Making Transactional E-Mail Better Marketing Tools, Part 2


Last time, we covered some of the ins and outs of placing marketing copy in an email while maintaining the primary purpose of the message as transactional under CAN-SPAM regulations. Today, we’ll discuss some other things you must have in place to optimize a transactional message’s marketing potential.

Transactional messages are somewhat overlooked. I’ve had clients who work with the top email service providers (ESPs) for their marketing email that almost completely ignored their transactional messages. Communications such as email to stock holders, payment reminders, and shipping notifications are sent in plain text format with little attention to copy and no tracking or reporting.

Here are five tips for making your transactional messages better marketing tools. All are best practices when it comes to marketing email, but I’ve seen each of these (and sometimes all of them) overlooked when it comes to transactional messages:

  • Make the transactional part of the message helpful yet concise. I don’t want to downplay the importance of the transactional copy; it’s the purpose of the email and must fulfill its mission for the message to serve the reader. But it should also be easy to read or (as is more likely with email,) to skim.

    Long, dense paragraphs don’t make good email copy. Bullet points can be a good, concise way to convey information. Though you want the tone to be friendly, try to weed out unnecessary words. The more quickly readers can get the transactional message, the more time they’ll have left to see the marketing part of the email. If you make them struggle through the transactional part, you may lose them before they get to the marketing piece.

  • Make marketing copy benefit-oriented. Don’t just say, “Buy our product; click here.” Not only do you want the copy to be benefit-oriented, you want to be sure there’s no disconnect with the landing page they’ll go to if they click.

    One of the easiest ways to get concise, benefit-oriented marketing copy is to steal it. Look at your banner ads, search copy, and any other short marketing copy you use. See what’s working, and steal it for your transactional email. It is a known entity, is already approved by legal, and should line up pretty well with your landing page. Don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to. There may even be some synergy from repurposing copy, since people need to see something three to five times before it sinks in.

  • Ensure the landing page fulfills the marketing copy’s promise. Is it easier to just send everyone who clicks on your marketing message to your home page? Sure. Is it effective? Not always.

    You’ve made your case. Readers are interested enough to click through. Don’t make them search for what you promised. Make sure it’s front and center on the page they land on, preferably restated in terms very similar to what was said in the email. Does it make it harder to keep your URLs up to date if you Web site changes frequently? Yes. But it makes transactional message marketing efforts more effective.

  • Format the email in HTML and send multipart MIME (define). Many companies move their marketing email to an ESP but leave their transactional messages in-house, often on older systems that don’t support HTML, let alone multipart MIME. Multipart MIME allows you to send both a text and HTML version of a message to each recipient; the richest format a reader’s email client can view is displayed.

    HTML is a better way to present information. It allows you to use columns and other features to present two pieces of information side by side, rather than a straight vertical presentation. Although you don’t want to go overboard with HTML, a little bit — a bolded term here, a light yellow background there, a table — can go a long way to aid readability. This goes for the marketing copy as well as the transactional copy in your email.

  • Track opens, clicks, and conversions. Many systems that don’t handle HTML also don’t provide any tracking and reporting on email: no opens (obviously, since they’re sending text-only email) and no clicks. You need these to test and to determine your efforts’ effectiveness. You must go beyond just opens and clicks to conversions. How many people purchased as a result of the marketing message in your transactional email? If you don’t know, you don’t know if your work is paying off.

    Need more incentive to track and report? As I said last time, transactional messages have been shown to pull open rates greater than 70 percent, and click-throughs that surpass 50 percent. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to get the bragging rights that come with metrics like those.

If you’ve hired an ESP to handle your email marketing, look into having it handle your transactional messages as well. It’s a quick way to get the HTML, multipart MIME, tracking, and reporting functionality you need. Also, most ESPs have a sliding rate; the more email you send, the lower your CPM (define).

Say you currently send 3 million email marketing messages per month at a CPM of $3.50, for a total of $10,500. You have a tiered pricing structure, so your CPM falls to $2.80 once the monthly quantity hits 5 million messages. If you send 2 million transactional messages each month and move them to the ESP with your marketing messages, you’d pay $14,000 for 5 million messages.

You’d increase your quantity sent by nearly 70 percent but only increase your total CPM costs by a little over 30 percent. You may incur a few more flat-rate costs, such as set-up fees, but those shouldn’t tip the scales much. And you’d have the HTML, multipart MIME, tracking, and reporting for transactional message, as well as consolidate all email initiatives under one roof.

Try this at your organization. See if you can get more marketing bang out of your transactional messages — and let me know how it goes.


Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.


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