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More Evidence Transactional Emails Should Include Pitches

By Ken Magill
If you’re not marketing in your transactional emails, you should be.
New evidence that transactional emails should include sales pitches comes from digital marketing service provider Silverpop’s 2014 Email Marketing Benchmark Report.
Transactional messages are those sent as a result of some action or inaction by the recipient. They include shipping and purchase confirmations.
The mean unique open rate for transactional emails sent from close to 3,000 brands in the study was 37.7 percent compared to 20 percent for non-transactional messages, according to Silverpop.
The median unique open rate for transactional emails in the study was 38.5 percent compared to 17 percent for non-transactional messages, according to Silverpop.
The open rate—the percentage of machines that call for graphics from the sender—is a highly flawed metric in that it doesn’t accurately portray the percentage of emails that were opened.
However, it can serve as a barometer of how engaged an audience is with a sender’s messages. Silverpop’s study indicates people are far more engaged with transactional messages than non-transactional messages.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, transactional emails can lawfully include commercial content as long as the overall message is primarily transactional.
A direct marketing tenet has it that people are most responsive right after making a purchase. It is why mail order purchases include catalogs when the boxes are shipped and why donating to charity results seemingly immediately in a pitch for more money.
As a result, marketing in transactional emails would seem to be a no-brainer extension of one of the oldest tactics in direct marketing.
However, transactional messages that include sales pitches are still fairly rare, according to Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations at Silverpop.
“They’re catching a little bit of traction, but they’re nowhere near where they should be,” he said. 
One of the main reasons marketing in transactional messages is so rare is most retailers’ back-end systems simply are not set up for it, he said.
“A lot of them are home grown from a technology perspective,” McDonald said. “A high percentage of retailers are still using some home-grown IT system for their transactional order confirmations that some kid developed 12 years ago. The fundamental problem with that is a lot of those systems can’t handle HTML. They can’t handle cross sells and up sells. They can’t integrate with their recommendation engines.
“It’s a massive stumbling block,” he said.
He added that a lot of marketers are confused about the rules concering sales content in transactional emails so they avoid the issue.
However, McDonald added, making the effort to sell in transactional emails pays off.
“It’s not off the charts, but the ROI is there because people are so engaged with those emails.”
Get access to Silverpop’s whole study here.

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Terms: Feel free to be as big a jerk as you want, but don't attack anyone other than me personally. And don't criticize people or companies other than me anonymously. Got something crappy to say? Say it under your real name. Anonymous potshots and personal attacks aimed at me, however, are fine.

Posted by: Anne P. Mitchell
Date: 2014-06-11 14:14:05
Subject: Worst advice ever

The reason that transactional messages have such a great delivery rate (which of course correlates to open rate) is because they are exactly that - transactional messages - the only *truly* 1:1 messages these days. They are unique, and can be identified as unique by spam filters and ISPs. The moment you start adding marketing messages to otherwise 1:1 email, you start tipping that balance - the email looks more like bulk mail. Any potential gain by adding marketing messages to transactional email will be offset by the *decrease* in deliverability with which this previously highly delivered type of email will be impacted. The last thing that businesses need is to have their mission-critical transactional email message start being tagged as spam, but that is exactly what will happen. And this is without even going into the legal issues that having otherwise 1:1 messages become "more bulk than transactional" will engender. This is a spectacularly *bad* idea. Anne Anne P. Mitchell, Esq. CEO/President: ISIPP SuretyMail Email Accreditation Author: Section 6 of the Federal CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 Member, California Bar Cyberspace Law Committee Ret. Professor of Law, Lincoln Law School of San Jose How do you get to the inbox instead of the junk folder? SuretyMail! Helping businesses keep their email out of the junk folder since 1998
Posted by: Ken Magill
Date: 2014-06-11 11:58:42
Subject: Transactional email/spam

Hey Catherine and Andrew: Thanks for the comments. I honestly don't see an offer occupying the bottom fifth of a shipping notice as a hard sell. And from what I understand, selling in transactional emails simply works. And as for Canada, a poorly written sentence in that law has resulted in all transactional email being defined as commercial, not just those containing pitches. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Posted by: Andrew Barrett
Date: 2014-06-11 02:48:20
Subject: Not so much in Canada

In addition to the excellent points Catherine raises, senders need to be very careful about mixing pitches in with their transactional messages if they are sending into Canada. Unlike CAN SPAM, CASL classifies any message containing a pitch, even if it is "diluted" with transactional content, as a commercial electronic message. If you insist on mixing a pitch in your transactional mail, be sure you've accurately segmented out your recipients in Canada to avoid abridging CASL requirements.
Posted by: Catherine Jefferson
Date: 2014-06-10 18:11:54
Subject: Great idea, if you want transactional email marked as spam

If you mix transactional email with marketing email, you're just asking to have people to start treating it as marketing email. Some people don't mind marketing email. Others do, and mostly unsubscribe. So far, so good -- you can advertise products to people who want to read the ads or don't mind them, and not annoy the rest of us. A much larger group of people minds pushy marketing email than minds ordinary marketing email, though. Hard sells do not go over well with many people. Transactional email that must be read, and that contains marketing content that must be read through to be sure that nothing important was missed, is pushy. IMHO it's simply bad manners. I suspect that an absolute majority of people might agree with me about this.