This was originally published on the Only Influencers Blog.
What is Triggered Messaging?
Triggered messaging is a rapidly growing part of marketing with extremely good ROI. It's about delivering business messages that are personalized and near-real time: often sent by email but increasingly by other channels such as within web pages.
Industry experience from years of email marketing are now being incorporated into triggered messaging as technology allows rich customer data to be collected at the point of customer interaction and leveraged at the point of initiation. It is evolutionary: supplementing, not replacing current email and web marketing.
Triggered messages are usually initiated by an individual’s activity, not sent as part of a scheduled send. A large part of their content is likely to be very topical and transient – for example suggestions for in-stock products that the shopper should like, the start/end date of the next sale, or details of the holiday they were just choosing on-site.
Where a triggered messaging system is used, it should cooperate with your ESP and web marketing system, so each does what it does best. 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 highly engaged and responsive. For example real-time messages for cart and browse abandonment and new personalization options such as suggested products.
This post continues with some examples business cases and then briefly summarises two methods of implementing triggered messaging – (1) by using a standard ESP and (2) by using a purpose-built triggered messaging system.
Example Business Cases Examples
1. Cart/Form/Browse Abandonment Recovery emails. These are the best “quick win” for triggered messaging. A shopper gets part way though 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.
• Onboarding programs: to welcome a new customer and lead them through a purchase journey.
• Post-purchase programme: a sequence of emails to introduce the features of a recent purchase, and attempt to up-sell with related products.
• Replenishment programme: emails which are related to consumable products, sent around the time that a typical customer might need to re-order
• 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.
• Real-time business messages in traditional bulk email, such as count-down 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 (a) allowing personalization that is difficult for ESPs, such as leveraging product details and behavioral history from an eCommerce system and (b) adding real-time formatting so that you don't waste space or attention by promoting products that are out of stock or a sale that's over, because something better can be displayed instead.
• 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 – avoiding the customer service costs caused if you send an email confirming delivery details that turn out to be wrong.
Business Cases Example Results
Implementing recovery emails is shown to increase turnover by about 10%.
Triggered emails, and transactional emails in particular, get much better open and click rates than traditional bulk emails.
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 programmes, there must to be conditions to ensure they get cancelled if behaviour changes, e.g. if the shopper makes a purchase part. way through a recovery campaign.
Here's the implementation steps for sending triggered emails:
1. Read data from your eCommerce API into your ESP API, including the following: 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 behaviour.
For example, every 30 minutes you could send a cart abandonment recovery email to every account that has been loaded into the “active shoppers” 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 ignore the whole business of emailing people who haven’t signed into the cart. However, browse and form abandonment, or any type of highly personalized emails, are likely to be very difficult.
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. The simpler ones handle just cart abandonment, more sophisticated systems handle a wider range of applications.
Here are some things you may want look for:
• 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?
Here's the corresponding implementation steps for sending 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. If you want particular data loaded into the subscriber lists on your ESP, configure the corresponding profile fields. 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 configure which one sent for which event, in your triggered messaging system
4. If you also want real-time content for your emails and Web pages (such as product suggestions and count-down timers) configure this content in your triggered messaging system, using standard scripting. Then copy the corresponding HTML “slot”, where the content will load, into your emails or web pages.
So that's triggered messaging. I suggest that you start with cart abandonment, then add form and browse abandonment, then move on to multi-stage programs. There’s lots you can do if you’ve built the right foundations. Leverage the data that you've collected to segment and personalize all your emails. And finally add dynamic content and offers to all your marketing emails and website.
Mike Austin is a technologist with 14 years experience of email marketing. He co-founded an ESP in 2000 and co-founded FreshRelevance.com in 2011.
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