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Perhaps the easiest way to distinguish transactional messaging from its promotional (or marketing) counterpart is that it’s about what’s necessary—and requested. Let’s take a look at this important type of communication.

Everybody’s familiar with the experience of getting an email or push notification that they weren’t expecting—and, frankly, they may not want—for a brand they patronize. But while a great deal of outreach falls into this category, there’s a key type of messaging that recipients not only expect, they actually need and want to receive it. Think password reset emails, delivery confirmations, and all the little communications that grease the wheels of modern life.

This outreach is known as transactional messaging—and in many situations, failing to send these messages can create a problem and a bad consumer experience. So let’s take a look at these critical components of customer relationships.

What is a Transactional Message?

At its core, a transactional message is an automated message that’s triggered by an action a given consumer takes. Generally these messages include necessary or high-priority info, such as a receipt, delivery details or updates, or order confirmations—and because they’re triggered by that individual's unique actions, they’re always sent on an individual basis, rather than to a big list of potential recipients.

Can You Give Some Other Examples of Transactional Messages?

Sure! Other common transactional notifications include:

  • Welcome or onboarding messages
  • Two-factor authentication messages
  • Bank account balance or financial transaction updates
  • Event registration confirmation messages
  • Customer feedback request messages
  • Security check messages
  • Activity messages

Hopefully that’s enough to get your started, but keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list; if a customer can take a relevant action on an app or website, there may well be a relevant transactional message that could be sent.

What Channel Are Transactional Messages Sent In?

In theory, you can send transactional communication in any channel. That said, attention-grabbing channels like email, SMS, or push notifications tend to be the most common, because they can reach recipients even if they’re not currently active on your app or website; for these kind of messages, it’s usually best not to depend on a channel like in-app messages where some of your users might not see the outreach for hours or days.

What Makes a Transactional Message Different From a Promotional Message?

Think about it this way: A promotional or marketing message is one that’s sent specifically for the purpose of building the brand relationship, driving customer loyalty, or reaching potential customers. That’s pretty different from a password reset email.

Marketing messages can include newsletters, discount notifications, new product promotions, company-related news, or anything that’s supporting a larger brand campaign. These messages are also often sent to larger groups of users—whether in batch-and-blast campaigns or highly segmented sends.

How can transactional messages support customer engagement?

At it’s best, transactional messages can be a powerful way for brands to build confidence and loyalty among their customers by consistently serving up the information that they depend on. To make sure you’re making the most out of the transactional notifications you send, keep these three guidelines in mind:

1. Make sure you have the appropriate information in each message

The whole point of a transactional message is that it’s giving customer info that they need when they need it. When you follow an online purchase with a receipt that includes tracking and delivery information, you’re giving them peace of mind that (a) their purchase actually went through and (b) it’s heading their way shortly. That’s meaningful, and can do a lot to bolster the relationship you’re building with them. The same principle applies to password reset messages (e.g. make sure they have clearly linked details and instructions), welcome communications, and any other kind of transactional outreach.

2. Just because they’re transactional doesn’t mean these messages need to be bland

Want to put your best foot forward? Use the transactional messages you send as opportunities to win over your audience. Take the time to ensure that subject lines and notification copy is snappy yet descriptive. Personalization is just as essential here as it is with marketing messages, so make sure you’re including the customer’s name and other specific information that can be dynamically inserted into the transactional messages you send (for instance, order numbers, delivery timelines, and more).

3. Decide whether you want to tread into the product-promotion gray area

If you’ve ever received a transactional message, you’re probably had this happen—you’re reading a message giving you key transactional information and find that the brand in question has taken the opportunity to highlight other aspects of their offering elsewhere in the message. This can be a winning strategy, as long as you don’t confuse or detract from the core message of the communications you’re sending, but before you dive in too deep, it’s smart to A/B versions of your transactional outreach that do and don’t include related product offers, just to make sure you’re not going to alienate customers with this hybrid outreach.

Next Steps

While they have a limited, specific purpose, transactional messages likely make up an important part of your overall messaging strategy. Customers are looking to you to clearly provide this pertinent information the moment they need it. Failing to do so can irreparably harm their relationship with your brand.

To get the full picture on how to create a memorable and relevant customer engagement strategy (and the role that cross-channel messaging can play in making that happen), check out our Cross-Channel Difference data report.