AnatomyGoodTransactionalEmailOne of my coworkers recently shared with me a transactional email that made us both smile. Did I just out myself as an email nerd? Well it wouldn’t be the first time. There’s a reason for the giddiness over transactional email: I recently had the pleasure of presenting a webinar on transactional email with Justine Jordan of Litmus. We focused on how transactional emails do much of the heavy lifting for a brand’s communication needs. Ever since then I see ‘transactional email’ everywhere in an M. Night Shyamalan kind of way. I get excited when I consider the nuances of transactional messages and how those nuances either make them more impactful or miss the mark. Brands that get it are head and shoulders above their competitors—once in a while I run across a brand that literally hits it out of the park like this L.L. Bean email my coworker shared with me:


The one thing this screen capture isn’t showing you is the subject line of the message:

Subject: Welcome, Here’s Your First L.L.Bean Email

The subject line here is as significant and well thought out as the entire body of the email. This is the first marketing email my co-worker received and the subject line indicates that this is the beginning of the relationship between the brand and the recipient. The body content further emphasizes this and even distills the importance of the relationship down to the company credo.

Everything about this message is well thought out—the unsubscribe link, in case she opted in accidentally, is clearly visible at the bottom of the message. When you consider that this is the first marketing message after she converted on the website, then this is both a thank you message and a marketing notification that helps solidify the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.

You might be thinking that I’m reading too much into it—my coworker and I are not the right audience: we’re deep in the email trenches and deal with email all day, every day. But given the number of poorly designed transactional messages that lack branding, have overtly promotional tones that may land them in hot water with the FTC, this is a breath of fresh air. This transactional message confirms her opt-in. It also establishes the relationship and reinforces her importance as a customer to the brand while being wholly in-line with the branding and future emails she’ll receive that will be purely commercial in nature.

Transactional messages are too often thought of as a paper trail that shouldn’t be branded in the same manner as commercial (promotional) ones. During our research we ran across a brand that actually took this a step further and reminded us of one flavor of ‘analog transactional emails’ otherwise known as paper receipts:


There are numerous ways to take something as droll as a transactional email, such as a shipping or order confirmation, and spruce it up. By taking the time and effort to think of your transactional messages as more than a paper trail you’re taking the necessary step to engage your customers and recipients at every step of the customer lifecycle—and as we all know, customer engagement is what ultimately defines success in this hyper saturated world of emails, offers and content.

Check out our Transactional Email Infographic.


Navigating the Divide Between Transactional and Promotional Email