Triggered Messaging and Travel Marketing: Finally Arrived?

Triggered messaging has been an established email marketing tactic for well over a decade, and yet is just beginning to be widely adopted by larger players in the travel industry. Over the past six months, we have seen leading online travel agencies (OTAs) and metasearch sites implement plans to make much more extensive use of triggered messaging in their email mix, with some intermediaries going as far as saying that the majority of their email program will be triggered messages starting this year. As someone who has been singing the praises of triggered messaging for some time now, this is a welcome development.

Triggered messaging is the automated deployment of single or small-batch emails based on one or more business rules, or triggers, such as shopping cart abandonment, site search activity, past purchases, and so forth. Email triggers can also be based on information contained in a subscriber’s profile, such as their birthday, past travel date, or other information.

The obvious, first question is this—after all these years, why is this happening now? Part of the explanation has nothing to do with email—programmatic advertising. Programmatic advertising is the automated placement of online ads targeted at specific market segments and—according to eMarketer—will account for more than two-thirds of US digital ad spending by the end of 2016.


Over the past few years, travel companies have been big adopters of programmatic advertising because it has helped solve some of the most vexing challenges in travel marketing—how to find a brand’s most valuable customers when they are actively shopping online for travel and get them to book on the brand’s website. Today, there are pockets of activity in travel that are very sophisticated—and successful— in leveraging automated advertising and related technologies to drive business.

Though still nascent, what we are seeing is a spillover effect from programmatic advertising into triggered messaging. As travel brands get results from programmatic in driving ROI, they are starting to wake up to the possibility of leveraging the same discipline in their email program. This is an exciting development.

To understand why, let’s compare two stylized approaches to email marketing for travel:

  • The traditional broadcast model is when the marketer’s calendar dictates what messages subscribers receive in their inbox. A typical scenario goes something like this. Each year, as I research my annual vacation, I opt-in to receive email messages from several travel companies that interest me. Soon I start receiving newsletters and promotional offers (usually weekly, sometimes daily), which I read with great interest as I try to figure out how to get the best bang for my scarce vacation buck. Once I make a decision, book my trip and take my vacation, the emails keep coming. I ignore them, but don’t unsubscribe, because I may be interested in them for my next vacation. Besides, it is always fun to dream. The marketer keeps sending the emails in the hope that I may end up buying travel down the road. This unhappy marriage continues for some time, with neither party much in love with the other but neither filing for divorce either.
  • triggered messaging model is when the cadence of emails is dictated by specific intent signals—the triggers—made by the subscriber, as well as by the marketer’s calendar. So as I shop for my annual vacation, instead of receiving weekly emails (“if it’s Thursday, it must be travel specials day”) I might receive emails more frequently based on my behavior. When I click on an offer for a specific destination in a weekly email, I receive a triggered 3-part series with more information about that destination with a time-delimited offer, in addition to any regularly scheduled emails. Or when I log into the travel site and spend a lot of time on pages about a specific vacation package, in the ensuing days I might receive additional information and an offer related to the package I was researching. And the following year—when it comes time to start planning my next vacation—I receive advance purchase discounts and other incentives to get me to make a repeat booking with the company I used the previous year. Instead of a silent, unhappy marriage, the travel company and I have a conversation and are learning more about each other with each interaction. This includes dialling back frequency when it is clear—from my site activity and engagement with emails—that I am not actively in the market for travel.

As data from Epsilon (and others) illustrates, triggered messaging typically has much higher engagement rates that standard broadcast messages.

Epsilon’s travel clients experience triggered messaging open rates that are 75 percent higher than BAU (or broadcast) messages and clickthrough rates that are more than 300 percent higher. This pattern is supported by data from other email service providers, and I have seen this repeatedly in work with clients in the past.

In coming posts, we’ll dig into triggering in more detail. But in the meantime, what is your experience? Any successes (or misses) to share?

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