Manually importing files is so passé. Why not bring your email program into an era of automation?

I recently conducted a webinar on importing files using ExactTarget’s Automation Studio (formerly called Automated Interaction Management). What follows is a overview of what was shared in that session:

Let’s imagine you’re a marketer who receives a weekly file of subscribers from your database team. You take that file, proceed to ExactTarget, and manually import the file–a process that, in this scenario, takes ten minutes. If you did this every week for an entire year, you would be spending over eight hours a year importing files. With ExactTarget’s Automation Studio, you can spend less than an hour setting up an automated import and save yourself an entire work day.

To get started, you must have purchased ExactTarget’s Automation Studio and made sure that your database team can post a file to an FTP on a reoccurring basis.

Good to go? Then, let’s proceed with learning what you’ll need to automate file imports.

File Transfer Protocol

If you’re unfamiliar, a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is an online storage location for files. When ExactTarget provisions your Automation Studio, they will provide and configure you with an FTP. This FTP will only be used for storing your account’s data, not that of any other client.

If your database team requests posting a file to their own FTP (or SFTP or FTPS), ExactTarget can accommodate this. In the application, you will just need to go through the extra step of configuring the FTP’s username, password, port, and URL.

File Transfer Activity

If your database team informs you that they will post a zipped file to the FTP, you will need to first create a File Transfer Activity. ExactTarget can only import unzipped files (.csv or .txt).

Import Activity

Next, you will create an Import Activity. The Import Activity simply tells ExactTarget what file you want to import, where the file is located, and where the file should be imported.


You will need to give your Import Activity a good, descriptive name. Providing an “external key” (key used by API calls) and “description” are optional.

Proceeding next to “source.” Here is where you will inform ExactTarget about:

  1. File Location – On what FTP is your file located?
  2. File Naming Pattern – What is the name of your file? You can use some wildcards (month, day, and/or year) to designate a changing file name. Please note that you must include the file’s extension (.txt. or .csv).
  3. File Type – How is your file delimited (comma, tab, or another character)?
  4. Destination Type – What list or data extension should your file be imported into?



Next, you will set up the “Import Action Settings” and “Import Completion Settings”:

  1. Update Type – Choose to Add Only (new data), Update Only (existing data), Add/Update, or Overwrite (only an option for importing into a Data Extension with a primary key).
  2. Import Qualifications – This section can typically be skipped. However, if you need the option, you can fail an import based on a previous import or the file’s age.
  3. Validation – Inform ExactTarget about the layout for dates on your file (e.g. day/month/year on a Canadian originated file).
  4. Field Mapping – Map using column headings (the columns on your file match the spelling of your list’s attributes or data extension’s fields), Map Manually (the columns on your file don’t match the spelling of your list’s attributes or data extension’s fields), or Map by Ordinal (a file without column headings)
  5. Send Notification Email – One email address can be notified when the import completes and any subscribers that could not be imported.

Automation Studio

Last, you will create an automation in the Automation Studio. This automation is what will set the file transfer (if applicable) and import activity on a reoccurring schedule.

To begin, journey to the top application menu, choose “Automation Studio,” and then click the “Create Automation” button.

You will choose “Import File” from “Activities” and drag/drop onto the canvas. (If you created a File Transfer Activity, you will choose “Transfer File” and drag/drop onto the canvas as a step before the Import File). Give the automation a name and click the “save” button.



Proceed to the “Schedule” tab, create a schedule, and click “save.”

You’re done! Now rinse and repeat! Automating an import activity is just the first step. You could create automations to import a file, segment it, and then send an email based on those segmentations–all on a reoccurring schedule. We’ll cover these steps in a future webinar, so keep your eyes on the schedule and join us to learn how.

Key links:

Automation Studio:

Extra step of configuring the FTP:

File Transfer Activity:

Import Activity:

Automation Studio:

To begin, journey to your email channel’s “Interaction” tab, “Import Activity” in the left pane, and choose “create

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  • adlan oubouchou

    adlan oubouchou

    5 years
    Hello Do you have the video yet for create automations to import a file, segment it, and then send an email based on those segmentations–all on a reoccurring schedule? Thank you I like it.