The Tricks & Treats of Transactional Email

By EJ McGowan, GM of Campaigner

Don't be duped by the mundane nature of the standard email communications brands send to acknowledge customers' actions.

A purchase confirmation, shipping notification, password reset or even an unsubscribe email response is actually a marketing opportunity in disguise. Since contacts are anticipating the important information these messages contain, transactional email typically boasts a 100 percent open rate (according to internal data) compared to general marketing emails since they get opened multiple times. If executed properly, these expected emails can generate two to six times more revenue than the average email marketing message.

In order to take advantage of this valuable customer engagement resource, avoid the scary pitfalls of depending on them too heavily for marketing purposes. Instead, incorporate transactional email into the customer communication lifecycle. To get started, here are some favorite transactional email treats to hand out to recipients, along with a few tricks to be aware of this Halloween season.

Trick: Thinking about using transactional email messages as a backup marketing system? Boo! An influx of transactional emails could destroy the opportunity to engage contacts by prompting unsubscribes or triggering messages to be sent to spam. Most Internet service providers (ISPs) and email providers cap the number of simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) relays they'll allow from specific senders in a given day or week. This method for controlling spam, however, can create significant problems for marketers with a robust contact list in the hundreds, thousands or even millions.

To ensure transactional email messages skip the spam-filter bogeyman, make sure to work with a trusted SMTP relay partner.


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Treat: By delivering the expected transactional text response up front, brands earn an opportunity to invite contacts to engage with the brand; just keep any promotional material "below the fold." Once the standard confirmation message is out of the way, marketers should use HTML in the lower half of the email to make additional messages really pop out visually without detracting from the primary purpose of the email. For example, if the message is an order confirmation for a Halloween costume, a company should consider using HTML to display a discount on a related costume or candy pail, offering a treat without scaring the contact off.

Trick: It may be the season for disguises, but high open rates shouldn't fool marketers. They should use promotional content wisely when it comes to transactional email. Since these messages contain valuable, and sometimes critical, information for the consumer, users may be annoyed to find marketing content when they are looking for the shipping status of their order. By erring on the conservative side, and only including marketing messages in a fraction of transactional email, brands won't risk contaminating their customer relationships. A company will want to plan on keeping roughly 80 percent of transactional email completely free of promotional offers, so it maintains a high degree of credibility with its customers.

Treat: Though a customer might be reluctant to respond to a promotional offer within an order confirmation email, they might be up for some socializing. Transactional emails that include links to social media sites have 55 percent higher click-rates than those without. A user that declines to subscribe to email marketing messages might respond well to brand engagement via Twitter or Facebook.

Trick: If a company's transactional email is managed within a completely separate system than its email marketing, marketers may view them as two completely distinct beasts. The trick is to handle them as two parts of a cohesive communication plan. Just like marketing emails, track open and click-through rates of transactional email as well. A marketer should make sure his or her email marketing system has the capability to relay transactional emails from the point-of-sale system to get the benefit of tracking engagement rates.

Treat: Brands should mix in some no-cost offers to keep their transactional email messages sweet. A link back to its site for free tips, a whitepaper, a new case study or promotional video can re-engage customers without making them sick of purchase requests.

Since click rates are up to six times higher for transactional email compared to bulk email, the message is more likely to spark interest and earn a click in this communication channel.

Trick and Treat

By treating transactional email as part of a broader customer lifecycle communication initiative, brands can enjoy both tricks and treats this Halloween and every season.

EJ McGowan, general manager of Campaigner, has more than 25 years' experience in the software industry with expertise in building highly available, scalable SaaS-based solutions.