We send and receive emails ALL. THE. TIME. When was the last time you woke up with fewer than five emails in your inbox (promotional or otherwise)? Probably 1997.

As an online marketer, the great thing about email is that pretty much everyone who uses the internet has an email address. There are over 3 billion accounts worldwide, each serving as someone’s passport to the internet. Without one, you can’t shop online, use a streaming service, or make embarrassing comments on your daughter’s Facebook posts.

Because it’s so ubiquitous, email is arguably the best way for online businesses to relay important and personalized messages to their customers. Specifically, transactional emails are essential to ecommerce. They have higher open rates than any other types of emails, and with that comes a huge opportunity to engage your customers.

In this post, we’re going to go over the basics of transactional emails, why they’re so important, and what you can do to make them work better for your business.

So, transactional emails? What are they?

Because of their name, a lot of people think transactional emails are all about financial transactions. While that’s a fair assumption, it disregards a host of other types of transactions (financial and otherwise) that can prompt an email.

By definition, a transactional email is an email triggered by an individual’s direct action or transaction within your website. Some examples of transactional emails include:

  • Email address confirmation
  • Password reset
  • Purchase receipt
  • Account balance updates
  • Support requests
  • Shipping information
  • Monthly invoices
  • Cart abandonment reminders
  • Auto responses
  • “Thank you for…”

Why should I care about transactional emails?

Chances are that as an online merchant, someone or something (hello, automation!) is sending emails on your behalf. And you should care about those emails. They’re often times your only point of “conversation” with your customer, so they need to count.

Every transactional email is an opportunity to grow and strengthen your brand. It’s a place for you to offer your customers peace of mind, build trust and credibility, and create the best possible customer experience—all good things when it comes to promoting your brand.

What do you mean by “promoting your brand”?

Branding can mean a lot of things, but essentially it’s anything you do that aims to reaffirm or strengthen your brand’s image. In an email, it might be adding images or writing copy that reflects your brand’s voice. Is your brand playful? Witty? Political? Then make sure your email communications reflect that. The goal is to create a cohesive and consistent experience for customers whenever they interact with your brand.

Okay, but is this really that important?

If you find yourself asking why you should bother branding your transactional emails, my question to you is why wouldn’t you? If you were interacting with a customer in person, your voice wouldn’t be monotone and your face expressionless. Why? Because you’re excited about your product! And because you want to win customers over!

Every point of contact between you and your customers is an opportunity to engage your customers. Some companies can get away with really dry, boring transactional emails, but smaller businesses especially have to make the most of these opportunities.

Let’s look at a couple examples, shall we?starbucks transactional email receipt Sorry, Starbucks, I know you’re a megalithic coffee giant, but this is one of the most boring transactional emails I’ve ever received. Next!

This email from Tarte, on other hand, is much nicer to look at. It gives you a much better idea of the company’s vibe, voice, and the kind of experience you might expect going forward.

Alright, I’m convinced. How do I get started?

As mentioned earlier, transactional emails have higher open rates than any other emails. Not only are they a great way to promote your brand, you can also use them to get more social media followers, give customers a coupon code toward their next purchase, promote a related or featured product, and more.

If you’re a DIY kind of merchant, there are definitely things you can do yourself to spice up your transactional emails. A lot of people design exceptional emails without help. And of course you should be able to tailor the copy in your emails to match your brand voice.

If you’re not so artistically inclined, or if you find this all a little daunting, there are a ton of great apps and platforms out there to help you send better transactional emails.

Spently is one great option for any merchant using Shopify. They understand the importance of transactional emails and offer a ton of customizable templates which you can use to match your store and brand. As an added bonus, they’re also offering a 60-day free trial on their Premium plan to all Pixel Union blog readers.

Check out this example of a branded transactional email Spently designed specifically for users of our Atlantic Shopify theme:

Atlantic transactional email by Spently

How can I make sure all my emails are branded?

When it comes to branding, everything should be consistent. When a customer looks at your website, email, app, etc., they should be able to see the common thread and know that, without a doubt, it is your brand. There shouldn’t be any guesswork.

Consider creating a style sheet that includes a current logo, typefaces, colours, line styles and weights, and the type of language that you use. A style sheet lets any member of your team create content that is consistent with your brand. Check out some of Google’s resources for inspiration.

Email is traditionally a text-heavy medium, so it’s important to have a consistent language style. Think of this as your brand’s accent or dialect. Don’t forget to make sure your visual components align with the language you use. Can you imagine if Instagram, a playful photo-sharing app, sent out an email addressing the recipient as Sir or Madam? It wouldn’t fit.

Google and Slack are two companies that do a really good job of staying consistent with their branding. If you’re ever stuck, look at how these guys are making it work.

Forrester recommends considering the four following points when creating content that works for your brand:

  • “Capture [your] brand’s North Star.” (In other words, highlight your ethos with your branding. If you’re selling blankets designed for softness and comfort, don’t use an aggressively bold font.)
  • “Connect with your consumers in context.”
  • “Create visible value through the content.” (Include content that is useful to your customer and that they will want to consume.)
  • “Continuously measure and optimize results.” (This will come into play once you’ve sent out your emails. Study and understand what’s working and what isn’t. Change things to make them work better for both you and your customer.)

Six steps for creating great transactional emails

Once you’ve considered all of the above information, you’re ready to start creating some kick-ass transactional emails. Follow these six simple steps and you’ll be well on your way to sending some excellent branded emails:

  1. Include your logo. This is a given. Even the ugly Starbucks email did this.
  2. Make use of your brand’s colours. It’s super easy to replicate the exact colours you use in your store and incorporate them into your emails. If you don’t know the hex codes for your storefront colours, there should be a colour picker tool you can use to more or less replicate your brand’s colours.
  3. Try to use a consistent font across all of your platforms. If this isn’t possible, select a font that fits well with your other font choices. Make note of this in your stylesheet. Most importantly, ensure that the font is readable and professional (so try to avoid curlicue fonts or something like Comic Sans).
  4. Add helpful and/or exciting visuals. This can be anything from an Instagram pic to a GIF to a video. Whatever it is, make sure it’s on brand and somewhat relevant to the email. This goes back to Forrester’s third point.
  5. Include relevant links. Don’t forget the reason for sending this email. If it’s an order confirmation email, include a link back to the original order. Every link should be helpful and enhance the email experience.
  6. As mentioned above, find your voice. This is obviously super important (because we’ve said it at least three times). This creates consistency and comfort for customers when they’re interacting with your company.

Final thoughts

Wow! That was a lot. But hopefully you understand now why it’s so important to created branded and memorable emails that customers will love.

Remember, too, that as much fun as it can be to create and design emails, don’t forget the original purpose of the email. Don’t let essential information such as a tracking number get lost in a sea of superfluous embellishments. Additionally, not everyone will have the ability to see or experience your well-designed emails. Always remember to make your emails accessible by creating plain text versions.

Now get out there and start designing some great transactional emails! Have you received or sent any great transactional email recently? We’d love to see some screenshots!