We recently took a look at triggered emails – reactive messages prompted by a customer interaction. These types of emails include welcome messages, personal (e.g., birthday and anniversary) greetings and the subject of this post, transactional emails.

What’s the difference between marketing emails and transactional emails?

There are several fundamental differences between transactional emails and marketing emails. Jeffrey Vocell, writing on the Hubspot blog, differentiates between them this way:

• Marketing email – Any email sent that primarily contains a commercial message or content intended for a commercial purpose (i.e. nurturing leads through your funnel) is considered a marketing email and must follow local laws. Marketing email is generally sent to groups of contacts that are prospects or customers.

• Transactional email – One-to-one emails that contain information that completes a transaction or process the recipient has started with you. A common example is in ecommerce — after purchasing an item you receive an email receipt that has information about the item, price, and shipment. Transactional email is sent to individuals rather than a large list of recipients.

Transactional emails are by nature not glamorous. At their essence, they are messages from email marketing’s “back office” that can contain, in addition to receipts, back-order notifications, registration requests, reminders to return to a shopping cart, etc. Nevertheless, because these types of emails contain information that is pertinent and relevant to recipients, they also provide excellent marketing opportunities.

“Your customers are expecting them – even welcoming them – because they took a certain action in which they expect to receive a communication from you,” according to SendGrid, “They may have placed an order, signed up for your service, submitted a friend request, or asked to be notified of certain events. As a result, they are more apt to open your email.”

Indeed, as Campaign Monitor reports: “Due to the mission-critical content inside these emails, transactional emails are the most highly engaged emails that businesses send. In fact, research shows transactional emails have 8x more opens and clicks than any other type of email, and can generate 6x more revenue.”

That explains why savvy email marketers are increasingly recognizing – and realizing – the potential of transactional emails to engage customers and boost their brands.

“They’re a golden opportunity to provide hyper-relevant information and still maintain the style of your brand,” writes Kayla Lewkowicz on the Litmus blog. “Transactional emails, along with other kinds of triggered emails, have a reputation for being ‘set it and forget it’ programs, but they should be anything but. Regularly improving and optimizing these emails can ensure that you’re making the most out of every communication you send — no matter how boring it may seem on the surface.”

Marketers need to “put themselves in their user’s shoes” to make the most of transactional emails, writes Lewkowicz. “We talk about this time and time again in marketing: know your audience. For transactional emails, understanding where they are in your buyer’s journey, what kind of information you’re providing, and how you can help them quickly and effectively are all bedrocks of a great transactional email,” she writes.

Lewkowicz recommends that marketers make the most of transactional emails by using creative copy and design, by personalizing messages and by offering recommendations. Be “supportive, not salesy,” she suggests.

5 types of transactional emails you should be using

Campaign Monitor has put together a list of five types of transactional emails that most email marketers are already likely sending, along with suggestions for optimizing them. They include:

• Registration emails – You can optimize these messages by including the information customers need to sign in to their account, such as their login URL and username, and by providing information that helps customers get started with your product or service, such as links to helpful videos, articles and tutorials.

• Notification emails (such as password resets) – To make the most of these types of emails, be sure to include personalized, relevant information, provide a clear next step and align the look and feel of these messages with your brand.

• Confirmation emails (such as ticket purchases) – In addition to making sure these messages are optimized for mobile, use them to provide links to helpful resources and ask for a customer referral.

• Customer-feedback requests – Be specific about the feedback you are requesting, use a prominent call to action (CTA) button and make the feedback experience as seamless as possible.

• Shopping cart-abandonment messages – Make an offer (such as a free trial or 25 percent off), include a clear CTA and be timely (ideally, these types of messages should arrive not later than 24 hours after the customer leaves the cart).

“Transactional email should always further an existing relationship you already have and can be used in many different ways to accomplish that,” writes Vocell. “Using marketing and transactional email together in the right way can be a powerful combination that delivers a remarkable experience.”