Transactional Email vs Marketing Email: What’s The Difference?

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Over 330 billion emails are sent and received each day. So whether you know it or not, email runs the marketing world. And it’s safe to say that email is here to stay.

Transactional Email vs Marketing Email What's The Difference

Of these 330 billion, every business will send both transactional and marketing emails. And one question people often ask is, “What’s the difference between the two?”

Here’s a quick answer: we use marketing emails to boost brand and product awareness, while transactional emails are more about improving customer service, increasing trust in your brand, and nurturing customer relationships.

With that in mind, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how marketing and transactional emails differ and why you should use separate email software for each to manage your email campaigns better.

Let’s dive in!

Quick differences between transactional and marketing emails

Here are the main differences between transactional emails and marketing emails:

Transactional Email

Marketing Email

Direct response to an action the recipient has taken

Focuses on enticing the recipient to take action

Can be sent to customers who haven't subscribed

Can only be sent to customers who have subscribed

Speed of delivery is crucial

Speed of delivery is not as important

Has higher open and engagement rates

Has lower open and engagement rates

Doesn’t require an unsubscribe link

Requires an unsubscribe link

GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and other regulations don't apply.

GDPR, CAN-SPAM, and other regulations apply.

Let's now look at what a transactional email entails.

What is a transactional email?

Transactional emails are sent in response to a specific user action and contain only crucial, relevant information to the recipient. They're usually related to a commercial transaction or account activity

For example, a password reset email is a transactional email based on account activity. It's only triggered when customers report they don’t remember their password.

Even if you have a similar template for all password reset emails, the exact content is unique to each user and is only sent upon request.

A typical example of a commercial transaction is in ecommerce. After buying a product from an ecommerce store, you'll receive an email receipt with details about the item, price, and shipment.

Transactional email best practices

Here are some best practices to help you send your transactional emails successfully:

Use a readable and recognizable email address

When recipients trigger a transactional email, they’ll be looking out for it, so make it simple for them to spot the email

Add avatars to ensure users can recognize your logo at first glance. Also, use a readable “From” name and a simple reply-to address. That way, your customers will feel reassured, boosting your brand reputation and customer trust.

Have a concise subject line

Your recipients will see the subject line first, regardless of whether or not they open the email. So try to write a concise and straight-to-the-point subject line to persuade them to open the email.

The best way to do that is to be upfront and tell the user why you're sending the email while referring to the action they had just taken.

Match your brand voice and design

Ensure your transactional email design matches your brand's overall style and voice. Create a template that fits your brand identity to provide consistency and a positive customer experience.

Transactional email examples

The primary goal of transactional emails is to keep existing customers updated. So, let’s look at some of the most common types of transactional emails.

Order confirmation 

Order confirmation emails are sent when a customer purchases an item from your ecommerce store, and the email should arrive in their inbox immediately.

As the name implies, the email contains the customer's order confirmation details, such as the items they bought, the estimated delivery date, and the purchase total.

Here’s an example:

Order Confirmation

Password reset

Most people often forget their passwords. And the simplest way to regain access is to click "forgot my password." 

Password reset emails serve only one purpose: to allow users to regain access to their accounts securely. So, a good password reset email should be simple but have the necessary details to ensure users have the best experience.

Here’s an example:

Password Reset

Account alerts

Account alert emails notify customers to protect them whenever there's any suspicious online activity. One typical example is a notification when users log into their accounts from an unfamiliar device.

The purpose of the email is to ensure a customer’s login details haven't been compromised

The email typically has information on how to contact the company if the customer is concerned about the activity while reassuring them that no action is required if they were the ones logging in.

Here’s an example:

Account Alerts

Abandoned cart

An abandoned cart email is a friendly reminder  that an e-commerce business sends to customers who added items to their shopping cart but didn't check out

Consumers may fail to check out for various reasons:

  • They may still be making a decision; 
  • They’re looking for the best price;
  • The shipping costs are more than what they expected.

While you should personalize all transactional emails, it’s even more critical for abandoned cart emails.

For your abandoned cart emails to succeed, ensure they:

  • Are tailored to the recipient;
  • Offer an incentive to return and finish buying the products;
  • Show how the recipient can reach out to customer service if they have any questions about the products in their shopping cart;
  • Has a clear call to action (CTA) button where they can access the cart and complete their purchase.

Here’s an example:

Abandoned Cart

Shipping confirmation

Shipping confirmation emails are sent to customers when an item they've bought has been shipped to them.

This type of email should have at least the following:

  • Subject line
  • Estimated delivery date
  • Tracking link

Sending a shipping confirmation email is an essential step in the customer journey because it keeps the customer updated on the status of their order. As a result, it strengthens your brand's reliability and builds customer loyalty. 

Here's an example:

Shipping Confirmation

Now, let’s look at what a marketing email entails.

What is a marketing email?

Marketing emails typically promote a business and ask the recipient to do something. Unlike transactional emails, they're sent strategically to a recipient list with a specific objective like making a purchase, donating, or reading more.

In other words, a marketing email is anything a customer didn't specifically trigger. For instance, a promotional offer, the weekly newsletter, or product updates.

Marketing email best practices

Here are some best practices to help you send your marketing emails successfully:

Offer something valuable

Always focus your marketing emails on what your customers are interested in rather than what you want them to do.

Your email should offer value relevant to their interests and shouldn't come across as a sales pitch.

Make it easy for users to unsubscribe

While your primary goal is to grow your email list, people will always unsubscribe at some point. 

Whatever the reason, if they find your emails no longer valuable to them, make unsubscribing simple and painless. Add the unsubscribe link in the email footer to make it easy for them to unsubscribe with one or two clicks.

Have a compelling call to action (CTA)

Add CTA buttons to your emails to help the recipient understand what they should do. 

The CTA text should be concise and brief (one to five words), while your CTA button should stand out and be visible to the reader.

Marketing email examples

The main goal of marketing emails is to educate, convert prospects to customers, increase brand awareness and user engagement, and promote special offers.

Here are some of the most common examples:

Lead-nurturing email

Lead-nurturing emails help you develop a relationship with your leads and move them down the sales funnel until they become customers. 

These emails typically appeal to the recipient's emotions using user-generated content and social proof. Sometimes, they offer significant discounts to give more incentive to purchase.

An effective lead-nurturing email should be able to entice, engage, and encourage leads to continue interacting with your brand.

Here's an example:

Lead-Nurturing Email

Re-engagement email

A re-engagement email is designed to win back subscribers who've stopped engaging with your emails and get them interested in your offers again. That's why they're also called win-back emails.

People may stop engaging with your emails for a lot of reasons. Some of these reasons are things you could improve on, while others are entirely out of your control. Here are a couple of examples:

  • You're sending too many emails;
  • Your emails are irrelevant to the subscriber's interests;
  • Your subscribers' inboxes are full of emails from other brands;
  • Your subscribers are pretty busy and just forgot about your emails.

Here's a re-engagement email example:

Re-Engagement Email


Newsletters are sent to subscribers to update them about your company's latest services and products. You can also use them to share valuable blog posts or industry news to inform recipients about your offers and discounts. 

As such, your newsletters must contain helpful content if you want to keep customers on your subscription list. That usually includes: 

  • Relevant and attractive images;
  • Multiple CTAs;
  • Engaging content.

Here’s an example:


Promotional emails

Promotional emails are written to your audience—whether leads, subscribers, or customers—to promote an offer you're running. These emails are intended to guide them through the sales funnel.

You can craft promotional emails for almost any offer you're running:

  • Holiday or seasonal promotions;
  • Limited-time offers;
  • Product launches;
  • Contests and giveaways;
  • Free content like white papers, eBooks, infographics, or guides.

Here's an example:

Promotional Emails

Welcome emails

A welcome email is the first message you send to a recipient once they sign up or subscribe. It's often part of a series of onboarding emails that help subscribers familiarize themselves with the brand.

Effective welcome emails are sent to contacts shortly after they are added to your email list or fill out an email signup form

You don’t have to send welcome emails manually. You can use an email marketing tool to easily set up a workflow that automatically sends these emails to new subscribers.

Here's an example:

Welcome Emails

Why should you send transactional and marketing emails separately?

Separating transactional and marketing emails may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh any challenges you may face.

Transactional and marketing emails have different success metrics, content, and goals. And for that reason alone, you should separate them

Here are more reasons why you should separate transactional emails from marketing emails:


Sending marketing and transactional emails from the same email marketing service will make it challenging for customers to differentiate between them

So, send each type of email from different servers to eliminate the chance of them labeling everything as promotional. That becomes crucial, especially when sending time-sensitive emails such as password resets.

In addition, using the same server for both email types may result in spam complaints from one type of email, influencing the deliverability of the other. 

For example, when your marketing emails generate hard bounces or spam complaints, it affects your domain's reputation. When this occurs, the delivery of your crucial transactional emails may also suffer.

Delivery speed

Speed is a crucial factor when sending transactional emails. It's not whether or not they arrive in the inbox but how fast they reach there. 

Since users trigger transactional emails, they expect to see them in their inboxes immediately. Otherwise, it lowers the customer experience.

Here are some ways to ensure recipients quickly distinguish between transactional and marketing emails:

  • Use different “From” email addresses for marketing and transactional emails. For instance, you can send marketing emails from [email protected] and transactional emails from [email protected].
  • Use different subdomains for each type of email. For example, you can send marketing emails from [email protected] and transactional emails from [email protected].

Reduced support requests and improved customer trust

When your transactional emails are delayed or lost, it'll result in more "I tried to reset my password but never received the email" support messages.

Each of those requests can potentially strain customer relationships and brand reputation. It'll also mean more work for your team.

So, separate transactional and marketing emails to reduce the number of support requests users make. As a result, you'll be able to improve brand trust and give your team more time to focus on more important things.

Invest in both transactional and marketing emails

There you have it. Transactional emails are one-to-one communications personalized for the recipient and are typically sent automatically from an email service. 

In contrast, marketing emails are used to promote your brand and products and can be sent in bulk.


So, ensure you’re sending the appropriate type of email at the right time to boost customer loyalty and brand trust

Do you have more transactional and marketing email differences we haven't mentioned? Share the post with your answers.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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