Most email marketers have enough going on with their daily campaign responsibilities that they rarely have time to review or make enhancements to the smaller elements of email. However, automated messaging, those pesky, system-generated confirmations or auto responders that your IT group probably controls, deserve their own email audit.
I will look at several simple ways to properly evaluate and optimize them in order to improve response rates, delivery and overall marketing messaging.
First, these are the types of emails that fall into the automated messaging bucket:
- Email Subscription Confirmations/Welcome Emails
- Sweepstakes/Promotional Confirmation
- Pre-Set Opt In-Site Notifications
- Order Confirmations
- Customer Service Automated Replies
- Subscription or Profile Changes
- Order Tracking/Shipping Notifications
- User Name/Password Requests
- Automated Customer Surveys
- Email Forward/Friend Confirmations
So, you may be thinking these emails are all non-marketing, boring types of messages that have nothing to do with email marketing campaigns. Au contraire.
Let's move toward what features and best practices should be included in these underrated emails. They can pack more power than you might suspect if you give them the right strategic attention.
- Test and send HTML automated emails. Don't always send all automated messages as text only. HTML automated emails can ensure branding across the email board and can deter phishing schemes. Test it if you have doubts about an HTML version of an automated message.
- Deliverability matters, everywhere. Some users may receive an automated message as their first email if you send automated welcome emails. Ensure they have clear white list instructions and other relevant information to make sure that this isn’t the last email they receive from you.
- Include basic header and footer information. See my previous take on Headers and Footers for elements to include in your automated messaging that mirror your marketing headers and footers.
- Personalize when data is available. Automated messages should include first name, at the very least, whenever possible. It is especially important to include personalization in all purchase confirmations as this data is obviously accessible. Personalization works, so use it.
- Utilize cross-promotional efforts. Cross-promotional offers and incentives should be included in the body of all automated emails for most companies. They should be tested and rotated frequently, and copy should be consistent with the rest of the language in the system-generated email so they do not feel forced. Don't forget to change these out to prevent a Christmas promotion ending up on a welcome email in July.
- Control your "subject" and "from" lines. Because of the aforementioned IT stranglehold on these messages, they often have subject lines that would make any email marketer tear up. I have seen subject lines with a long series of numbers and some that are completely blank. Not good. The "from" line is essential for any message to be read. Ensure your brand is in the automated "from" line even if the "from" line email address is a different one than your other email campaigns.
- Customer care contact information is essential. Ensure your automated emails have links to any relevant Customer Care pages. Proactively offer a general email and phone number for Customer Care within these system-generated emails to make it easy for your customer/subscribers.
- Avoid "do not reply" language. Language such as "this email address will not accept responses" can alienate potential customers as well as existing ones. If you can't have a redirected email address for replies to automated messages, you just aren't trying very hard.
- Monitor replies to automated messages. Double check to make sure that replies to automated messages are being read and passed on to the appropriate department. Some users use the reply-to button to unsubscribe or look to buy products. Make sure the customer service groups that handle these replies are passing them on to the correct group for action.
- Automate email IP addresses. Not to get too technical here, but always send system-generated emails from a distinct set of IP addresses that differ from those used for higher-volume marketing email campaigns. If deliverability problems exist, they will most likely exist on the marketing side due to the high volume, large lists and promotional content. Separating the two types of emails will help isolate any delivery related problems and will keep system-generated emails from being affected. Oh, and monitor all of this as the rules change frequently.
- Include links to the email subscription/preference center and content regarding email subscriptions available. Your recipients may not be aware that you offer other email subscriptions, so include them or at least the link. Additionally, some folks may forward an email, so try to capture anyone that gets a forwarded version.
- Include site navigation in all system-generated emails. That is if you want your email subscribers to visit your site.
- Include search boxes within system-generated emails to encourage usage of the website.
- Ensure inclusion of essential links. Include any links that are pertinent to the type of automated message. For example, don't just say your item has been shipped, include a shipping tracking link.
- CAN-SPAM Compliance. Play it safe and ensure all system-generated emails have unsubscribe information as well as a physical address. I would guess that many major brands' automated messages are not fully CAN-SPAM Compliant.
- Get Creative. LinkedIn does a great job in its automated messages (for example, when someone sends you a LinkedIn request) by teasing random stats at the footers of these system-generated messages. I have seen some touting the number of Harvard graduates in the network and ways to appear in search results more frequently. This is an out-of-the-box marketing concept for automated messages that routinely get no extra thought put into them. But I remembered them, so they work!
Though system-generated emails often fall to the bottom of a marketer's to-do list, they can have an enormous impact on both response rates and user loyalty. You will also notice that they are in line with many general email best practices, but often the automated messages violate most of the efforts that leading-edge email marketers work so hard for.
G. Simms Jenkins is founder and principal of BrightWave Marketing, an Atlanta-based email marketing and customer relationship services firm. Read full bio.