Why a Transactional Email Isn’t The Same As a Marketing Email and the Main Contrasts Between Them

Vladislav Podolyako
Apr 27, 2022
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Many marketers misunderstand the meaning of both “transactional” and “triggered” or “marketing” emails. Even Google does. If you don’t believe us, just use its search engine to find out about the main dissimilarities between the terms, and you’ll most certainly get very vague answers. 

Nonetheless, transactional emails, surprisingly, differ from marketing. They are used for dissimilar purposes and lead to different results. That is why it’s so vital to be able to differentiate between the two. Let’s dive right into the details.

Transactional Email VS. Triggered Email: Definitions

Prior to comparing the two polarities, it’s highly important to know and understand what they are. So let’s find out what marketing emails and transactional emails are in the first place.

Marketing Email (also known as Triggered)

It's all about commerce. Basically, it's a message that first and foremost contains business content or pieces of information aimed at a commercial goal. Yes, it’s main focus is on prospects potentially making a purchase. A lovely example of transactional messages is nurturing your leads. This kind of mail is typically sent to lists of contacts who are either prospects or current customers. Pretty easy, right? Let’s go on.

Transactional Email

This is about continuing the conversation and not so much about commerce. We’re talking about one-to-one kind of emails, which have information putting an end to a transaction or some kind of a buying process that the recipient began with you. If you’re talking about ecommerce, for example, then you know that after buying an item, you always get an electronic receipt with additional data regarding the item, cost, and delivery details. It's not common for large lists of buyers to receive such transactional emails. This is rather the prerogative of individual users.

Examples of Marketing & Transactional Emails 

Okay, now that you see what makes transactional and marketing emails contrasting (aka the differences), let’s get a more profound understanding of what they actually mean. Here are some examples of marketing emails and, accordingly, letters of transaction.

Marketing or Triggered Emails

It’s not hard to figure out what a marketing email (triggered email) means. There are many commerce-oriented transactional or marketing email (and, clearly, message) examples that will be covered later on in this article, but we want to pinpoint your attention to one of them — newsletters. Think about a traditional marketing email. Most likely, you’re thinking about a newsletter.

The rationale behind newsletters being a terrific example of marketing emails lies in…drum roll…their primary purpose. The main intent of any newsletter is either to lead a recipient further down your sales funnel or make them download any content that would bring them closer to buying from your business

But are there any other cases of marketing or triggered emails? Definitely. Here are the most common examples:

  • content offers & promotions (they educate customers about the benefits of your product, thus, encouraging them to purchase it);
  • communication emails (they help to maintain a decent level of connection with your potential and existing customers)
  • sales emails (they, obviously, speed up the sales cycle and drive more traffic to your website).

Well, well, well. Okay. And what’s the deal with transactional emails?

Transactional Emails

We want to take a minute and talk more about these kinds of messages.

  • Confirmation emails — it may come as a surprise, but very often, order confirmations are underestimated. But in many ways, a transactional email differs from other types of email in that it contains important data, special to each recipient individually. For example, if you purchase a new computer, eBay notifies you that it has been sent and lets you trace the package. Accordingly, this email is highly personalized for you and includes information based on your previous eBay purchases. If you've recently made a purchase from an ecommerce site, you've most likely received an email that looks something similar — an order confirmation email. Is it transactional? Yes. Now let’s go on.
  • Customers’ feedback — feedback is essential for a business, but it can be challenging to obtain. After all, there’s a small chance that customers will look for feedback forms, that’s why transactional emails can be a nice way of reducing friction in the feedback process.
  • Security verification — this is an integral part of any email marketing campaign. Customers expect their information to be safe and private, which is why cybersecurity is so important. Think about it this way: each time a new login or access to an account appears, there has to be a way to show both good manners and protection. Well, transactional emails are perfect for this. Recipients will either feel confident that their personal info is secure after receiving a security check, or they will take additional security measures.
  • Data confirmation transactional emails — as compared to marketing (triggered) emails, these kinds of messages are not aimed at directly making a sale or closing a deal. All they do is verify whether your personal information and contacts provided by you to the company are correct. Purely transactional
  • Password resetting — has it ever happened to you that a site kicked you out? Literally, just had you logged out. What did you do? Chances are, you clicked the “forgot my password” button. Yes, we’re talking about a password reset request that comes to literally all users’ inbox every once in a while. The thing is that such “password resets” contain a lot of confidential and critical information as well as cybersecurity data, which is certainly private to each individual user. For this reason, transactional emails like the password ones are the finest option for such marketing goals.
  • Notification emails have common characteristics with marketing emails, but they are still considered transactional. We all know the thing: when someone interacts with your profile or your account has some kind of activity going on, platforms send you notifications. For example, Facebook sends you a short marketing email when your friends post something on their or your wall. Basically, any activity associated with your page. The reason such mail is considered transactional is that they encourage less active users to remain a part of the online community, thus motivating them to complete some kind of transaction with your site. These might as well be called promotional emails.

Okay, at this point, you must have grasped the difference between what messages are considered transactional and which ones are thought of as marketing or triggered emails. Now let’s move on to an even more interesting aspect of this email marketing topic.

Transactional & Marketing Emails in the Context of Email Providers

Email Service Providers (or ESPs) play a big role in the sending of both letters: a) transactional and b) marketing (known to you as triggered) emails. What you should keep in mind at this point is that there are different ESPs, depending on what kind of email you’re sending. For instance, some of them are more proficient in transactional emails, while others are pros at marketing emails (also known as triggered). Let’s get into details.

Transactional ESPs

If you search for the best EPSs for your transactional mail endeavors, pay attention to aspects like personalization level and data-driven analytics. Some of the best figures for sending transactional emails on the market are MailChimp (specifically, Mandrill) and Postmark. Their powerful email editors surely help win customer loyalty. Now let’s move on to marketing (triggered) ESPs.

Marketing (Triggered) ESPs

Marketing email service providers, in their turn, focus on lead magnets and all things related to them. This could be content creation, website pages, or the visual aspect of marketing automation. The best examples of great marketing are ConvertKit and Mailerlite. Their marketing email solutions are capable of increasing your user engagement levels by preventing them from the “unsubscribe” button and eventually turning their inboxes into safe and no-spam online environments. 

Transactional Email in Line With Marketing Email: Etiquette and Advice

The email sphere also has some basic etiquette rules to stick to. Below are the top email marketing-related tips to keep in mind when planning your strategy, no matter if you’re opting for transactional emails or prefer marketing emails.


Ask any user, and they’ll tell you that they expect to experience coherent online communication. In other words, logical. For example, if they requested to change their password, send them a password reset email, not an order confirmation. If they just ordered something from you, on the other hand, it’ll be silly to send them a general “welcome” marketing or transactional email. These examples show a huge difference between an amateur sender and a professional one. 

You get the idea, right? The marketing email thread must be logical and coherent. This will boost your traffic and encourage customers to be more eager to purchase from you. 

Use Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The marketing email industry is packed with useful AI-powered tools and marketing email solutions to assist you in your endeavors. A great example is the AI-driven marketing automation tool named Folderly.

The software works perfectly well for transactional emails and marketing emails. In a nutshell, it takes over the most mundane tasks so you can focus on more important, human-capability work. This way, Folderly brings your customers closer to the purchase moment. So don’t hold back! Resort to the help of artificial intelligence and be sure to comply with email marketing etiquette!

Vladislav Podolyako
Vladislav Podolyako
Founder & CEO
Vlad’s decades of entrepreneurial wisdom and business building experience have allowed him to successfully mentor a diverse group of business owners, entrepreneurs in growing their companies. A recognized expert in the areas of transforming organizational culture and leadership development, B2B Sales, Marketing, spent more than 10 years building technology products, with a background in communication networks and electronic device engineering.

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