How to plan event-triggered automated email campaigns

Using tables and flow charts to visualise and plan automated contact strategies

Research shows that behavioural email marketing is a powerful technique to automatically follow-up online customer actions to help increase conversion to sale at a low cost.

Here are some common examples of event-triggered email sequences:

  • Welcome sequence for a new subscriber or lead to an email list
  • Welcome sequence for new customer (onboarding)
  • Reactivation of customers or subscribers who lose engagement
  • Abandoned shopping cart follow-up emails
  • Shoppers browse or search on a site but don't buy follow-up
  • Time to repurchase or replenishment emails

However, the technique is still used by relatively few companies. One barrier to setting up these event-triggered email sequences is the time it takes to specify the sequences if it's a new approach to the company or agency.

The great benefits of event-triggered e-mails is that once set up and tested for effectiveness, they are a low cost method of boosting response. You can let the technology take the strain since there are too many triggers and layers of segmentation to manage manually. Mark Brownlow has more on the whys and wherefores of event triggered campaigns in this post on Email Marketing Reports.

I think that the reason event-triggered emails are underused is that maybe many companies are still in a campaign mindset. To setup event-triggered email does need investment in a project to work through the relevant creative treatment and targeting for different customer actions and position in the lifecycle. Many are maybe unaware that even low-cost email marketing tools may include this feature.

How to specify event triggered email sequences

To help marketers and consultants through the process of quickly creating a campaign we have created a email sequence planning template. It was initially developed for a client who needed an event-triggered "Welcome" email sequence based around a brochure download. It's a classic inbound/permission marketing lead generation approach which can be used for B2C or B2B campaigns where access to content or a trial service is given in return for an individuals details.

Some ideas to help develop contact sequences

In the remainder of this post I'll show some examples of how email sequences can be specified:

Example 1. Defining a simple welcome triggered contact strategy

This top-level approach shows the sequence of messaging in different media to be automatically generated in response to different triggers forming the business rules.


/trigger condition


Medium for




Guest site



·Encourage trial of site services

·Increase awareness of range of commercial and informational offerings

Post transaction page



1 month:


(i.e. < 3 visits)

·Encourage use of forum (good enabler of membership)

·Highlight top content

home page, side panels deep in site


cross-sell message

1 month

·Encourage membership

·Ask for feedback

E-mail or SMS



2 days
after browsing content

Use for range of services for guest members or full members

Phone or

Example 2.  Creative integration defined in contact strategy

This more detailed example shows how a personalised communication can be specified within different blocks of an template - it's part of our template for planning welcome sequences.

Email creative wireframe example from campaign

This is the creative that corresponds to the contact strategy defined above. It is simplified into clear blocks that can be tailored for different waves in the campaign. The left sidebar which has a high visual emphasis, so is good for response is fixed and covers both branding and response goals.

We like the simplicity of Balsamiq for mocking up these types of layouts.

Example 3.  Using a flow-chart to summarise campaign waves

This example gives a more visual representation of a multi-wave campaign through time showing the "Sense and respond" or "digital body language" approach where follow up triggered communications depend on whether the email has been open or which links have been clicked upon.

A super-intelligent approach assesses the value of the customer and their propensity to convert and then follows up with the most appropriate medium to gain conversion. So a high value customer may receive a phone call or direct mail which could maximise conversion.

Share your thoughts

  • Steve Graham commented on January 31, 2014

    It is a fantastic plan you have share. I agree with you. From the next time I always remember to follow your way. Thanks for sharing. Mailmaps

  • Steve Graham commented on January 31, 2014

    It is a fantastic plan you have share. I agree with you. From the next time I always remember to follow your way. Thanks for sharing.

  • kalee commented on December 16, 2012

    what is the “abandoned subscirbe” in example 3?

    • I can’t remember the case from +5 years ago, but it must be an option to subscribe to something additional to the Enewsletter – another publication or membership.

  • linuraj commented on September 26, 2012

    how I can do send email to my individual customers according to their visits on my websites?

  • I have to send this to all my clients

  • Hi, what is easiest tool to use this automated e mail marketing, I eman that systems it self send messagars, if customer have open e mail, ect…. i use, and it was to me, way to complicate.

    • Hi Kari, it’s quite complex to setup, so all the systems are fairly complex. We use for our Welcome emails for members and I find setting up their sequences usable. I’m sure similar systems like Aweber and MailChimp are straightforward too.

    • Kari, you might want to check Campaign Monitor used by 37Signals. If you have custom made app, you need to build capability within you system and sync it with e-mail marketing tools to send event triggered messages.

    • chexton commented on February 18, 2013

      Karl, I’m not a big fan of ‘hijacking’ comments but if Marketo is too full-featured for you / too complex to setup it might be worth checking out my own product, Vero (

      Awesome post Dave, I will be sending new customers to this post to fill their brains with behavioral marketing goodness!

  • this article came at exactly the right time. we’re currently thinking about this issue. say, what tool did you use for the nice flowchart at the end?

    • Hi = synchronicity!

      Sadly I don’t know a great tool specifically for flowcharts, this one was Microsoft Visio on Windows, these days I use Mac which means Omnigraffle.

      Perhaps others have suggestions?

      • Thanks Dave. I haven’t heard of Visio yet, but your screenshot looks like the thing we’re looking for.

        • Visio works really well to create flow charts, give me a shout if you need some help

        • Guntis Čoders commented on September 17, 2013

          Libre Office Draw – best free tool ever.
          Works for me – web wireframes, mob app wireframes etc.
          Something between Paint and Photoshop 🙂

      • sealeyd commented on April 20, 2012

        Yed is a good free tool for flow charts and technical architecture. I tend to use it for planning first and then I’ll redraw the diagram in Powerpoint for the client.



  • Thanks for the article Dave it’s really useful
    Regards, Christian Strutt