There has been much talk about the onslaught of unwanted emails over the last several years, but what about those emails that your customers not only want, but expect to receive? Those expected emails are most commonly referred to as transactional messages.
What is a transactional message?
An email message can be considered transactional only if one of the following statements describes the primary purpose of the message:
It facilitates, completes, or confirms a commercial transaction that the recipient has agreed to enter into with the sender.
It provides warranty information, product recall information, or safety or security information about a commercial product or service used or purchased by the recipient.
It provides any of the following, regarding a subscription, membership, account, loan, or comparable ongoing commercial relationship involving the ongoing purchase or use by the recipient of products or services offered by the sender:
a. notification concerning a change in the terms
b. notification of a change in the recipient's standing or status
c. regular periodic statement of account balance
It provides information directly related to an ongoing employment relationship or related benefit plan.
It delivers notice of goods or services, typically no-charge updates or upgrades to existing products, that the recipient is entitled to receive under the terms of a transaction that the recipient has entered into with the sender.
All other messages are not transactional and should not be sent as a transactional message. What if my message contains commercial and transactional content?
If your email message contains commercial and transactional content, the entire message will be deemed promotional (commercial) if either of these descriptions applies:
The recipient could reasonably consider the message subject line to be commercial in nature.
Commercial content precedes or dominates all or most of the transactional content in the message body.
What if my message contains commercial and informational content (neither commercial nor transactional)?
For this category of messages it's the net impression of the message that determines whether a message is commercial. A variety of factors, including the placement of commercial content in the message body, as well as graphics or the type size used to emphasize that content, are to be taken into account in this analysis of the recipient's "net impression" of the body of the message. Again, if the net impression of the email content could reasonably be deemed commercial then that message would be subject to the requirements of CAN-SPAM as a commercial message.
The top four considerations for transactional messages
What are some key guidelines for integrating promotional content into transactional email messages?
There are several things marketers should keep in mind when integrating promotional content into transactional emails. These guidelines can help you achieve your "marketing" objectives while maintaining compliance and ensuring messages are still deemed "transactional."
1. Follow the two-thirds/one-third rule: More than two-thirds of your email content, whether text-based or graphical, must be information related to the transaction. The remaining one-third may be for promotional use. If you choose to include an up-sell or cross-sell message in your transactional emails, keep it subtle, relevant, and simple. Recipients will not react favorably if they have to weed through copious amounts of commercial content within their transactional confirmations.
2. Ensure informational content is visually dominant: Do not place any promotional content in the subject line or above the informational content in the message body. Promotional content must be visually distinct and separate from informational content and well below the fold. That means no banners at the top of the email. However, as long as it's carefully executed, a soft text-based or graphical promotional message in the right-hand sidebar is acceptable.
3. Maintain brand consistency: Historically transactional email messages have been delivered as plain text, without any dynamic personalization, graphics, or links. They tend to look and feel completely different from a company's "other" emails, and are typically handled by IT departments. Consider having the marketing department take ownership of the content and update the look and feel to match other communications.
4. Don't forget about ROI: Transactional messages, whether they have promotional content in them or not, are just as much a part of the customer experience as any other email communication you send. They should be monitored for inbox delivery, and key performance indicators such as open rates, click-through rates, and post-click activity should be measured.
About the Author
Heather Palmer Goff is the director of ISP relations and deliverability for Responsys. Goff works with client staff to formulate and prioritize email deliverability initiatives and drive client education of industry best practices and email compliance. Goff graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a BA in communication. Contact Heather at 650-801-7424 or at email@example.com
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