Taming transactional e-mail: tips to gain control of a powerful marketing tool

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In today's busy digital world, modern marketers must break through an unprecedented volume of advertising and marketing messages vying for their customers' attention. As a result of the clamor, old-world broadcast and direct marketing tactics are slowly but surely giving way to new, highly personalized one-to-one messaging made possible by e-mail.

Amidst the noise, sophisticated e-mail marketers have discovered that transactional messages - those that confirm a purchase, notify customers of shipping dates or deliver warranty information and account status messages, among other functions - are the kind most eagerly anticipated by recipients. In fact, eMarketer has reported that six out of 10 consumers say they don't even mind if a sender tucks in a marketing message alongside their transactional information in an e-mail.

However, even though industry analyst firm JupiterResearch estimates that companies can add as much as $500,000 in annual revenue simply by including promotional elements in transactional e-mails, marketers are finding it difficult to use these powerful messages to their maximum potential.

Why transactional messaging is difficult

First, marketers must ascertain across the enterprise who is sending what. Transactional messages often originate in different departments and have varying goals.

And, the complexity of managing a transactional e-mail marketing program that must be able to create and fire off hundreds of thousands of individualized messages the moment a transaction takes place is enough to give even the most stoic IT guru a headache. Ultimately, many marketing organizations find that the in-house technology and resources available to handle the sophisticated requirements of automatically triggering transactional messages is simply not sufficient or nimble enough for their needs.

The elements of a strong transactional e - mail program

Savvy marketers understand that executing transactional e-mail well requires key insights into all elements of a successful program, including:

ááááááá Achieving optimum response times

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ááááááá Incorporating branding

ááááááá Sending messages with graphics vs. plain text

ááááááá Using personalization

ááááááá Targeting offers with dynamic content

ááááááá Navigating the complexities of e-mail deliverability

ááááááá Monitoring and measuring response

However, typical in-house transactional messaging systems lack the ability to reinforce branding, personalize messages with customers' names, dynamically integrate relevant cross-sell and up-sell offers based on prior purchases or customer-stated preferences or track and measure e-mail delivery, open, click or conversion rates. Nor can they conduct surveys, polls or immediate follow-up that could enable them to gather additional information about their customers.

In fact, nearly half of marketers surveyed in a 2005 JupiterResearch report on optimizing transactional e-mail messages cited delivery and measurement challenges when sending transactional e-mail from in-house systems.

Enlisting an expert

Because of these challenges, the majority of e-mail marketers in JupiterResearch's report said they see value in outsourcing their transactional messaging needs to e-mail service providers - firms that specialize in e-mail marketing services, software and delivery technology.

In addition to easing the burden on overtaxed IT departments, outsourcing transactional messages provides marketers with the same control, flexibility and visibility into response that they receive with their promotional campaigns.

Transactional e-mails can be a powerful tool for marketers. By taking advantage of the high open rates of transactional e-mails and establishing brand loyalty at a time when customers are most likely thinking about a company, top online retailers can strengthen customer relationships and drive revenue growth to new levels.

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