How to get the most out of transactional emails

Transactional emails give you a valuable opportunity to engage with your customers, express your brand personality and boost your sales. Here’s how to take them beyond a simple message.

To tell your customers a clear story about who you are, your branding and personality should be consistent across all elements of your marketing. Your website, social media posts, newsletters, ads and packaging should all look and feel like they belong together. No doubt you put a lot of time and care into crafting your brand experience and providing excellent customer service. But one tool that often gets overlooked in the communications mix is transactional emails.

Why transactional emails matter

Transactional emails are any automated messages that are triggered to send based on an action. Order confirmations, shipping notifications, membership details, password resets and requests for post-purchase feedback are some common examples.

These emails contain important information for your customer, but they give you something valuable, too: your customer’s attention. Out of all the messages you send, transactional emails are the most widely opened, read and clicked. In fact, according to an Experian report, open rates and clicks for transactional emails are eight times higher than marketing emails.

And yet, many transactional emails lack the branding and personality of your other marketing materials. Because they’re sent automatically from your database, they’re often plain and unstyled, with a generic message. Not only can this create a jarring brand experience, it also means you’re missing a great opportunity for engagement.

Seven tips for creating stronger transactional emails

1. Create a consistent brand experience

Make sure your transactional emails look and feel like they come from you. Rather than sending out your message in the default template your system generates, spend some time creating one that showcases your branding, matching the style of your website and marketing emails.

2. Make the email easy to identify

A clear subject line with phrases customers expect – ‘order confirmation’ or ‘password reset’ – increases your chances of it being opened. Remember that mobiles will cut the subject line short, so keep important words near the start. The sender name should also be immediately recognisable. (Your brand name is better than something like ‘Customer service’, for example.)

3. Give customers all the information they need

The focus of any transactional email is providing customer service. Think about all the details someone might want and present them in a clear summary that can be saved and referred to. For example, a basic order confirmation email might just say, ‘Thank you for your purchase’. A better email could include the order number, product descriptions, prices paid, confirmed shipping address, estimated delivery time, tracking links, links to your return policy and support contacts.

4. Provide added value content

Below the transaction details you can create deeper engagement with extra information that provides value for the customer. For example, you could include things like:

  • tips for use, styling advice, demo videos or FAQs
  • your latest blog posts
  • an invitation to join a loyalty program
  • links to social media communities or customer forums
  • mobile app download

5. Make relevant suggestions for further sales

The bottom of the email can be a great space to add relevant offers, suggestions for matching or complementary products or a showcase of new arrivals. This needs to be done delicately, however. An example would be sending a transactional email saying: ‘We will be packing your product in the next 24 hours. Would you like to add any of these products at a 10 per cent discount before we do?’ Be aware of the laws around marketing in a transactional email though (see below).

6. Keep the relationship going

Now that you’ve made a connection with your customer, don’t let them slip away. Encourage them to subscribe to your marketing emails or blog updates or to connect with you in your social media communities. For start-ups, doing this in quite a personal style is alright, such as ‘Thanks for your support, we’d love to keep you up to date…’

7. Design for mobile screens

According to digital media company Adestra, around 55 per cent of emails are opened on a mobile, so it’s important to use a responsive design that will display well on all devices. To keep it mobile friendly use a simple one-column layout, keep your text short and use large, easy-to-click buttons rather than text links.

But be careful!

Australia has strict rules around email, phone message and instant messaging consent. While a transactional email may be acceptable under inferred consent, you’re not allowed to include any marketing in the email unless someone has ‘opted in’ to receive such information. Belinda Walsh, Product Marketing Manager at email marketing specialists Vision6, explains.

1. What’s the difference between transactional and marketing emails?

Transactional emails are usually triggered after a user interaction with a website or web app. For example a receipt, invoice or delivery notice. Marketing emails are typically timed and sent to a group of contacts like a subscriber list. Marketing email usually contain a commercial message.

2. What are the regulations on transactional emails in Australia?

As governed by the Spam Act of 2003 you must meet the Consent requirement with your email and SMS messaging.

There are two types of consent: ‘Expressed Consent’ and ‘Inferred Consent’. Expressed consent is when you clearly request consent to send commercial messages through the likes of an online newsletter sign up form, ticking a box on a form or at point of sale. Inferred consent is where under certain circumstances consent may be inferred from an existing business or other relationship.

In many cases transactional emails would fall under inferred consent as it would be reasonable for the person to expect to receive such information as a result of an action or enquiry. However it would depend on the actual transaction and what actions the emails were being triggered by.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has a helpful fact sheet around consent and the Spam Act.

There are a lot of grey areas in this legislation – especially in terms of adding marketing to transactional emails. If you have any concerns, contact ACMA.

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