Transactional Message Musts & Missed Opportunities

Emily Keye

Most online retailers have little insight into the performance of their transactional emails, from basic deliverability characteristics to more sophisticated behavioral data once the emails have been sent.  Because of this, marketers have been unable to fully use transactional emails to build customer retention and drive additional revenue.  The end result is an overwhelming number of missed marketing opportunities.  Don’t miss out anymore!  Optimize your transactional email program and begin to benefit.  Follow these 8 steps and boost your email revenue.

1. Arrive in the Inbox:

These highly relevant and extremely timely emails mean nothing if they don’t make it to the inbox.  Make sure that you are sending your transactional emails from an ESP designed for these types of messages.  You’ll also want to set up your transactional message stream on a separate IP address. If an ISP, receiver or blacklist blocks your promotional messages, your transactional messages will not be affected.

2. Stand Out and Be Noticed:

If the typical customer scans sender names to decide what to open, ignore, delete or report SPAM, why would you use vague sender names?  Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message. Use a friendly "from" name, such as your company, brand, newsletter or department where the transaction took place.

Don’t use deceptive subject lines.  Make sure the subject line reinforces your brand and conveys the key information resulting from the transaction. The subject line must also accurately reflect the content of the message.  As far as subject lines, you can’t go wrong with Order Confirmation and Shipping Confirmation at the beginning of the line. In fact, this is the best approach since some email clients don’t show your full subject line. If you use your branding at the beginning (or absolute worst: Congratulations! You have just ordered…), the true subject of the email may be hidden. Or, the customer may not be able to differentiate this email from your other email communications like newsletters.

3. Put the Necessary Information First:

In terms of both weight and placement, a detailed description of what happened needs to be front and center.  Not just, "Thanks for your order.  Your items will ship soon."  Instead, list the order number, what the customers bought, the prices they paid, etc.  Include your company logo, customer-support contact information, including toll-free phone numbers, mailing addresses and links to online contacts. Offer links for recipients to opt-in to other communications. Don’t forget to express thanks as this customer just spent money or registered for something with your company. Show them real people are behind your company, and imply that doing business with your company will be a pleasure for them.

4. Design for the Lowest Common Denominator:

I highly recommend using HTML design elements as opposed to plain text to create an attractive and organized message. Design your transactional emails to have the same look and feel as your site/promotional emails. Including a consistent, good-looking branded header and navigation reinforces your customers’ experience with your brand. Plus, those nav bars are famously successful at getting recipients to jump back into shopping. While you’ll probably want to keep some "SHOP" links there, you might consider switching out some of your typical nav items for items specifically related to the transaction to keep it relevant, such as links to "CUSTOMER SERVICE" and "MY ACCOUNT.“

Don’t pack key content into images or banners. The transaction information must appear even if images are blocked.  Use background colors, tables, boxes and type fonts to differentiate transaction from promotion even more clearly. Including a few images is fine, but make sure that a recipient can click all links and view all key information even if images are blocked.

Don’t make me sorry I bought from you by shoving more stuff down my throat — make helpful suggestions and offer complementary products/services that are relevant to my transaction.  Add promotional content below it or to the side.  No more than 20% of your messages should be devoted to promotional content.

Don’t forget to design for all devices: In particular, make sure your emails work in a mobile environment, in preview panes, with image blocking on, etc.

5. Leverage Data to Create Compelling Content:

It’s crucial that transactional messages with commercial content are dynamically personal and relevant to the recipient. Sending the same old “mass blast” message only results in more missed marketing opportunities – and potential harm to your reputation and brand.

On average, transactional emails that include relevant and related products and services have 20 percent higher transaction rates than those without.

The basic concept of dynamic content revolves around swapping out the content within the same message for people with different data values.

  • Up-sell by suggesting premium versions of the product or service — or what related products other customers bought after they purchased that particular product.
  • Cross-sell order transactions by suggesting products or services that fit with the purchase, such as accessories or extra supplies for consumable products.

Check out some other great examples of how to "spice up" your transactional messages on the Bronto Blog.

6. Deploy at the Precise Moment:

The speed and power of the internet has created a culture where consumers want instant confirmation and up-to-date information.  Today, marketers need to deliver more messages to their audiences faster.  An API can be leveraged to tie multiple data sources together and make the data seamlessly and automatically available. Only then can you rest assure that emails are being triggered and sent at the precise moment they need to be. 

7. Track Results & Test:

Make sure that you are tracking results and testing.  What other way will you be able to measure and grow your transactional program?

Do not send “into the dark” without any analysis of deliverability or effectiveness.  Accurate, detailed and real-time reporting is essential to properly manage your transactional and marketing activities.  The same reporting that is available to you in Bronto for “promotional” messages is available for “transactional” messages. In order to continue to improve these messages, just as you would your promotional messages, you must test.

Test, test, test. Test everything, from timing to layout to offers, copy style, and the level of personalization.

8. Don’t Operate on Auto Pilot:

The automated nature of transactional messages might make it tempting to simply set up a program and ignore it.  I can’t stress enough that managing your transactional program is just as important as optimizing it.  Focus on detailed metrics, update creative, segment offers, customize offers by user type, and adjust offers for seasonality.

With studies claiming open rates for transactional messages as high as 75%, it’s a no brainer to use this opportunity to increase brand loyalty and customer engagement, and probably most importantly to you…DRIVE ADDITIONAL REVENUE!

Have you implemented some of these steps and found great results?  If so, share below.  If you haven’t, what’s stopping you?  Get started on these 8 steps to success TODAY!

Emily Keye Marketing Strategist at Bronto @emilykeye

  • Emily,

    Great article. However, I would advise companies to take a look at their current state of transactional emails first. Identify the emails which could stand to gain from doing this and then take baby steps to implement something like this.

    One of the things that I have seen in the past which has tremendous lift is the ability to make the promotional content in transactional email dynamic and user specific. Rather than leverage static recommendations, I would advise that they invest some time in looking at solutions like Baynote or Rich Relevance which can tie reco’s to user behavior for a greater user experience.

    Andrew Kordek
    Co-Founder, Trendline Interactive
    A Cross-Channel Messaging Agency
    Twitter: @andrewkordek & @trendlinei
    Email: andrew@trendlineinteractive.com

  • Hi Andrew,

    I agree with you 100%. You have to crawl before you can walk, or even run. Marketers may want to take a look at volume as well as current engagement metrics when prioritizing which transactional messages to tackle first. Keep in mind that the Shipping Confirmation email is the most often opened and read message of any message sent by a marketer. This is also an email that is opened multiple times and something a buyer will hold onto. This email may be a good starting point.

    When it comes to the promotional content in these transactional emails, you are right on. The content must be highly relevant to the recipient. I work with multiple clients who utilize some type of product recommendation engine to populate promotional content in their messages and in all cases I have seen lifts in their metrics. Back to the crawl, walk, run approach, I would advise that marketers take it slow and work towards highly optimized transactional messages that incorporate very relevant product recommendations and promotions.

    Thanks and have a great day!

    Emily Keye

  • Actually, I would argue that the welcome email followed by the order confirmation are the top 2 engaged emails in any program. I have always seen the shipping confirmation a somewhat distant 3rd.

    Andrew