Transactional Messages: Turning Dust into Dollars

Are you missing out on a major opportunity to engage your best customers and subscribers?  Are you not sure how to optimize your transactional messages?

Once established, transactional messages often become the forgotten creatives of an email program, rarely getting much love and attention when it comes to optimization.   With all of the demands placed on the typical email marketer, it’s easy to understand how these campaigns can fall to the bottom of the priority list.  However, it’s important to think of these emails as more than just utilitarian communications.  They are some of the best opportunities a marketer has to connect with top customers and subscribers.

Recent data from Silverpop reinforces the importance of these campaigns with metrics that compare the engagement rates of transactional messages vs other messages (2014 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study).  According to their study, the average unique open rate for transactional emails is 37.7% compared to 20.0% for non-transactional messages.  Not only do these campaigns get more eyeballs on them, they tend to be opened more than once, with the average subscriber opening 2.26 times compared 1.70 times for non-transactional messages.  These emails are getting a ton of attention from your subscribers.  It’s a major miss if you fail to optimize transactional messages!

If it’s time for transactional communications to get spruced up, be sure to keep an eye on the prize.  These messages exist to confirm activity and/or provide pertinent details.  Stay CAN-SPAM compliant by ensuring that this remains their primary purpose.  While doing so, keep in mind that these messages also can serve your brand and marketing goals in the following ways:

  • Reinforce branding and the perception of the brand personality
  • Build loyalty by contributing to an overall positive brand experience
  • Convey gratitude for subscriber or customer activity
  • Help the customer make the most of their experience with your brand
  • Offer additional opportunities for interaction or purchasing

What can be done to make transactional messages more productive and user friendly?  Whether you’re aiming for a complete revamp or just a few quick tweaks before the holidays, the lists below provide some inspiration for making your workhorse emails work a little harder!

The Quick Fix

Pressed for time but want to make sure that your transactional emails have the basic best practice boxes checked?  Be sure that each email includes:

  • A well branded friendly from address
  • A subject line that clearly summarizes the purpose of the email
  • A recognizable and clickable brand logo
  • Copy that acknowledges and thanks the customer/subscriber for their activity and conveys excellent customer service
  • Pertinent links that are accessible and serve a clear purpose
  • Content organization and details that make it as easy as possible for subscribers to digest the content and take next steps


The Next Level

Already have the basics in place but looking to further optimize?   Enhance your program with the following:

  •  Personalized greetings, content and/or subject lines
  • A user-friendly navigation bar with popular destination pages
  • More robust content using clickable product (or feature) names and images
  • Provide upsell and cross-sell opportunities for post purchase, retargeting and/or cart abandonment emails
  • Review your timing and business rules to ensure that these messages are being sent at an appropriate time while preventing subscribers from being bombarded with too many emails on a given day


Best in Class

If your transactional emails are already fairly well-rounded, consider the following ways to take them to the next level:

  • Add seasonal touches that help capture the spirit of each quarter
  • Introduce dynamic promotional or helpful content to the right or below transactional details and feature relevant, seasonal and/or interesting offers and information
  • For post-purchase, retargeting or cart abandonment emails, leverage a recommendation engine or serve up related products that the subscriber or customer may also be interested in
  • Create business rules to target offers based on subscriber information and lifecycle stage (i.e. send more aggressive offers to subscribers with lower engagement and purchasing patterns)
  • Ensure that your transactional emails render well in both desktop and mobile environments
  • Test your content!  This can be tricky to set up but can pay major dividends once the ideal composition achieved.


Once your transactional templates have been refreshed, make sure that they are reviewed and optimized periodically.  Ideally, incorporate this review into your marketing plan to be sure that these key emails stay fresh year after year.

Finally, if you mail to Canadian recipients, you must meet CASL requirements that stipulate that transactional messages may not contain marketing content.  If they do, messages should be considered commercial emails and must include a working unsubscribe mechanism.   Not sure if your program is CASL compliant?  Check out Return Path’s Canadian Anti-Spam Law Compliance Checklist.

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