Triggered emails – what they are and why you need them

Trendline Interactive

4 minute read

As a marketing tool, email performs best when you are sending the right message to the right audience at the right time. No matter how spectacular your marketing team may be, it’s impractical at scale to have a human responding in realtime to a user’s every action. Incorporating triggered emails into your program will get you closer to the desired “gold standard” 1:1 marketing relationship, just in an automated way.

What constitutes a triggered email? 

A triggered email is one that automatically deploys as the result of a predefined rule or set of rules (i.e., if the user does X, then that triggers the send of email Y) and contains information relevant to that individual subscriber.The email can generally be “triggered” by one of two ways: either the subscriber performs a certain action (e.g., placing an item in their shopping cart, but not completing the transaction) or there’s a condition being met within the subscriber data (e.g., a 20%-off code triggered on the subscriber’s birthday, or a ‘leave a review’ email 5 days after an order date). 

However, a triggered email can also be sent as a result of lack of action. For example, let’s say someone signs up for a 90-day “all access” pass for a site that offers online ukulele lessons. If the user hasn’t logged in by Day 30, this might trigger a “reminder” email extolling all the benefits of the site and encouraging the user to log in. 

What are some common types of triggered emails? 

Many different kinds of triggered emails exist. Some common examples are welcome emails, abandoned cart emails, password confirmation emails, etc. While triggered emails are the result of some user action, another key component is that the email contains info relevant to that individual subscriber. So, a regular monthly newsletter is not a triggered email, even though it may be set to deploy automatically on the first of each month. 

Triggered vs. transactional emails

Sometimes, there’s a bit of confusion about the difference between triggered emails and transactional emails, since lots of transactional emails are also considered triggered emails. However, while all transactional emails are triggered, not all triggered emails are transactional. For example, an automated marketing communication sent simply to keep your customer engaged (e.g., a congratulatory email or a happy birthday email) would count as a triggered—but not transactional—email, whereas a purchase-confirmation email sent after a customer buys something is both triggered and transactional  

What are some of the benefits of using triggered emails in email marketing? 

Email works best when it’s relevant and timely, and nothing is more timely than responding to an action a subscriber has just taken, especially when that action (or set of actions/circumstances) indicates the subscriber is considering doing the thing we want them to do. Triggered emails attract higher engagement because they are relevant and timely, and they prompt subscribers to take further action or celebrate themselves. For example, dates can trigger birthday and anniversary emails. People love celebrating, so they appreciate emails that recognize their relationship with companies. On the e-commerce side, an abandoned cart email is the most high-value email because it reveals key aspects of the subscriber’s state of mind. If they’ve added something to their cart, they are likely considering purchasing it. Emails triggered as the result of an abandoned cart can nudge them into completing a transaction, joining/renewing a membership, making a donation, or other actions. 

What are the best practices for implementing triggered emails? 

Be confident in your data. Know the key actions for your business and what you want from your subscribers. In order to know this, you need to understand what drives the most value for your business. Is it purchases, subscriptions, clicks, or reaching thresholds, etc.? Define what touchpoints matter to your business, and then use those as a starting point to set up triggered email campaigns.

Is there such a thing as too many triggered emails? 

Definitely. There’s such a thing as too much of anything. Understand that a triggered email will create much higher engagement than normal. We know this information may cause you to want to build your whole brand around triggered emails, but keep in mind that your normal newsletters (the ones that deploy to a large audience) are the ones driving most of the traffic to your website. Hence, normal (non-triggered) emails are necessary in order to generate enough, say, abandoned-cart actions to make your triggered emails effective. In addition, triggered emails can quickly reach an unwelcome level of creepiness. Subscribers will not appreciate receiving an email relating to everything they look at or action they perform, so use them judiciously.

Can I create all of my triggered emails at once and let them run on their own? 

No. We advise checking automations no less than quarterly. With any automation, the “set it and forget about it” mindset leads to unpredictable issues. For instance, say you created an email pre-COVID that’s all about traveling. If you still have that going out, subscribers may view your company as insensitive and unsubscribe—or worse, no longer buy your products. Your content may become out-of-date, and your links may also eventually no longer work, both of which mean you’re losing money, because you need to fix your content and/or because you are losing disgruntled subscribers.

Building loyalty with your customers

Triggered emails are a key factor in any email program. By reaching your customers at defined touchpoints, you help build engagement and loyalty from your customers. Make sure that these defined touchpoints are not too many in the making, as you could end up pushing your subscribers away with too many emails. Lastly, make sure that you are regularly updating your triggered emails so as to not leave a trigger running with out-of-date content. With this knowledge, you’re on your way to setting up a successful triggered email campaign. 

If you need support with your email program strategy and when to consider using triggered vs transactional campaigns, we’d be happy to help.  Talk to Trendline today!


Trendline Interactive

Ready to send better messages?

About the Author(s)

Trendline Interactive

Built from email marketing, Trendline Interactive is an agency and consultancy that inspires brands to create meaningful engagement through cross-channel communications. Our passion is that every single message sent is not only meaningful to the audience, but drives success for our clients.

Let's Take This to the Inbox

Sign up for our news, resources and updates. The inbox is our favorite place after all. We’ll make sure it’s worth it. (You can unsubscribe at any time, but you probably already knew that.)