What is Event Based Marketing?

What is Event Based Marketing?

Event based marketing is a digital marketing technique where customers receive personalised communications based on their behaviour, or lack of. It relies on the measuring of implicit and explicit interactions between the user and the product (a website or app).

The key word here is ‘event’. An event is a record of a single instance of behaviour taking place on a website or app. It’s tied to a user’s identity and useful information (attributes) can be stored inside it.

This practice is sometimes referred to as trigger marketing, event tracking, event driven marketing or event streaming. The sheer power and potential of this new type of marketing is driving massive advances in the way digital marketers, growth hackers and product marketers work.

There are two components: managing identity and recording behaviour.


When a user visits a website or mobile app they are automatically assigned an anonymous identity. The anonymous identity is used to store the record of their behaviour until, and if, the user becomes ‘identified’. Identified users are known users who already have a record in the user database. At this point, the anonymous identity and the known identity are joined together so that all past behaviour recorded against the anonymous user is now stored directly against the known user.

Without a user’s identity we would not be able to assign the stored behaviour to a particular person. This would limit our ability to communicate with the user (we can’t send them an email or push notification if we don’t know who they are). Instead, we would receive general data about the way the whole service is being used by all users (think Google Analytics). Identity based marketing also allows us to track users across different devices more easily.

Basic Recipe of an Identify Call

analytics.identify([userId], [traits], [options], [callback]);


Behaviour is information that describes how the user interacts with the website or app. It is recorded as an ‘event’. An event is a single instance of measured behaviour; a single event in the journey of the customer. The event could describe a users explicit action such as ‘Clicked on Playlist’ or an implicit action such as ‘Moused Over Playlist’.

Basic Recipe of an Event

analytics.track(event, [properties], [options], [callback]);

Attributes can be parsed in to the event allowing for unique, and highly relevant knowledge to be stored inside the event itself. For example, the playlist name, the playlist ID, the duration, and the description could all be stored in the event ‘Clicked on Playlist’.

analytics.track("Clicked on Playlist", {
playlistName: "Australian Top 50",
durationMins: 132,
playlistID: 2388383820022992,
playlistDescription: "The latest and greatest hits topping the charts down under."

By measuring behaviour in this way and storing key information about the behaviour inside the event, we can send the user a much more contextual message or prompt when trying to engage them.


Event stream processing has long been used by software engineers to build event driven systems. An event would be use to record a significant change in the state of the object. By measuring behaviour in such incremental detail we are able to more clearly identify exactly where the user stops in a given flow or process. Algorithmic trading desks are an example of such systems. In this example each change in the price of a stock is measured as a single change in state, down to the cent. By monitoring all movement in the stock price, an algorithm can treat each event as a new state, and better predict the next movement based on the current and past states. Such granular measurement allows the algorithm to react quickly and accurately. Contrast this to simply knowing the starting price and the current price of a stock at any given time of the day (the way humans typically monitor stocks).

Event based marketing is literally the marketers equivalent of this practice. By recording much more information about a user’s behaviour—each change in the user’s state—we know exactly where a user is in their journey and can construct a highly relevant and personalised message to deliver to them.

The word ‘event’ might ring some bells for us old-school marketers. Google Analytics has long offered the functionality of recording and storing custom events about how users interact with the product. This was great, and certainly offered us some insights into those more granular and unique behaviours, but there was always one problem… identity. Who are these people?


Let’s use a typical abandoned cart campaign as a way to compare event based marketing to traditional behavioural campaigns.

Traditional Behavioural Campaigns

Typically when implementing an abandoned cart campaigns we track two stages:
1) when the user starts the checkout process and
2) when the user successfully checks out.

More advanced implementations might track the step in the checkout process the user was at. This allows them to send the user back to the exact step they were up to. In total, most abandoned cart campaigns are measuring two or three stages. More often than not, this is done by querying the clickstream data (specifically the URL path) for users who have viewed the ‘checkout page’, but not viewed the ‘payment confirmation’ page. Because of the vagueness around this method of tracking, we typically wait 2-3 hours before sending the abandoned cart campaign.

Event Based Campaigns

When implementing an event based abandoned cart campaign, we can record many more events:
1) User adds item to cart
2) User starts checkout process
3) User confirms shipping details
4) User confirms billing details
5) Payment successful
6) Payment unsuccessful
7) User successfully checks out

Each time a user triggers the next event in the sequence their state changes. This helps clearly indicate the exact point in the flow that they are up to. The moment events stop being received (the user abandons the checkout process) we need only wait a short period of time before sending the abandoned cart email (20 minutes for example). If the user stops at step 4, where they have confirmed their billing details but no result has been received for payment, we need simply send them an email encouraging them to finish paying.

On top of this, we are able to store information about the progression through the cart inside the event itself. This can be parsed through from the email to the target (website or app) by attaching the information in parameters on the link.

Wrap Up

Event based marketing significantly improves the capability, speed and quality of marketing. The technology is rapidly advancing and new tools are emerging designed specifically around these capabilities. I will be writing extensively on this topic over the coming months—from day one to the trough of sorrow. My goal is to explain these concepts in simple terms, and ultimately build a knowledge base that you can reference when trying to implement these techniques. Stay tuned for more. Will =)

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