Behavior-Based Email Triggers? Let Me Count The Ways

If you want to make 2012 your "Think Big" year, as I've been encouraging in my recent Email Insider columns, adding or expanding the number of behavior-based triggered email programs you deploy should probably be on your list.

Behavior, while not foolproof, can be a strong indicator of customer or prospect interests and actions at various points in the customer lifecycle. Using automated ("triggered") messages in response to actions or inactions is typically the highest performing approach for email marketers.

I talk to a lot of email marketers, however, who get the concept of leveraging customer behavior to drive marketing responses but often get tripped up on the idea that behavior-based marketing is difficult to do.

So I've tried to simplify things a bit by creating four categories of customer/prospect behaviors and corresponding sample lists of actions that are prime for triggered emails:

Pre-Opt-In/Regular Opt-In Activities: Opting in to a list is perhaps the most universal trigger event that launches a welcome email from many marketers. But tracking nonsubscribers as they move around your site and then marrying that behavior to their email addresses once they opt in is the next frontier. These behaviors include:

  • Web site opt- in
  • Web pages visited
  • Opt-ins from offline vehicles
  • Videos watched



Example:Use web tracking to place new subscribers into appropriate email tracks or onboarding programs right away.

A visitor to a cruise site spends most of her time viewing the Caribbean cruise pages. Once she opts in, she's put into an onboarding track that incorporates offers and content that reflects her assumed interest in Caribbean packages.

2. Email behavior: This is the easiest behavior to use for creating triggers, because your email marketing solution can track everything your recipients do -- and often, what they don't do -- and trigger an appropriate message. These activities include:

  • Opens and clicks or lack of activity on a message
  • No opens or clicks over a specific time period
  • Clicks on a specific link in an email, such as a product promotion
  • Frequent sharing of emails via share-to-social links

Example: Follow up on email clicks that don't result in conversions.

Set a trigger to launch a follow-on email message when recipients click a specific link but then do not convert.

3. Offline/Social/Mobile Behavior: As the multichannel world becomes reality, integrating email triggers from activities in these other channels increases overall results. Examples of these behaviors include:

  • Calls to your customer- support or call center
  • In-store visits
  • Check-ins via mobile apps like Foursquare
  • Attending an event
  • Requesting information from a direct mail flyer

Example: Use email to link mobile app activity to local events.

Users of the music-recognition mobile app Shazam can opt in to the Shazam email program, which sends triggered emails promoting nearby concerts of artists they've previously tagged.

4. Conversion Activity/Inactivity and Abandonment: Purchases and other conversions are the ultimate trigger email opportunities, setting up a series of post-conversion messages. Remarketing emails are triggered by browse and cart abandonment; lack of purchase activity suggests moving someone into a reactivation program.

  • Purchases
  • Account creation
  • Software or whitepaper downloads
  • Webinar/conference registration or attendance
  • Abandoned shopping carts or website browsing
  • No purchase within a specified time

Example: Send a request to review a recently purchased product.

Create a triggered email to request a product review within a certain time frame following a purchase.

These are just a few examples of customer behavior, but there are literally dozens of other types that can provide the basis for trigger-based campaigns. What are some of your favorites or ones you've had the most success with? Please share in the comments section below.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

3 comments about "Behavior-Based Email Triggers? Let Me Count The Ways".
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  1. Matthew Kirsch from American Museum of Natural History, January 27, 2012 at 4:47 p.m.

    Loren, I appreciate the thorough catalog of behavior-based triggers. I agree that many of these are straight-forward propositions, but can't agree that they are not complicated. In my experience, surfacing even the most basic data can prove very challenging. We've had success at DIRECTV with remarketing emails and are getting off the ground with some site browse emails now, but both were tough to get going. Without going into too much detail, for most of these emails you need a top ESP, something like Omniture Genesis, and a little to a lot of IT support (depending on how good and available your customer data is). Not everyone has all these at their disposal and I know some good marketers who have none of them. Email is not rocket science, but good email requires a level of execution that can be difficult to attain. If it were easy we wouldn't see so many great brands continue to practice batch and blast. Of course if it was easy, we also might not have jobs, so I'm not complaining!

  2. Loren McDonald from IBM Marketing Cloud, January 30, 2012 at 7:59 p.m.

    Matthew, Thanks for the comments. I completely agree that for the remarketing emails like cart and browse abandonment they can be pretty involved.

    Typically involving as you say an integration between your ESP and Web analytics provider or ecommerce engine. I didn't mean to suggest that those types of behavior-based programs were simple to deploy. Though lots of companies are getting it done.

    I guess my point was that many of these behavior-based triggers didn't have to be that complex - and I was really trying to make marketers realize that many of them were already deploying these triggers...or could easily. Things like sending a follow-on email when someone clicks a specific link in an email.

    But you are correct, to deploy some of the really complex triggers requires a sophisticated, integrations with other data sources, often times involved business rules, dynamic content, etc...but it is usually worth it.

  3. Kirk Masters from Infusionsoft, January 31, 2012 at 5:32 p.m.

    The great thing about these ideas that have been presented is that there is no need to have a ton of work involved in the process of re-marketing to prospects/clients. At Infusionsoft we've been allowing our clients to have one system that does all of the trigger based marketing before a sale and after. What any good marketer is looking for, regarding email, is to get away from the broadcast "spray and pray" sort of mentality. It makes way more sense to be able to market to people based on their behavior and desires. You can't do that without a system in place. In the next five to ten years no one will be using mass emailing to much success as trigger based marketing will be the new way to send emails. You can check Infusionsoft out at

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