E-mail marketing secrets & lies: transactional marketing

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A 2007 study from StrongMail and MarketingSherpa found that 60% of marketers surveyed didn’t include promotional offers in transactional e-mails such as customer service messages, registration confirmations and order confirmations. However, 90% of those surveyed said they were making plans for 2008 to improve those transactional e-mails. Tricia Robinson-Pridemore, StrongMail’s VP-market and product strategy, expands on the results of the survey and points out one little-known “secret” and one widely believed “lie” about transactional marketing.

Secret: Transactional e-mails affect your overall deliverability rates.
ISPs categorize all of a company’s e-mails the same way if they originate from the same IP address—regardless of whether the marketing department is sending them or they’re coming from an automated, triggered mailbox, Robinson-Pridemore said. If one e-mail list has a lot of bad addresses, it affects everyone sending e-mail from that IP address. Marketers don’t realize this and aren’t keeping track of their company’s overall reputation, she said.

“About 65% of marketers have no visibility into key delivery metrics for transactional e-mails,” she said.

Another issue is that most transactional messages are written by either an IT person or an automated template. Robinson-Pridemore’s advice: Marketers need to control the reputation of all e-mails coming off their e-mail server. This means taking responsibility for the creation of transactional messages, and asking for deliverability metrics for any messages that are sending over a shared server.

Lie: You can’t use transactional messages for marketing purposes.
Marketers assume that transactional e-mails with promotional messages aren't CAN-SPAM compliant. But if you read the FTC’s Facts for Business (, you’ll quickly see that transactional or relationship messages are exempt from CAN-SPAM to some extent, Robinson-Pridemore said. “The main purpose of a transactional message must be about the transaction,” she said.

Because most transactional messages are generated by a template, Robinson-Pridemore suggested having your legal team approve that template, and when sending out cross- and up-sell offers, stick to some simple best practices. Offers should relate directly to a transaction; if you’re selling a software program, don’t cross-sell a hand truck, for example. This may be legal in the U.S. but may alienate customers. (This type of non-specific cross-sell is illegal in the European Union.)

“Your transactional e-mails can definitely give customers the idea that they are getting in on an inside deal, which can be very beneficial,” she said.

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