By Kara Trivunovic, Senior Director of Strategic Services, StrongMail

According to the Gartner April 2011 report "Top 7 CRM Marketing Processes for 2011," marketers can expect a 600% lift in campaign performance over traditional outbound programmes by adopting event-triggered techniques. You may also know these techniques by another name, Lifecycle Marketing.

The terms "Triggered Messaging" and "Lifecycle Messaging” are routinely substituted for one another, and in reality they are almost the same thing in essence and in practice. There is, however, a difference between the two, which requires thinking about the full scope of lifecycle messaging. Increased conversations, efficiencies as well as customer insight are just a few examples of what can be accomplished through these techniques, and right time messaging is just a part of that.

A recent global survey of email marketing executives indicated that 54% of businesses are not currently running a lifecycle marketing programme. This is set to change, because the research, which was conducted by StrongMail, showed that 58% plan to adopt it within 24 months. So as this change begins to take place, it’s important to ask; what exactly lifecycle marketing? How can it be incorporated into your existing marketing programme? Here are some steps to help steer yourself in the right direction.

Define the Lifecycle.

In many circumstances, the lifecycle is not determined by the customer’s interactions with the brand, but rather the channel that the messages are delivered through. For instance, when email marketers explain the customer lifecycle, they gauge it in terms of how long the subscriber has been part of the list. But there are other points to consider. In order to identify the most appropriate times to communicate, we need to understand the customer experience in its entirety. By mapping out the customer’s various points of entry, their common behaviours/interactions, assessing renewal or refill opportunities, and determining the timings of common disengagement or abandonment, brands can take the first step towards developing success with lifecycle communications.

Plan the Message.

What we intend the say to the audience and when we choose to say it are equally important factors. All too often, marketers trigger communications to their customers unnecessarily. Lifecycle marketing should be adopted carefully, and approaching it in the correct manner can quickly exhaust your tactics. Once you have defined the points in the lifecycle that make sense to apply messages to, check and confirm that the message you would like to send has a clear value. This will help determine if the lifecycle triggers are required or if any can be eliminated.

Whilst doing this, put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and take a good look at your business from their perspective; by doing so you will be able to determine what communication points will boost that experience with your brand. Although increased conversion and engagement is often the marketer’s goal, the customer is looking for an above average experience. Ask yourself how your lifecycle message can help to achieve this.

Set the Pace.

Once you have successfully outlined what your lifecycle points will look like, you need to determine just how often the customer is going to hear from your brand. By establishing an effective lifecycle messaging programme the number of standalone communications sent will naturally diminish. This is due to frequency implications but also because it enables you to carry the messages in the triggered campaigns more cohesively than if they stood alone. Be mindful to pay attention to both frequency (the number of messages a day, week or month your customer receives) but also of the pace (increased or decreased levels of messaging around the key time periods or behaviours). During certain points in time, for instance when a product is purchased, customers are likely to be less sensitive to messaging volume. It is now common etiquette to receive a purchase confirmation message, a shipping message as well as a follow up message for feedback and reviews. Be sure to utilise these times and expected points of messaging to repeat complementary messages.

Following a customer service call is another opportune moment that is frequently overlooked. Imagine if you could trigger a message from the customer service agent thanking the customer for their time, which confirms the reason they called has been addressed to their approval and provides a survey for feedback on the experience. On the other hand, if the customer felt they had a bad experience when they called, it may be an idea to supply the customer service team with a means of flagging those particular customers to temporarily stop email communications. There is nothing worse than an aggravated customer receiving a promotional offer straight after a bad conversation with customer service. This results in the company straining that already delicate relationship.

Pulling the Trigger.

Now there is a plan of action set in place, you need to be sure it is carried out successfully. In our multi-channel marketing world, you need to attain the data and technologies in order to deploy these communications, and tie it all together. Be sure not to give up on a plan just because it isn’t necessarily feasible that day. For example, if your grand plan is to trigger multi-channel, lifecycle messages, but today you can only do email and SMS, don’t fret about it — phase. First, work towards the intended goal and establish what date is immediately available to you. Then you can begin exposing other data to your systems to assist additional messaging. This might require bringing in additional or complementary systems online in order to tie it all together effectively.

Lifecycle messaging has been used for years, however, somewhere along the way marketers have become distracted by the new and innovative ways in which they can utilise these programs to their full potential, resulting in the clarity surrounding them being distorted. Whilst managing these types of programmes has traditionally been a very manual and long process, by getting them automated, and executing the process in a strategic way they can ultimately generate the best results.