April 2008 - Channel Crossing: E-mail Marketing

Missed Opportunities in Transactional E-mail

By Tricia Robinson-Pridemore

Every day, millions of e-mails are sent from your company and others. These aren’t the typical newsletters, sale announcements or marketing programs. Instead, this e-mail is transactional in nature. These transactional messages confirm purchases, reset passwords and provide shipping notifications and more. A 2007 survey of 1,000 e-mail marketers performed by MarketingSherpa exposed that 50 percent of transactional e-mail is plain text only. Without the use of HTML, branding is not possible.

For retailers, these transactional e-mails are typically derived after a shopper visits their site-the beautifully branded, logo-ed online storefront that they spent countless man-hours to perfect. Continuing the look and feel of the site by upgrading the design of transactional e-mail should be a top priority. Consequently, you shouldn’t waste any time migrating transactional messages from plain text to HTML-or be even bolder with the inclusion of DHTML.

The same 2007 survey reported that 90 percent of marketers plan to update their transactional e-mail over the next year in an effort to increase revenue and improve brand awareness. These updates begin with locating the internal sources of this transactional messaging. What system generates the purchase confirmations? Who manages that system? How do you get access to the e-mail template that the system generates? Once the sources of transactional e-mail are found, the next step is branding integration

Redesigning your transactional e-mail starts with a design evaluation of your website and e-mail marketing program templates in tandem. Transactional e-mail should closely mirror the look of your website, with the same key recognizable elements of your e-mail programs. Keep in mind that the e-mail channel is one of repetition. E-mail templates should follow a story of consistency, while maintaining uniqueness for each program. When working with clients to redesign transactional e-mail, it’s important to test the new creative. Test header elements and a new subject line if used. Although branding in the transactional e-mail is the goal, the mission of the message is to communicate the transaction, so be sure all transactional elements are easy to find and featured prominently in the message.

Both the United States and the European Union cover transactional e-mail in their respective permission e-mail laws. Visit www.spamlaws.com to get the basics, and be sure that all upgraded HTML e-mail templates go through a legal review before implemented publicly. While most of the rules and regulations surrounding transactional e-mail creative relate to the inclusion of upsell or cross-sell marketing, simple design does play a role. Knowing and following the ground rules will allow you to introduce new transactional e-mail templates that are branded and lawful.

Updating your plain text transactional e-mails is another step to improving your overall e-mail marketing strategies.

Tricia Robinson-Pridemore is vice president of market and product strategy at StrongMail Systems in Redwood City, Calif. She can be reached at (650) 421-4200.

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