Whether your business is in financial services, travel and tourism, retail and e-commerce, or software applications, your product and engineering teams know that transactional email is crucial to the customer experience. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they treat them as a priority, often preferring to think of them as set-and-forget emails that, once created, they hope they’ll never have to touch again.
But while that might serve your developers well, it does a disservice to both your customers and your bottom line. Transactional emails aren’t just emails your customers expect, they’re emails your customers want. With open rates 68% higher than regular marketing campaigns, and click-through rates as much as 164.6% higher, transactional emails are golden opportunities for engaging customers with your brand. These emails can boost retention, referral, and repurchase, all at a fraction of the cost of promotional campaigns. The secret lies in using the data you already have to provide personalized, relevant content and offers at just the right time.
What stands in the way for Enterprise?
Email creation workflows have never been easy. But the problem is compounded with transactional and automated emails, due to the complexity of how these emails are triggered (i.e. from the back-end) and the data access required to populate the content (i.e. account and/or order details). Three main obstacles pose the biggest problems for larger companies trying to gain traction in this arena.
Problem #1 – Legacy Systems
In most companies, especially those that have been around a while, automated and transactional emails generally live within the code base. If we’re talking legacy systems that have been around for ten or fifteen years (or longer in some cases), the prospect of making these emails more engaging for the customer is often viewed as either not worth the risk, or not worth the cost in terms of developer resources required to make the changes.
In these scenarios, transactional emails often still look like the digital equivalent of a black-and-white cash register receipt from the 1970’s, with about as much brand personality, and there’s usually not a lot that marketing can do about it. If you’re in this camp, you’re not alone.
Problem #2: Inefficient Workflows
Even if your company has made an effort to update transactional emails, the process of creating and revising them can often take weeks or even months, primarily because developer resources are required. When a new email is needed, or when there’s a content or design change to an existing email, a developer must update the code and deploy it into production. That means the dev must prioritize the work against other tasks that are often perceived as more important, squeezing the work into an email-sized hole in whatever sprint cycle your company uses. And because email is rarely a priority for developers, convincing them that email tasks are worthy of their time can be painfully difficult.
The problem is only exacerbated by layers of brand governance, legal compliance, and reputation management. The company gets stuck in an endless loop of, “We should make our transactional emails better but it’s so hard to make it happen.” And it’s a loop that isn’t just difficult the first time, it’s just as difficult every time it has to be repeated.
Problem #3: Inability (or Unwillingness) to Work Across Silos
According to a recent survey, 64% of marketing leaders are looking for new ways to upsell and cross-sell their customers, yet only 36% believe that transactional emails are an opportunity to reinforce relationships. Think about that for a minute. If transactional emails are emails your customers open and click at rates that would make any marketer jump for joy, why are so few — just a hair more than one third — taking advantage of them as opportunities to cross- and upsell, not to mention their huge potential for reinforcing customer relationships? There’s a marketing opportunity waiting to happen with every reservation, every order, every in-app purchase receipt, every credit card expiry notice — basically every system-generated email notification your company sends.
Imagine the possibilities.
The problem here boils down to multiple stakeholders, from multiple departments, all of whom are involved to some extent with transactional email, but with none taking clear ownership. Ownership of these emails usually lies with some combination of product teams, engineering, marketing, and IT. It takes some serious resolve to be able to work across those silos and get all those stakeholders onto the same page regarding the importance of making it easier to collaborate on transactional email.
Is it worth the effort? Consider this: Transactional email generates as much as 6x the revenue per email as the average promotional campaign. And a failure to act will cost you market share. Savvy marketers who want to get ahead of the game will get their transactional email house in order, and take control of their workflow, before it’s too late.
How Startups are Gaining Momentum
Unencumbered by legacy systems and workflows, startups have turned the lowly transactional email into a high-performing channel for customer engagement. By staying nimble, startups are continuously optimizing every communication to make sure it resonates with their customers. Their transactional and triggered emails maintain enviable brand consistency while presenting highly relevant engagement opportunities at precisely the right moment — from related product recommendations in an order confirmation, to referral offers in a subscription renewal reminder, to a discount coupon in a ‘Happy Birthday’ email.
As larger companies get bogged down in ‘whose problem is this’ paralysis, new competitors are swooping in to fill the void. Transactional messages from companies such as Asana, Chubbies, and Nanoleaf (some of our personal favorites), not only reinforce the brand experience in highly creative ways, they also generate revenue with offers that customers find both timely and irresistable.
How Enterprise Can Take Control
So how can Enterprise compete, given its complex infrastructure, organizational workflow, and compliance considerations? The answer is surprisingly simple: use a set of tools that works with those realities, not against them.
The solution is to manage your transactional emails — from creation to revision, testing to approvals, publishing to syncing with your production environment or ESP — in a platform that empowers your organization to:
- Be creative with transactional email content without relying on already-taxed developers
- Ensure that content creation is separate from the code base and customer data
- Lock down brand elements, such as logos, colors, and footers
- Maintain brand consistency as you develop personalized experiences
- Streamline your workflow and approval processes to get the message out faster
Templates — The Secret to Your Success
There’s a lot going on in Enterprise. Different stakeholders from different departments with different priorities can make the process of creating or revising transactional emails feel insurmountable. Busy developers, for instance, may view transactional emails as grunt work, while product owners might see them as tools for fostering adoption, while marketers see them as opportunities to create great brand experiences that drive revenue.
By employing a template-based workflow, each of these viewpoints can be accommodated. With templates managed outside of the code base, you can standardize and lock down common elements, such as logos and footers, or the code strings that pull order, account, or offer details, while allowing the flexibility to easily change content, such as copy and graphics. This allows teams to create and change emails faster because once a template is created, developer involvement is no longer needed.
Keep Your Brand Up-to-Date
Templates have the added benefit of helping with a common challenge for the larger Enterprise: Maintaining brand consistency. Transactional emails are too often forgotten (or ignored) when a logo changes or a tagline is updated.
And let’s face it — rolling out a company-wide rebrand across hundreds or thousands of customer communications is an immensely daunting task, one that can sometimes take as long as a year or more to implement.
Customers love originality and innovation, but when it comes to your brand identity, they actually prefer repetition and reinforcement. A 2016 Software Advice survey revealed that the majority of consumers consider consistency the most important factor in brand loyalty, more important than relevance, transparency, and authenticity combined. In addition to helping build brand loyalty, a unified look and feel helps build brand confidence and recognition. As any seasoned marketer will tell you, the details matter. Finding 2016’s logo in a 2018 email header is not only problematic internally, it can be downright alienating to your customer.
Of course, there’s another argument in favor of the relentless pursuit of consistency, summed up in a single word: Compliance. The global Enterprise is under constant scrutiny, from regulators, customers, and competitors. One misstep could cost more than someone’s job. It could trigger hefty fines, angry customers, and ultimately damage your brand’s reputation.
The Big Brand Refresh
What used to happen once or twice in a career now happens with increasing frequency. An overhaul of your company’s brand can affect everything from packaging and point-of-sale to your website, mobile apps, and email. The sheer volume of communications generated by an Enterprise organization increases the margin for error. If you or someone you know has ever received a terse email from someone in the C Suite (“Why are we using last year’s logo?!”), you know how easily this can happen.
In the grand scheme of a rebranding campaign, transactional emails are frequently one of the lowest priorities — sometimes even forgotten completely — while being one of the most difficult channels to update. That difficulty arises from the legacy systems and inefficient workflows mentioned earlier, but also from incomplete and inadequate institutional knowledge about what transactional emails actually exist, where in the code base they’re located, and how or why they’re triggered.
Creating a template-based workflow, managed in a platform that sits outside your code base, can take the guesswork out of keeping your transactional emails on-brand in two ways:
- By preserving institutional knowledge around what emails you have, where they live, and how they’re triggered
- By standardizing common elements, such as logos, headers, and footers, so changes are reflected across all templates that use those elements
The ‘Mobile First’ Rollout
Staying on brand also means meeting your customers where they are. It’s imperative that you make sure your emails look beautiful and consistent across all devices — smartphone, tablet, laptop, and desktop. Yet the process of optimizing and testing emails across different mobile platforms has long been a source of frustration for many organizations.
The number of mobile devices worldwide is over five billion, and nearly 50% of all emails are opened on mobile first. That means you should be designing your emails to look great, and function properly, on mobile first.
Love Notes from Regulators
Whether they’re addressed to your company specifically or to your entire industry, regulatory compliance requirements are constantly changing. As new regulations take effect, or existing regulations change, a centralized template management platform will allow you to update common elements, like footers, en masse, so those changes will be applied to all templates, ensuring every email is always compliant.
The Localization Conundrum
If your organization has a global reach, you’ll need to localize your emails to take language, culture, time zone, currency, and other differences into account. Localization is necessary even within the US, emails will often need to be localized based on time zone, cultural idiom, and sometimes even local sentiment. And let’s face it — localization can be a headache.
A good email content management platform will allow you to create localized versions for each template, where translations, time zones, currency, and other localized elements can be managed. Each localized version of the template should be permanently associated with that template, and included when the template is submitted for approval and published for deployment.
The Company Group Hug
A huge part of maintaining brand consistency is the ability to collaborate across departments. But that’s often easier said than done. What starts as a pivot toward transparency and cooperation can quickly spiral into an excessively complex process. To be successful, your organization must facilitate meaningful collaboration between departments and stakeholders without creating additional bottlenecks.
Your transactional template management platform should create a streamlined process that allows stakeholders from multiple departments to collaborate on a single email. For example, if a product team needs to create an new app notification email, a developer can code the template within the platform, a designer can make it look great, and a copywriter can optimize the email’s message. This kind of collaboration not only makes creating and revising these emails faster, it’s crucial for successful transactional emails.
Ninja Marketing Moves
In the digital age, timing is everything. And if there’s one thing startups do really well, it’s create and deploy relevant engagement opportunities faster than the speed of light. Well, maybe not that fast, but by making the optimization of every touchpoint a priority from the get-go, many startups are naturally more nimble. That means that in order to compete, Enterprise needs to strive for the same kind of agility by making standardization and efficiency work in their favor.
Content creators must respond to new opportunities by removing barriers that hinder both productivity and creativity. With a library of templates pre-coded and ready to go, and with brand elements safely locked down, marketers are free to create the kind of nuanced, one-to-one engagements that increase both customer satisfaction and ROI.
Conduct A/B and Multivariate Tests
Look for a platform that offers the flexibility to integrate with Enterprise-level A/B testing software, whether in-house or third-party, so you can conduct sophisticated email tests as easily for transactional emails as you do for promotional emails. Create A and B versions of your templates — (and C and D, if you wish) — then use your testing software to test images, copy, offers, subject lines, CTA placement, and more. The result is the ability to continuously optimize your transactional email content with unprecedented ease.
Respond to Learnings Faster
Since your developers are no longer involved at every stage of the process, content creators and marketers can quickly fine-tune emails to boost customer engagement and ROI. And with the details of creative production under control, content creators will have more time to focus on new opportunities, going beyond upselling and cross-selling to turn transactional email into brand experiences that will engage your customers and foster loyalty
Use Workflow to Your Advantage
Earlier we mentioned that collaboration and transparency are both essential for the success of your transactional email program. One big reason is that great ideas can come from anywhere. A designer can write a great headline. A copywriter can shoot a great photo. A developer can come up with an outstanding offer. Your workflow should foster collaboration and tap into creativity and innovation wherever they might originate.
Developers Ask: What About the Code?
If you’re responsible for coding transactional emails, or if there are plans for adding that to your workday, you’re probably asking a couple of key questions:
How does such a product integrate with the back end?
The short answer is that it shouldn’t. Content, design, localization, and template updates are best kept separate from your code base and customer data. Once a template is approved, it can be published via API, to either sync with your production environment or your ESP. The email is then rendered upon send using live data that is never passed back to the template management platform.
How much coding is involved?
Since the kind of product we’re describing doesn’t touch the code base, and templates are reviewed and locked down upon approval and publishing, there’s nothing to break when the content changes. This means you can front-load your coding efforts in the set-up and block/template-creation phase. All the coding needed for transactional emails happens within the platform. This kind of simplification makes routine copy and design changes easy for non-technical users — meaning as a developer, your help will rarely be needed.
By parsing out the coding tasks from the rest of the email workflow, developers are spared from simple copy and image changes, rebranding initiatives, and regulatory changes that often require updates to individual transactional emails. This frees you up for development tasks that are higher on your priority list.
A Boon for Product Teams
Okay, so maybe you’re not a marketer or developer per se, but you’re nevertheless responsible for making sure the system is generating the right emails and that everything works on the back end. Or maybe you’re a product manager who wants to implement a new app notification but you know that the process of getting it through brand and compliance will take weeks or even months.
Centralizing transactional and triggered email template management makes it possible for product teams to easily collaborate with relevant stakeholders in order to rapidly design, code, test, and roll out approved email templates, making it simple to create new or update existing system-generated emails. You and your team can focus on building great products, knowing you’ll easily be able to get the right emails into the right inboxes at precisely the right time.
The Path Forward
Building customer relationships with engaging transactional emails isn’t rocket science. But it can get complicated, especially for a larger organization. Whether you’re a developer, a marketer, or part of a product team, if you’re tasked with creating and updating these emails there’s a good chance you’re not as productive as you might be. Fortunately, the path forward is easier than you think.
By taking control of your transactional email workflow you can maximize the value of these crucial customer touchpoints. With a scalable and streamlined email creation and revision process, one that significantly reduces dependence on developers, you can create meaningful customer relationships, leverage upsell and cross-sell opportunities, boost ROI, and build market share. Your team can contribute toward realizing your organization’s revenue growth and customer engagement goals in an increasingly competitive digital landscape. And that’s good news for you, for your business, and most importantly, for your customers.