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(EMC)—Lifecycle messaging is a hot topic of conversation these days. It meets the fundamental needs of email marketers to be timely, relevant and efficient. However, many are deterred by the undertaking due to a commonly held belief that it will be complicated and tedious to implement. While it’s true that nothing good ever comes easy, getting started with lifecycle messaging isn’t rocket science. Here are four steps you can take to navigate the development and implementation of lifecycle messaging simply and effectively:

1. Look at your data. Understanding what data you have available will help determine what programs will be easily implementable. There’s nothing worse than devising an amazing plan that you ultimately find out takes moving heaven and earth to make a reality. Avoid the disappointment and instead start with what you have to work with. Once you prove the success of an initial lifecycle program, you’ll be armed with the stats you need to get access to even more data.

2. Review your programs. It’s probable that you’re doing some level of lifecycle messaging today—e.g., welcome messages, confirmations, thank you notes or follow ups. Can those existing programs be improved upon? Probably.

Look at these individual campaigns in the context of the entire relationship and how those communications could better enhance the experience for the customer. For example, it may better serve your brand to have a multipart, triggered welcome series versus a singular message. It might also be a good idea to start your re-engagement efforts a little earlier by recognizing those who are nearly inactive. Try to get them involved again before they fully disengage.

3. Compose your message. The one thing about triggering lifecycle messages is that it can appear a little like Big Brother if not positioned appropriately. While you want to use the data you have to identify opportune communication points within the lifecycle, you may not want to present it back to the customer within the context of the message.

It’s one thing to send a message that says “We miss you.” It’s another thing entirely to say, “We know you haven’t checked in since Aug. 3, 2010 at 1:22 p.m. and we miss you.” Your copy should speak to the purpose of the data event, not the data itself. Be creative and concise. But most of all, be relevant.

4. Test your theory. If you’re heading down this path, you’re clearly making the assumption that this effort is going to improve your program’s performance. Before you pull the trigger, do some testing. Hold a control group that continues to receive email communications from you as it always has. Then segment a control group that falls into the lifecycle stream to prove your theory. It’s this type of test that will make the incremental behavior most obvious, which is especially helpful when you’re asking for additional funds to get your hands on more of your own data for future efforts.

Getting your lifecycle email program optimized and functional is an ongoing process and won’t happen overnight. With a good plan and plenty of patience, however, it will prove successful.

Kara Trivunovic is the senior director of strategic services at StrongMail. Kara can be reached at