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What’s the difference between a marketing email and a transactional email?

From welcome messages to new product announcements, promotional offers and order confirmations, there are many different types of emails that businesses send out.

While email remains a highly efficient and effective communication channel for businesses, transactional emails like schedule or delivery confirmations are the types of emails that often get neglected or ignored. Despite being an important part of client communications, especially for ecommerce businesses, they’re not as captivating or interesting as marketing emails.

However, they’re vital to ensuring your operation runs smoothly and your customers are satisfied with their experience.

So, what is a transactional email, exactly? ln this article, we’ll explain the differences between transactional email vs. marketing email and identify the benefits and functions of each. We’ll also share some popular transactional email examples, so you’ll know how to best use them for your business.

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Transactional email vs. marketing email

Transactional and marketing email types serve different functions, objectives and strategies. If you’re running an ecommerce website, there’s a good chance you’re already using both types of email in your business.

Let’s first define what a marketing email vs. a transactional email is, and then classify which types of common business emails fall into each category.

What is a marketing email?

Marketing emails help you achieve many objectives, including expanding brand awareness and engagement, boosting conversionst and list building. Your email marketing strategy can change from month to month and it performs best if it aligns with your customers’ evolving needs and behavior.

Examples of marketing emails include anything from newsletters, event invites, promotional emails, product updates, announcements or dedicated send (i.e. emails sent to only a specific group of people that would benefit from such an event or product).

Essentially, marketing emails have two purposes:

  • To increase or stimulate engagement from subscribers

  • To provide valuable information while promoting products or services

The strategy for marketing emails includes testing out subject lines and conducting A/B tests to find out what your customers react to best in order to increase open rates and click throughs. Marketing email platforms also come with specific automation functions like date triggers, abandoned cart reminders and welcome messages.

Marketing emails can be very effective and allow you to leverage your email list, customer directory or website subscriber base. While email marketing tools make the process easier than ever, enjoying email marketing success still requires a solid knowledge of email marketing. An email marketer has to be proactive and must know how to develop strategies that will quickly benefit the company and improve ROI.

What is a transactional email?

Transactional emails have their own set of objectives, primarily to confirm a transaction that a customer has taken on your website. The strategy and end-goal is to improve customer service and therefore increase customer satisfaction, while also maintaining brand awareness.

The biggest difference between transactional emails and marketing emails is that transactional emails are personalized and sent only to one recipient, whereas marketing emails are sent out in blasts to many people at once. This allows more personalized triggered emails to be sent through marketing automation that go beyond simply inserting the customer’s first name, also potentially containing information regarding their order or a request for feedback.

Examples of transactional emails include order confirmations, follow-ups, information about shipping, opt-in emails, password reset emails and transaction thank you emails.

The main purposes of transactional emails are:

  • To provide information that is uniquely relevant to a specific recipient

  • To improve customer service and customer retention

Transactional emails are mainly automated by a system trigger, so it’s easy to see why they’re so often neglected in favor of mass email marketing campaigns. They serve an important purpose, however, and paying more attention to this type of email could help increase your conversion rates and strengthen your customer retention.

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What are the benefits of transactional emails?

One of the biggest advantages of good transactional emails is that they often have a high email deliverability rate (i.e. they go to your recipient’s inbox instead of getting lost in their junk folder) and subsequently produce fantastic open rates.

While marketing emails are one of the pillars on which ecommerce success stands, the very nature of them can appear suspicious to email service providers. Emails that promote special offers, offer pricing discounts, etc. can sometimes end up marked as junk and sent to spam folders when journeying through SMTP servers.

Transaction emails, on the other hand, often contain valuable information like confirmation numbers or expected delivery dates. As the customer is often expecting this email, they carry with them a high deliverability rate and engagement rate.

The primary goal of a transaction email isn’t conversions. After all, as per the transactional email definition, the emails facilitate a transaction or provide updates and are usually sent after a conversion event. Still, many marketers feel that transactional emails play an important part in conversions and future sales as they help boost brand awareness and build trust.

With email platform tools like real-time reports, email API integration and personalization, it’s simpler than ever to optimize your transaction emails so they don’t just inform, but also work to nurture and build meaningful customer relationships.

Do transactional emails need an unsubscribe button?

Transactional emails aren’t sequenced or repetitive. Instead, they’re automated emails triggered by a specific action. Therefore, the recipient will be expecting the email in one way or another (e.g. by completing a purchase or by requesting to change their password) and they can expect not to receive future emails from you that aren’t related to this transaction.

However, just because they’ve entered their email address during the transaction doesn’t necessarily mean you can now send them marketing emails – that would require them to opt in to your marketing emails and give their consent to receive them.

If you’re not already, you may want to offer customers an option to opt in to your email marketing at your checkout to grow your subscriber list. This also helps to ensure your business is following data protection guidelines like GDPR.

Email best practices and the CAN-SPAM Act demand you include an unsubscribe link in all of your emails so your recipients can adjust their email preferences as and when they choose. For example, a previous customer might visit your website and then abandon their cart only to decide to purchase elsewhere. In this instance, when your reminder email arrives, they may wish to unsubscribe.


Popular transactional email examples

There are many types of transactional emails that you’re likely to come across in your inbox. Now that you know what transactional messages are, let’s go through some of the most common examples.

Welcome emails

Welcome emails are a fantastic way to begin building strong customer relationships. They’re sent automatically to users who have signed up for your mailing list, gone through the account creation process on your ecommerce website or requested product information.

A great welcome email will be short and sweet, perhaps offering incentives such as discounts that encourage recipients to revisit your website and start shopping. To achieve this you’ll also need a strong, clear call to action (CTA).

Order confirmation emails

An order confirmation email is very important to customers. These notification emails not only provide them with email receipts, but also peace of mind that their order has gone through successfully. As the customer will expect and actively look for this email, they also have very high open rates.

Good order confirmation emails display all of the important information regarding a customer’s order, such as the products purchased, the purchase receipts and delivery details. As the open rates are so high, these emails also provide a great opportunity to upsell or cross-sell and you could consider displaying other products or services the recipient may be interested in. Amazon, for example, always includes a ‘Customers who bought [X] also bought [Y]’ section in their order confirmation emails.

Shipping confirmation emails

If delivery details aren’t set in stone in your original order confirmation email, you could also send a shipping confirmation email once the details are confirmed. In fact, even if you have already told the customer when their order is being delivered, you could automate shipping notifications to arrive closer to the time as a reminder.

Delivery confirmation emails

A delivery confirmation email is sent when an order has been delivered, providing closure but also acting as a notification should the purchaser not be present at the location of delivery.

These notification emails also provide an excellent opportunity to cross-sell or encourage repeat orders as some time will have passed since the delivered order was made.

Cart abandonment emails

Many people abandon their carts when shopping online. No matter why they abandon their carts, sending them an email reminder to complete their purchase is a smart move. They act as a reminder first and foremost, as people may have simply forgotten they were in the middle of online shopping. Used correctly, they can also be powerful incentives that move your potential customers across the finish line.

if you’re not sending them, you could be missing out on tons of conversions and new customers. A good cart abandonment email will be nice and light, reminding the recipient of the product they came close to purchasing. Include a strong CTA and perhaps an image of the product when appropriate.

Password reset emails

Password reset emails are rather simple: They allow users who have forgotten their login details for your website to reset them. Make the email as simple and clear to follow as possible in order to help them get back onto your site with minimal friction.

These emails are sensitive, however, and may arrive as a result of a third party attempting to gain access to your customer’s account. You should never include a password in the email as this indicates your system isn’t secure. Once your email has established that a password reset request was made, a CTA to a temporary and secure URL is all that’s required.

Customer feedback emails

Customer feedback emails are sent in order to gather opinions or suggestions to help improve your products, order process or customer experience. They’re an excellent way to follow up with existing customers and show that you value their opinions, plus the information you can collect can be very valuable and will help you improve customer satisfaction levels.


Final thoughts

There really is no transactional email vs. marketing email contest. The two types of email messages work in harmony within your email campaigns and overall marketing strategy, with different purposes and strategies.

Remember, the main objectives of marketing emails are to:

  • Increase or stimulate engagement from subscribers

  • Provide valuable information while promoting products or services

While the main objectives of transactional emails are to:

  • Provide information that is uniquely relevant to a specific recipient

  • Improve customer service and customer retention

By using each email type effectively, you can transform your email marketing and give users value wherever they are in the lifecycle.

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