A trigger email, also known as a lifecycle email or a behavioral email, is an automated, real-time response to a customer action. When a user takes a predefined action, like browsing a website, adding items to a cart, or subscribing to a newsletter, an email is “triggered” and sent to that user with information specific to their activity. That email can serve a range of purposes, like enticing a customer to revisit their abandoned cart and complete a purchase by offering them a discount, or recommending other products that compliment one they’ve just bought.
Trigger emails differ from batch emails in that they are event-triggered and respond to specific behaviors, while segmented emails are sent out to a group of people who have shared characteristics or demographics. Trigger emails are programmatic, meaning that once their triggering events have been defined and their content set up, they operate continuously without requiring manual action. Because they can be set up once, run in the background, and respond automatically to customer behavior with hyper-relevant information, they pack a low-maintenance punch in ushering customers through the sales funnel and maximizing their potential to convert.
Data that shows Trigger Email effectiveness
Trigger email campaigns have the potential to produce 400% more revenue and 18x more profits than traditional email marketing campaigns, according to research by Forrester Research.
Data gathered by powerhouse marketing technology company Deluxe paints a clear picture of the tremendous effectiveness of trigger campaigns vs. batch campaigns. The figure below illustrates the potential of trigger campaigns to yield more than double the lift of traditional marketing.
Why do trigger emails work so well, and how can you best leverage them?
In an interview with Marketerhire, email marketing expert and founder of digital marketing consulting service Aenae Ellie Stamouli explained that trigger campaigns fundamentally allow for more personalization than other kinds of email campaigns. They’re follow-ups on actions that users have already taken, as opposed to random interruptions to their day by brands that need to push out specific information. Users are more likely to engage with trigger email content because it’s customized to the experience they’ve just had.
Setting up one or two triggering events is not sufficient for an optimal campaign. A wide range of different triggering events and corresponding content ensures that you’re leveraging every opportunity to make meaningful contact with your customer and deliver the right message at the right moment. Define a variety of triggering events that span the entire sales funnel to stoke the fire of customer interest and reward their activity with useful or interesting information. At every point of engagement with your brand, provide straightforward next steps to seamlessly move customers along the sales funnel and ensure the highest likelihood of continued engagement and conversion.
According to Chris Johnson from Castle & Rook Marketing, “Since these emails are triggered from an actual event or interaction with your brand, they can and will be better timed to the user’s likelihood to open”, as that trigger gave you valuable information about the time at which that user is likely to interact with your brand or be online in general.
Common Types of Trigger Emails
- Welcome emails greet new subscribers, introduce a brand, values, and key products, and set expectations about content
- Abandoned Browse emails re-engage users who browsed a site and left without making a purchase
- Abandoned Cart emails re-engage users who added an item to their cart, but did not complete the checkout process
- Post-Purchase emails provide customers with additional information after they’ve made a purchase
- Replenishment emails remind customers to make another order on something that runs out, like dog food or laundry detergent, for example
- Winback emails trigger after inactivity and can be used to re-engage users before they depart entirely from your funnel
Five Trigger Campaign Best Practices
While some aspects of your campaign strategy will be tailored specifically to your organization, like the types of trigger emails you opt to use and their content, a handful of simple practices can set your campaign up for success regardless of your industry or agenda. Implementing these best practices is always a good idea.
- Choose a host site and email service provider (ESP) with strong capabilities for email campaigns. Your return on investment from an ESP with better tools will outweigh the potentially higher up-front cost. For example, a combination of Wordpress and Mailchimp would give you fewer tools than Shopify and Klaviyo, which can be set up to auto-create trigger campaigns for you.
- Find the right campaign balance. “I always tell clients to look at a healthy mix of trigger campaigns and regular campaigns, but it needs to be skewed towards trigger campaigns,” Ellie said. She explained that when more revenue comes from trigger campaigns, you can rely less on ad-hoc campaigns, and recommends a 60/40 split as a rule of thumb.
Chris advises being mindful of the number of emails your subscribers receive in a given period of time. He said, “If [the subscriber] is eligible to receive both a trigger and an ad-hoc email, you could see improved conversion by suppressing them from the ad-hoc so that they aren’t drowned in your emails.”
- Keep things easy for users by collecting just a few key data points initially, like first name and email. Location data is also important up-front, as you’d only promote a product to a customer if it’s available in and ships to their region. Follow up to collect additional data, like date of birth or categories of interest.
Also, consider the implicit data variables at your disposal. If a user clicks on clothing in your emails, but never shoes, prioritize sending them content about products in which they’ve already shown interest. That isn’t to say that you should exclude them entirely from shoe content, but that it should be secondary to clothing.
- Segment out high-value vs. low-value customers, and personalize their content accordingly. Subscribers, repeat purchasers, and multi-item purchasers represent high-value customers, while one-time and single-item purchasers could be categorized as low-value customers.
- Test different send times, offers, and content. A trigger email sent immediately after a customer adds items to their cart without checking out may perform differently than the same email sent an hour later. Similarly, a 10% discount offer may more effectively entice that same customer to circle back and make a purchase than a $10 discount offer. Consider your average order value when determining what kind of offer is most likely to convert your customer.
Brands That Get It Right
Standout brands really know their way around a trigger email campaign. Here are some of Ellie’s favorites and why they impressed:
Brand: Girlfriend Collective
Recycled plastic activewear brand Girlfriend Collective uses a text-only approach in this re-engagement automation. This is a great tactic to test when aiming to re-engage lapsed audiences. The subject line mentions the offer (‘We miss you. Here’s $20.’) and the email copy is short and written in a friendly tone of voice, which is more immediate. Bonus points for personalization.
- Order Shipment Confirmation
Just because Order Shipment confirmation is a transactional email doesn’t mean it has to lack personality. CBD drinks brand Trip does a great job of incorporating their branding into this email and speaking to the tone of voice of the consumer. Don’t be afraid to personalize the standard email templates your ESP or Shopify provide.
Sustainable sneaker brand LØCI follows up a few days after an order has been shipped with practical tips on cleaning the freshly bought sneakers. This type of content is really helpful to the customer and is served at a time that their engagement is still high. Also, they don’t miss the opportunity for some clever cross-selling of their after-care products.
- Welcome Email
Brand: Ghost Democracy
The Welcome email gets triggered as soon as the user signs up on the website. Its goal is to give a quick introduction to the brand and encourage the use of the welcome code. Clean skincare brand Ghost Democracy also highlights the key service offering of the brand, which further encourages the subscriber to convert while they’re still very engaged.
- Abandoned Browse
Sustainable jewelry brand Aurate follows up with an automated email after a user has viewed a product on their website, but has not added it to their cart. They cleverly highlight the benefits of shopping with them and give product recommendations that have social proof.
- Abandoned Cart
Acne-fighting brand Zitsticka addresses their largely young audience with playful language and emojis in their Abandoned Cart email. They follow up the next day offering a 10% discount to customers who have not yet converted. They also take advantage of the opportunity to highlight their best-sellers.
Refillable water filter brand Phox notifies customers when it’s time to order their next filter refill. It’s personalized, timed well, and likely to convert well, as it’s offering customers the option to complete their purchase in just a few clicks.
Pro tip: Did you notice the lack of product images? Although automated emails work in the background, and you don’t need to worry about them in the day-to-day, they’re certainly not ones to “set and forget”. Review them often to ensure everything looks as great as it did on day one.
- Custom Trigger
Although Mobile Banking App Monzo missed the opportunity for personalization here, the timing was excellent. They triggered the email as soon as the card linked to this account was used abroad. This is a clever way to offer relevant and helpful content to the user, exactly at the time when they need it, while encouraging further use of the card.
Monitoring Campaign Success
One way to analyze campaign performance is to export data from your ESP and build your own reports in Excel or Google Sheets, where you can easily monitor trends. If your website has Google Analytics, another option is to set up Google Data Studio to create reports for you and communicate automatically with e-commerce marketing automation platforms, like Klaviyo.
“Trigger email performance should be relatively stable throughout the year,” Ellie said. Random changes in performance can mean sneaky technical issues, like missing data points, are lurking somewhere. In addition to keeping an eye out for tech problems, look to these metrics to assess your campaign performance:
- Overall Revenue
- Average Order Value
- Unsubscribe Rates
- Bounce Rates
- Click-through Rates
- Number of Emails Sent
Overall, trigger emails can offer a strong base for growth for a brand in any industry. It may seem overwhelming at first, if you’re just starting with email marketing, but start building your automations today and the growth down the line will be worth it. You can always start small, with one email in each flow and then gradually build them out while A/B testing content, timing, and offer.