Transactional vs. Promotional Email: When to Use Each and Email Examples

Master the one-two punch of email marketing

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People’s email inboxes are filled with all sorts of emails. From the long group conversation thread about Friday night dinner, to the heated exchange with a customer service rep, to the cheesy promotional email from an ecommerce brand, customers are inundated with emails from every corner of their lives.

When it comes to sending emails to customers, marketers have to be savvy. That means paying attention to sending frequency, timing, segmentation, targeting, content, and email types—among other essentials. To help you improve the impact of your email marketing strategy, we’ll be taking a look at the two main email types that matter for marketers: transactional and promotional.

Read on to learn the ins and outs and see examples of each type of email.

Transactional Email Examples vs. Promotional Email Examples

Characteristic Promotional Email Transactional Email
Type of messages Exclusive offers, giveaways, announcements, deals, new products, invitations, third-party offers Essential information for customers to know, like shipping notifications, receipts, account updates, and password resets
CTA Make a purchase or complete another type of conversion Typically no direct CTA, although it is an opportunity for cross-selling, gathering feedback, and encouraging sharing
When to Use Send these emails whenever you have something new to offer and as triggered messages, keeping in mind targeting, segmentation, and cadence of promotions Set up these emails as triggered messages sent in response to a customer action or inaction

 

Promotional Emails

Promotional emails feature a commercial message focused on driving purchases or other conversions and can be triggered or sent manually. These emails require a clear call-to-action to convince customers to take the next step and convert. They’re typically campaigns that, if executed properly, can help generate revenue and give customers a reason to keep using your service.

While promotional emails do have the ability to deepen customer engagement and retention, you don’t want to get in the habit of creating an offer to increase retention. To succeed over the long haul, you need customers to genuinely connect with your brand—not just stick around waiting for the cheapest price. Creating frequent promotions with the sole purpose of increasing retention may prove to be costly in the long-run.

A promotional email from MileIQ

MileIQ Email

MileIQ uses a promotional giveaway email to encourage customers to refer their friends (in this case, the referral is the conversion). Every friend that signs up counts as an entry to win. This is a great use of a promotional email to increase acquisition.

An onboarding promotional email from Bonobos

Bonobos Promotional Email
Bonobos uses a promotional email to entice new customers to make their first order by offering 20% off and free shipping. This is a neat (and generous) way of using a promotional email to convert new customers.

Transactional Emails

Transactional emails are generally triggered and sent programmatically. In other words, these emails are sent after customers complete (or don’t complete) actions. For example, transactional emails are usually sent after completing a purchase, resetting a password, or abandoning an online shopping cart. A big misperception is that transactional emails are emails for ecommerce (note the word “transactional”). While it’s easy to see the confusion, these types of emails aren’t only for purchasing something (coincidentally, ecommerce companies tend to use transactional email the most). Password resets, profile change notifications, balance updates, email address confirmations, invoices, reminders, and more are all vital pieces of information for customers that non-ecommerce companies can send.

Transactional emails are unique in that they provide critical information to customers while giving marketers the opportunity to provide more value through content, cross-sell and feature other products, gather feedback, or drive acquisition through referrals and sharing buttons. Customers have become accustomed to receiving certain transactional emails after they complete certain actions, which is why an email strategy that includes transactional email is essential to retaining customers. Fail to trigger an expected account alert, and you may scare or confuse your audience.

A purchase confirmation email from Crate and Barrel

Crate and Barrel Transactional Email

Crate and Barrel sends a thank you email to customers who make a purchase, while also promoting other curated items to inspire a second purchase.

An “End of Ride” confirmation email from Citi Bike

Citibike Transactional Email

For Citi Bikes, riders are required to dock their bikes at regular intervals to avoid overage charges. This email confirms that a rider’s docking activity was recorded and specifically where and when the docking took place.

A password reset email from Jet.com

Jet.com Transactional Email

When a password has been updated, Jet.com confirms the change with a simple email that includes a call to continue shopping.

A triggered welcome email from Appboy

Appboy Transactional Email

We practice what we preach. After users register for our Mobile Marketing 101 Course, they receive a welcome email with a clear overview of what to expect in the four-week course.

For both your transactional and promotional emails, you want to ensure to:

  • Personalize messages to your customers’ past purchase behaviors or shopping preferences
  • Track performance of messages through attribution models that you create
  • Run segment-specific A/B tests
  • Reach buyers at their specific stage of the customer lifecycle
  • Use a marketing automation system to trigger campaigns based on actions that your users are taking

The right mix of transactional and promotional emails will keep your customers engaged and informed and keep your brand top of mind.

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