Triggered Email 101 Orange Dart

What Is Triggered Email?

Alright students, I have a pop quiz for you. It’s a multiple choice question: Which of the following describes “triggered email?”

  1. An email sent in response to a specific cue.
  2. A silver bullet for customer engagement.
  3. The perfect use case for API-driven email.
  4. All of the above.

I’m sorry that I stacked the deck with answers to make my point! Triggered email is most definitely (d) All of the above. However, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s expand on these statements and be a little more precise:

A triggered email is a timely, relevant, and individualized email automatically sent in response to an action taken by a recipient, or to a data point about that recipient.

What Can Be a Trigger for Email Like This?

The above definition really says that a triggered email needs a trigger! What are examples of this? Well, a straight-forward example is sending an acknowledgement message after someone registers on your web site. Or, the trigger could be a relatively simple database-driven event, like sending a greeting and and special coupon gift if you know a recipient’s birthday. A more sophisticated example might be emails triggered by a series of “checkpoints” that are designed to drive user onboarding and engagement. Or, the trigger could be a highly complex, state-driven data model like those used by growth marketers.

Here are just some examples of triggered emails commonly used by many types of businesses:

  • Post-subscription welcome messages
  • App onboarding and activation
  • Order receipts and shipping confirmations
  • Requests for customer feedback on a product
  • Post-purchase emails with upsells and cross-sells
  • Birthday messages
  • Cart abandonment reminders
  • Replenishment reminders – “it’s time to buy more _______!”
  • Promotional emails for items a subscriber browsed on your website
  • Thank-you emails
  • Unsubscribe emails

Transactional Email vs. Triggered Email

By the way, if you’re familiar with the concept transactional emails, you might notice that this definition implies that transactional emails are a specific type of triggered emails, but not all triggered emails are transactional emails. That distinction matters for managing compliance with best practices and regulations around commercial email.

Why Does Triggered Email Work?

The big advantage of triggered email is its depth of engagement with recipients. Unlike other forms of email marketing, triggered emails…

  • Are expected or anticipated by recipients
  • Are highly relevant, with content and calls-to-action personalized for each individual
  • Are appropriately timed to address their immediate or potential needs, key dates and life events

This depth of engagement is why triggered emails see an open rate 8x that of purely promotional email. That’s why for many types of businesses, including retailers and app or cloud service providers, triggered email has become a key aspect of their customer engagement strategy.

Triggered Email Is Key to a Personalized Customer Experience

The success of triggered email stems from personalization, but it’s personalization on a deeper level than simply knowing the name or preferences of an individual.

Here’s what I mean: open your inbox and you’ll probably see a few examples of personalization. A marketer may insert your name in the subject line or body copy of a promotional email. Maybe there’s some list-based targeting or segmentation at work, too, but honestly, too many of those messages we receive reflect just superficial personalization. It’s not truly behavioral or engaging, and it probably doesn’t really feel like a personal communication from the business.

In contrast, triggered emails are deeply and inherently personalized, since they’re tied to a customer’s actual needs: he or she has searched for a product, or has asked for information, or is expecting an update, or is having a life event. Whatever the trigger, our message is relevant to that person at the moment they receive it. That’s why triggered emails are so powerful, and it’s why we developed SparkPost as an API-driven, on-demand email service: batched blasts of generic emails just don’t work for this sort of need.

By putting the right information in front of that person at the right time, triggered email nurtures engagement. And with that level of engagement, a customer is open to having a lasting, deepened relationship with a business. That’s just another way of saying that triggered emails help customers feel like they’re being treated as an individual, not an email address. And that’s a very powerful motivator.

What are your experiences and challenges with triggered email? I’d love to hear how you use triggered email in your business and the kinds you receive in your own inbox.


P.S. Want to dig deeper into the why’s and how’s of triggered emails? Be sure to check these out:

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