Transactional e-mail can keep them coming back for more

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Barry Abel
Barry Abel

Your e-mail marketing and customer relationship campaigns are spot-on. Your Web site is a shopper's dream. You've done everything right to garner customer loyalty and repeat sales, right?

Maybe not. There's an often overlooked element of customer communication that has the potential to bring your customers back for more again and again: The transactional e-mail message — that boring, text-based necessity that follows each online sale, such as an order confirmation, a shipping notice, a change in order status or anything else that requires your company to communicate or inform your customers.

Leveraging transactional e-mail for marketing messages is beginning to gain ground with online merchants for good reason. These are requested or expected messages, which are sent one at a time. Unlike bulk marketing campaigns that can trigger spam filters, transactional e-mail goes on through like any other single message. This high deliverability rate makes it an attractive — and largely untapped  — vehicle for marketers.

What's more, statistics show that transactional e-mail is opened more than twice as much as promotional e-mail. A 2007 survey showed that 54% of customers “very often or always read” transactional e-mail, whereas only 21% do the same with promotional messages.

Consider adding a marketing message that will motivate your customer to return to your Web site within a defined timeframe. You might offer an incentive to take a customer feedback survey, a discount on purchases made before a certain date, a coupon, free shipping on the next order or a gift for referrals — it could be anything that will strengthen your relationship with each customer. Some software applications even allow you to insert dynamic HTML messages that integrate relevant cross- and up-sell offers based on prior purchases and customer preferences into your transactional e-mail.

It is also permissible — and advisable — to switch your transactional e-mail from a text format to HTML. By branding your e-mail with your logo and mirroring the look and feel of your Web site, you are not only making your transactional e-mails more attractive, inviting and readable, you are reinforcing your brand and effectively closing the loop on your customer's entire buying experience. There's no law that says transactional e-mail have to look like they came out of a dot-matrix printer.

If you do decide to put promotional messages into transactional e-mails, consider this: While transactional messages are not regulated under CAN-SPAM rules, putting a marketing message into them can change their status and subject them to this regulation if it is not done correctly. To avoid that, make sure the subject line reflects the transactional purpose of the e-mail message and that the majority of the content is transactional and that it appears first. Many companies find it advisable to get their attorney's blessing with the new content before moving forward.

Taking advantage of the inherent benefits of transactional e-mail — high deliverability and click-through rates — just makes marketing sense. If you take care to keep the intent of the message true to its original purpose, transactional e-mail can be an effective marketing tool that keeps your customers coming back for more.

Barry Abel is vice president of field operations for Message Systems.

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