How to Create the Perfect Transactional Email For Your Business

November 6, 2020
Email
How Transactional Emails can help you to grow your business

More and more, transactional emails are becoming an integral part of marketing strategies. Marketers see value in adding these emails to their marketing mix and now profit from higher open rates, better CTR, and more engagement. 

But how do you take your boring transactional emails to a whole new level?

Here’s a short checklist for you to use:

  1. Create buyer personas;
  2. Give your readers an email design that complements their personality;
  3. Leave a bit of space for marketing messages (about 20%) at the end of the email, the rest should be about the transaction (80%);
  4. Use only marketing messages that add value to the transactional message and the recipient themself.


In this article, our starting point is the 80/20 rule. Though transactional email marketing is a great method to increase marketing statistics, marketing content should never go over 20% of the email. To do it right, it all starts with great design.

Create Smooth Email Experiences

The minute your recipient opens your email, their likelihood of them reading it until the end depends upon both your transactional content and your email design. The transactional content should be the center of the email, the email design should reflect your brand's personality, your added value.

To create compelling transactional email content and design, start with creating reader personas.

Email Design Based On Real Customers

Most companies have some sort of Buyer Persona, right? 

That one ideal customer that has characteristics that align with your brand’s personality. Well, they read your emails, too! 

Personas put a human face and on your recipients and create somewhat of a stereotypical customer. The result is an overview of hobbies, interests and demographics.

The persona you create influences the way your emails take shape. Let’s take “Eco Anna”, an environmentally conscious girl from LA (talking about stereotypes). Her interest in guilt-free cosmetics leads to emails with lots of green, vibrant product images, and a touch of femininity. Something like this BIOSSANCE example with a marble background. 

On the other hand, if you’re a fitness equipment store, your recipients will relate better to a design inspired by a customer persona you call "Fred the Fitness Fanatic." Fitness-themed images and fonts that depict energy and good health, can instantly capture your recipients’ attention. Companies like On, Nike, and Strava capture that perfectly in their emails.


Now that you’ve chosen your email design, it’s time to stuff the email with content. First and foremost should be the transactional content (order, notification, request). But how do you create good transactional content?

Using The Inverted Pyramid Framework

One strategy to make transactional emails as effective as possible is to use the inverted pyramid structure. Journalists successfully use this tactic to report news stories, but it works equally well for emails. 

The inverted pyramid framework looks like this:

So, what does that mean for transactional email content?

First things first: The focus of your email

Think of why you’re sending this email in the first place. Just like news stories, the introduction of a transactional email should make clear the email is all about. The further down your customers read your email, the more information they’ll consume.


Follow up with necessary action/information

The further you scroll, the more details about the email appear. Imagine sending order confirmations. The first thing your recipient needs to know is that the order succeeded and its ETA. Below, add details about the order like purchased items, total costs, or shipping information. 

After you’ve mentioned everything there was to mention about the order (or any other trigger), there’s room for some marketing content! 

Finally, add side info and/or marketing content

Spice up the last part of your transactional emails with content or offers that might be valuable to the receiver. 

Think of:

  • Password reset emails saying: "Didn't ask for a new password? You can ignore this email."
  • Welcome emails saying: "Follow us on these social media accounts"
  • Order confirmations saying: "You might like these items too"
  • Monthly report emails saying: "Want to make more of your subscription? Try this!"

This order confirmation from Etsy follows the structure perfectly. It starts with an enthusiastic headline “Woohoo! Your order is confirmed.” and a timeline about the order’s status, followed by order details and shop information. 

Finishing with “ More items from…” and a free shipping bonus, this email puts the inverted pyramid to practice.

But what can you do with the 20% marketing space in a transactional email?

Friendly Marketing in Transactional Emails

Now that you’ve created a transactional email that has potential for engagement and conversion, the question you’re asking is: 

    What marketing content can I use? 

Always think about the value you’re adding. Every piece of content you’re offering, every promotion or bonus you’re showing, should be in line with the transactional message. 

Easy example: If you’re selling shoes, don’t try to sell some shirts, but give tips on how to keep the shoes clean.

In the email design, you can show both dynamic content and standard content. Take the Etsy example again. They showed both “more items from store X” and a free shipping bonus they put in every email. The ‘More items’ part varies per order confirmation, whilst the shipping bonus is the same in every email.


Dynamic Marketing Content
Standard Marketing Content
Standard marketing Content


How you create dynamic marketing depends on your email provider and your creativity, but here are some ways to add value through marketing content:

  1. Content that helps customers gain more from the transaction;
  2. Items that complement purchased items (cross-selling);
  3. Items that improve previous purchases (upselling);
  4. Call to actions for reader activation;
  5. Ways to collect feedback.

1. Help customers with content

Content is a very accessible form of marketing. Content that has value to i.e. an order, is valuable in a transactional email. It’s definitely something recipients appreciate and engage with your emails through. The key to relevant content is simple: provide information that your new customer probably didn’t read yet, but could very well find useful. 

We found this Indeed example, that welcomes new users with a step by step guide on how to make the best out of their job search:

2. Cross-sell products and services

Cross-selling is the promotion of a product or service that is complementary to the earlier purchase. It differs from value-adding content in that it aims to sell more instead of increasing engagement with the brand. 

The art of cross-selling is to promote items a person hasn’t seen yet or are at least different from the items they purchased. 

The example below comes from Truebill, a money-saving app. They’re using their report emails to promote their partners’ services:

3. Upsell

Upselling is all about selling an improved version of a product or service. This happens in transactional email, when a customer has first tried a free version of a product or service, or hasn’t unlocked extra features yet.

4. Activate your readers

Word-of-mouth is an ancient marketing strategy. And it’s the single most cost-effective email marketing strategy, too! Get your customers involved to tell others about your brand. That’s where referral programs and User Generated Content come kicking in. 

By giving something away for free or with a discount, you’ll get a referral or social media mention in return. This referral example is from an order confirmation email by MeUndies:

5. Ask your recipients for feedback

The fifth way to engage your recipients with your transactional emails is by asking them for feedback. How did you do? Was the email you’ve sent helpful to them? Did their order come in on time? With their feedback, you’re able to show others what people think of your brand and always improve your transactional email marketing game.

Wrap up

It’s tough to keep your customers engaged with your emails since their inboxes are flooding every day. 

But with our helpful tips, you’re able to design compelling transactional emails that will increase open rates, engagement, and ultimately conversion. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule to prevent ending up in spam. And, always keep testing!

Read more about transactional email marketing in our recent whitepaper!