Five Best Practices for Adding Transactional E-mail to Your Marketing Mix
Industry analysts like Forrester Research and JupiterResearch, have predicted that service and marketing communications would converge. Some even have called the use of service-based, transactional e-mail the "new wave in e-mail marketing." If you have yet to add transactional e-mail to your marketing mix, you're missing a huge opportunity. With the right strategy and infrastructure, you easily and inexpensively can transform your service-based messages into revenue-making opportunities. Ready for the future? Here are five best practices to follow:
1. Make transactional e-mail a priority. According to JupiterResearch, 74 percent of e-mails that organizations use to interact with clients, prospects and partners is related to customer service communications -- known as transactional e-mail. These e-mails come in the form of shipment notifications, password changes and other alerts. Research shows that more than half the recipients of transactional e-mails open and read them, as they contain valuable consumer information. Despite this success rate, Jupiter reports that less than 1 percent of e-mail marketing funds are spent on transactional e-mail. By moving transactional e-mail up the marketing food chain and transforming it into an extension of your company's marketing experience, you can generate incremental revenue while reinforcing your knowledge of and respect for the customer relationship.
2. Own the transaction. Industry research shows that only 33 percent of marketing departments actually own their transactional e-mail. This means transactional e-mail correspondence with your prized customers and prospects is probably being generated from an e-commerce system or derived from an online database. And typically, this e-mail isn't consistent with your brand, doesn't contain promotions and neglects your company's well thought-out messages. So what started as a richly branded, highly personalized experience for customers via your marketing e-mail communications becomes anything but. Instead, coordinate efforts across departments to manage the frequency of e-mails, extend the personalized experience throughout all your communications, control messaging to ensure consistency and provide relevant offers to e-mail recipients. This will reinforce your brand and generate higher response rates and additional revenue. Jupiter reports that by effectively leveraging transactional e-mail, the average online retailer can generate an extra $500,000 annually.
3. Customize the transactional e-mail experience. Transactional e-mails not initiated by the marketing department usually lack the formatting and branding of your promotional e-mails. But if your customers aren't getting the same experience with transactional e-mails that they're receiving from your other e-mail communications, both of you are missing out. Transactional e-mails easily can follow the look and feel of your promotional e-mails and Web site, helping to drive customer retention and engagement with your brand. They can impart cross-sell and up-sell product offerings, and include relevant resources such as whitepapers and consumer guides. Transactional e-mails also provide a good opportunity to include links to company policies, and customer service and loyalty programs. In some cases, you might just want to reinforce a positive perception of the brand itself. Just be sure your messages are relevant to the transactional message and your audience.
4. Comply with CAN-SPAM. The CAN-SPAM Act places restrictions on what you can and can't do with transactional e-mail, but these restrictions still allow you to take a responsible approach to integrating marketing content into it. Once you understand the rules, it's fairly easy to design messages that conform. These rules are intended to keep the focus on the transactional nature of the message, which also is in your best interest as a marketer. Keeping the focus on the transaction maintains the relevancy of the message so customers are less likely to ignore them or choose another, more costly contact method. The Email Sender and Provider Coalition offers a compelling interpretation of CAN-SPAM's provisions that is easily understood and applied to the design of your dynamic transactional e-mail, or you can find more information on the FTC Web site. In addition to reading up on CAN-SPAM, you also will want to seek guidance from your legal counsel.
5. Monitor your success. It's important to set up all the proper e-mail tracking and reporting mechanisms that will enable you to adjust your marketing programs based on real-time delivery, and open and click data. Initially, you might want to create simple transaction/marketing message rules to determine what marketing content to serve customers in your transactional e-mail. As you monitor the success of your program, keep a sharp eye on all the indicators of customer engagement, both positive (open, click, conversion) and negative (complaint, unsubscribe), and make adjustments accordingly. This will help ensure you're respecting reasonable customer expectation by keeping things in balance. Even if you're in compliance with CAN-SPAM, you still can violate customer expectation by overloading transactional e-mail with too many marketing messages -- even relevant ones. Testing, monitoring and modifying will be crucial to success and will help you determine the right mix between promotional and informational offers.
Tricia Robinson-Pridemore is vice president of market and product strategy at StrongMail Systems, a Redwood City, Calif.-based provider of on-premise solutions for marketing and transactional e-mail. Reach Tricia at firstname.lastname@example.org.