I go online and book a flight. Within seconds of me paying I get an email confirming my details: pretty impressive!
I browse an online bookshop and the very next day, I get an email with alternative suggestions about the authors and subject I was looking at: pretty useful.
I download a white paper from a technology company, and I quickly get three different emails telling me things that I really did not think I wanted to know. Hmm, this is getting annoying.
I'm browsing a website completely anonymously; perhaps something a little embarrassing like my taste for Fat Boy Burgers. No sign-up of course and suddenly it is emailing me 'Fat Boy Mega-Offers'; I'm out of here!
Welcome to the world of trigger-based email. As the speed of marketing gets faster and faster, we have seen campaign planning collapse from weeks, to days, to hours, and now to literally seconds. Very clever decision technology and communication tools allows marketers to make intelligent decisions based on your session, your country, your product selection, or other data and fire off a highly targeted message that will sit in your inbox until you action it.
Until recently, you had to sign up for this stuff. By giving up your email address you were making a conscious decision about a brand. Do I trust them? Are they responsible? Do I want to hear from them? But with social triggers, and increasing tie-ups between brands and social networks, access to your profile gets easier and easier.
There are huge consumer and business benefits from intelligent and timely trigger communication, but like other aspects of email marketing, it is easy to get carried away. Too many irrelevant emails, too frequent, wrong message, wrong target and you are going to wind up in the spam box. Alienating one customer is bad enough, but do it too often and you are potentially going to impact your sender scoring and that might end up putting all your emails in the spam box.
Some tips for successful and customer-friendly trigger-based email marketing:
Service first – Service and operational messages are almost always appreciated. Even if I knew my flight was delayed, the fact that you took the trouble to tell me builds real affinity.
Rules of engagement – Before you come up with your smart targeting rules, agree what's acceptable. What frequency, recency rules, how many times on the same subject. Perhaps, publish these under preference management, let the customer decide what they want.
Timeliness - Email may not always be timely. Not everyone is a CrackBerry owner; some people do not read their email every day. Think carefully if you message is super time sensitive; email may not be the best channel.
Start at the top of the list – It is tempting to try and address every e-commerce and CRM problem you have ever encountered in one go. It's overwhelming. Pick one or two priorities and perfect them before moving onto the next, and the next.
The business rules – Smart and ultra highly targeted is good when it is right, but totally sucks when you get it wrong. Often where you cannot rely 100 percent on your source data. If you are starting out, keep the rules simple until you have the confidence in your data and your skills to move ahead.
Watch and learn – Study your opening rates and click-through rates religiously. See what is working and what never gets opened, then use this to fine-tune your business rules and content.
Don't stalk – Having "Thank you for visiting our site and showing an interest in Chocolate Body Lube at 00:14" delivered to my inbox before I've left the site is a bit creepy. A more considered message a day later might better sustain the engagement. And if the message is that urgent, serve it up on the web page in real time.
Tools – Pick the right tools that can really do this properly. Tools that allow for intelligent targeting, flexible content management, classy delivery, and make it easy to change things. It's a lot more effective and brand friendly than having your IT people hard coding something on the back end of your website.
Be responsible – Remember that email is not a secure channel. Too much personal session content, profile details, selected products, etc. on your email may not be a good thing. Show you understand the customer by fine-tuning and customising your message, not replying personal facts.
Look good – Most marketing emails are sent out in glorious colourful HTML, yet too many trigger messages are still in clunky old text. Fine for warning of an impending typhoon, but not going to sell anything. Fix it.
Stephen Hay is Asia Pacific regional director for ICLP, the award-winning global loyalty and customer relationship management (CRM) agency. Stephen came into loyalty at Cathay Pacific when e-mail was still something that people in research labs used to send to each other and direct mail was still king.
ICLP works with some of the world's leading customer-focused brands, including Cathay Pacific, Mandarin Oriental, and Juniper Networks; looking to bring brands and customers closer together into a more mutually beneficial and more profitable relationship. Stephen takes a customer point of view on almost everything, not always universally popular, but proven time and again to be the basis for a sustainable, profitable, long-term relationship.