The New Litmus Test For A Great Email Marketing Program

I used to say the hallmark of a great email marketing program was a robust A/B testing program. It’s not just because I consider A/B testing a key optimization tool and a vital part of “listening” to subscribers, but because if a brand is taking the time to follow a rigorous A/B testing calendar and methodically building on lessons learned, then chances are very high it’s doing lots of other things right.

While I still believe in the power of testing and what it signifies about an email program, I now have a new litmus test for email marketing greatness for B2C companies:  Does the majority of your email marketing revenue and engagement come from triggered emails?

Anecdotally, marketers tend to hit this mile-marker when more than 5% of their email volume is triggered emails. As a rough indication of where we’re at as an industry, in September we announced that our clients had sent 237 billion emails, with 8.5 billion — or 3.5% — of those being triggered. So on average, marketers would need to increase their triggered email volume by more than 40% to hit this mile-marker, in addition to increasing the sophistication of their existing triggered programs.



This is a valuable bar to clear for several reasons:

1. Triggered emails are among the most relevant, highest ROI emails a marketer can send. These are the pinnacle of 1-to-1 email marketing. Because triggered emails are sent in response to subscriber actions or requests, they arrive at a time when subscribers are highly likely to respond to the message. Plus, the messages also tend to contain dynamic content, personalization, or recommendations based on predictive intelligence, making these messages even more tailored to the individual.

According to our 2015 State of Marketing report, triggered emails earn high marks for effectiveness. For instance, 75% of marketers said birthday emails are effective or very effective. And even reengagement emails — which were the triggered emails that were rated most poorly — were deemed effective or very effective by 63% of marketers.

2. Triggered emails represent a competitive advantage. These email programs take time to set up, and even more time to optimize. While it’s becoming easier to set these up thanks to email service provider advances, getting these programs up and running before your competitors creates separation that’s difficult for them to close quickly.

Many triggered emails are used by a less than a third of marketers, according to our findings. And despite a lot of enthusiasm to pilot or roll out triggered emails over the next 12 months, most won’t get past the pilot stage because of budget constraints, other priorities, or because they got distracted by the latest Gmail announcement. So the competitive advantage offered by triggered emails is likely to persist for many years to come.

3. Triggered emails are great customer service. “I want customer service so good it’s marketing, and marketing so good it’s customer service.” Salesforce Marketing Cloud CEO Scott McCorkle said this at our Connections conference, and it has been stuck in my head ever since. The second half of that statement is all about analytics, segmentation, personalization, dynamic content, predictive intelligence, preference centers, progressive profiling, and, yes—triggered emails.

In my book “Email Marketing Rules,” I say at the start of the section on targeting and personalization: “Think of your program’s role less as email marketing and more as providing an email-powered personal shopper program that offers thoughtful recommendations, helpful advice, and responsive customer service.” Triggered emails are at the heart of that.

Welcome emails help educate subscribers about your brand and email program. Browse and cart abandonment emails try to address the reasons a subscriber didn’t purchase. Post-purchase emails address purchase and customer satisfaction. Done well, these triggered emails and others blur the line between marketing and customer service.

4. Triggered emails cater to your best customers. Because your best subscribers are the ones clicking through, browsing, abandoning carts, and engaging in other high-value activities that trigger these emails, they will receive the vast majority of triggered messages. That’s why triggered emails are a key element of super-engagement, which aims to increase the opportunities presented by engaged subscribers.

Most businesses generate the majority of their revenue from a minority of their customers —sometimes a very small minority. Super-engagement tactics like triggered emails recognize this reality and try to amplify it by serving your best customers even better through email.

Getting more highly relevant emails into the inboxes of your best subscribers is a winning strategy. And triggered emails are among the safest ways to increase email volume for most marketers, especially retailers, who are already among the highest volume senders.

So take a look at:

  • Your email volume, and what percentage is triggered.
  • How much of your email revenue comes from triggered emails.
  • What triggered email programs you have set up.
  • How sophisticated your triggers and triggered email messages are.

Then come up with a roadmap of improvements and new programs that can get you on the path to generating the majority of your email marketing revenue from triggered emails.

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