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How to Create Triggered Emails

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Triggered emails can save you time and increase revenue for your business. Here's how to create your own campaign.

  • A triggered email is an automated email that a customer receives when they take a specific action.
  • Triggered emails produce four times more revenue and 18 times greater profit for businesses than regular emails.
  • When creating a triggered email campaign, you should have a clear goal behind each trigger and segment your customer lists for a personalized feel.
  • This article is for small business owners who want to improve their email marketing campaigns by incorporating triggered emails to boost ROI and audience engagement.

One of the best ways to reach customers when you need to – without spending hours of your business's time sending emails – is to use triggered email campaigns. Triggered emails streamline customer communication and automatically send emails to customers when they indicate a need. In this guide, we break down what a triggered email is, why they're important, how to create a campaign and best practices to ensure your campaign is successful.

What is a triggered email?

A triggered email, also referred to as a behavioral email or transactional email, sends 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 cart without making a purchase.

"Triggered emails are preprogrammed, automatic marketing emails sent out to a customer at a specific time," said Janni Nilsson, managing editor at Resumoo. "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 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 takeaway: Triggered emails are sent to customers based on a preset action or event, such as a customer abandoning their online shopping cart.

Why are triggered emails important?

Triggered emails are an important marketing tool because they are timely and relevant to the customer, and automating your emails this way can save you time. According to research from the Direct Marketing Association, triggered emails produce four times more revenue and 18 times greater profit for businesses than regular emails.

These are the main benefits triggered emails provide to businesses and their target audience:

Regular communication

The use of triggered emails makes it easy to keep your customers informed, which builds trust and boosts your credibility as a business. By communicating with customers about orders, products, cart abandonment and more, you establish a relationship and encourage return customers.

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 to receive a confirmation email. These automatic emails can save you time and build trust with your customers.

High open and click-through rates

A major benefit of triggered emails is that they have a 71% higher open rate and a 102% higher click-through rate than non-triggered emails, meaning recipients are extremely likely to both receive and engage with your emails. This is because the emails are sent based on that particular user's behavior, so whatever email they receive is relevant and timely to them.

High conversion rates

Triggered emails can increase conversion rates and revenue by:

  • Reducing cart abandonment
  • Offering immediate engagement
  • Providing a step-by-step call to action
  • 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 why so many emails go unopened is that they are not 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, and the email automatically goes out to the appropriate users with no further work on your part.

Customer retention

Triggered emails help you retain your existing customers by keeping the lines of communication open, conveying personalized messages, and responding promptly to customer actions. All of these things help make existing customers feel valued by your company, encouraging brand loyalty.

Key takeaway: Used correctly, triggered emails can save you time, increase revenue, and boost your campaign's open and click-through rates.

Types of triggered emails

There are many ways you can use triggered emails. The best way to determine which type of triggered email is right for you 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 (CTA) if you have one in mind.

2. Onboarding

If the customer needs to take certain steps to complete their subscription, purchase or membership, you can automatically send an email with a clear CTA or outline of the steps.

3. Reactivation

These emails go to customers who have not engaged with your emails or business in a while (whatever length of time you set). They serve as a reminder of your business and may include an incentive to come back, 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 shopping carts without checking out. When this happens, the customer gets an email reminding them to complete their purchase or asking if they're interested in similar items. [Read related article: How to Reduce Abandoned E-Commerce Carts With Email Marketing]

5. Transactional

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

6. Account notifications

These emails inform customers of anything pertaining to their account, such as when someone changes 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 message, anniversary or shopping milestone. Often, these messages include a gift of some sort, often a discount code or other promotional item.

8. Real time

Real-time emails relate to anything currently going on around your customer, such as weather, location and events. You can use demographic information to inform these triggers, like Patagonia did with weather.

Key takeaway: You can send various types of triggered emails, including transactional, remarketing, welcome and real-time messages.

How to create triggered emails

Creating a triggered email is simple; most business owners use email marketing software to do it. [Looking for help with your business's email campaign? Check out our picks for the best email marketing services.]

The exact steps will vary based on which email marketing service you use, but you can follow these general steps to create your own triggered emails:

1. Create the automation flow.

First, you will identify the trigger for the email (e.g., an abandoned cart, a subscription or a purchase). You will also determine which email address the message will send from and the display name.

2. Create the email.

Next, create the email that will be sent after the trigger. Give it a strong subject line, clear copy and a call to action that guides the customer to the desired next step. The email should make clear to the customer why it was sent; you want the customer 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. Segmentation makes it easier for you 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 it do its work! You can send a test campaign to make sure the triggered message works properly before you send it to customers.

Key takeaway: There are four main steps in creating a triggered email, including setting the action it will respond to and segmenting your audience.

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 make sure your triggered email is well received by the customer is to make sure it provides relevant content that the customer finds valuable. Don't send an email 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 Email Marketing]  

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 Race and Sports. "If it's a cart abandonment, send a reminder that addresses the pain point that specific product 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'll use data on your audience to determine which emails should go to which customers. The data helps you target and personalize your emails to each customer. When looking up data, 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?

4. Segment your customer list.

Segmentation can be an incredibly helpful tool, allowing you to create highly 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 your business 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 the submit their financial details," said Kevin van Dijk, CEO and founder 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 birthday or cart abandonment emails – 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 a 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.

With 45% of users unsubscribing from email lists as a result of receiving too many emails, 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.

Key takeaway: To ensure a successful triggered email campaign, make sure your content is valuable to the customer, segment your audience, have a goal, and use data thoughtfully.

Image Credit: juststock / Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski,
Business News Daily Writer
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Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and now writes on small business, social media, and marketing. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.