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The Importance of Transactional Emails for Small Business

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is Willie Pena – Enjoy!

transactional emailsThe open rate for transactional emails far exceeds that of any other type of email, whether it is newsletters or bulk marketing mail. Once just a sparse, utilitarian messaging that conveyed the bare bones details of a business transaction, transactional emails are now multi-purpose missiles that impact a company’s reputation, revenue, research and audience retention. They do this without being intrusive or unwanted.

The most effective and profitable transactional emails include shipping confirmations, order confirmations and approvals for return of merchandise (or exchange). Mastering the art of the transactional email is possible, if small business professionals follow the tips below from Easy SMTP.

Best Practices When Sending Transactional Emails

While the aim is to use the transactional email to gain customer trust and additional patronage, that mission cannot be too overt or aggressive.

  • Cite the transaction in the subject line of the email. Provide the necessary facts about the transaction in the body of the email in the most prominent and thorough way possible, using text, images and links.
  • Create a professional look by using the company name in the sender field and including a header with the official company logo and colors.
  • Use HTML instead of plain text to create a more exciting and engaging email.
  • Include colorful promotional content beneath the pertinent transactional data or in a sidebar. This can include purchase suggestions, a list of products related to what has been purchased already, coupons, a widget of popular products or sales ads.
  • Provide links to company services, especially support and account services, in additional to product links.
  • Limit marketing to 25 percent of the email.
  • Express appreciation or gratitude for the customer.
  • Customize the email and the promotions, showing awareness of the customer’s buying and browsing patterns.
  • Use software to track the effectiveness of transactional emails and experiment with design and content if emails are not inciting clicks or additional customer action.

What to Avoid When Preparing Transactional Emails

Transactional emails can easily become spam if any of the following are included.

  • Exaggerations about products, services or price cuts in order to gain a sale or prospect.
  • Having generic promotional content that offers one customer the same sales and product recommendation as every other customer.
  • Insufficient transactional data, such as missing prices, lack of product description, no shipping estimate or a missing toll-free number so that customers can ask questions about their transaction.
  • A convoluted layout that is confusing, overwhelming and aesthetically repulsive.
  • Using half the email for marketing.
  • Putting a sales reference like “30 percent off” in the subject line of the email.

Benefits of Using Transactional Emails

  • Builds Customer Trust – Customers feel safe with a company that provides useful information at every step of a business transaction. Transactional emails empower the customer and alleviate questions and concerns. This, in turns, fosters respect, confidence and trust for a company.
  • Increases Customer Engagement – The customized one-on-one approach of transactional emails makes a customer feel special and invites interaction. This interaction might lead to higher survey participation or social media engagement.
  • Additional Sales – When customers see photos and descriptions of their recent purchase alongside ads for similar products or related products that can incite a desire to purchase more goods or remind them of something they meant to buy but didn’t. Customers might also elect to browse the company website again, creating mental wish lists for future purchases.
  • Brand Recognition – For new customers, seeing brand elements when they complete one transaction may not cause them to remember the company in the future. However, when an order confirmation arrives with a signature brand logo, and then a shipping notice arrives later with the same logo, and a warranty message arrives, presenting the logo an additional time, suddenly the customer is very conscious of the brand and likely to think of the company when shopping later or when talking to a friend about the purchase.

Willie PenaWillie Pena enjoys writing about email marketing, transitional emails and marketing advice for small business owners for Easy SMTP. Connect with him on Google+ andLinkedIn.

Getting Better at Getting Email

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is MaryAnn Bekkedahl. – Enjoy!

Do yohome-pageu ever wonder how we functioned before email? At work, at home, or on the go, a vast majority of us can’t go 30 minutes without sending, receiving or reviewing our emails (I’m guilty of checking through the night, too). For many highly connected people, the allure of opening up an inbox isn’t just a necessity, it’s becoming an addiction.

That’s why I can’t stress enough the importance of “getting better at email.” It’s in everyone’s best interest – senders and recipients; brands and consumers – to deliver an email that the intended person wants to read. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time and ticking people off (which, for brands, means potentially losing customers).

Getting better means getting to the point of the message you’re sending, and only reading and reacting to those emails that you really care about. The rest is just digital noise.

To give you an example of that noise, brands, social networks and other organizations sent a record number of marketing messages in 2012, up 19% on 2011. You’re now probably thinking about all of those solicited emails you deleted without even reading, or as a marketer, all the email blasts you sent to hundreds or even thousands of subscribers. Whichever side you look from, it’s interesting to note that 77% of consumers said they prefer to interact with brands via email compared to any other channel, such as social networks, text messages, post and phone.

Email is getting pretty good as a marketing channel.

These days, many of the subscription emails in your inbox are real-time customized based on past purchases, recently viewed items, geography, and the device you open the message with.

Are you getting good at email?

With the trend of email overload more than likely to continue in 2013, the time has come to clean up, prioritize and organize your inbox so that the emails you do receive are the ones you want to keep. Marketers should see this as great news, because if someone chooses to continue subscribing to your alerts, you’re doing something right and the chance of making sales increases exponentially.

Fortunately, there are innovations taking place in email management to help consumers get better at email. One new and free solution is theSwizzle, which was designed for the mutual benefit of consumers and marketers alike. theSwizzle leads consumers through a quick process to easily unsubscribe from the commercial mail they no longer wish to receive, helping to reduce clutter and the overall volume of messages they receive each day (you’ll be surprised just how many subscriptions you’ve collected over the years).

Then, once the clutter is gone, consumers can roll up all the subscriptions they want to keep into one daily or weekly digest, grouping their favorite brands and alerts together in a neat and easy-to-consume package.

theSwizzle puts the consumer in control and, ultimately, makes them more marketable because they aren’t dividing their attention between hundreds of other brands every day.

Headshot_3MaryAnn Bekkedahl is Co-Founder & President of theSwizzle and an expert in email organization. She was named Adweek Media’s “Publishing Executive of the Year” in 2009. She has earned spots for her brands on the prestigious and highly coveted trade lists including AdWeek’s Hot List, and Advertising Age’s A-List. min magazine named her one of the “Most Intriguing People” of 2004, Gotham magazine named her one of its “40 under 40” in 2003, and Advertising Age named her a “Woman to Watch” in 2003. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

3 Creative Ways to Grow Your Email List

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from DJ Waldow  – Enjoy!

You can have the best offer, the most compelling copy, sent from a trusted source, using a subject line that has been optimized for your audience … and yet, if you don’t have a list of email addresses to send to, none of it matters.

Without a list of email addresses in your database, email marketing can be quite challenging. That is why email list growth is the single most important aspect of any sustainable email marketing program.

And it’s not enough to just focus on growing your email list as a one-time task. It’s imperative that list growth be ongoing. Why? Simple. Your email list shrinks by an average of 30% every year. This churn rate, as it’s called, is comprised of subscribers who unsubscribe, mark your email as spam, change employers (and therefore email addresses), and so on.

On top of the 30% churn rate, there is a portion of your list – in many cases a significant portion – who are unemotionally subscribed. This is the group of subscribers who simply ignore your emails. They don’t mark them as spam. They don’t opt-out. They want to receive your content, but just don’t want it (or have the time to read it) right now.

So with your email list constantly shrinking, you can see why it’s critical to focus on ways to constantly grow your list.

Most of us are familiar with the “traditional” list growth tactics – adding an opt-in to your homepage, asking for an email address on checkout or before someone can download a whitepaper or register for a webinar, and so on. Below are 3 creative tactics to grow your email list.

1. SmartPhone App: Smartphone usage across the globe has now topped one billion. Based on that number, one that continues to rise, it seems quite logical to leverage mobile devices – and specifically apps – to grow your email list. I’ve seen this done a few ways recently.

BabyCenter, an online resource for new and expectant parents, provides personalized, expert advice based on the age of your child. In addition to the content published on its site, BabyCenter also sends out weekly email newsletters to all subscribers. As you can imagine, they take email marketing pretty seriously.

When my wife was pregnant with our second child, I downloaded BabyCenter’s free “My Pregnancy Today” app. After entering in my wife’s due date, I was presented with the opportunity to opt-in to for weekly email newsletters about my (well, my wife’s) pregnancy. What I really love about this approach is that BabyCenter makes it very easy to opt-in (“only email address is required”) and they share what I’ll receive in return (“weekly newsletters about your pregnancy”).

Our son, Cal, was born on June 1st of this year. My wife and I are still subscribed to BabyCenter’s weekly email newsletter – and we read every single one!

Another company who is using smartphone apps to grow its list is Living Social. This example below shows what appeared on my iPhone while waiting for one of my Pandora stations to load. The messaging from Living Social says to opt-in to its daily email so as not to miss out on “tomorrow’s deals.” Similar to BabyCenter, the opt-in was clear, obvious, and quite simple – only email address was required!

2. QR Code: While adoption rates for QR codes are relatively slow – 9% of US adults have used a QR code in the past year according to a June 2012 eMarketer report – I still believe it is a list growth tactic worth testing.

However, if you are planning on using a QR code to drive folks to an email opt-in page, I suggest getting a bit creative. That’s exactly what Blowfish Sushi in San Francisco did when it put this poster (below) on the door of the Men’s bathroom!

Yes. Your read that correctly – a QR code on a bathroom door! I snapped this picture on my way into the Men’s room one evening.

What I love about this poster is that Blowfish Sushi nails the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). If you scan the QR code and opt-in to its email list, they’ll give you a free sake or dessert in return. Additionally, if you are one of the 91% of US adults who have not yet scanned a QR code – either because you are not sure how or your smartphone doesn’t have the ability to do so – Blowfish Sushi provides an alternate way to opt-in to its email list. Well done! (Read more about bathrooms & QR codes here)

3. SMS: If you are someone who does a lot of presentations – both online (webinars) and in person – using an SMS short code can be an effective way to grow your email list. In November, I contacted my friend Justin Mastrengelo who owns JA.TXT – an SMS marketing software application. He set me up with a SMS short code that I started using to opt folks into my email list.

It’s quite simple. The first step is to text a keyword to a 5-digit number. For my email opt-in, that means texting “WALDOW” (no quotes) to 67463.

Then, as can be seen above, I automatically send a text back asking to reply with an email address. I also mention the “Bonus.” Once the person replies with a valid email address, I send one final SMS – a thank you.

The next step is the key – and one that I see missed too often. I integrated this process with my email service provider (Infusionsoft – the same provider used by Duct Tape Marketing) – such that an automatic thank you / welcome email is sent as soon as someone opts in.

Does it work? It has been very effective so far – for me. In the month of November, 30% of my total list growth came from this SMS option. To be clear, I also presented at two live events and gave one webinar in November. So it’s important that you have opportunities – and a captive audience – in order to use the SMS tactic.

However, just because a certain list growth tactic works for one marketer does not mean it will work for you. As I advise all clients, it’s critical that you test what works best for your audience.

Have you tried one of the three creative list growth tactics above? If so, how effective were they? What other methods are you using to grow your email list? Please share in the comments below!

DJ Waldow is an email marketing consultant, writer, blogger, speaker, and co-author of The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Waldow Social, a company that helps clients take their email marketing programs to the next level. DJ has spent nearly 8 years in the email, social, and community-building world, advising clients on how to optimize their email marketing campaigns. DJ can be found on most social networks under the handle “djwaldow” or by searching “DJ Waldow.”DJ is an alumnus of the University of Michigan and a lover of beer, coffee & people.

Email Marketing Still a Great Small Business Tool

Vertical ResponseHaving lots of channels and lots of ways for folks to receive relevant, education based content is a must.

While social media and other web based marketing tools are getting most of today’s hype, email marketing to a list of willing recipients is still a very powerful way to market.

Staying top of mind is often half the battle and a steady drip of information via email is a simple, effective and low-cost way to get this done.

There are many great options for tools to use in your email marketing, but today I would like to tell you a little about Vertical Response and a free trial of 500 emails available to Duct Tape readers. You can get your 500 email trial here.

I’ve use Vertical Response over the past few months to send my email newsletter and I can tell you that I really like the simple and very intuitive interface. When I did have a question or two, I found a real person on the phone that got me running right away. They also have a survey tool and recently added the ability to send snail-mail post cards to your list.

They have a nice selection of email templates and monthly pricing as low as $10 per month.

Increase List Sign-ups 327% with Testing

Testing your marketing tactics is the only real way to get better. You must try something that you think will work while always trying to prove something else will work better.

Here’s a quick example of some testing of an online tactic. I try my best to get folks to sign-up for my weekly email newsletter. It’s a part of my overall trust building and education process.

I have an email newsletter sign-up form on most of web pages – a pretty standard practice. I tested three sign-up routines to see which pulled the most subscribers.

1) Form simply resides in the left sidebar and promotes the newsletter
2) Form drops in and offers free information for sign-up
3) Sticky note drops in and offers free information for sign-up

I was not surprised that options 2 and 3 outpaced the static option 1, but I was surprised that option 3 produced twice as many sign-up as option 2 with essentially the same offer and mechanism but a more creative delivery tool. (you can see the tactic in action at www.ducttapemarketing.com)

While some people dislike the pop over technology, and it can certainly be abused, there’s no arguing it’s effectiveness in getting attention. The key, however, is that you have something valuable worth getting attention over and you make the offer as simple and unobtrusive as possible.

I use a service called AdImpact for the pop overs and I suspect some of the results are do to the somewhat unique creative, but I will use this for now and keep testing for even better results.

Making Sense of the Email Madness

email center proDo you use shared email? In other words, an email address for info@, sales@ or customerservice@ that several different people may be checking up on or following up on?

I know I do and I’ve found that without vigilance follow-ups can be hit and miss and nothing sends the wrong message faster than non-response.

The answer I’ve discovered is Email Center Pro from Palo Alto Software. Email Center Pro allows me to set-up multiple shared email boxes and then keeps track of every response and follow-up for me. In addition, I can develop and store an entire library of common responses and then know that even if I assign follow-up to a virtual assistant, for example, the message is consistent. (For the record however, know that every response sent from DTM is a personally crafted note from me, really)

This tool is perfect for sales teams, service teams and anyone that needs to keep track of follow through. (This is one of the biggest areas where small businesses get tripped up in the marketing game.)

And if that weren’t enough, here’s the best part. I get to offer Duct Tape readers a free one-year trial of the $49/mo full featured Email Center Pro option. Use this link to sign-up for your free trial.

If you’ve been using the hunt and hope method of email follow-up I strongly suggest you branch out and give yourself this marketing automation gift, you won’t be sorry.

A couple of notes for the more cynical – I don’t make a dime from this offer, but Palo Alto and I are partners on another project. This is a tool I use and would gladly pay to use, but I get the free year trial too!

NB – if you keep using the program after a year you will be billed – so, they do ask for a credit card when you sign-up but note that it says billing will start July 2009. Update: No credit card needed for free trial!

Talking Email and CAN-SPAM with Vertical Response

Janine PopickJanine Popick, CEO of Vertical Response, was my guest on the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. We spent some time talking about effective ways to utilize email as a marketing tool, dos and don’t dos and new CAN-SPAM legislation that takes place in a few weeks. Check out the VR Lounge – a unique social community from this unique email service provider.

You can read the entire FTC document if you want to hurt your head but it looks the two biggest changes impact folks that send offers in combination with other senders and some fairly technical language about opt out that can be handled best by using a one click very simply opt out method – a best practice anyway in my opinion. (This is not legal advice though!)

Get more information on fighting spam from ESPC

Janine also mentioned a free webinar that may be of interest. It’s a session on getting the most out of Google Apps – July 9th at 10am Pacific Time. Yes, I’m pretty sure some information about using Vertical Response will be spread but the session features Google product specialists and should be a nice way to pick up some tips on integrating these free tools. Register here

Swiftpage Adds New Features

Email marketing service Swiftpage has added some nice new features. I had a chance to discuss the new Drip Marketing capabilities with Swiftpage founder Bob Ogden.

Listen to this brief overview and look for more as I try this promising new tool out myself.