By Rogier van der Veen, UK business development manager, Clang by E-Village (www.createaclang.com)

Trigger-based email campaigns, or event-driven marketing, use a customer's preferences, interests and specific online activity to generate an associated email. This can range from providing additional information to a prospect researching a specific product or service via the website to offering a discount to a customer that has started shopping online but has abandoned their basket before buying their goods.

Using consumers' online behaviour
Using specific information about an individual's online behaviour makes this type of activity a potentially valuable part of B2B and B2C email marketing strategies. According to analyst firm Gartner, event-triggered marketing messages receive up to five times the response rate of non-targeted push messages.

However, precisely because dynamic email campaigns are based on personal information about an individual's actions, they must be carefully thought out and used intelligently. Failure to do this can have deeper implications than messages merely being ineffective. Emails that interrupt the consumer, offer nothing new and treat them only as an email address or record in a database, do not further an organisation's relationship with its customer. Rather, they are another layer of irrelevant complexity used by the email marketer that, as a source of irritation to the receiver, have the potential to seriously damage the brand.

So what steps must today's email marketer take to ensure they are using the channel to its create maximum advantage, rather than alienating their potential audiences? The very simple message comes down to treating customers with respect but, whilst this is easy to identify, it can be harder to implement.

If I were the recipient...
An essential basic rule for any organisation to have at the forefront of their minds is that any email marketing campaign is about the recipient. (This may seem an obvious rule of marketing, but the ease with which technology has enabled messages to be sent very quickly to thousands of people seems to have eroded its significance).

So the first action that any email marketer must take when setting up their trigger-based campaign is to put themselves in the recipient's place and see what the communication looks like from their perspective. What do they get out of it? Is it something they want or need to receive? Is it timely? Is it truly adding value by providing something they don't already have?

Two-way dialogue
Dynamic emails therefore need to be generated as part of an ongoing two-way dialogue with the consumer that sees the email marketer act on the preferences expressed by the recipient. Organisations can use each communication with the consumer as a way of slowly gathering information to build up a picture of the person behind the email address.

Evidence suggests that people are happy to divulge details if it results in them receiving something that is of value. For example, if someone has provided their date of birth and then receives an email with a birthday greeting along with the offer of a relevant gift on the right date, they are unlikely to feel that their privacy has been infringed. The same goes for indicating holiday destination preferences and then receiving details of hotels offering discounts in the region, or getting the offer of a free phone upgrade as the end of a mobile phone contract approaches.

Clearly this all centres round customer data. As much information as possible about each customer's needs, interests and upcoming events in their life must be gathered and made easily accessible.

Campaign design and automation
Customer data must then be used within predefined business rules, such as who will get what emails and when. Designing these can be a complex process, but often it is a job that only needs doing once, as, ideally, as much as possible of a dynamic campaign should be automated. This is made easier if the trigger for a certain campaign is driven by external events - such as the purchase of an item, the offer of a warranty extension or the end of phone contract — which can be acted upon with a relevant email.

After the initial design, the process can also be smoothed by ensuring that the automated trigger campaign runs from one email template with various dynamic elements that are driven by the business rules initially set up. (The alternative is a system that requires multiple emails to be prepared is costly both in terms of time and budget).

The bottom line: respect the customer
Using an offline analogy, offering potential customers additional information while they they are browsing can encourage them to make a purchase. Equally, an over-zealous shop assistant can be overkill and result in the customer leaving the premises without buying anything.

Technology makes event-driven marketing straightforward to administer. But the channel only becomes really powerful when it is combined with intelligent human input that is rooted in respect for the customer.