Transactional emails don’t have to be boring

I just noticed last week that Facebook has switched its friend request emails from plain text messages to a full HTML version. The benefits of HTML email over text are numerous and it’s nice to see Facebook offering its users something of value in these messages.

Here’s a “before” snapshot of the friend request notification:

And here’s the “after”:

Facebook could have gone crazy adding features and links to these messages, but thankfully they kept it simple. In the past, the person’s name wasn’t familiar and you weren’t sure you wanted to accept the request to connect, you had to take a few steps to get more information to make a decision. Now, it’s much easier to make a (superficial) decision based upon their photo.

Twitter also recently switched from a text notification of a new follower to an HTML version. Click the images for a full size version of each.

Old – text New – HTML

I mention these changes because it’s easy to write-off a transactional email and not give any thought to their design. The updates Facebook and Twitter made added a lot of value for the recipients without going overboard adding bells and whistles just because they could. The basic concepts guiding transactional email design apply to all marketing emails.

With the holiday season coming up and folks doing more online shopping, many companies will be sending emails whose only real point is to say, “Here’s written proof of your order. Thanks for shopping.” Take this opportunity to put some thought into your transactional emails and give them a refresh. But when you do, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does this add value to the consumer? Just because you can add images to HTML emails doesn’t mean you should. And this means including a banner ad. Nobody likes those, other than the guy who designed it. Those will just make the email clunky without adding anything to the user’s experience.
  2. Am I over-designing it? Just as you shouldn’t go crazy with adding images, overdoing on fonts isn’t necessary either. Keep the file size small so it’ll load quickly. And keep the coloring easy on the eyes and consistent with your brands.
  3. What useful information can I add? Answer this one as if you were the consumer, not as someone trying to sell more products. If your message is confirming a product purchase, try adding a link to a user manual. If you’re sending an email to confirm a dinner reservation, add a link to find directions to the restaurant.

If you think the above doesn’t apply to you because your business doesn’t send transactional emails, think again. These are basic questions that really apply to all marketing emails. I hope you’ll go forth and give a thoughtful approach to your email designs – transactional and otherwise.

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