So you made it through the Holiday rush and the New Year's push. Maybe you have some time to breathe and you’re wondering what’s next?! This is a great time to take a look at your transactional messages to make sure they are really transactional in nature, that you are implementing best practices and that you are setting yourself up for success for the rest of the year.


Let's start at the beginning. The US CAN-SPAM Act exempts transactional and relationship emails. So, what is a transactional message? I’ve overheard some un-informed email marketers say that a promotional message was transactional because it “causes the subscriber to make a transaction.”

Let me set the record straight.  Transactional and relationship emails are defined as a communication that:

  1. Facilitates or confirms a commercial transaction including shipping notices, order confirmation
  2. Provides warranty, recall, safety, or security information about a product or service
  3. Gives information about a change in terms or features, account balance information regarding a membership, subscription, account, loan
  4. Provides information about an employment relationship or employee benefits (employer to employee emails)
  5. Delivers goods or services as part of a transaction that the recipient already has agreed to such as rebate info, recalls, legal notices, privacy policy changes

Now that you’ve got a good hold on what a transactional message actually is, let’s talk about optimizing its content.

Keep in mind the primary purpose of the email must be transactional or relationship in nature in its message, subject line and body. However, the good news is that it is permissible to mix in a marketing message/offer in the body - just be sure that the marketing portion of the email is below the transactional or relationship information and not the dominant message of the email. There are many ways to "spice up" your transactional messages to increase revenue, but always make sure to keep the 80/20 rule in mind. This is where 80% of the message is transactional or relationship in nature and 20% is promotional in nature. Also, the message must contain the transactional message in text format and not in an image.

Philosophy has a wonderfully optimized transactional template. You can clearly see everything transactional in nature presented in the main portion of the email. They’ve done a great job making sure they've maxmizing this communication.  Note they've added promotional areas into the template by incorporating a navigation bar and a right rail with promotional call-outs. I love that they’re not only calling out different products in their right rail, but they give a clear sign-up for emails option. Just in case you didn’t opt-in in cart you’re getting another gentle nudge here. It’s a great and easy way to use transactional messages to help grow your list and drive revenue.

Now that you’ve got your message set up and you’re following all the best practices, you may be finding yourself stuck on the subject line. Keep this in mind as you’re working on it: a transactional or relationship email must include a subject line that is transactional in its message and not a marketing message.

For example,

Acceptable subject lines:

  • Thank you for your order
  • Your order with XYZ company
  • Your order of widget has shipped
  • Your recent return

Unacceptable subject lines:

  • Order more for Free
  • Save $10 on next order
  • Free shipping next order 

Making sure you know the right use, composition and approach to transactional messages is key to maintaining a high level of trust with your subscribers. Create transactional messages that inform, make relevant suggestions, and deliver great information to make sure the experience is so pleasant that they want to turn right back around and buy again!

Fawn Young
Marketing Strategist at Bronto