Saturday, March 8, 2008

How To Develop Good Triggered Email Programs

by David Baker , Monday, March 3, 2008

THE PERFECT EMAIL IS ONE that is relevant to the consumer. Right? It's timely, in context, well-rendered and provides some sort of value. We don't often think of mass mailings as the perfect email. Even with dynamic content and segmentation, this relevance is hard to achieve.

For 10 years-plus, most resort to what we love to call triggered messaging. You get a response from the Web site when you sign up, purchase something, change your status, refer content to another. Today, with the rise of social networks, trigger messaging takes on a new breed. You are deluged with email from your social-networking site "in times of need." That can be in the form of notices from friends looking for jobs, new business opportunities, updated profiles, new content, new music, new events -- the list is endless.

The basis for it is flawless behaviorally driven communications. If you are like most professionals, belong to many feeds, several personal and professional social networking sites and have been reading the bloglines about digital marketing, you hear it and see it first hand and feel it everyday. Effective communications is a challenge. We've abused the phone and email. For marketers, it's a challenge to have less control over syndication. It wasn't too long ago that most organizations challenged the concept of viral content, since they would lose control of the "message," "frequency" and potentially relevance. Today, it's about syndication rather than control, and it's getting a bit out of hand.

Still, there are things marketers can control in this frenzy of communications: triggered email messages. Loren McDonald says I don't like to talk about email 101 very often, so let's take a step back into the basics of what and why a triggered message works.

1. The first step is to identify the potential behavioral events that you'd like to trigger. If you have a lead generation process, a commerce site or simply a functional content site, you have site, sales and customer events. All have many opportunities to deliver a message to your customer.

2. Once you've identified the "events," develop the business rules. This includes audience, the rules that govern this communication, including content and potentially frequency rules.

3. Develop a measurement instrument and hypothesis for the value of each message. Do you want to measure it? If so, how will you measure the impact? There are many gaps in technologies in trying to roll up reporting for triggered messaging. It's not as simple to look at response metrics as it is traditional email campaigns if set up improperly. One company I know has 450 event triggers. Imagine trying to roll up that report on a regular basis.

4. Develop a design system that brings continuity to your message and builds on the experience, creatively. If you are an image rich company and rely on text only triggered messages, reconsider your approach. Should your design system match that of your site, brand, product, stage?

5. Put values on each trigger event in terms of value to the consumer and objective based requirements. There are some messages that have to go out, and some that are optional. So ranking the triggers by priority is critical.

6. Develop a touch-point map to visually see how many touch points you have through email today. This will help you decide which triggers take priority, which you can measure, which can be used to help you understand the positive interactions with your company.

7. Understand your technical limitations. Some systems won't allow you to do anything advanced with content, targeting etc. Some are managed through several systems, so the ranking is important. It lets you know which messages bring the most value and any limitations in delivering the type of message you want.

8. Implement a few and wait. Measure the impact of those new triggers before trying to take on the 30 of so you may have on your touch-point map.

The analysis can take on new life, but since triggered messaging affords the highest response rates for email, it's the best place to begin to do response modeling. And it doesn't take a fully staffed team of analysts to do it.
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David Baker is vice president of email solutions at Avenue A/Razorfish. Visit his blog at

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