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Design Triggered Emails Once, Tweak, They Last for Years: Expert

11/29/11

By Ken Magill

As email inbox providers reportedly eye people’s engagement with senders’ messages in order to determine if they’re wanted or not, it’s getting increasingly important for marketers to send messages that are, well, wanted.

As reported here last week, email service provider Responsys has determined that if more than 50 percent of a mailer’s list fails to click on messages for a year or more, the mailer stands a significant chance of getting their messages diverted into recipients’ junk folders.

One crucial component for combating an inactive file is to identify and remove addresses that are truly inactive. Another popular—or at least popularly discussed—method is segmenting the house file and sending different messages to different customers based on where they are in the sales relationship.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests most marketers don’t segment their files. According to database marketing expert Arthur Hughes, most marketers turn to increased frequency to boost email revenue rather than segmentation. Why? Because it’s easier and apparently pays off.

But increasing frequency is also dangerous. It can cause people to complain and unsubscribe, resulting in possible deliverability troubles.

As a result, an increasingly popular tactic is sending triggered emails, or messages that automatically go out because of some activity or inactivity by the customer.

“The thing about triggers is that the reason you do them is you get a higher response rate, better deliverability by far and improved lifetime profit,” said Internet marketing expert Amy Africa in a recent webinar I moderated. “The great thing about them is you design them once, tweak them a little and they last for years. I have clients who have been mailing the same thing since 1998.”

An average triggered email should outperform a marketer’s best broadcast email by four to six times, she added.

It’s important to note that most of what determines the success of a triggered email is “outside the envelope,” said Africa. How the email is formatted—especially as mobile email access increases—the “from” and “to” addresses and the subject line are all critical factors, she said.

“About 80 percent of your success is determined outside the envelope, and then once you get inside the envelope, it’s the first two lines or first two inches,” Africa said. “One of the things people underestimate is that emails are not meant to be read, they’re meant to be clicked on. They’re meant to be acted on.”

As a result, it is important to look at the first two lines or two inches of an outbound email and make sure they contain the message the marketer wants to impart, said Africa.

“We know from usability research that about 50 percent of people stop reading after the first two lines,” she said.

So which triggered emails work best?

According to Africa, abandoned-cart, -search, -site and –lead-form messages are all top performers. The success of abandoned-shopping cart emails has been well documented and the same tactic can be employed to reach people who, say, begin filling out a form to download a white paper or attend a webinar, but stop for some reason.

Confirmation emails are also top performers, said Africa. “Anything you can confirm works really well,” she said.

Emails based on past purchases and messages based on selected interests are also workhorse messages, she said.

“They take a little time to get your formula right, but after that they’re golden,” Africa said.

Reactivation messages—or messages aimed at getting dormant addresses engaged—are another tactic marketers should consider, according to Africa. “Reactivation is one of those silent tools in your arsenal that can really change your business,” she said. “It can [positively] impact deliverability, but it also keeps people fresh.”

Africa said the best place to start implementing triggered messaging is with “thank you” and confirmation emails and then move to abandonment messages.

“Those are the ones that will be the easiest to do, they’ll be the easiest to tweak and they’ll be the easiest for you to project out into the future,” she said.

Author’s note: The preceding was just a portion of the webinar I moderated recently with Amy Africa. The event also included Tom Sather, director, professional service, Return Path, offering some great insights on email deliverability.

Access the whole webinar here.

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