Pull the trigger to get customers to respond

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Triggered emails are ultra-effective, but ultra-complex, too.
Triggered emails are ultra-effective, but ultra-complex, too.

Triggered email messages—the marketing appeals based on an event or action taken by a consumer, like a birthday or abandoned cart—yield 75% higher open rates and 115% higher click-through-rates than business-as-usual (BAU) emails. Yet triggered emails account for less than 3% of total email volume, according to Epsilon's “North America Email Trends and Benchmarks” report for 2012's third quarter, released today.

Part of the reason for the trickle of triggered messages is that they're dependent on an event taking place. The biggest reason, however, is that setting up a real-time messaging response system is a complex corporate exercise.  “You have one database interacting with another database, there are security concerns, new programs must be developed to coordinate triggered messages with BAU messages,” says Analytic Consultant Jen Wiese of Epsilon. “Using triggered messaging is relevant to every direct marketer, but every marketer is not ready to spend the time and money to use triggered messaging.”

The purse strings may be loosening, however. Epsilon's study of more than six billion emails sent by 170 clients also detected a 10% rise in triggered messages this year.

“Net performance is so much higher than batch-and-blast. It ends up being a real eye-opener,” says Dave Walters, product evangelist at Silverpop. “I spend 80 to 90 percent of my time with customers and virtually every one of them is at least layering some type of programmatic email into their regular effort. The hit rate is so much higher. We have retail customers that get 100 times the response rates from triggered messages.”

Though hardly new, real-time email response tends to remain the province of companies that not only have the resources to get it done, but the corporate structure, as well. That “Happy Birthday” message is not as simple as it sounds. First, the customer acquisition team has to ask for the birthday information, which can potentially decrease acquisition rates due to security concerns. Then marketing has to create an active program to deliver the messages at the right time. Silos must be breached, information shared, territorial problems overcome.

“The real challenge is data—the access to it and the passing of it,” says Kara Trivunovic, VP of marketing services at StrongMail. “Large companies have data in disparate places. The data table you need to construct to consolidate data takes time and money. There's the politics and red tape of who gets access to what information. With one of our customers, it took the better part of four years to make it happen.”

The explosion of consumer data now available both helps and hinders the process. People give up more information on themselves in more places, but marketers have to wrestle it all to the ground to be able to put it to work. “Society generates far more data points and you have to aggregate it in a way that is scalable and useable,” Trivunovic says. “The basic cost of doing triggered messaging is negligible…. It's more about content, planning, and strategy.

Both Trivunovic and Walters advise their clients to start with the low-hanging fruit and build from there. “You can take a programmatic approach, like clearing out inventory by sending special offers only to people who opened your last emails,” says Walters. When he shares case study results of other clients, such as Tafford Uniforms, whose triggered email volume runs less 5% of its total but produces 45% of profits, eyes light up.

“Everyone wants to be in on this,” Walters says. “I won't be surprised if, next year, the Epsilon study shows a 12% increase.”

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