Unlocking the full potential of transactional emails
Columnist Len Shneyder advises marketers how to get the most out of their transactional emails without stepping over the line.
To a recipient, email is email. However, to a marketer, email is an umbilical cord that not only binds brands to consumers but also unifies and harmonizes everything from discovery to awareness and sales to fulfillment, all the while fusing the many pathways of the omnichannel labyrinth.
With that said, one of the most ignored yet widely used flavors of email is transactional. It not only deserves a pat on the back for being the workhorse of the channel but also merits a closer look so that we may truly understand its intricacies and unlock its full potential.
Keep them separate
Marketing email and transactional email should always be sent from two different IPs. The reason for this has to do with how recipients react and respond to these different flavors of communication and how the law treats them.
Under CAN-SPAM, transactional messages are not subject to the same requirements as commercial. Senders are not required to have a physical mailing address in the body of a transactional message. Additionally, transactional messages don’t require an unsubscribe link so long as they are generated in response to a recipient-initiated action and close the loop on said action, whether it’s a request, a purchase or something else.
To be frank, you don’t want to put unsubscribe links in transactional messages. If recipients could unsubscribe from password resets or shipping confirmations, senders might see an uptick in inbound support requests via phone, chat or other channels.
Research from Experian released in 2010 showed that transactional messages receive open rates eight times greater than non-transactional marketing emails.
Because of the incredible ability of transactional email to reach recipients and deliver real, expected value, it’s important to separate them from marketing emails at the level of the IP address so that the reputation of a commercial IP doesn’t degrade the reputation of its transactional counterpart.
When senders choose to use the same IP to deliver both transactional and commercial marketing email, they run the risk of being blocked for things like bad targeting and segmentation of a holiday promotion. When a mailbox provider blocks or defers these messages to the spam folder, all of the transactional mail will follow suit, thus compounding the problem.
Separating commercial from transactional mail streams at the level of the IP address has an added benefit: unique reporting. With such granular separation down at the architectural level, senders can see with absolute clarity how their decisions affect each mail stream individually, allowing for faster and simpler course corrections if necessary.
Keep it pure
After firewalling transactional mail from commercial, it’s important to take a close look at the content of the mail stream. To understand this, let’s first take a look at what the Federal Trade Commission says about mixing commercial copy into the body of a transactional message:
[blockquote cite=”FTC CAN-SPAM compliance guide for businesses”]It’s common for email sent by businesses to mix commercial content and transactional or relationship content. When an email contains both kinds of content, the primary purpose of the message is the deciding factor. Here’s how to make that determination: If a recipient reasonably interpreting the subject line would likely conclude that the message contains an advertisement or promotion for a commercial product or service or if the message’s transactional or relationship content does not appear mainly at the beginning of the message, the primary purpose of the message is commercial. So, when a message contains both kinds of content — commercial and transactional or relationship — if the subject line would lead the recipient to think it’s a commercial message, it’s a commercial message for CAN-SPAM purposes. Similarly, if the bulk of the transactional or relationship part of the message doesn’t appear at the beginning, it’s a commercial message under the CAN-SPAM Act.[/blockquote]
“Primary purpose” is a fairly ambiguous term, thus email experts have been trying to quantify what this means in terms of the proportion of commercial to transactional content. The tribal rule of thumb is that your emails should be an 80/20 or 70/30 split of transactional to commercial content.
Some senders push these unofficial limits and approach a 50/50 mix or greater. Others try and put large amounts of commercial content in the lower portion of the email, following the transactional information, as a means of packing the message with as much commercial potentiality as possible.
Since there’s no hard and fast rule for how much is too much, the jury is still out. Email marketers will have to experiment to discover what’s right for their brand and recipients. One thing does remain crystal clear: if the primary purpose gets lost, your messages will become commercial in nature.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you use the same links and sites in your commercial and transactional messages, then your transactional messages can get marked as spam because the links and domains in the message body were blocked or flagged as spam in a wholly different mail stream.
Thus, marketers should proceed with caution when considering how much is too much commercial content in their messages.
Stay on brand
It’s important to remember that transactional emails are sent in response to a user-initiated action. Why is this important? If someone did something to generate a transaction, then they will inherently be engaged and interested in receiving an email informing them about the completion of the transaction, or some facet of it.
These emails are more relevant and anticipated, while generating higher open and click rates than other forms of email. Make sure that however you craft your transactional templates, they’re in lockstep with the rest of your brand. You should invest as much time and energy as possible in creating a transactional template that looks, feels and imparts the same brand sentiment as your marketing emails.
There’s no reason to send text-only transactional emails if the rest of your communications are HTML and colorful. Something as simple as a password reset is a chance to touch base with a recipient, increase your overall mailing reputation, use an on-brand tone and deliver a cheery message while ensuring every customer can access your site and application.
A simple creed to follow
If there’s a single piece of advice I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: Not all triggered messages are transactional, but all transactional messages are triggered. That birthday coupon you plan to send on the anniversary of someone signing up is not a transactional message; treat it like the marketing tactic it is!
If the user didn’t take a defined and aware action to generate it, then it’s a triggered message, regardless of how clever its subject line, pre-header and body copy are. Be sure to know the difference between these two categories of messaging to avoid eroding your sending reputation and potentially running afoul of messaging regulations.