Break the “Rules” of Transactional Messages Like Slack and Uber

Team Braze By Team Braze Aug 30, 2016

For many organizations, transactional and promotional emails exist in separate, distinct worlds. They co-exist, rather than overlap. The reason why makes sense: logistics and customer support teams have different needs than marketers. Transactional emails, by design, often stay brief and focused—to keep customers updated on their orders and provide a channel to ask questions. Promotional emails, on the other hand, need to be emotional, attention-grabbing, and influential enough to sway a purchase decision.

At first glance, it seems like the two worlds need to remain entirely separate—or do they? Industry-wide user engagement trends suggest otherwise. For instance, Think with Google found that buyer journeys are spanning more interactions and touchpoints. Research from usability research firm Nielsen Norman Group reveals a long-standing trend that consumers are hard-wiring themselves to ignore anything that looks like an ad.

From a marketing real estate perspective, transactional messages provide valuable opportunities to strengthen connections with existing customers and encourage repeat purchases. So how can you best blur the lines between transactional and promotional messages? Here’s a step-by-step blueprint to help you break the rules of promotional and transactional messages.

Step 1: Treat your transactional messages like you would any other lifecycle campaign

For many companies, transactional messages go out all day, every day and are a goldmine for interacting with and engaging your customers. But there’s also room for error. If you append a generic promotion to your transactional communication, you’ll risk missing the mark with the wrong message. At a minimum, you’ll want to ensure that you can do the following:

  • Personalize messages to your customers’ past purchase behaviors or shopping preferences
  • Track performance of messages through attribution models that you create
  • Run segment-specific A/B tests
  • Reach buyers at their specific stage of the customer lifecycle (check out this customer lifecycle targeting guide for tips on how to do this)
  • Use a marketing automation system to trigger campaigns based on actions that your users are taking

With this process in place, you can plan your promotional content inside transactional messages just as you would any other campaign. From a marketing strategy perspective, you can treat this placement as similar to any ad unit on, say, Google AdWords or Facebook. You can run A/B tests on your messaging to optimize your results over time.

For inspiration, take a look at this receipt from Uber. It communicates valuable information, how much a ride cost, while also advertising its new service, UberEATS, with a promotional code.

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Uber communicates valuable information, without creating a distraction from the core transactional message.

Step 2: Delight your users with valuable information

Who says that your transactional message can’t be a promotional message too? As all marketers are well-aware, word-of-mouth (WOM) is a timeless, powerful force. When customers are happy, they’ll recommend your business to fellow human beings who need your business, too.

See if your marketing team can join forces with your customer service and data teams to turn your course-of-doing-business emails into interesting data visualizations and content marketing assets. For an example, take a look at this recap from Slack:

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Every week, Slack sends its users a weekly summary, where the visualization above fits in. The entire email isn’t just a compilation of random data points. It’s a narrative about your organization. The transactional email is, in a way, the ultimate weekly newsletter.

If you’re looking for additional resources on copywriting and narrative, here’s a guide that may help: The New Rules of Writing for Mobile Audiences.

Step 3: Open a dialogue channel with your customers

What happens when a customer is upset at your business and doesn’t have a channel for venting frustrations? The last thing that you want is for frustrations to blow up on public social media. It’s a much better experience for all parties when those channels keep conversations positive.

Marketers can use transactional emails as sources for customer research and feedback. Are people happy with the product? Are there aspects of your campaign messaging that need to change?

For inspiration, take a look at this call summary email from UberConference:

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After every call, users have an opportunity to report upon the quality, directly. UberConference can use this data to invest in making long-term upgrades that keep customers happy. The interface is simple and mobile-friendly. The information gathered can be a direct channel back to marketing, in addition to product development and customer service.


Use your transactional messages as a market research opportunity. Ask your customers to engage and share valuable information to inform your follow-up, product messaging, and campaigns.

Final thoughts

Don’t be afraid to get creative and blur the lines between promotional and transactional worlds. Why not make the most out of every touchpoint and opportunity? Transactional messages are a hidden opportunity for marketing. Offer up valuable information and target your users at the right stages in their customer journeys.

Team Braze

Team Braze