The confirmation email is one of the most overlooked pieces of marketing real estate. Almost all brands can make them work a little harder than they already do, with some modifications that communicate your most strategic messages when your audience is at their most attentive. We all use them – to confirm someone’s email subscription or webinar registration, thank someone for a purchase, or to provide a link to download a whitepaper or digital good. In most cases, the message of these is as their name suggests – to confirm. They reassure your subscriber or customer that the action they took has set some wheels in motion so they don’t worry that their clicks on your website were lost in the ether somewhere. The secondary purpose of most confirmation emails is to essentially read back to your customer what they just told you: this is what you subscribed to or purchased or registered for. In addition to further reassurance, this leaves a trail in the inbox.

The engagement potential of the confirmation email though is significantly higher than just closing the loop on some activity. Unlike almost any other email your brand sends to a subscriber, the confirmation email reaches its audience at the peak of engagement. Not only are their recipients anticipating the email; they are expecting it, and will think something is wrong if they don’t receive it. This moment of perfect attention and anticipation may be the only time we as email marketers have nearly 100% certainty that the message we are sending will be read.

What should we do with this perfect attention? Here are some examples:

Leave the loop open. The function of most confirmation emails is to close the loop – to put an end to the conversation that started with the signup or purchase or registration. But as marketers, we work really hard to open these conversations in the first place – why do we suddenly truncate them just when they’re getting interesting? Instead of just saying “OK, thanks. Bye!” here are a few ways to keep use the engagement you’ve earned to bring your new subscriber or customer even deeper into the fold:

Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter. You can see archives of our past newsletters here, and we also post them on our Facebook timeline.

Your registration to the Annual Conference is confirmed. Here is  a list of the other pre-registered attendees. You can also view an interactive exhibitor map here and even start organizing some meetings with your next technology partner.

Thank you for registering for our upcoming webinar. If you have colleagues who would be interested as well, please point them to the webinar registration page or just forward this email to them.

Cross-sell, not upsell. You’ve got their attention with the confirmation email, but don’t push it too far. If someone just signed up to receive a monthly newsletter and you use the confirmation to try to sell them a $1200 conference, you’re squandering the attention, not nurturing it. Instead, suggest they take actions at a similar level of engagement to what they’ve done:

Your webinar registration is complete and your receipt for the $99 registration fee is below. See also our AM and half-day seminars and other in-person events, ranging from $80 – $240.

Thanks for signing up for our weekly newsletter. You might also like our Facebook page where we post slides, videos and photos from our events. Or you could follow us on Twitter where we share the most relevant industry news and research.

Return the engagement favor. Even if you don’t have anything to sell them or any place to send them, make sure the language in your confirmation emails honors the attention they have lent you. Most confirmation emails sound like unseasoned meat tastes – bland and uninspired. But these people have just taken the action that a big part of your job is devoted to. The language in your emails should reflect that, with personality, empathy and a more natural tone than most convey. Here are some real examples from my own inbox:

Great purchase, by the way. Your friends are going to be jealous. Your order should arrive on or before August 31, 2012, so you have until then to prepare them. (TheClymb.com)

Your order’s been sent to the restaurant, and your food’s about to get cooking. Now sit back, relax and get ready to enjoy. (Eat24)

Thanks for choosing Southwest for your trip! You’ll find everything you need to know about your reservation below. Happy travels! (Southwest Airlines)

What can your brand do to turn your confirmation emails into deeper engagement channels?