Using Transactional Messages to Grow Your Opt-In E-Mail List

Smart companies continue to look for ways to get more from their transactional e-mail messages. Back in June, I provided tips based on work I’ve done for clients. Here are some more tips and ideas, based on a project Avis Budget Group undertook with its e-mail service provider (ESP), e-Dialog.

Avis Budget Group had a legacy in-house e-mail system it used to send its transactional e-mail messages, including reservation confirmations. As with so many of these systems, there was no open or click-through tracking; Avis Budget Group was luckier than some, as the system had just been upgraded to handle HTML (many of these legacy systems can only send text messages).

When a customer called to make a car rental reservation, the rental agent would input the information, including e-mail, into the in-house system. An e-mail confirmation of the rental information was automatically sent from this system (not from e-Dialog). Although this covered the most basic need — getting a confirmation to the customer — it was lacking in a few other areas:

  • Without open and click-through tracking, it was impossible to know how readers were using (or not using) the confirmations.

  • Since the system was developed for one-time use, there was no way to capture permission or even to store these e-mail addresses. The e-mail address would be put in a “remarks” field and pulled for the one-time send. Then it was gone.

Dawn Perry, director of CRM (define) for Avis Budget Group, had some specific goals when she looked at overhauling the existing process:

  • Get open and click-through tracking on these e-mails to measure customer engagement

  • Find a way to store the e-mail addresses rather than having them vanish
  • Build in a permission vehicle to get opt-in permission to send promotional messages

Tracking E-Mail

The means to achieve the first goal were at hand. By moving the e-mail confirmation process to e-Dialog, Avis Budget Group could get the open and click-through reporting it was looking for. This requires communication between the legacy in-house system and e-Dialog. Though these types of changes always seem daunting, if you have an ESP that’s willing to work with you and an in-house technical staff that’s on board with the change, they’ll make it happen. It’s just programming.

Avis has seen an excellent 87.1 percent open rate and 61.6 percent CTR (define) on these messages. Budget’s messages are running opens of 73.5 percent with an even higher CTR of 68.1 percent. In both cases, click-throughs are trending upwards.

These figures are much higher than DoubleClick’s last reported industry average of 26 percent for opens and 7 percent for clicks. This showcases the power of transactional messages: They get people’s attention and engage them better because they are 100 percent relevant, anticipated and personal. You have their undivided attention, and if you can make your marketing relevant, benefit-oriented, and not annoying, there’s a huge potential to get readers to respond to a call to action.

Storing E-Mail Addresses

Moving the send to e-Dialog also helped Perry accomplish her second goal, which was to store the e-mail addresses. Although they still don’t have opt-in permission to send promotional messages, there may be a transactional use for them down the road.

Getting Opt-In Permission

Getting permission was a little more difficult. Initially, it seemed to make sense to build this into the telephone call and get it when the customer provides her e-mail address. But this adds an extra step (and more time) to the rental process. It also adds a level of ambiguity to the opt-in, since it’s a verbal opt-in being reported by a third party (the rental agent). Much better to get the opt-in online (where the time, date, and so forth can be recorded), directly from the customer.

Avis Budget Group built an opt-in banner into the body of the transactional message. Avis’ conversion rate is running 1.9 percent, but this may actually be higher since some customers may have received more than one confirmation e-mail over the period studied.

I was intrigued by the opt-in banner’s placement. In the Avis confirmation e-mail, it appears before the reservation information, while in the Budget e-mail it appears after. Perry didn’t provide any detail on which location pulled a higher opt-in rate, but she did confirm that they are looking at ways to increase the conversion rate (Aren’t we all?).

If you’ve read my earlier columns on transactional messages, you know about the negotiations that usually take place between marketing and legal. Legal wants to be sure the primary purpose of the message remains transactional; in my experience, this means the transactional information comes first and the non-transactional information comes later.

But where does an opt-in fall? It’s not as obviously promotional as information-marketing a product or service. But it’s not purely transactional, since it’s not 100 percent related to the purchase at hand.

Bottom line: There’s still some gray area about including promotional or quasipromotional content in transactional e-mail messages. It’s all in how your legal team views the marketing content you want to add and how it interprets the CAN-SPAM regulations. Talk to your legal team; don’t just assume the marketing information has to follow the transactional content.

If you’re not leveraging your transactional messages for other purposes, it’s time to start! Give it a try and let me know how it goes.



Meet Jeanne at E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.

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

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