Thought Leadership

Boost Subscriber Engagement with Triggered Emails

In Q1 2017 triggered emails generated 5x the CTO rate of regular emails

Email marketers, I’ve got some good news and bad news for you. Let’s start with the encouraging news: according to new data from Yes Marketing, the average email open rate (currently 16.1%) has registered a 9% year-over-year increase and a 3% increase over the last two years. So congrats, your subscribers want to open your marketing messages!

Now for the not so good news. While your customers are choosing to open emails, click-to-open (CTO) rates are on a steep decline. In Q1 2017, the average CTO was just 8.9 percent, a 13 percent decrease YoY and a 22 percent drop over the last two years.

That last stat is a bit sobering. Marketers know the objective of most email campaigns is to convert subscribers either by prompting a click or a purchase. So what’s needed to get them to take the next step and truly engage?

Think back to the open rate stats – they demonstrate that customers will respond (i.e. open your emails) when they feel you are talking to them (and their needs). Marketers just have to work on building that one-to-one relationship to create more effective email campaigns.  

One simple, yet highly effective way to build that sense of connection comes from triggered email campaigns. Because they are based on specific consumer actions or data and deployed within a set timeframe, they are highly relevant and speak directly to the individual customer. Triggered emails are perfectly positioned to serve as the building blocks of a true relationship because they feel like part of the natural give and take of a conversation between a brand and its customers.

In Q1 2017 triggered emails generated almost 5 times the click rate, almost double the open rate, and almost triple the CTO rate; and almost triple the CTO rate of business-as-usual (BAU) emails.

Interestingly, triggered emails made up just under 7 percent of total campaigns marketers sent. That means there’s a huge potential upside for smart marketers who add more triggered messaged to their marketing programs.  

Let’s take a look at a few examples of triggered emails to get a better feel for how they facilitate building stronger relationships with subscribers.


Start off on the right foot

If you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s the polite thing to do to show you’re interested in them. Go ahead, say “hi”, it’s nice to meet you”. That first conversation can set the tone for those that follow. Give subscribers a reason not only to open your emails, but to engage with them.

Welcome series are the easiest kind of triggered emails to implement. Why not take advantage of the first glow of a budding relationship when a person has shown an interest in your brand by joining your list or making a purchase. Old Navy set up a welcome series that started with an email titled “Welcome new friend.“ It was sent one day after I signed up and made my first purchase.

The second email showed up two days later. The subject line read “Did we miss your birthday?” with a request for all kinds of information that would “deepen” our relationship. The offer of a birthday treat definitely got my attention (who doesn’t love getting gifts?) and the chance to update my email preferences shows they respect the boundaries of our connection.

Create a good feeling 

Who doesn’t love getting a pat on the back for doing something nice – especially when you didn’t actually do anything particularly special to get that recognition? This email from Walgreen’s triggered by a regular purchase gives the subscriber a “warm and fuzzy” feeling that will pay off down the road. It also cleverly ties any future purchase of vitamins to the charitable effort that can make a difference in someone’s life. And not a faceless, nameless person but little Cristian who lives in the Peruvian Andes. That email would definitely make the recipient go to Walgreen’s the next time they needed vitamins so they can help more children around the world. 

Anticipate a need

Make consumers’ lives a little easier. Offering help in anticipation of a need can make the greatest impact. By showing you’re thinking about your customers, they feel you care. Here Olive Garden realizes a busy manager might not realize Administrative Professional day is coming. So they provide a friendly reminder. With the subject line “3 delicious ways to show your gratitude” Olive Garden offers solutions tied to key workplace messages.

  • Treat your Team – Show your team you appreciate what they do by bonding over a meal.
  • Take a Break – Maybe the group is too large to go out. Why not order in lunch for everyone?
  • Short on Time? Why limit your appreciation to one day. Give a gift card that can be used at any time.

Help them be the best they can be

Another way for marketers to show they care about their customers is to support their goals. While this email from my gym may not be particularly elegant (at least they didn’t include any pictures of scantily-clad people lounging poolside), the timing plays on spring motivation and anticipation of the summer. Yes, the free session is clearly a marketing ploy, but the advice I might get at the session could convince me to sign up for a series of sessions. The offer deadline helps drive home the fact that the clock is ticking on looking good in my bathing suit.

Share new experiences

Keep a friendship fresh by expanding horizons. Open Table, a restaurant reservations booking service, shared the James Beard award winners five days after the event. What foodie worth their salt doesn’t want to be the first to try the latest trendsetting dining experience? For me, the added treat in getting this email is I live in Chicago where the awards were held. Other recipients will also feel some hometown pride if they find a local restaurant won an award. 

Value their opinion

Listening is an important skill in a relationship. No one likes hanging out with people (or brands!) who only talk about themselves. Show your customers that your brand knows it takes two to have a successful relationship. Three days after seeing this production, the Raven Theater acknowledged that plays are nothing without an audience and thanked me for my attendance. Their request for feedback made me feel valued and I was happy to provide important information they can use to refine play selections for future seasons. 


In a time of declining engagement, an offer for a discount is only as good as it relates to a subscriber’s wants and needs. Email marketers should keep in mind that they need to do more to create a bond with subscribers and show they care.

Because a successful long-term relationship involves an ongoing effort, triggered emails are a great way to boost engagement. They are a natural step in the subscriber’s relationship with the brand and help deepen that connection. As the name indicates, triggered campaigns appeal to subscribers because they are informed by specific actions and the content is timely and relevant. Triggered emails seem more personal than transactional.

While brands should always consider the type of content that will resonate with their unique subscriber base, introducing triggered campaigns is appropriate for almost every mailing program. 

To learn more about triggered programs, download our latest benchmark report:

Author Bio

Lisa Mayer

Lisa Mayer is a a B2B marketer who sees her role as helping clients and prospects find a solution to business challenges. She finds explaining how technology can transform a business to be especially interesting.