Recently, I moderated a webinar on triggered and automated direct mail. Presenters were Slava Apel, CEO of Amazing Print web-to-print software, and Bryan Neill, vice president of sales for the Goode Company, a mid-sized printer in Rohnert Park, Calif. I was excited about the webinar because it’s a topic we don’t hear talked about enough. We hear talk about other types of automation, but we don’t often hear about triggered mail as one of them.

The idea of triggered mail is that these are direct mail programs nobody touches. You set them up, and they are once and done. After that, they run in the background.

As the client, you don’t have to think about designing a campaign every time. You determine your audience, your triggers, and your messaging (including offers and CTAs) in advance. When the trigger is activated, the pieces are assembled and mailed without you having to think about them. This saves you time and money. Plus, you are mailing based on triggers you know are effective, so these programs consistently get good results. What’s not to like?

For the printer, the benefits are much the same. Every time you touch a job, it costs you money. By setting up triggered programs, you reduce the number of touches on the job and gain profitability. Plus, these programs are sticky. Once a customer sets one up, you gain recurring revenue and the customer isn’t likely to switch providers, at least not easily.

The presenters discussed two primary types of triggered direct mail programs: those triggered from a customer’s own database (when the date hits X, send this; when a customer hasn’t ordered in 30 days, send that) and those triggered by online activity.

It was the latter that was of much interest to the audience, since it’s a bit of a black box. How do you find out who is on your website so you can mail to them? Is it even legal to do that? The answer to the latter is that, in most cases it’s not legal to mail to someone who hasn’t given you permission. So when someone comes to your website, how do you get that permission? You get them to interact with you. Abandoned shopping carts are a great example. So are partially filled online forms. Other ways to gain permission include setting up gateway pages to special offers or downloads, or even using chat boxes.

One of the things I think was a surprise to the audience was that while you can use off-the-shelf VDP or design software (Amazing Print Tech, XMPie, PageFlx, Marcom, EFI), you can use free DIY solutions, too. Apel discussed the use of Iftt and Zapier, as well as Excel, Microsoft Word, InDesign, and QuarkXPress.

While Slava covered technology, Neill offered insights into “on the ground” implementations. In doing so, he helped the audience visualize what this looks like in real life, and this as something they can see themselves doing. The Goode Company develops trigger programs without high-end software, so it was neat to hear him talk about highly effective programs that anyone can do.

Among the types of triggers The Goode Company uses?

  • Simple code numbers or letters in a database field that correlate to a specific action, such as subscription renewals or appointment reminders.
  • “If-then” fields, such as “If field contains letter A, then version 1 of the content is used; if it contain letter Y, then version 2 is used.”
  • Complex assemblies based on formulas that create specific results in the printed piece, such as donation letters assembled based on a donor’s history. For example, if the last donation was for X, the nonprofit asks for times 1.5 for donors who gave within a year and times 1.25 for donors who haven’t given in over two years).

Neill gave real-world examples, including a program produced for a magazine subscription service to collect unpaid invoices, and one for a national veterinarian services provider for sending lab results and appointment reminders.

For me, the takeaway from both presentations is that triggered and automated mailings don't need to be a black box. They are realistic and doable even on a smaller scale for printers and marketers without giant budgets for this kind of thing. Feedback from the attendees reflected the same thing. Real-world examples show that this can really be (and is being) done, and not just by “the big guys.”

So why aren’t we talking about it more?