Marketing email vs. transactional email

With such a rich variety in types of marketing emails, it’s not surprising that the terms ‘marketing’ and ‘transactional’ are used interchangeably. There are, however, significant differences between the two. The reason they often confuse marketers, is that they both fall under the same umbrella term of marketing email messages. And even though they are similar in some respects, their raison d’être is quite distinctive.

Knowing the difference between marketing emails and transactional emails is crucial to get good email marketing results. So it’s best to know how to use them to full effect. You don’t want to see your email marketing efforts go to waste, do you? To make sure this topic doesn’t leave you scratching your head, let’s recap what each type of email message is really about...

What are marketing emails?

Any email that primarily contains a commercial message or content and serves a commercial purpose (i.e. nurturing leads through your funnel) is considered a marketing email. These are generally sent to groups of contacts that are considered prospects or customers. Marketing emails aim to get recipients to take action; e.g. make a purchase, download a white paper or request a sample. They’re delivered strategically at a pre-defined time to a list of prospects or customers that have opted-in to receive more information. The main objectives of marketing emails are to increase brand awareness, convert leads into customers, promote special offers, increase user engagement, and educate recipients.

Okay, but what about transactional emails then?

Well, this type of email contains information that’s unique to each individual contact. They’re usually triggered by a user action on your website or in an app, and prompt individuals to complete a transaction or process; e.g. reset their password, update their user profile or confirm a purchase. But they can also be purely informational, like a monthly status update or an overview of payments. Transactional emails are particularly effective to extend and enrich an existing customer relationship. You can see them as a supportive part of your services. These emails do not contain a commercial message, but are purely service-oriented. Nice to know: you don’t need to include an unsubscribe link in transactional emails, since they don’t really have a purely commercial function.

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.

How does that theory look in practice?

Now that we have definitions, let's expand on both of those cases and look at a few examples of marketing and transactional emails.

To recap the above definition: a marketing email has content that is intended for a commercial purpose. A newsletter is a spot-on example, because it's intended to drive the recipient towards making a purchase or downloading content that brings them further down the funnel.

Here are a few email examples that are marketing-related:
  • E-Newsletters
  • Content promotion and commercial offers
  • Sales emails and communication

This monthly Carglass® newsletter combines thematic content with a highly relevant promotional offer.


McDo shows some strong content promotion with an offer that’s hard to resist when you’re about to grab a bite.


These emails on the other hand, are transactional and aimed at an individual contact:
  • Order confirmation or receipt
  • Purchase abandonment
  • Customer feedback
  • Password reset request
  • Welcome / birthday email

This is how Uber keeps its Gold Members updated about the services they’ve been using recently (with a personal discount to tie in with it).


Lego uses a fun approach to remind webstore visitors that they’ve left some really cool stuff in their shopping cart…


Customer feedback matters to Netflix. And this is how they motivate their viewers to voice their opinion. Short and sweet.


No need to waste a lot of words on simple transactions. Pinterest comes straight to the point when passwords need to be reset.


Is it your birthday? Thanks to Q8 you receive some extra! 




To get the best possible results from your email marketing efforts, it’s wise to put the strength of both types of email to good use. Generally speaking, marketing emails are highly effective for commercial purposes, while transactional emails help you build a better relationship with your contacts and win their confidence in your company or brand. It goes without saying that both types of email play a leading part in every successful email marketing plan.

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