What Is Trigger Marketing in Email?

November 16, 2022
Written by
Jesse Sumrak
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Ayanna Julien
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

What Is Trigger Marketing in Email?

Trigger marketing is the foundation behind all successful automation campaigns. It puts marketing logic on your customer's timeline rather than your business'. 

And magic happens whenever you start wearing the customer's shoes (rather than your own).

That’s not to say that sales funnels and customer journey mapping don’t matter. We're not arguing that. However, most consumers don't follow the same linear path from prospect to buyer to brand ambassador. For example, one might buy from your business before they know anything about your brand, while another may spend weeks researching every nook and cranny of your products before making a purchase.

Rather than forcing your customers down a singular route, trigger marketing meets them wherever they are now and whenever—whether that's just joining your email list or staying a customer for 5 consecutive years. 

Below, we'll explore everything you need to know about trigger marketing (especially regarding email because, well, it's us), including what it is, typical events, best practices, and how to get started.

What is trigger marketing?

Trigger marketing is an automation where a customer prompts a marketing event when they perform certain actions. For example, they might trigger a welcome email when they join your newsletter list. Or they may trigger a special promotional discount SMS when they spend over $100.

Automation and trigger marketing share a lot of overlap, but automation doesn't necessarily have to involve customer-based triggers. For example, you might create an automated welcome series to email prospects every week, but that doesn't necessarily consider where your customer is along their journey—and it's not taking action based on your customer's behaviors.

On the other hand, you might send your customer a coupon on their 1-year anniversary of becoming a buyer. The trigger is the anniversary, and the marketing is the message and the coupon.

Email is one of the most common forms of trigger-based marketing, but it's not the only channel you can use. Here’s a list of other potential mediums to use with trigger marketing:
  • SMS
  • Direct mail
  • Voice call
  • WhatsApp
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Push notifications
  • Chat

What is a trigger event?

The trigger event is the action your customer takes to trigger your marketing message. Triggers can vary based on your available data and the marketing channels at your disposal.

Here are a few examples of trigger events you could act upon:
  • Email open
  • Form completion
  • Page view
  • Product added
  • Demo requested
  • Chatbot conversation
  • Event attended
  • Customer anniversary
  • Birthday
But don’t stop there. You can add plenty of other trigger events to your marketing strategy—these are only a jumping-off point.

What is triggered email marketing?

Triggered email marketing is the practice of sending automated emails based on customer activities. For example, you might send a customer an abandoned cart email if they leave your site before checking out. Or you could email them documentation about a feature when they open it in your application for the first time.

Best practices for trigger-based email marketing

A powerful way to engage your audience, trigger-based email marketing is something you need to approach thoughtfully. Do it wrong, and you can appear creepy and invasive to your customers. Get it right, and you could accelerate them along their buyer's journey.

1. Personalize your emails

Your trigger marketing emails should feel special and individualized. So show your recipient that they're not just one of the thousands receiving the same message.

Do this by showing that you know who they are and have paid attention to what interests them. That might be: "We noticed you left these shoes in your cart. Would a 10% off coupon code convince you to come back?" Or "We noticed you've been looking at a few different shoes on our website. Can we help you find the right pair?"

You can also go beyond just using your customer's first name in the subject line—we've become disassociated with that tactic. Instead, serve your audience with dynamic, personalized, and behavior-based content.

2. Deliver value, not messages

Don't send a trigger-based email just to show that you're tech-savvy—always remember to provide value. For example, when thinking of campaigns you can send your audience, start with the question: "What valuable thing can I offer my recipient?" That could be any of the following:
  • Information: Link to a how-to blog or documentation.
  • Promotions: Send coupon discounts and free shipping codes.
  • Recommendations: Serve relevant content your readers like.
  • Reminders: Prompt your customers to act with urgent deals and deadlines.
Your audience should be able to answer the question "What’s in it for me?" just from reading your subject line.

3. Focus on quality

It's not about more emails—it's about better. So you don't need to create a dozen different triggered email campaigns. Instead, focus on a handful of top-priority events that you want to promote. That might be your customer's first purchase or when they view your pricing page so many times. 

4. Create aha moments

Focus on finding the right trigger events. These could be actions your customers do or don't take. For example, you might have a trigger for when a customer opens an email and another trigger for when a customer doesn't open your last 5 consecutive emails.

Combining these trigger events with tip #3, focus on quality, helps you create high-quality aha moments. These are valuable engagement opportunities where you can turn your prospects into buyers and your buyers into lifelong customers. And since your aha moments will likely be different from other businesses, it's up to you to dig into your email data to find them. Start by looking at these key email metrics to see if you find anything noteworthy.

5. Automate trivial tasks

Trigger-based emails help you send the right email to the right person at the right time. So find manual marketing messages that you can automate. This can include everything from your welcome emails to abandoned cart emails. Whatever you choose, by automating your emails, you save time and ensure you message your recipients at the exact right moment.

6. Get consent

Just because you have data for trigger-based marketing doesn't mean you can use it. You’ll need to obtain permission before you start sending your customers emails. By setting up an email preference center, you let them opt in and manage their inbox. 

7. Never use do-not-reply emails

Your trigger-based email marketing messages should start a 2-way conversation. That’s why we don’t recommend do-not-reply emails—these lead to missed opportunities and damaged relationships. Instead, allow your recipients to respond to your emails and proactively kick-start a discussion.

Try email trigger marketing with Twilio SendGrid

Trigger marketing upgrades your messaging to make it more timely and personalized. It also takes a bit more time and insights to set up than traditional email blasts, but the rewards make it more than worth the effort.

Ready to get started with trigger-based email marketing? Sign up for a free Twilio SendGrid account to try it out—no credit card required.

Recommended For You

Most Popular

Send With Confidence

Partner with the email service trusted by developers and marketers for time-savings, scalability, and delivery expertise.