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Transactional Email Message Best Practices

Do you send transactional email marketing messages? Transactional messages include order confirmations, shipping confirmations, demographic updates, registrations etc.

Here are some transactional message best practices:
  1. Since the main communications objective of transactional emails is to give the user their order/shipping information; the message should be presented clearly and above-the-fold with minimal visual clutter.
  2. A good ratio of transactional data vs. promotional offers within a transactional template is 70/30 with the promotional content further towards the bottom
  3. Consider making the total width of your transactional template 580 pixels for easy printing in case the user wants a physical record of their purchase. Most transactional templates have regular email widths of 650-700 pixels, but it's something to consider.
  4. When providing the user with recommended products based on their purchase, product content should be placed within a right hand column. This column should take up 35% of the total email width, with the other 65% reserved for the main order content.
  5. The overall design of the template should be minimal since it's only meant to present one message.
  6. Include a link to opt-in to receive email! A transactional message doesn't necessarily mean the user is also a subscriber of the main email program.
Here is a great example of a well done order confirmation from 1-800-flowers.

Creative Standout: Men's Wearhouse

Recently I found this email from Men's Wearhouse in my in-box.  I really like the way the creative compartmentalizes and categorizes the various parts of this email. This helps with the fact that this creative is really, really long.  This reads more like an online newspaper than a email for men's wear. 

The various topics in this creative are:
  • Editor's Spring Picks
  • Coupon
  • Sizzling Savings
  • Products
  • Style Tips
  • Survey
  • Etc.

"Mad Libs" Registration Forms Help Fill In the Blanks

Many of us remember Mad Libs. But how many of us knew that Mad Libs style registration processes can increase form completions?

For those not familiar, Mad Libs are books that have a short story on each page, but with many of the key words replaced with blanks. Beneath each blank is a category, such as noun, verb, place or name. One player asks the other players, in turn, to contribute a random word as specified by each blank, but without revealing the context for that word. Finally, the completed story is read aloud. The result is usually silly and somewhat nonsensical but altogether fun.

A recent article by Luke Wroblewski of Yahoo! Inc. shows how using Mad Libs pays off when designing registration forms. Looking at one registration form before and after switching to a Mad Libs format,  the results show that switching to a Mad Libs style form increased form completions by 25-40%. Wroblewski points out that two versions of this form are being used at and Kelley Blue Book.

Who knew that forms could be so much fun?

Printing Email Coupons Finally Gets Easy

It has been the bane of countless email marketers as to how to incorporate coupons, coupon codes, bar codes, and other traditionally offline discounts into email.  We want these offers and discounts to be easy to redeem and print, but how can it be done?

A few key questions come to mind:
  • Does the recipient need to be redirected to a separate, print-friendly landing page, or does the email link to a printable PDF?
  • Do they need to print out the entire email directly from their browser or from a screen capture? (This can lead to problems if the email prints on multiple pages or if the coupon gets cutoff.) 
  • Does the recipient need to write down a code and bring it to a store?
Starbucks recently deployed an email with a great solution to this age-old conundrum – they have print functionality within the email itself. When Print This Email is selected, the recipient's default printer displays. Printing is as easy as a simple click.  This solution not only makes printing email coupons easy, but also utilizes the subscriber's default printer settings which ensures a clean, readable print.

A Welcome Series Is A Good Thing

For some reason I can't get the country song, Rain Is A Good Thing, by Luke Bryan, out of my head.  Because of this I am naming this post in the honor of this really catchy, but sometimes annoying, tune.

As most email marketers know sending a welcome email to welcome new subscribers to your list is a fabulous idea.  (Click here to view 45 welcomes from top retailers)

A Welcome Series is an even better idea. A Welcome Series is sending more than one welcome to new subscribers in a certain order that allows you to introduce your brand to them.  This series can be done before this new subscriber is added to the full circulation list, or it can compliment the full circulation emails they will receive. 

Here is a short, three email, Welcome Series from XBOX Live.

The first email welcomes the subscriber.  They are alerted that over the next 30 days he/she will be receiving more emails.  The second welcome asks the subscriber to invi his/her friends to Xbox. The third welcome introduces the subscriber to the various games and other items that they can purchase from Xbox.

The Outdoor retailer REI runs a 12 part Welcome Series.  This includes a welcome, preference update, credit card signup, outlet, benefits plus more.

Here is a list of the 12 emails in order
Member Mail #1: Welcome
Member Mail #2: Email Preferences (Current Subscriber)
Member Mail #2: Email Preferences (New Subscriber)
Member Mail #3: The Co-op
Member Mail #4: The Dividend
Member Mail #5: Visa
Member Mail #6: Stewardship
Member Mail #7: More Benefits
Member Mail #8: Educational Opportunities
Member Mail #9: Online Adventures
Member Mail #10: See the World
Member Mail #11: REI-Outlet

Here are the Welcome Emails from REI in order.

Member Mail #1: Welcome

Member Mail #2: Email Preferences (Current Subscriber)

Member Mail #2: Email Preferences (New Subscriber)

Member Mail #3: The Co-op

Member Mail #4: The Dividend

Member Mail #5: Visa

Member Mail #6: Stewardship

Member Mail #7: More Benefits

Member Mail #8: Educational Opportunities

Member Mail #9: Online Adventures

Member Mail #10: See the World
Member Mail #11: REI-Outlet

Animated GIF Done Well

Here is a great example from Bumble and Bumble on using an animated GIF.  Nice job with the images and the Spring message!

Here is the entire email creative.
The Subject Line is: April frizz? Fret not (+ free shipping on ANY order starts now)

You Want To Know What? Are Email Demographic Forms Too Intrusive?

Email Marketers are hungry, sometimes starving, for subscriber’s personal information.  How much is too much on a demographic form? And how/when do you ask subscribers for more information in a way that they will actually respond positively?

I recently saw a great example from Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill of how to request a boatload of subscriber information in a seemingly unobtrusive and gentle fashion.  The keys are to make your subscribers feel needed, appreciated, and welcomed when they read your emails and when they divulge their personal secrets.  Also, in the case of Rubio's, they did not even have to give me a coupon or discount!  But, offering a discount can be helpful.

Rubio's sent me an email asking me to join an exclusive panel where I can give my opinion and advise the restaurant on what they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and what they need to be doing.  This in itself is a great idea and goes well beyond the typical subscriber survey.

Once I clicked through the email I was sent to a page where I updated my demographics, answers a bunch of questions, and join the panel.  The questions went well beyond the typical date of birth, gender, and location.  They also asked my marital status, eating habits, education level, how many kids I have, how large my bank account is, plus much more.  Makes the US census look like it is not intrusive at all!

The end result for me is that I did not feel like I was being hounded for the information and who knows, it might be kind of fun to see where this advisory panel idea goes.  Rubio's is doing something different in email marketing.

Here is the email creative.
The subject line is: An Exclusive Invitation for You

Here is the extensive demographic form:

An Email Marketer's Perspective On Promoting Twitter

So you or your organization has a Twitter account. Great!  But now what?  You might have a question or two that needs answering before you can really create synergy between your email program and Twitter.
  • How do you entice your customers, potential customers, and other interested individuals to follow you?  
  • Are you or your organization struggling on how to promote your Twitter presence? 
  • A great way to promote yourself is using email. But what should the email look like? 
  • What should the email subject line be? 
  • Should you include an offer? If so, how will the offer work?  
  • Why would someone want to follow you on Twitter?   
These are all valid questions and concerns worth considering before diving into Twitter promotion. Recently I came across this email from Dick's Sporting Goods promoting their presence on Twitter. They approach the subject line, email creative and offer aspects very clearly and carefully. Looking at the email more closely, one can see many best practices of Twitter promotion in action.

The subject line, "Exclusive 20% Offer – Follow Us on Twitter Now!" is direct, short, and to the point – it conveys the most important aspects of the email very concisely and also provides a call to action. Equally important, the email contains simple bullets explaining the value of following Dick’s on Twitter. Just as marketers should explain the value of signing up to receive emails on the registration page, marketers should use the introductory email to explain the benefits of following a Twitter account. This provides incentive to the recipient and also helps earn their trust. Lastly, the email provides an exclusive offer contingent upon sign-up, along with a clear call-to-action.

By making use of these best practices, Dick’s is doing a great job of promoting their Twitter account over email. I’d encourage all email marketers to take a closer look at examples like these and begin marketing their Twitter accounts more effectively.

Here is the email Subject Line:
Exclusive 20% Offer – Follow Us on Twitter Now!

Buried in Spam? – You Are Not Alone

Recently I read a report on the prevalence of spam (i.e. unsolicited or non-opted in email) and recent spam trends.

Here are a few one liners from the article:
  • 9 out of 10 e-mail messages are still unsolicited.
  • In June 2009, the average e-mail account received more than 100 spam messages per day.
  • A recent 3,000-person e-mail survey found nearly half of people continue to click on these messages, even if they know spam is a problem.
  • There’s some evidence that social networks, like Twitter and Facebook, are "easy targets" for spammers.
 What can you do?  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a Web page with tips for how people can reduce and avoid spam.  However, the agency acknowledges that "you will probably not be able to eliminate it."

Here are some tips:
  • Don't give your email address out arbitrarily.
  • Check privacy policies before submitting your email address online.
  • Be aware of options selected by default.
  • Use filters - Many email programs offer filtering capabilities that allow you to block certain addresses or to only allow email from addresses on your contact list.
  • Report messages as spam - Most email clients offer an option to report a message as spam or junk. If your has that option, take advantage of it. Reporting messages as spam or junk helps to train the mail filter so that the messages aren't delivered to your inbox.
  • Don't follow links in spam messages - Some spam relies on generators that try variations of email addresses at certain domains. If you click a link within an email message or reply to a certain address, you are just confirming that your email address is valid.
  • Disable the automatic downloading of graphics in HTML mail - Many spammers send HTML mail with a linked graphic file that is then used to track who opens the mail message—when your mail client downloads the graphic from their web server, they know you've opened the message. Disabling HTML mail entirely and viewing messages in plain text also prevents this problem.
  • Consider opening an additional email account (like Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail etc.)- Many domains offer free email accounts. If you frequently submit your email address (for online shopping, signing up for services, or including it on something like a comment card), you may want to have a secondary email account to protect your primary email account from any spam that could be generated. You could also use this secondary account when posting to public mailing lists, social networking sites, blogs, and web forums. If the account start to fill up with spam, you can get rid of it and open a different one.
  • Use privacy settings on social networking sites.
  • Don't spam other people - Be a responsible and considerate user.  Don’t forward spam.
How much spam do you see on a daily basis?