< Back

How to set up triggered email campaigns (and why you need them)

How to set up triggered email campaigns (and why you need them) Headshot

By Mike Austin, CEO & Co-founder

How to set up triggered messaging campaigns like shopping cart abandonment emails

Triggered messaging is an increasingly popular marketing tactic with impressive ROI. It's about delivering personalized, real-time content to shoppers at the moment they are most likely to convert.

Messages are often sent by automated email, but increasingly by other channels such as within web pages. Messages are usually triggered by an individual’s activity, not sent as part of a scheduled send - so a large part of their content is likely to be very topical and timely.

The most commonly adopted type of triggered messaging is shopping abandonment, triggered when a customer abandons a cart or leaves a browsing session without buying. Other applications include suggestions for in-stock products that the shopper should like, or the start/end date of the next sale.

Since triggers are based on customer activity, a triggered messaging system needs to cooperate with your ESP and web marketing system.

Your ESP handles email design, marketing, and list management. Your eCommerce system runs the business. The triggered messaging system integrates data between these two and sends highly-personalized communications at times when each shopper is engaged and responsive.

Here, we’ll run through some example business cases. Then we’ll explore two methods to incorporate triggered messaging in your marketing automation strategy:  

1. By using a standard ESP

2. By using a purpose-built triggered messaging system.


Triggered email campaign examples

First, here’s a quick overview of how to drive more revenue with trigger-based campaigns:

1. Cart/form/browse abandonment recovery emails 

These are the best “quick wins” for triggered messaging.  A shopper gets part way through a process such as buying, form filling, or browsing, but leaves rather than completes.  

They are sent a personalized reminder email asking them to continue - including details of their shopping cart or the holiday itinerary they were booking - so they can resume very easily.

This means more customers will complete the purchase on your site, rather than starting again with a Google search for the product they found, and possibly buying from your competitor.

2. Onboarding programs

These welcome a new customer and lead them through a purchase journey.

3. Post-purchase program 

sequence of emails to introduce the features of a recent purchase, and attempt to up-sell with related products.

4. Replenishment program

Emails which are related to consumable products, sent around the time that a typical customer might need to re-order.

5. Bookmarking

A shopper for a complex product such as a holiday or insurance policy can request an emailed copy of their current choice, so that they can return to it later.

6. Real-time contextual messages

In traditional bulk email, such as countdown timers and product recommendations. These are personalized for the current subscriber, formatted in the cloud at open time, and included in the email as dynamic images.  

They work by allowing personalization that is difficult for ESPs, such as leveraging product details and behavioral history from an eCommerce system.

Furthermore, adding real-time formatting means that you don't waste space or attention by promoting products that are out of stock or a sale that's over - something more useful can be displayed instead.

7. Cross-channel consistency

You can market the same offers, leading on the same products and showing the same prices, in emails and web pages.

And for transactional emails, you can ensure the same delivery status or flight time in both places. This avoids the customer service costs caused by sending an email confirming incorrect delivery details.


How to set up triggered email campaigns

Implementing recovery emails is shown to deliver a sales uplift of more than 10%.

Triggered emails, and transactional emails in particular, get much better open and click rates than traditional bulk emails.

If you are looking to launch a triggered email campaign, you can either set up the process using just your ESP, or you can adopt a purpose-built triggered messaging system.



Method 1: Sending triggered emails using just an ESP

You create a custom integration process to transfer eCommerce data into your ESP in near-real-time, or at least as rapidly as you want to make decisions.

This can be complicated, not least because if the data is too slow, the triggers may misbehave. Nothing is more annoying to a shopper who has made a purchase than to get a cart abandonment email, because the email marketing system didn’t quickly realise that they’d purchased.

Also, note that most eCommerce abandonment data only includes site visitors that log in to a website in a session.  For this reason, identification rates and hence marketing ROI are usually low.

Once in the email marketing system, you’ll need to setup rules or triggers to send the emails and personalized content to the right people, depending on their history and behaviour. Where you allow multi-stage programs, there must be conditions to ensure they get cancelled if behavior changes, e.g. if the shopper makes a purchase part way through a recovery campaign.


Here's how to send triggered emails with your ESP:

1. Read data from your eCommerce API into your ESP API, including customer list, transactional events (such product browsed, view cart contents, and cart purchase), and product data (text, image urls, prices) for in-stock products.

2. In your ESP, set rules or triggers to send the emails to the right people, depending on their history and behavior.

For example, every 30 minutes you could send a cart abandonment recovery email to every account that has been loaded into the “active shoppers” segment between 60 minutes and 30 minutes ago and no later.

Or you could write your own custom triggered messaging system that runs separately and calls your ESP API to load data or trigger transactional emails as appropriate.

3. Set marketing pressure rules so that abandonment recovery emails are not sent too often.

4. Define appropriate rules for multi-step campaigns. For example:

• A campaign which sends email A to everybody who purchased between 30 and 90 minutes ago, suppressing people who’ve received email B before.

• A campaign which sends email B to everybody who purchased between 6 and 7 days ago, suppressing people who’ve received email B before.

5. Create the emails in your ESP

You get the idea, I'm sure. You can do triggered messaging with just an ESP, but it requires significant custom integration work and possibly some coding.

Some things are easier than others, largely because of limitations in your eCommerce system – purchase complete emails will likely be simple, cart abandonment not too bad if you don’t mind the inability to identify customers who weren’t logged in when they carted. However, browse and form abandonment, or any type of highly personalized emails, are likely to be more challenging.



Method 2: Sending triggered emails with a purpose-built triggered messaging system

There are several dedicated triggered messaging systems which help tie some - or all - of these moving parts together. Some handle just cart abandonment, while more sophisticated systems handle a wider range of applications.

Here’s what to look for in a triggered messaging system:

• What is the cost of integrating with your eCommerce site? Support for data layers (such as the W3C digital data layer) may reduce this cost.

Does it collect customer data from a range of sources such as your website, ESP and eCommerce system? Using APIs, file transfer by FTP, or screen scraping as appropriate.

Can it leverage the software that you already use, such as your ESP – not duplicating functionality by making users learn a new ESP?

Will it work with your ESP? What if you want to move – will it be transferable?

Are there rules to control the triggering of personalized, real-time emails?

Can it generate product recommendation blocks for emails or your website?

Does it have good real-time reporting for the whole customer journey?


Steps to send triggered emails with a purpose-built triggered messaging system:

1. Enter the account details of your eCommerce system and ESP so data can be pulled from the eCommerce site and stored in the system.

2. Configure what data you want loaded into your ESP - for example, the current cart contents and the first/last name from the registration form on the site.

3. Build the emails in your ESP and use your triggered messaging system to define the rules for which email is sent for each trigger.

4. Add real-time content such as product recommendations and countdown timers. These are often based on easy-to-use templates that you can edit within the platform.

So that's triggered messaging. To get up and running quickly, you can start with cart abandonment, then add form and browse abandonment, then move on to multi-stage programs. There’s a lot you can do if you’ve built the right foundations. Leverage the data that you've collected to segment and personalize all your emails, designing different campaigns based on shoppers' preferences and lifecycle stage . And finally, add dynamic content and offers to all your marketing emails and website.


If you'd like to get started with triggered emails, contact us to find out how we can help:


How to set up triggered email campaigns (and why you need them) Headshot

By Mike Austin

CEO & Co-founder

Mike Austin is co-founder and CEO at Fresh Relevance. Recognizing the challenge of data aggregation in the ecommerce space, Mike launched Fresh Relevance in 2013 with co-founders Eddy Swindell and Pete Austin to solve this need and optimize the customer journey.