Marketing Emails vs. Transactional Emails

Both marketing emails and transactional emails help startups drive customer acquisition and retention, as well as grow revenue. But what’s the difference between marketing and transactional emails? And which are the best email marketing platforms for helping startups maximize the benefits of email marketing? Read on!

What’s the difference between marketing emails and transactional emails?
Email marketing, also called commercial or promotional marketing, is defined as any message that advertises or promotes a commercial product or service. Examples of marketing emails include newsletters, email promotions, coupons or special offers. Marketing emails always include a call to action for readers, encouraging them to make a purchase, download content, register for a service, or attend an event or particular location. All marketing emails must adhere to legal requirements defined in the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which was developed to protect consumers from excessive spam emails.

Transactional emails, on the other hand, are communications that facilitate an already agreed-upon transaction. Transactional emails are triggered by a user’s interaction with web content, and include follow-ups on account signups, password changes, purchase receipts, check-ins, notifications and friend/follower requests. Transactional emails tend to have the highest open rates because they contain information that customers need or want, so it’s important to use a trusted email delivery to ensure successful delivery to users’ inboxes.

What are the best email marketing platforms for startups?
The majority of Stacklist users feel that one email marketing tool is sufficient to get the job done--both for marketing emails and transactional emails. And MailChimp is, hands-down, their #1 choice, used by almost 60% of the Stacklist community. Ashwinn Krishnaswamy, founder of Point, explains, “MailChimp is a very thoughtful product that takes what could be a complex/daunting task and makes it very simple. You upload an email into a premade template and they integrate with your current analytics platform. I knew nothing about email marketing or mass emails before this, but MailChimp has made it super easy, and their onboarding is fantastic.” Other users love its templates and analytics capabilities, and the fact that it’s famously easy on the wallet.

HubSpot is another popular choice, and one of the most easy-to-use products on the market, as is Sailthru, which Adam Schwartz, founder of TeePublic, describes as being “more data-driven than every other marketing email service, in the sense that the out-of-the box analytics you get is more sophisticated than a MailChimp-type product. So if you're trying to make improvements on your email program by using data, Sailthru makes that significantly easier to do.” For larger startups, though, Sailthru seems to pose a few roadblocks: According to Plated founder Nick Taranto, Sailthru doesn’t offer the enterprise-level services that they will need. “Customizing different campaigns with Sailthru takes a lot more labor and effort than we would like, and it's a little clunky, but it does have the drip functionality that we needed. Email marketing is a huge component of our business, and we needed a more robust tool than MailChimp or Mandrill.”

If you’re looking for a transactional email pure-play approach, Stacklist users love, which TripleMint founder Phil Lang describes as “more of a developer-type email. It takes a long time to set up, but it’s very customizable, and great for transactional emails.” Walter and Tom Hessert, founders of Derby Games, also give a thumbs-up and note that it’s “good for companies of all sizes.” SendGrid is another top choice, used by 8% of the Stacklist community, including Kickstarter, HowAboutWe, Segment, One Month, Knozen and The Information.

Using multiple email marketing platforms
But not all companies feel that one email service provider is sufficient, and use different platforms for marketing emails and transactional emails. For example, Mattan Griffel of One Month explains that, while MailChimp is great for newsletters and marketing emails, it doesn’t work for event-based emails, so he chose SendGrid for transactional emails and for sending emails between users within the One Month application. He also uses for trigger emails, for example to someone who's just attended a certain event or to someone who's been inactive for 30 days.

Other MailChimp users love the tool’s API with Mandrill, which is specifically designed for sending secure, automated transactional emails. Among Stacklist users who use a two-pronged solution for marketing emails, 25% favor the MailChimp-Mandrill matchup. Andrew Swick, founder of CheckedTwice, vouches for this solution: “We love Mandrill. It’s such a simple API, and cheap! MailChimp is more hands-on, but it works well, and they complement each other.”

Tips for email marketing success
Regardless of which email marketing tool you choose, there are certain email best practices you should stick to regardless of the type of communication you’re sending out.

  • Create strong, compelling content that’s concise and visually appealing
  • Include good headers that will capture readers’ attention
  • Send your emails through a trusted email service provider
  • Collect data on your email campaigns to optimize visibility into your email marketing practices and maximize responses rates