Brands turn to triggered e-mails to build loyalty and drive customer engagement

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An abandoned cart e-mail program is key for art supply retailer S&S Worldwide
An abandoned cart e-mail program is key for art supply retailer S&S Worldwide

If you're a member of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, you have probably received e-mails that confirm a booked flight. You might also notice that these e-mails contain suggestions for hotels near your destination. After the flight, it's likely that you'll receive another e-mail asking you to rate the experience. Other e-mails report the status of your frequent flier miles.

Virgin, like many savvy marketers, sends triggered e-mails to help the airline maintain a personal level of interaction with its customers. 

“Status is so important to our members, so we'll remind them where they are, and e-mail triggers help us do this,” says Chris Rossi, SVP of Virgin Atlantic North America. 

Brands turn to behavioral triggered e-mails not only to build loyalty, but also to boost ROI and streamline marketing tasks. These types of e-mails can deploy automatically after a current customer has abandoned a shopping cart, to inform loyalty members of status, to request a review after a purchase or simply to send a “Happy Birthday” note to a loyal customer.

 “Triggered e-mails are a common practice for any best-in-class e-mail marketer,” says Shar VanBoskirk, VP and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Most marketers use triggered messages to try to create more relevant messages, or to create a life-cycle campaign, where they can show a customer that they heard what they last did, and are following up.”

Although triggered e-mail was a buzz topic for years, not all marketers have taken advantage of the practice. Loren McDonald, VP of industry relations at Silverpop, says he saw marketers begin to truly adopt triggers in the last year. In a recent survey, Silverpop found that nearly 70% of the 42 retailers surveyed either distribute cart abandonment e-mails or plan to this year; 50% send service satisfaction e-mails after purchase. Twenty-six percent don't send post-purchase e-mails.

“Marketers are realizing that broadcast e-mails aren't resulting in the conversion that they used to and are finding that triggered messages are much more powerful,” says McDonald. “They are low in terms of volume but high in terms of ROI, because they really are one-to-one messages.”

S&S Worldwide, an art supply retailer that works with Silverpop, sends a variety of triggered e-mails, including order confirmations, shipping confirmations, product review requests, surveys and abandoned shopping cart e-mails. For S&S, abandoned shopping cart surveys alone represent 33% of its overall e-mail revenue. 

“Abandoned cart triggers are more effective because the customer is much more engaged at that point,” says Carolyn Nye, marketing manager at S&S Worldwide. “They have put something into their cart, so the chance of getting them to buy is higher.”

Nye cautions that timing is everything when designing the program. “You need to make sure that the trigger is sent within a few hours of somebody abandoning their cart, so that the message gets to them when they are in the purchase cycle,” she says. 

Finally, it is important for marketers to avoid sending unnecessary or annoying e-mail. “There are some actions that merit a follow up, and others that don't. A marketer may have scads of data, and be able to follow up on all of it with a trigger, but that doesn't mean they should,” says Forrester Research's VanBoskirk.

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