Email Marketing: Broadcast Emails vs Transactional Emails

Hipmunk Email MarketingIt’s easy to hate email marketing.

It’s easy to look at your inbox, scroll through 100s of messages from companies that are probably just trying to sell you stuff, and add to your list of startup ideas “Banish Email Marketing from the World’s Inboxes”.

But, as I’m sure you know, just because you don’t like email marketing doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work… or that it can’t help your business grow.

If you can suspend your irritation with email for the length of this post – and put yourself in the shoes of the average person that expects and even wants email – you may find that email marketing is on your side.

It’s not the enemy.

It’s not to be detested, loathed, destroyed or banished.

In fact…:

Email Marketing Is ‘Intelligent’ Marketing…

Complete with an Audience That Has Asked to Hear from You

Email marketing is getting smarter – fast. List segmenting is getting sharper, crisper and cleaner. And behavior-triggered email marketing tools are springing up, with great ones like leading the pack.

With improvements like those, the old days of random email blasts to massive lists or purchased lists are over. The days of throwing your marketing message at 5000 inboxes and hoping something sticks – those days are dead as dead. Email marketing today is almost unrecognizable in comparison to where it was just three years ago, when the best you could do was send an over-designed HTML email to a list and split-test the subject line.

I mean, how many other marketing channels can allow you to:

  1. time the delivery of relevant messages directly to…
  2. …a list of people – or a segment of that list…
  3. …who have asked to hear from you by opting in not once but twice…*
  4. …and then track everything each one of ’em did or didn’t do?

Sure, PPC lets you deliver targeted messages and track what happens… but not to people who have opted in to hearing from you. Samezies for display ads. And I don’t think I need to mention that billboards, radio ads and TV spots would be lucky to do any of the above.

Email marketing is the shizznet. (No, I do not know how to spell that word.)

The only thing is:

With Email Marketing, You Have to Do It Right Every Time –

Or You Won’t Get a Second Chance

Unlike with PPC and display ads, once a person loses their trust in you or feels you’ve overstepped your boundaries with them, they can block you from contacting them. They can report you as SPAM. Or, if they’re feeling generous, they can unsubscribe. While unsubscribes are part of email marketing, getting reported as SPAM can be the end of your email marketing days.

So you need to go into email marketing with a healthy respect for the exclusive access you’ve been given to the inboxes of Sarah Leanne, Tracy Jacks, Joseph Nabokov, etc.

Now, before you can know how to use email marketing effectively in your startup – to do right by your customer and your business – you need to know what you’re working with.

That is, you need to know the types of email marketing… and when it’s best to use them.

There are 2 basic groups into which emails sent by marketers/businesses fall:

  1. Broadcast (1:many) – Delivered to many people, usually your “list” of people who have opted in to hear from you
  2. Transactional (1:1) – Delivered to one person, usually a customer or lead who has transacted with you

Whereas broadcast emails are naturally understood to nurture relationships that lead to happier customers you can retain, transactional emails are often underutilized. According to a 2011 MarketingSherpa study, 20% of marketers don’t include any type of marketing message in their transactional emails. But before we get into the opportunity, let’s get on the same page about the types of emails you should be including in your email marketing strategy.



Promotional Emails, or Sales Blasts

What It Is

The name says it all, doesn’t it? Promo emails are emails you send to your list or a segment of your list with an offer inside and, in most cases, nothing more (i.e., no free high-value content).

When to Use It

When you have a promotion to offer to your subscribers. Yes, you are allowed to sell to your list. Yes, some people will complain, but you’ve gotta get over that. Join me on Feb 2 & 3 to see how




What It Is

Generally sent on a schedule – such as weekly or biweekly – these broadcast emails often go out to your entire list or a group. Regardless of the length of your newsletter, it will include information that your subscribers find valuable (or a link to that info). If there’s no valuable info, it’s just a cleverly disguised promo email.

When to Use It

When you’d like to build relationships with people who are interested in whatever it is you talk about, create, do or sell. It’s important to be open to interacting with your subscribers here; most people who send a newsletter on a regular basis get loads of replies from people… and a one-to-one communication begins. (Very powerful!)




What It Is

Delivered daily, weekly or monthly, email digests are easy-to-scan summaries of content, such as blog posts from around the web, from one industry or from one entity. They’re short on words and heavy on links. Your subscribers may be able to request digests of content from you… or perhaps your business is built on curated digests, like Foundora and Intigi (sort of 🙂 ).

When to Use It

When you have loads of content… when you re-market more content than you produce… when you are part of a network or body of active content-producers with loads to share… or when your subscribers ask you to in their preferences.




Order or Service Confirmation Email

What It Is

An email delivered to the recipient when they have signed up to get on your mailing list, into your webinar, into your event or into, say, your restaurant at 8pm; also when they’ve asked to be notified about any any of the preceding.

How to Market with It

Optimize the headline so it’s not just “Confirm Your Attendance” but something that reinforces a marketing message – like, “Click to Confirm Below – So You Can Connect with 349 Event Planners!” In all transactional email content, lead with the expected content and follow up with the message you’re trying to reinforce.




What It Is

An email delivered to the recipient when they have completed a purchase or downloaded a product. Usually the final transactional email in a digital product purchase, where it will include the link to download.

How to Market with It

In addition to optimizing the headline, ask the recipient to sign up for your newsletter or to like your most recent blog post on Facebook. Or include a short, benefit-focused promotional offer at the end of the email.



Shipping Confirmation Emails

What It Is

An email delivered to the recipient when the product they’ve purchased has been released for delivery. Usually the final transactional email – triggered hours, days or weeks after the receipt – in the purchase of a hard good.

How to Market with It

Nurture the relationship! Marketing is about building the relationship, so don’t tell recipients what you want to tell them; rather, tell them what they need to know at this point. Give them 3 top FAQs about shipping! Assign a customer service person to them, and give them his or her name and email addy. (Think like Zappos.)




What It Is

An email triggered by important brand news – such as systems going down for a period or a store closing – or news the recipient asked to hear about… like if the make and model of used car I was looking for on AutoTrader is listed again.

How to Market with It

Use alerts if you know people on your site want to be made aware of certain events. For example, you may have an “Upgrader Alert” email in which people on a plan that is going to increase in price can be grandfathered in at that low price if they pay for the next year in advance.



Behavior-Triggered Email

What It Is

Emails sent to a signed-in app user or site visitor based on the actions they take (or do not take). Content may include info on how to unlock new features, how to maximize the features you just used, when to come back for more, etc.

How to Market with It

If your customers or users sign in to your website or app, it behooves you to employ a triggered email marketing strategy. People who are engaged with your brand are primed to upgrade, tell their friends, return more frequently – the list goes on.

(Any wonder ecommerce leaders like Amazon and Beyond the Rack email you with offers for exactly what you were just searching on their site?)


Other types of transactional email include updates from social networks (often delivered as digests), password and account changes from your site, and “share with a friend” recommendations from your friends, which are often driven by social networks.

Due to the nature of the content, transactional emails have a high open rate – which means they are a great opportunity to get your message in front of a warm prospect or new customers. Read the 6 ways to improve your open rate >>

CAN-SPAM COMPLIANCE TIPS FOR TRANSACTIONAL EMAILS: Follow an 80:20 rule with promotional content in your transactional emails – 80% transaction-related content, and 20% promotional or marketing. Position the marketing content below the transaction-related content your recipient is expecting. And keep subject lines focused on the nature of the transaction, not the offer within.

As you can see, if you have a product or service that people receive online or on their mobile devices, you very likely already use email as a key communication channel. You already send transactional emails of some variety. You’re already filling your users’ inboxes with information…

…so what’s keeping you from using those communication opportunities to reinforce key messages, drive upgrades and request social shares?

Is a philosophical distaste for marketing keeping you from using email effectively to grow your business? Is a chip on your shoulder getting in the way? Do you think marketing is accidental? Or do you believe that a great product markets itself and only bad products need the help of marketing?–in spite of companies like Apple, Mercedes and Tiffany & Co investing in email marketing and marketers worldwide increasing their email marketing budgets by as much as 30% in 2012?

Don’t get in your own way! What’s better: rolling with a blind hatred for email… or challenging that hatred to improve your startup’s chances of success? Which will make you feel better as a business owner?




About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • At first, I thought the term you were searching for was “shiznit,” but apparently “shiznat” and “shizznat” are acceptable variations.

    I figured you were fretting about this (as I was for the remainder of the post), so I thought I’d help you out.

    I got you.

  • Really nicely done. Thank you for this overview. Definitely subscribing.

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