Targeted Emails“Triggered or targeted emails? Which is better?”

It’s been asked so often I hear it now as Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be…” Cliché, I know, but the email marketer’s struggle over which is better for the personalized email toolkit is oddly similar to that of Hamlet.

While the prince struggled to decide between a short-term decision and a long-term consequence, our email marketer, too, questions the short-term benefits of triggered emails against the long-term relationship-building available through targeted emails.

So, which is it?

If you ask me, the answer is “Yes!” The reality is that an effective email marketing campaign needs to include a combination of the two.

But that wasn’t the question. And lest I be accused of not being able to make up my mind (much like our dear friend Hamlet), here’s the answer: Targeted emails have a greater impact over time, so that’s where you’ll want to focus your attention.

Let’s break down the difference, shall we?

Triggered emails are excellent at asking that one last “Are you sure?” to your customers. Most are based on browsed or cart abandoned shopping sessions. The email is sent with the products front and center, offering one more chance to complete a purchase.

Short term, you can’t argue with that impact. In fact, a recent Experian study showed that real-time triggered email campaigns can account for a 54 percent lift in revenue against normal marketing emails.

But your email program is one the most organized and premeditated programs in your marketing arsenal. You have a calendar of events looking a few weeks to a few months out and you have a process to get different teams and stakeholders (internal experts) into the ideation process.

Those two facts alone can make your email program the most powerful channel in which you operate. You just need to switch the focus of your message.

Unlike with triggered emails, where a customer’s behavior is the impetus for the message, many marketers aren’t fully using the customer as their anchor in their normal marketing emails. Instead, their email calendar looks like their promo calendar or their product lifecycle.

Switching to targeted emails will help you change that.

And if you need to build a business case for this, look no further than the recent Harris Interactive survey that found 82 percent of shoppers say they’d also be likely to purchase more from a brand if the emails they received were more personalized.

When you look at your email marketing calendar, you should be thinking about how your messages will work for three to five of your top audience types. These could be based on product interaction, site activity, or behavior.

The good news is that all of this data is accessible to you as a marketer. And more and more of it is available in simpler ways for your email program:

  • Customer Data Import. Bundle up your actual customer behavior and import it into your email service provider (ESP) for native targeting. Doing this, you can group your purchasers of different product types together to deliver a specific product or category message. While valuable, this is often a subset of the whole picture of your user.
  • Analytics Segmentation. This expands on the concept above, except your analytics tool is providing the segmentation capabilities and tethering with your ESP to determine which emails should be sent to which customer. This often is the mechanics with which organizations are sending their triggered emails, too. Though valuable, it can often lead you down a micro-segmentation route that increases overall development and resource commitment issues.
  • Real-Time Dynamic Content. The newest offering of the bunch, this is where data and action are most fully realized. This process takes advantage of the customer’s online activity and is able to leverage that data for content targeting at the time the customer opens an email, as opposed to when a marketer sends an email. Why does this matter? For starters, it allows you to leverage the most recent consumer behavior as your qualifier, as there is no lag time between a data import or segmentation pull.

All of this brings us back to our conversation about how your email program needs to flip from a promotional focus to a customer focus.

Of the three, real-time dynamic content lets you more easily integrate your customer into your email program. In fact, given the personalization available, your promotional or merchandising calendar can still be used. You’ll just be augmenting with a message that’s more contextual and meaningful to your customer.

The Bard might not know an email program from a reconstruction of the Globe Theater, but he’d likely approve of your ability to sort out the benefits a targeted email program presents over a triggered send.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in ClickZ, where Nathan is a guest columnist.

Targeted email image courtesy of Shutterstock.