Interview with Director of Strategic Insights, Sparkpost – April Mullen


“The overarching takeaway is that companies should be paying more attention to what their transactional emails can do.”

1. What’s your focus as director of strategic insights at SparkPost, and how has your past experience prepared you for this role?
I focus on research and content at SparkPost, overseeing projects that create insights to help email marketers navigate a changing digital landscape and deliver a better customer experience. I have extensive brand, agency, martech, with heavy niche email marketing experience, which gives me a unique perspective on this often overlooked area of marketing.

I’m an evangelist for email marketing — there’s no other digital channel that can accommodate so many different types of content. I equate email to being a miniature website that companies can use to communicate one-to-one with customers at their digital home. It’s a very powerful medium that is going through a Renaissance because of innovations making it cool again.

2. What is the purpose of the 2020 Transactional Email Benchmark Report?
The report provides a snapshot of how marketers are using transactional emails to drive customer engagement so they can see how they stack up against their competitors and identify opportunities for improvement. Transactional emails can be a customer engagement powerhouse if handled correctly, so it’s important for email marketers to have a sound strategy for managing them.

To create the report, we surveyed more than 300 email professionals who manage transactional and marketing communications. We included diverse verticals to capture existing and emerging trends. We also explored techniques marketers are using and highlighted the challenges they face. It’s a must-read for email marketers who are looking for ways to boost customer engagement and get a competitive edge.

3. What do people need to understand about transactional emails? What makes them different from regular marketing emails?
In the report, we define “transactional” email as both administrative emails and certain kinds of triggered emails. For example, order confirmations, statements, delivery status updates, etc. are all considered transactional emails.

In our view, transactional emails don’t get the attention they deserve, and they’re becoming more important than ever now that privacy regulations are tightening. Given that transactional emails don’t require permission, it could be the only tether some customers have to a brand’s communications. This means they need to accomplish a lot in terms of driving retention and engagement. Instead, they are a bit of an afterthought in the shadow of promotional emails that require permission.

4. Which survey results surprised you the most?
The biggest surprise for me was that so many resources outside of marketing continue to play a role in sending and even writing transactional emails. Marketing teams usually oversee the customer experience, but we found alarming levels of fragmented responsibility for transactional emails, with more than a third written by people in technical roles. There’s a real opportunity here for marketers to take ownership.

Other surprises were the low adoption rates for authentication and A/B testing. The report found that only slightly more than half of respondents — 52% — use some form of authentication with transactional emails, and only about a third do A/B testing. These results point to a massive opportunity to improve the customer experience.

5. What should marketers be doing to improve email authentication?
Only about half of survey respondents reported using some form of authentication, and 21% said they don’t know if their organization authenticates emails or not. Even among those who do authenticate, less than 22% use Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC), which is the gold standard email authentication, policy and reporting protocol.

Marketers have every incentive to improve in this area since it’s likely that not authenticating emails or causes significant deliverability issues. Almost half of respondents also reported receiving complaints about undelivered transactional emails, and that could stem from authentication issues. It has a negative effect on the customer experience, so email marketers should address it.

6. What are marketers missing about A/B testing for transactional emails?
Most email marketers rely on A/B testing to improve the customer experience on the promotional email side, but they’re missing out on opportunities to improve transactional emails. It’s important to optimize the customer experience related to transactional emails too because they typically get to more customers, and they often set the tone for the customer-brand relationship.

The importance of transactional emails will grow in the coming years because of the trend toward more stringent privacy protections and the greater volume of digital transactions. Virtually everyone has an email address that serves as their digital home, and email is such a workhorse — it’s capable of accommodating more diverse content than any other channel.

7. Did the survey reveal anything about transactional emails on mobile devices?
Our survey revealed two important insights about mobile email engagement. The first is that more than half of transactional emails are viewed on a mobile device. That’s not surprising because there’s an established trend that shows people using mobile for an increasing number of digital tasks and interactions, including searches, social media, etc.

The second insight was surprising in light of that: 37% of survey respondents said they don’t know what percentage of their email engagements happen on mobile devices. This suggests there’s a huge opportunity for email marketers to more closely monitor how recipients are viewing transactional emails and optimize them for mobile viewing to improve the customer experience.

8. The report suggests a disconnect between technical and marketing teams. How can the teams collaborate more effectively?
The report indicates that about half of the companies surveyed use technical teams to send transactional emails. They don’t necessarily use the same processes and technologies marketing uses to send promotional emails. The problem with this is that companies are probably missing out on important analytics through the usage of home grown sending capabilities. Technical and marketing teams can collaborate more effectively by using processes and automation tools that improve visibility and reporting.

Automation is great because it frees people from repetitive work and lets them focus on strategy, but it’s critical not to fall into a “set it and forget it” mindset. “Set it,” yes, but DON’T “forget it” — instead, email marketers and their partners on the technical side should schedule frequent reviews to make sure the solution they’re using is achieving their goals and yielding the metrics they need to drive customer engagement and key metrics for the business.

9. What are the top takeaways for email marketers in the 2020 Transactional Email Benchmark Report?

The overarching takeaway is that companies should be paying more attention to what their transactional emails can do.

It’s such an important growth and revenue driver (yes, even when they’re not promotional), so there’s a real opportunity to improve the way transactional email is handled if marketing takes ownership and uses A/B testing and better authentication practices.

Transactional emails are a terrific way to personalize communications for individual customers because they are by definition transaction-based and therefore pertinent to specific customer interactions and points along the customer’s journey with the brand. Email marketers who understand this and optimize transactional emails will have an edge over competitors.

10. What trends in the report do you expect to see accelerate over the next few years?
We expect that increases in the volume of transactional emails sent will continue to grow, and the number of email marketers who report that transactional emails are important for conversion, engagement and retention — already the overwhelming majority — will grow too. Transactional emails are an ideal vehicle to deepen customer relationships and boost ROI.

Obstacles to customer acquisition on other channels will magnify transactional emails’ value. For example, Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies will raise new barriers to customer acquisition, so retention will become more important than ever. That means the importance of transactional emails will increase as digital privacy regulation gets stricter.

April Mullen is a proven digital marketing leader currently focusing on global client strategy and marketing for Selligent Marketing Cloud. As an evangelist of Consumer-First Marketing, she guides her clients to build better relationships with connected and empowered consumers. Bringing experience from over 12 years on both the agency and client sides of relationship marketing, Mullen understands the complexities and challenges that face marketers in today’s competitive environment.

SparkPost is the world’s #1 email sender, trusted to send 37% of the world's B2C email. Our data-driven platform optimizes email performance and helps leading enterprises drive top-line results.

The SparkPost Email Delivery Platform is built to help your business deliver more value. It has a wide variety of features to choose from. Powerful real-time analysis of your email delivery and customer engagement as well as personalized email templates. You can also pick from any of the numerous APIs to integrate into your communication. With SparkPost, you have everything you need to power your business for greater growth.

For more information please visit our Website.

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