CAN-SPAM specifies requirements for sending email according to two classifications - Commercial (or Marketing), and Transactional. For best results in reaching your customers, and to remain compliant with CAN-SPAM regulations, it's beneficial to understand the difference between the two types and how they are handled in Engage.

Commercial (Marketing) Email

The CAN-SPAM law defines Commercial email as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”. In Engage, we generally refer to this type of email as Marketing email.

Transactional Email

Transactional email, according to the Federal Trade Commission, is  email "which facilitates an already agreed-upon transaction or updates a customer about an ongoing transaction".

Determining if a Message is Commercial or Transactional

When determining if a particular message falls under the authority of CAN-SPAM, the key is to evaluate “the primary purpose” of the message. To determine the primary purpose, critically evaluate whether the email contains: 

  • Commercial content that advertises or promotes a product or service;
  • Transactional or relationship content which facilitates a pre-existing transaction, updates a customer about an ongoing transaction or delivers goods and services as part of a transaction to which the recipient has already agreed; or
  • Other content which is not commercial, transactional or relationship driven.

If the message contains only commercial content, its primary purpose is commercial and it must comply with the requirements of CAN-SPAM. If it contains only transactional or relationship content, it must not contain misleading information, but is otherwise exempt from most provisions of the CAN-SPAM Act.

It is much easier to follow the requirements of CAN-SPAM for all customer email communications than it is to wade through law books to determine whether or not each individual message has to comply. Fortunately, compliance is fairly easy to implement. For more information on the requirements of CAN-SPAM, review Questline's CAN-SPAM Primer for Utilities.

Commercial (Marketing) vs Transactional Email in Engage

Engage utilizes a feature called Mail Streams to specify whether a particular email is Commercial/Marketing or Transactional in nature. A Mail Stream is applied to individual email messages when a Sender Profile is selected. Sender Profiles specify email header information such as the from address, from name, reply address, and Mail Stream.

Marketing Mail Streams can be used in both Standard and Automated Campaigns. Emails sent using a Marketing Mail Stream respect all opt out preferences. This includes global opt outs and Subscription-level opt outs.

Transactional Mail Streams can also be used in both Standard and Automated Campaigns but are most common in Automated Campaigns that are sending triggered messages such as a new account Welcome Series or paperless billing reminders. Emails sent using a Transactional Mail Stream ignore Marketing opt out preferences. This includes global opt outs and Subscription-level opt outs. However, email addresses suppressed due to previous hard bounces, are not sent regardless of Mail Stream.

Opt Out Types

Engage allows for opt out requests to be captured at several levels in order to ensure CAN-SPAM compliance while also giving your utility the flexibility it needs. Every time you send email through Engage systems, the system automatically checks the opt-out status of each subscriber at all applicable levels and excludes any who have unsubscribed.

A subscriber can out out from email at several different levels: 

  • Global Opt Out (Marketing Mail Streams) – A subscriber who opts out of Marketing email at a global level will no longer receive any email communications from Engage sent using Marketing Mail Streams. This includes mail sent either from Standard or Automated Campaigns.

  • Global Opt Out (Transactional Mail Streams) – Subscribers who are globally opted out of Marketing email can still be sent Transactional messages. Messages sent using a Transactional Mail Stream will ignore any subscriber's Global Opt Out status.

  • Automated Campaign Opt Out (both Marketing and Transactional Mail Streams) – Automated Campaigns used for triggered emails can be setup to use either a Marketing or Transactional mail stream. Regardless of mail stream type, a subscriber can choose to opt out of that specific Automated Campaign. Any future emails in that Automated Campaign will not be sent to them, but it's possible that they could receive emails from other Automated Campaigns and Standard Campaigns depending on their global opt out status and whether other Automated Campaigns  are transactional in nature. A good example of this would be someone who opts out at the Automated Campaign level of a new account Welcome Series following the first message. That subscriber will no longer receive the remaining messages in the Welcome Series, but will still be sent all other marketing and transactional messages in the future.

  • Subscription Opt Out (Marketing Mail Streams)– Engage allows you to create Subscription groups that can be applied to multiple Campaigns. An example of this would be creating a Subscription option called "Energy Efficiency Information" that applies to multiple campaigns about specific energy efficiency programs. This allows you to organize your campaigns around internal initiatives while providing your customers with only a small number of user-friendly subscription options on the preference center. Subscriptions apply only to emails sent via Marketing Mail Streams in Engage Campaigns. If you associate a Subscription to multiple campaigns, a subscriber who chooses to opt out of a single Subscription will no longer be sent Marketing emails from any campaign attached to that Subscription.

  • Subscription Opt Out (Transactional Mail Streams) – Subscribers who are opted out of mail at a Subscription level can still be sent Transactional messages. Messages sent using a Transactional Mail Stream will ignore all Subscription preferences.


If you have questions about the best use of Marketing or Transactional mail streams to communicate with your subscribers, contact your Questline Technical Account Manager for more information.