It’s a safe bet to say that email communication is here to stay.
Latest figures from Statista show the number of emails sent and received each day will continue to rise from 269 billion in 2017 to 333 billion by 2022.
Which is great news for you, because you can continue to send marketing emails to entice and woo your prospects and customers.
But there’s another type of email you might not be optimizing that’s equally important, and that’s transactional email.
In this guide, you’ll discover the key differences between transactional and marketing email and how you can use both types throughout your funnel to help your business flourish.
Definition: What’s the difference between transactional and marketing emails?
Before we look at some examples, let’s quickly define the two types of email.
- Transactional emails contain information that’s unique to each recipient. They’re usually triggered by a user action on a website or an app, and prompt individuals to complete a transaction or process; e.g. password resets. But they can also be purely informational; e.g. monthly statements. They aim to extend an existing customer relationship.
- Marketing emails are sometimes referred to as commercial emails because they contain marketing and promotional content. They aim to get you to take action; e.g. make a purchase, download information. They’re delivered strategically at a pre-configured time to a list of prospects or customers that have opted-in to receive more information.
The key difference is that transactional emails are sent on a one-to-one basis and, as a result, they tend to have higher open-rates than marketing emails, which are sent on a one-to-many basis.
Both transactional and marketing email use automation to deliver emails based on a predefined trigger or event.
Time-based automation delivers emails on a pre-programmed date and time. For example, you could send an automated renewal email to members reminding them that their subscription is about to expire.
Behavior-based automation is much smarter and allows you to personalize what and when you deliver your emails. For example, if you’re running an online store, you can trigger an automated abandoned shopping cart email when someone adds an item to their cart but leaves without buying.
Examples of automated transactional and marketing emails
Let’s take a look at some examples of transactional and marketing emails.
Transactional email examples
The primary objective of transactional emails is to keep existing customers informed. Some typical examples include ecommerce shipping confirmations, invoices and receipts, account notifications, password resets, social media updates, and welcome emails.
Monthly statements, like a bank statement, are sent at a predefined time without users making any interaction. In most cases, they contain a link to the information and some instructions:
Social media notifications
If you have social media notifications switched on, then you’re likely receiving these types of transactional email about mentions or updates:
Whenever you make changes to your online accounts like privacy settings, passwords, etc., you’ll receive a transactional email. Here’s an example ‘security alert’ following changes to a linked Google account:
Ecommerce order updates
Transactional emails are used frequently by ecommerce stores, especially after you complete a purchase. For example, Amazon sends three confirmation emails:
- Order confirmation:
- Dispatch confirmation:
- Delivery confirmation:
There are a couple of tell-tale signs that these are transactional emails:
- You can’t reply to the sender
- There’s no unsubscribe link
In other words, you didn’t opt-in to this email – it’s an automatic notification sent after you completed a transaction; i.e. purchased an item.
Transactional and marketing combined email examples
However, Amazon and other ecommerce stores often blur the line between transactional and marketing emails by including commercial elements in their transactional emails.
For example, in the order confirmation email above, Amazon includes its infamous cross-selling technique, ‘Customers Who Bought Items in Your Order Also Bought’:
You need to be extremely careful that you don’t break any country-specific laws by including commercial messages in a transactional email. For instance, Canada has stricter rules than the US.
Marketing email examples
The primary objectives of marketing emails are to increase brand awareness, convert prospects to customers, promote special offers, increase user engagement, and educate.
Some typical examples of marketing email include newsletters, nurture emails (cross-sell and upsell), retention emails, and promotional emails with special offers.
Here are a few examples from my inbox.
Men’s shaving and toiletries club Cornerstone sent this promotional offer for their multi-vitamins. It’s pitched as an introductory offer for existing members:
But essentially it’s all about getting existing members to increase their membership and buy more related products.
And, as it’s a marketing email, there’s a clear call to action plus an unsubscribe link:
Here’s a typical upsell marketing email from LinkedIn inviting me to ‘come back’ to their premium plan. It’s divided into three parts:
- The headline:
- The benefits of their premium plan:
- The small print, which includes an unsubscribe link.
Informing customers of product updates could potentially be classed as a transactional or a marketing email. But most are marketing emails as they’re not unique to the recipient.
This example is an informative and educational marketing email from TechSmith encouraging me to try three new product updates in Snagit:
There’s an option to unsubscribe if I don’t want to receive emails like this:
Another popular type of marketing email is the time-limited discount coupon. Here’s an example from Banana Print offering 10% off their Sticker Range with coupon code ‘STICKER10’:
Email service providers
If you’re wondering how these different types of emails get sent, then it all comes down to your email service provider (ESP). Some specialize in transactional emails, others stick to marketing emails, and some do both.
Here are a few ESPs to check out.
Transactional email service providers
Postmark is a transactional email service provider for web applications like Asana, 1Password, and FreeAgent that’s focused on delivering emails on time, every time.
Mandrill by MailChimp
Mandrill is a transactional email API for Mailchimp users. It’s reliable, powerful, and ideal for sending data-driven emails, including targeted e-commerce and personalized one-to-one messages.
Transactional and marketing email service providers
Some providers offer both transactional and marketing email services:
Sendinblue is a popular email service provider that provides transactional emails, along with marketing emails – unified in a single platform. It also has robust email automation functionality.
SendGrid provides both transactional and marketing emails for famous brands including Spotify, Airbnb, and Yelp.
Mailgun offers both transactional and marketing email solutions. Software developers at Shopify, Slack, and Reddit use their transactional API.
Marketing email service providers
Below are several service providers focused strictly on sending of marketing emails:
ConvertKit provides marketing emails aimed at bloggers, and content creators. Their platform offers a simple way to deliver lead magnets, create forms/landing pages, setup visual automation, and use over 80 integrations with various tools.
Mailerlite is another popular option for sending marketing emails. While they don’t have the easy method of delivering lead magnets, they offer visual automation, form/landing page creation, and offer a free-forever plan for up-to 1,000 subscribers.
Transactional vs marketing emails comparison table
Here’s a quick-reference table comparing the characteristics of transactional and marketing email:
Traditional marketing email seems to have been around a long time – it’s something we’re all familiar with, either as a recipient or a sender. As it matures, email service providers are making it easier to send targeted emails to segments or groups of contacts based on behavior. But the content is still not unique.
Transactional emails are personalized one-to-one communications that are relevant only to the recipient, typically sent using marketing automation.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re sending the right type of email at the right time.
Ask yourself: Do you want to drive prospects further down the funnel or reassure loyal customers?
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