What Are Transactional Emails, Why and How to Use Them

What Are Transactional Emails, Why and How to Use Them

October 17, 2017

It’s time again for another Digitize Your Firm webinar – hello everyone, I hope you are excited to explore the topic of transactional emails. For some of you, this may be old-hat – for others, you’re probably asking yourself just what a transactional email is. Lucky for you, all will be answered today!

For anyone joining us who are email experts or for those who are just starting out, I welcome all comments and questions, simply click the green speech bubble at the top of the screen to open the chat and either type out your comment or ask to speak. If you haven’t already, be sure to click the ‘phone’ icon next to it the chat icon to ensure your audio is connected.

As with all Digitize Your Firm webinars, this will be recorded for later playback in case you wanted extra time with a certain section or for listening on the go. If you haven’t already, please visit the Weekly Webinar Schedule on our Digitize Your Firm page to check out our past webinars.

Now, let’s go over today’s agenda.


First topic on the docket – why transactional in the first place, before we go into what they are exactly. We’ll close out with how you can make transactional emails work for you, before doing our usual review and tease the topic of next week.

Sound good? Let’s get into it.

What Exactly are Transactional Emails?

The majority of promotional emails can be broken down into two different types: transactional emails and non-transactional emails. A non-transactional email is any no personalized email that revolves around commercialization, which is sent to as many people as possible. For a non-digital analogue, think of the retail fliers you receive in your mailbox every week. The goal of non-transactional email is to spread generalized awareness of what is happening at a business, whether that’s a sale or special event or the introduction of new merchandise. In contrast, a transactional email is an individualized email that contains specific information and is often used to complete a transaction (hence its name).

However, just like any other email, the content of transactional emails varies based on the laws of any given country. For example, in the United States it is legal to use a communication to suggest related items to a customer, granted that the email’s primary purpose is of a transactional nature, as defined by the American CAN-SPAM legislature.

Under CASL in Canada, similarly appending related items is against the law. The suggesting of products to customers who have already purchased does not fall within the traditional definition of what a transactional communication should include. While transactional emails may be considered more innocuous than generalized mass emails due to their specific and personal nature, they still need to abide by a given country’s legislations and as such, you should ensure that you are legally allowed to send out content before doing so.

Even if you can’t use them to directly market products to interested consumers, transactional emails can still play a vital role in your marketing efforts. Communicating with customers after the fact demonstrates that the relationship between business and customer does not end with a single purchase. You can strengthen your relationships by subtly influencing customers to take benign actions, such as following you on social media. Rather than boldly encouraging people to interact with your brand, this kind of zero-sell technique leaves it completely up to the consumer to engage, which will create a stronger relationship as they are actively seeking you out instead of vice-versa.

While it may seem that this type of communication has been around for a while, very few brands are actually leveraging them for their intended purpose. Transactional emails have been shoehorned into specific use cases and thus are not usually thought of as the powerful marketing tools that they can be. Think of it this way: any mass-market email that you send out, no matter what it revolves around, can easily become a personalized transactional email provided that a contact does something in order to trigger it and so long as it is sent to them specifically.

By now, you understand the mechanics and power of transactional emails – but let's go a little deeper.

Why Transactional Emails?

In the modern age, we are used to using emails as a communication method. We are a society that has grown to love email, despite its occasionally less reputable applications; in fact it is estimated that in this year alone, over 269 billion emails were sent out per day. To get an idea of a sense of scope, think of your local bookstore with its shelves and tables of printed pages. There’s a good chance that all of the books combined don’t have 205 billion pages; that number is equivalent to over one million 200-page books.

Even now, in the age of text messages and social networks, email is a big thing. When people sign up for your newsletter, do you send a message thanking them? When someone buys an item from your shop, do you automatically email them a receipt?

If you run an e-commerce business, what if you could automatically send an email to everyone who puts something in their cart but doesn’t check out to remind them of their potential purchase? If you run a non-profit or charity, you could show how a donor’s contribution is being used to make the world better right after they send it.

With transactional emails, you can quickly and easily ensure that you can immediately follow up with anyone who interacts with your brand in order to continue the relationship. In conventional terms, think of a transactional email as serving a similar function to a receipt when you go shopping. As opposed to simply showing you what you purchased, transactional emails can engage in many different ways, whether they’re just a thank you message or an introduction into a customer conversion pipeline through a call to action.

As communication becomes more direct, and time limits become a popular form of regulation to ensure immediate engagement, the ability to send transactional emails without any additional effort has become a very attractive prospect across a wide variety of industries. By extending the conversation, you can start anyone on the conversion journey to becoming a paying customer, or merely extending your network of connections. There has not been a tool that builds brands and strengthens connections as easily as transactional emails, and you’re about to learn all about them.

Making Transactional Emails Work For You

A transactional email must have three key components: it must be triggered automatically by a contact doing something, or something happening to them (for instance, getting an email from Facebook to let them know someone commented on a post), it must be sent only to them, and it must be personalized.

However, these are merely the rules that indicates which emails are considered transactional and have no bearing on the actual design of the email. If you anticipate needing to send multiple transactional emails, it may be best to have a template designed so that your branding is already applied to any communications you may need to send.

Some things that you may want to include in the design of your transactional email are a logo, social media account icons, your address, and contact information. While the personalized content of the email is the most important part (it defines that the email is transactional, after all), these small flourishes can help you establish brand awareness in a way that seeing the name of your company in any given mail client cannot. Some mail clients cannot render HTML so if you have any images make sure you provide alternate text so that people get a description of the image if they are unable to see it.

Insofar as the actual content, it should be as short and to-the-point as possible. This barebones approach allows you to ensure that the majority of a contact’s focus is on your branding or any other additions you may have made. Some retail companies, in recent years, have started issuing receipts solely electronically, which is an interesting progression of the concept of transactional emails. In these cases, a company doesn’t need to prioritize brand awareness as much because you’ve already physically shopped there, but including additional ways to reach out helps extend the conversation after the initial purchase.

Despite their wide-spread use, there is no perfect format for a transactional email, likely because of the various applications that the concept can be used for. Experiment with sending different kinds of emails to different clients to find out what works the best for you, whether this means repeat business, website traffic, or social media followers. By adding transactional emails to your company’s communications repertoire, you will establish yourself as being willing to take an extra step to ensure that your contacts get the best and most convenient experience possible.

Now, let’s review.

Lessons Learned

1. As we discussed, the majority of emails can be broken down into two types – transactional and non-transactional. What truly makes up a transactional email is that it is a personalized message sent after an action by a contact is completed. This sets transactional emails apart from the non-transactional emails because as opposed to relying on a ‘spray-and-pray’ method, they are targeted.

Transactional emails can play a role in any marketing effort as not only do they help strengthen your brand (and the many tools you use to promote it and is not as widely used as you may expect.

2. After we talked about what transactional emails are, we got into more detail about WHY you should be using them. I mean, with an estimated 269 billion emails going out per day globally, it’s hard to argue that for many people, email is their primary communication form. Transactional emails speak to those people.

You can essentially send a personalized to anyone, at any time such as thanking them to sign up for a newsletter or after purchasing your product or service. This presents an opportunity for you to build on relationship immediately, whether it is a simple thank you message or engaging them further. By extending what could be only a moment or two of conversation, you (and your business) can enhance the development of your consumer relations – building not only the loyalty in the customer base, but the reputation around your brand.

3. We ended off by giving you a more concrete, rule-based definition of transactional emails so you can start planning to build your own. Essentially, a true transactional email is activated by a contact performing and action, which send a personalized message to solely that contact.

One of the best ways to do this is to design a template that allows you to pull information from your CRM or another resource. This template should be both visually and textually interesting – you want to draw your customers or potential clients in. A simply HTML email won’t cut it!

This may seem obvious, but be sure to include your branding and logo along with social media links, your address, and your contact information so recipients and easily identify and reach out to you. Don’t be afraid to experience either by sending different emails with different styles with different objectives in mind, such as increasing your social media followers, encourage repeat business, or drive increased web traffic.

Next Week

We’re keeping up the momentum next week by talking about how you can get started with transactional emails and giving you a plethora of campaign ideas.

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