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5 Ways to Cash In With Transactional Emails

By Stacey Norwood

Email marketing is an especially dynamic delivery system, giving wings to your other content channels, including your website and social media, and driving conversions at an enviable rate. Leading experts estimate that for every $1 spent, email marketing generates $38 in ROI. Transactional emails, which are sent in response to a behavior, are a potent iteration of email marketing campaigns, yet they are often overlooked as a chance to connect with customers in a meaningful way. 

Traditional newsletters and emails containing special promotions, offers, or seasonal messages are obvious content marketing opportunities, but behavior-triggered emails tend to have higher open rates. The 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study from IBM shares these provocative metrics:

  • Transactional emails deliver 2x the open rates of non-transactional emails.
  • Transactional emails generated mean and median unique open rates of 47.1 percent and 48 percent, respectively, and 73.5 percent in the top quartile.
  • Even the weakest transactional emails are opened at nearly the same rate as the mean non-transactional email.

The IBM study's findings measured email marketing performance in multiple industries, including Retail, Commercial, Non-profit, Government, and Publishing sectors. Interestingly, the overall results show that Retail & E-commerce and Media & Publishing verticals have some of the lowest mean and median unique open rates, a finding the study attributes to frequency. Retail & E-commerce businesses are more likely to send promotional emails once a day or more, which can train even the most loyal customers to begin ignoring them.

Transactional emails, however, such as a purchase receipt triggered by online purchases or at the cash register, are a different animal—one that customers don't easily ignore. The instinct is to open the email either to check the charge accuracy, or to note and file it for future use, such as an expense report. And that's a content marketing goldmine just waiting to be plundered.

Here are 5 ways any B2C or B2B business can use transactional emails to take advantage of this high-performing point of contact:

1. Upsell Existing Products
Upselling is by definition "a sales technique whereby a seller induces the customer to purchase more expensive items, upgrades or other add-ons in an attempt to make a more profitable sale." Whether you are selling furniture or IT services or spa treatments, a transactional email such as a sales receipt offers fantastic real estate to make customers aware of next-level purchase opportunities. 

2. Cross-sell Similar Lines
Similar to upselling, cross-selling is marketing different services or products to customers targeted through demographic or purchase history. If you offer a subscription-based or recurring service and new clients or subscribers automatically receive a "thank-you for your business" or an on-boarding email, that presents a natural opportunity to make them aware of other services, products, or special offers they may want to take advantage of.

3. Test-Market New Products/Services
If you own a restaurant supply company that furnishes equipment and you're pondering adding food supplies, transactional emails can help provide rich data on how or when or even whether to do so. When sending an invoice, for instance, consider including a link to an online needs survey. You might also consider encouraging a wider response with a small percentage off the invoice amount or other incentive. 

4. Push Traffic to Other Brand Channels
Transactional emails are great drivers for adding value to your other content channels. A simple "like us on Facebook," "subscribe to our newsletter," or a link to a special-offers section of your website alone can yield huge results. Craft the messaging to dovetail with upcoming or current campaigns and you will doubtless receive more than a few takers.

5. Promote Future Marketing Events
Transactional emails, especially sales receipts, are perfect for informing customers of upcoming sales, in-store events or seasonal promotions. They're also fertile for bolstering sales through customer reward programs, one-time offers or other enticements that help increase revenues and establish brand loyalty. 

Trying to nail down the nature and value of content marketing is a little bit like trying to define "love"—it's all context and nuance. Attaching an ROV (return on value) can be even more challenging, because content marketing, per se, crosses so many streams, from website to social media to newsletters to live events to text messages. Alone, harnessing any of these channels may return varying levels of overall investment. But custom-packaged to fit your audience—be it a B2C or a B2B marketing effort—the combination can provide a highly charged vehicle for content, delivering your brand message to customers in a powerful way.