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Tips for transactional e-mails

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Transactional e-mails have long been seen as a lost opportunity for marketers. In the past, when sales confirmations and customer service responses were automated messages triggered by a Web server or database, there was little time or ability to personalize. That's changing, however, and marketers that previously struggled with this type of program may want to revisit their strategy.

“As long as you stick to the rules of good marketing, making offers relevant to the transaction at hand, you can truly provide benefit to the customer as well as your own company,” said Derek Harding, CEO of Omnicom Group's interactive arm, Innovyx Inc. Transactional messages can help you reach out to new or current customers to help build brand awareness and even create new sales. There are a few things to keep in mind, however.

Most important in the U.S., transactional messages must be CAN-SPAM-compliant. The subject line must relate directly to the action the recipient has taken, such as completing a sale or renewing a site license, for example. Promotional materials should be at the bottom of the message and should not obscure the original point of the e-mail, Harding said. “The e-mail still needs to be clearly transactional,” he said. “If you allow the marketing portion to overwhelm the transaction, you will not only confuse and irritate the recipients, but you might also run afoul of CAN-SPAM.”

Offers and marketing messages should make use of whatever information you have about your recipient; you don't want to try to sell someone a product they already have, for instance, and you don't want to offer them something that you legally can't sell them, Harding said. “You never want to be sending a message to someone in Quebec that has a disclaimer that says your product is not available in Quebec,” he said. “This example comes directly from an e-mail I recently received.” You should also be very careful when responding to customer e-mails. If someone sends you a complaint about a specific topic, you don't want to try and sell them the latest version, Harding said.

The marketing content you do include should definitely take a soft-sell approach, he said. “It's got to be both subtle and complex. An automated response to a customer inquiry could be, ‘We received your inquiry. Here are some links of resources you may be able to use,'” Harding said. The links can include product FAQs, data sheets and even blog posts or links to your YouTube channel so the recipient can learn more about the product or service in question. This will help build brand equity while solving that customer's problem. The one exception, however, is a product registration e-mail, which can—and should—be used to upsell and cross-sell related products.

“If someone has just made a purchase, you absolutely must try and keep that dialog going,” Harding said. “As long as you position it as trying to help them do their job better, your message is going to be welcome.”

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