Marketing and Transactional Email

How to Build an Integrated Email Program

Marketing and Transactional Email

Chapter 1: Why you need both types of email in your program

Transactional and marketing email each fill a distinct space in the email world that can help you meet key marketing and business goals. Marketing email primarily focuses on customer acquisition, retention, and engagement, while transactional email primarily facilitates a form of transaction among the recipient and email sender.

Both forms of email can work together to produce a powerful email program that builds solid relationships with users and customers that continue to grow over time. Additionally, using both transactional and marketing SMS messaging can help you build an even more seamless communication experience for your customers. Examining the use cases of both marketing and transactional emails, as well as looking at some stellar examples of each, can equip you with the knowledge and tools you need to optimize your entire email program.

What’s Inside: This guide dives into the nuances between transactional content, promotional emails, and those that blend a bit of both, including:

  • The definitions of marketing and transactional email, how they differ, and how both can work together successfully.
  • Key email best practices that will ensure delivery and response from your email.
  • An introduction to SMS messaging and how it can enhance your existing email program.
  • Samples of marketing and transactional emails and SMS from companies that get it right.
Group of young adults outdoors holding empty placard copyspace thought bubbles

Chapter 2: What is marketing email?

Marketing email engages with recipients and attempts to persuade the recipient to take an action such as making a purchase, downloading content, registering for a service, attending an event, or visiting a store. The monthly newsletter from a gym, or the promotional email coupons from an online shopping site all qualify as marketing email.


For more accurate email performance measurement, separate out your ISP streams.

If there is a specific problem with one ISP and your list contains a high amount of those on that ISP, it will be easier to detect and troubleshoot.

In reality, email laws in the United States are not as strict as other countries. And following the law is just the beginning of what it takes to be a good email sender.

There’s a lot more diligence and strategy required to have a successful email program. Start with internalizing a mantra of sending valuable and wanted email to recipients who want to hear from you.

From there, consider all the forms of marketing emails available to you such as:

  • Email newsletters – regularly occurring email publications that share brand announcements, events, and special deals
  • Acquisition/nurture emails – These emails attempt to persuade recipients to turn into paying customers and may include free content assets that push them further down the buying funnel.
  • Promotional emails – These include events, coupons, and other special offers that warrant a one-off approach or send.
  • Retention emails – Once you have converted customers, you’ll want strategic ways to communicate with them. Provide tips or best practices for your products or even try to upgrade them to more premium services.
  • Winback emails  It’s hard to see paying customers leave you. In some cases, sending a win-back campaign may make sense. Offer a complimentary service or product that can reintroduce them to your brand.
  • Surveys and feedback collection – If you’re wondering whether or not to alter a service or product, gathering feedback from recipients can help you gauge and make business decisions.

Chapter 3: Email Marketing Best Practices

The world is becoming hyper-personalized and connected by technology and email is at the forefront. Email enables a 1:1 communication with your users that all starts with senders developing an organic, detailed recipient list.

Before you start sending marketing email, make sure your email list is healthy by spending time each quarter to remove unengaged users or emails that have since been shut down. ESPs, like SendGrid, show you which emails on your list bounced or were blocked as well as those who don’t open your emails.

Once you have a healthy list, segment your list by as many variables (geography, past purchase behavior, engagement) that you can. Doing so will help you achieve that coveted 1:1 interaction experience for the user and will be more likely to persuade them to convert into a paying customer.

Once you hit send, measuring email data and engagement is crucial for seeing what works and where you can improve. While marketers still debate which email marketing metrics “matter” the most, industry experts agree that the click-through rate is a good indication of subscriber interest and engagement.

In fact, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are now using engagement data to assess email quality and determine email deliverability

IOS Update

In 2016, Apple iOS updated its software to include a new version of its mobile inbox. The update informs the recipient if an email was sent from an email list and includes a quick link to unsubscribe if the recipient wants to stop receiving email from the business.

This event, like the Gmail update, at first sent a scare to marketers. But once again, this update benefits both the recipient and the marketer. Don’t fight updates like these and keep in mind that if you’re sending wanted email, this has little to no effect on your marketing efforts.


Social media can enhance your marketing efforts

Be intentional with how you collect social media signups. Many times, the user signs up with social media and the email associated with the account is never used or checked by the recipient. This can cause events such as blocks or bounces which will harm your engagement levels and sender reputation.

Don’t use too many calls to action (CTAs) within your marketing emails. Try to stay focused on a single unifying goal or action that you want your recipient to take. Too many may overwhelm recipients.

And if you’re curious about how your email program stacks up against other senders in your industry, check out SendGrid’s 2018 Email Benchmark Report. This report analyzes billions of emails sent through SendGrid to help determine average monthly send rates, open rates, click rates, device usage, and more to help you optimize your email program.

For more email marketing advice, check out SendGrid's Experts Guide to Email Marketing

Learn from the best

Chapter 4: Transactional Email Explained

According to CAN-SPAM, the governing legislation of email in the U.S., transactional email includes any email message in which the primary purpose “facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction.”

Transactional email emerged as an email category in the late 1990s when ecommerce retailers began sending purchase receipts and shipping notifications via email. Transactional email includes email triggered by a user’s interaction with a web application and today extends to mobile sites and apps.

The transactional email represents a closing of some sort of business activity between the sender and recipient–most times at the request of the recipient. As a result, transactional email consistently results in higher open rates across all categories of email. Types of transactional email include:

  • Account signups
  • Password changes
  • Receipt emails
  • Shipping notifications
  • Account notifications
  • Legal and policy updates required by law.

Looking for open source transactional email templates?

We got the goods

Chapter 5: Where Marketing and Transactional Email Overlap

As both transactional and marketing email volume continue to skyrocket across the world and in every industry, senders have started adding promotional content within transactional email. And to a certain point, this can be very effective.

Tailoring marketing content to a recent transaction can have a positive effect in driving the customer to take additional actions either now or in the near future. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule that defines how much or how little marketing content you can put in a transactional email before you fundamentally change the nature of the communication.

An unwritten rule that many marketers follow is the 80/20 rule: 80% of the content should relate directly to the transaction and 20% can be marketing focused. If you add too much promotional content, you run the risk of changing the fundamental purpose of the email and opening yourself up to increased filtering and CAN-SPAM compliance risks.

For example, ecommerce sites may consider sending follow-up promotional emails with items or products that other similar shoppers have purchased. But, be thoughtful if you decide to include marketing content in your transactional emails because there is a tipping point.

How close do you want to get to that tipping point? You might get away with sending higher levels of promotional content in transactional emails at first, but if you don’t monitor closely and your engagement suffers as a result, the ISPs will notice and take action such as placing you in the spam folder. There is no predetermined amount of promotional content that will cause an email to land in the spam folder, but transactional emails that contain promotional content may have an increased chance of filtering.

Where your email ends up is dependent on your sender reputation and engagement levels. If you are sending a shipping notification, make sure you focus on the delivery details. If you are sending an order confirmation or confirming a transaction, keep the main information at the top and make sure it dominates the email message.

Poor deliverability for your transactional mail stream delivers a particularly high punishment because these messages are expected and necessary for the successful use of your product or service. If these messages fail to arrive, there is not only a loss of trust between you and your customer, but the reliability of your product or service is also called into question–and this can negatively impact your revenue.


Triggered email explained

Triggered email is any sort of email that you set up to be “triggered” as a result of a specific action. Triggered email can apply to both marketing and transactional email. Triggered email is not purely marketing email, but not all triggered email is purely transactional. Usually, a recipient is not directly requesting the email like in traditional transactional email, but they aren’t surprised when they do receive an email since they had to have interacted with an app or website in order for them to receive the email.

Chapter 6: Best Practices Checklist for Sending Marketing and Transactional Email

No matter which type of email you send, there are certain best practices that apply to both forms and some that require slight modifications depending on the email type or goal.

For marketing email:


Monitor your email delivery and response rates by email stream and ISP

This data can help you prevent delivery failures from negatively impacting your email program and provides important clues as to how recipients are responding to your messages. These metrics are key to optimizing your email program for the best results and will help you provide the best possible customer experience.

Chapter 7: Transactional and Marketing SMS

SMS, or short messaging service, is a powerful communication tool that allows businesses to send promotional and informational messages via text in real-time to receptive users. According to Twilio’s 2019 Guide to Customer Messaging, more than two-thirds of global customers prefer text messaging over any other channel as a way to communicate with businesses. In fact, millennials prefer this channel at more than twice the rate of older consumers. SMS can be used by businesses for both transactional and marketing messages to connect with users directly on their mobile devices and initiate two-way conversations. 

SMS can enhance your existing email program by allowing you to engage your customers through another channel in a quicker, more informal way. SMS messages can be used for commerce notifications, time-sensitive promotions, real-time customer service, appointment reminders, and more. While email is a great channel for sending longer, more rich messages containing images and attachments, SMS is perfect for quick, concise messages for important and urgent communications. Therefore, email and SMS can work hand-in-hand to send relevant and personalized information to your customers on the channels they prefer.

Transactional SMS messaging is when a user’s action prompts an immediate message alert via text. Automated SMS replies are typically used for transaction alerts, delivery confirmations, appointment reminders, or acknowledgement of a customer opting-in to receive text messages from your brand. A triggered SMS message is instant and automatic, supporting and satisfying your customers at every intersection of their journey with your business.

Example: Your Order #8399 has been shipped. You will receive this order in 5-7 business days. Thank you for shopping with us.

Marketing SMS messages are sent to customers with the objective of promoting a product or service. Marketing SMSes typically contain discounts, coupons, or offers that give your users an incentive to engage with your brand. Marketing SMS messages should also include a clear call-to-action to drive traffic to your site or to encourage your customers to interact with your services. Mobile marketing messages are prompted by your business and should align with your existing email marketing strategy.

Example: Thank you for being a member of the (brand name) family. Here’s a 15% discount on all merchandise! Use code: TEXTER at checkout.

To learn more about how to incorporate transactional and marketing SMS into your existing email program, check out our SMS and Email Guide.


Text messages have significantly higher open and read rates than email or social media.

Not only is text messaging more popular than other channels, 99% of text messages are opened and read within the first 90 seconds of receiving them. In comparison, only a third of emails are opened, and merely 0.07% of Twitter and Facebook posts reach their intended audiences.

Chapter 8: 8 Email and SMS Examples to Learn From Transactional


Strava is a workout app that tracks exercise and compares your
times to other Strava members who covered the same section
(segment) of trail or road. If you manage to be the fastest in a given
segment, you are crowned king or queen of the mountain. But if
somebody else beats your time, Strava sends a quick email to let
you know and to provide friendly motivation to get back out there
and continue to use the app.

This email is short and to the point and includes clear branding
and simple fuss-free design. The subject line is also appealing and
cheeky without being mysterious. Read more about how Strava
optimizes their transactional email program.

There is certainly a chance to sprinkle in some promotional content
in this email as long as it’s not overly prominent or pushy.
There is a premium version of Strava they may want to mention.
But overall, Strava achieves a fun form of triggered transactional


OpenTable is an online site that books reservations for restaurants across the country. The day of a dining reservation, OpenTable sends users a reminder email with the reservation details, address, menu, and directions. There are quick links to modify, cancel, add the reservation to your calendar, or even share the event on social networks.

OpenTable gets a lot of information across within a simple nice design with multiple, yet clear calls to action. Notice the middle portion of the email includes some promotional material including an ask to download an app or give a gift card.

If people are clicking on these CTAs, then OpenTable should absolutely continue to include them in its transactional emails.


Mint is an online budgeting software that tracks money and allows you to set monetary goals and savings plans. Users can link bank accounts, credit cards, and investment funds, as well as track metrics such as net worth and credit score.

Mint automatically sends out monthly report emails to each user that leads with a graph that breaks down where your money went that previous month.

This is a transactional email that contains lots of useful information regarding monthly budgets and likely results in high user engagement. Who doesn’t want to know where their money is going each month? And to be able to break it down visually is even better for our world that is constantly on the go.


Trulia is an online residential real estate site, connecting home buyers, sellers, renters, and real estate professionals.

The company realized that the odds of successfully contacting an online lead are 100 times higher if the prospect hears from the agent within five minutes of submitting an online form, so Trulia uses automated text alerts to notify their sales team as soon as leads come in.

With SMS alerts, Trulia real estate agents are delivered new, qualified lead details instantly.



Couchsurfing is an online social network that connects people who love to travel and are looking to crash on fellow members’ couches when visiting places around the world. In this email example, Couchsurfing is introducing itself to the recipient with the clear title of “Let’s have an adventure!”

This email provides tips on how to optimize a user’s experience with the brand including travel tips, how to optimize your profile, and links to events around the world where you may want to Couchsurf.


Airbnb, a major accommodation and lodging booking site, lets users easily book places to stay across the world. The company does a great job of marketing locations by targeting users by their geography.

Since the company has access to a treasure of data including searches and reservations, they are able to send super-customized content in their marketing efforts. Sending emails that include data on where people from a certain geography like to travel may inspire users to actually book that trip they have been thinking about for some time.


Freshly is a meal delivery service that provides healthy pre-cooked meals to a customer’s doorstep. Users select meals from a menu each week on Freshly’s website. Notice that Freshly offers up two free meals so users can test out the meals before committing to the product.

Freshly capitalizes on the beauty of and potential of colorful, wellshot meals combined with nutritional call outs that demonstrate substance and health. They have a subtle but prominent brand, simple email design that lets the food imagery dominate, and includes two calls to action towards the same request.


Walmart, the world’s largest brick-and-mortar retailer, uses SMS to deliver special discount offers that Walmart shoppers can redeem for a limited time.

In addition to traditional marketing methods, such as in-store announcements, customers are encouraged to opt-in to receive these deals directly on their mobile devices.

Walmart sends these “Value of the Day” notifications via bulk text message to all subscribing customers, providing each with a new incentive to visit their local Walmart store daily. It’s a simple, but smart way to increase sales while rewarding customer loyalty.

Chapter 9: Takeaways

Marketing and transactional email can work together to form a strong and comprehensive program. Gather data from your transactional sends to use in your marketing email. And if you’re looking for an ESP to help you with both, SendGrid provides infrastructure for both your transactional and marketing needs, whether you use API or UI.

SMS can work with your existing email program to enhance your relationship with your customers and reach them on the channels that they prefer. Whether it be an automated purchase confirmation or a reminder of an upcoming sale, mobile messaging gives businesses the opportunity to spark two-way conversations and connect with their customers like never before.

The world is becoming more connected with technologies like email and SMS. And with that comes a lot of bad actors and spammers responsible for increased email scrutiny. Think of yourself as a good steward of the email and text messaging world. If you’re only appealing to the legal side of email and SMS compliance, you’re really missing the mark when it comes to optimizing your email and SMS programs.

Following best practices certainly takes more time than batch and blasting overly promotional content, but the investment is truly worth it. Remember, reputation and deliverability is never a static state. You either improve or damage your reputation with every campaign you send. Make the most of it!

Get Started with SendGrid

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