a triggered email to be sent if a customer leaves an item in their online shopping cart without making a purchase.

“Triggered emails are preprogrammed, automatic marketing emails sent out to a customer at a specific time,” said Janni Nilsson, a former content manager at Wordapp.com. “Triggered emails can greatly improve communication with the customer.”

Triggered emails differ from regular promotional emails in that they are automatically delivered directly to an individual customer based on their behavior, whereas promotional emails are sent to a group of people regardless of their actions or behavior.

These are some common uses for triggered emails.

  • Updates on price adjustments or product availability
  • Shopping cart reminders
  • Subscription renewal or ending reminders
  • Event updates
  • Travel updates
  • Welcome emails
  • Onboarding emails with sign-up steps
Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Triggered emails are sent to customers based on a preset action or event, such as when a customer abandons their online shopping cart.

How do you create triggered emails?

Creating a triggered email is simple – most business owners can use email marketing software to do it, and the exact steps depend on which service you use. For example, our Campaigner review and our review of Constant Contact highlight that both platforms have triggering capabilities, but the specific process differs. That said, follow these general steps to make your own campaign.

1. Create the automation flow.

First, use your email marketing platform to identify the trigger for the email (e.g., an abandoned cart, a subscription or a purchase). Determine which email address the message will send from and what the display name will be.

2. Create the email.

Next, create the email that will be sent after the trigger. Give it a strong subject line, clean copy and a bold call to action (CTA) that guides the customer to the desired next step. The email should make clear to the customer why it was sent; you want the individual to feel like this email was sent specifically for them.

3. Segment your recipients.

For better targeting, you can segment your recipients by various factors, including age, gender, location and user behavior. Customer segmentation makes it easier to send emails to exactly the right recipients, which can increase your return on investment.

4. Save the trigger. 

The final step is to save your automated email and let the email platform take things from there! You can send a test campaign to make sure the triggered message works before you send it to customers. [Looking for help with your email campaign? Check out our picks for the best email marking software to find the right solution for your business.]

What are the types of triggered emails?

There are many ways to use triggered emails. The best way to determine the right type for your business is to think about what goal you want to accomplish with the email and what trigger you want it to respond to. Here are eight of the most common types of triggered emails.

1. Welcome

Welcome emails can be triggered by someone signing up to be a member of your site, subscribing to your blog or newsletter, or making their first purchase. You’ll want to include a greeting, some introductory information about your business and a call to action.

2. Onboarding

If a customer needs to take certain steps to complete their subscription, purchase or membership but hasn’t yet done so, you can automatically send an email with a clear CTA or an outline of the steps required.

3. Reactivation

These campaigns go to customers who have not engaged with your emails or business in a while, based on whatever length of time you set. They serve as a reminder of your company and may include an incentive to come back and do business with you, such as a discount code or free gift.

“If your customers haven’t purchased [from you], visited your website or even opened your emails in several months, reengagement emails can be a handy way to get them interested again,” said Mark Condon, founder and CEO of Shotkit. “After all, it is less costly to reengage an existing customer than attain a new one.”

4. Remarketing

Also known as abandoned-cart messages, these are some of the most popular triggered emails, as they can drive conversions and recover potential revenue. Online shoppers often leave items in their digital shopping carts without checking out. If you set a trigger for this, the customer receives an email reminding them to complete their purchase or asking if they’re interested in similar items.

5. Transactional

These emails automatically confirm purchases, backorders, shipments, bookings, returns and refunds to assure the customer that their transaction went through.

6. Account notification

Such messages inform customers of anything pertaining to their online account with your business, such as if someone changed their password or profile settings. If the customer did not make these changes, they’ll know right away that something is up and can resolve any issues with your company.

7. Personal events

These emails can be triggered by an event in the customer’s personal life, such as a birthday, anniversary or shopping milestone. Often, these messages include a gift of some sort, like a discount code or other promotional item.

8. Real time

Real-time emails relate to anything currently going on around your customers, such as weather forecasts, location changes and events. You can use demographic information to inform these triggers. For instance, weather-based data indicating a cold spell is on the way for a particular location could prompt an email to customers in that area, encouraging them to check out your latest collection of cozy sweaters. 

Did You Know?Did you know

Triggered emails and email drip campaigns have similar purposes. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

What are best practices for triggered emails?

There are many ways to make sure your automated emails are successful and accomplish your goals. Here are seven tips from marketing experts on how to create successful triggered emails.

1. Provide valuable content.

The best way to ensure your triggered email is well received by the customer is to make sure it provides relevant content that the customer would find valuable. Don’t send an email just for the sake of sending an email.

“Always make sure that you provide relevant and interesting content in your triggered emails that would push the recipient to do further actions that benefit your business,” said Allan Borch, founder of Dotcom Dollar. [Read related article: Small Business Guide to Sending Marketing Emails

2. Solve a problem or answer a question.

Your audience is more likely to engage with your emails if you help them solve a problem or clear up their questions.

“You should address a customer pain point in your triggered emails,” said Michael Kipness, founder of Wizard Publications. “If it’s a cart abandonment, send a reminder that addresses the pain point that specific product [in their cart] may solve. Don’t overly promote the product, but you can highlight some of the product features and include a link to the checkout page.”

3. Use customer data thoughtfully.

When you create a triggered email campaign, you should rely on data about your audience to determine which emails should go to which customers. The data can help you target and personalize your emails to each customer. When analyzing your customer information, consider the following questions:

  • How did this customer sign up to receive emails from you? What does that say about their interests?
  • What products do they view most on your website?
  • Do they engage with your content on multiple platforms (e.g., your website and social media)?
  • Have they purchased any other products from you before?

Use the answers to these questions to inform your campaigns.

4. Segment your customer list.

Segmentation can be a helpful tool, allowing you to create targeted and personalized trigger campaigns to match each customer’s behavior and interests. These are some common factors marketers use to segment subscriber lists:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • User behavior
  • Family status
  • Work status

5. Reassure and communicate with the customer.

Your emails can verify transactions with customers, reassuring them that they offered their financial information to a legitimate business with secure policies in place.

“Clients can feel vulnerable immediately after they submit their financial details,” said Kevin van Dijk, owner of Tree Online. “A triggered email at this time serves to reassure the client. This critical communication also develops a bond of trust between the business and its customer base.”

6. Set a goal for each trigger campaign.

Setting a goal for every trigger campaign – such as a birthday message or cart abandonment reminder – helps keep your content focused and clear. You want to avoid sending too many emails that don’t serve a purpose. Think about what you want the customer to do after receiving the triggered email. Do you want them to make a purchase? Visit a certain webpage? Register for an event? Whatever the goal, design your trigger campaign around it, and include a CTA to make the desired action clear.

7. Schedule your campaigns carefully.

In a survey conducted by The Manifest, 59% of consumers said the main reason they unsubscribe from marketing emails is because they receive those emails too frequently. With this statistic in mind, it’s important that you carefully schedule your emails to make sure you’re not overwhelming your customers.

Try to only send emails every few days, or once or twice a week. A consistent schedule will also let your customers know what to expect from you and when, further building trust.

TipTip

Avoid common email marketing mistakes, like not optimizing your content for mobile devices and writing poor subject lines.

Why are triggered emails important?

Triggered emails are an important marketing tool because they are timely and relevant to the customer. Automating your emails this way can also save you time. 

Regular communication

Triggered emails make it easy to keep customers informed, which builds trust and boosts your business’s credibility. When you communicate with customers about orders, products, cart abandonment and more, you establish a relationship and encourage customers to return.

Customer expectations

Triggered emails have become an expectation for many customers, meaning that once they make a purchase, book a room, or subscribe to a newsletter, they expect a confirmation email. These automatic emails save you time and foster trust with your customers.

High open and click-through rates

Data from GetResponse shows that triggered emails have higher open rates and click-through rates than other types, meaning recipients are more likely to both receive and engage with your emails. Because the emails are sent based on that particular user’s behavior, whatever email they receive is relevant and timely to them.

High conversion rates

Triggered emails can increase conversion rates and revenue in the following ways:

  • Reducing cart abandonment
  • Offering immediate engagement
  • Providing a step-by-step CTA
  • Sending personalized messages throughout the customer journey
  • Generating more leads than non-triggered emails
  • Seeking a more targeted audience than non-triggered emails
  • Responding more quickly to leads
  • Cross-promoting related products or brands

Relevance

A major reason so many emails go unopened is that they aren’t relevant or interesting to the customer. Triggered emails take care of that issue by only going to users who take a specific action that lets the email marketing software know they are interested in receiving that particular email.

Segments and schedules

Creating trigger-based emails is quick and easy with email marketing software. All you have to do is define the trigger and create the email. Then the email automatically goes out to the appropriate users with no further work on your part. The ease with which you can create and optimize these campaigns, including segmenting the audience and scheduling the emails, is a huge advantage for your company.

Customer retention

Triggered emails help keep your existing customers by holding the lines of communication open, conveying personalized messages and responding promptly to customer actions. All of these things help make clients feel valued by your company, which encourages brand loyalty.

Keeping your customers connected

With triggered emails, you can continue your customers’ journey with your company even when they’re not on your website. A customer quickly checking their inbox can be all it takes to generate a new purchase. Because there are multiple types of triggered emails you can set up, your audience will receive personalized content designed to get them shopping with your business again.

Shayna Waltower contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

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Kiely Kuligowski, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Writer
Kiely Kuligowski is an expert in project management and business software. Her project management experience includes establishing project scopes and timelines and monitoring progress and delivery quality on behalf of various clients. Kuligowski also has experience in product marketing and contributing to business fundraising efforts. On the business software side, Kuligowski has evaluated a range of products and developed in-depth guides for making the most of various tools, such as email marketing services, text message marketing solutions and business phone systems. In recent years, she has focused on sustainability software and project management for IBM.
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