March 8, 2004, 12:00 AM

With an eye on CAN-Spam, Pizza Hut cooks up new e-mail marketing

The CAN-Spam Act is coinciding with innovative e-mail marketing strategies by complying retailers. Pizza Hut, for one, is combining promotional material with reminders about pending orders.

Although some experts say the federal CAN-Spam Act is having a limited effect on controlling spam, it’s also coinciding with innovative e-mail marketing strategies by complying retailers. Pizza Hut Inc., for one, is learning to better mix promotional and transactional e-mail under the law’s guidelines.

Pizza Hut’s new e-mail marketing campaigns are reaching customers in innovative ways while catering to CAN-Spam’s requirement to run separate promotional and transactional messages. Working with e-mail marketing message templates provided by Postfuture Inc., Pizza Hut’s PizzaHut.com sends out a series of follow-up e-mails after customers place orders online.

The first follow-up message, which arrives as an order confirmation, adheres strictly to the rules of CAN-Spam by arriving in the customer’s in-box as a text-only message with no promotional information. “We want customers to take online confirmations seriously, so we don’t include promotions and use text-only messages in case their computers can’t accept graphic messages,” says Kelly Rader, manager of Internet ordering.

But because many online customers are beginning to place their orders days early, Pizza Hut realized it had the opportunity to send repeated follow-up messages. Pizza Hut does much of its business on weekend evenings, so a growing number of online customers have begun placing orders mid-week to assure early delivery on a Friday or Saturday evening. After sending the initial confirmation order, Pizza Hut will send additional follow-up messages to remind customers of scheduled deliveries and what it considers soft promotions that may inform customers of new features, for example, its loyalty program that offers discounts for multiple purchases or new features on PizzaHut.com that provide for easier ordering.

Pizza Hut will send more aggressive promotional messages related to other types of customer transactions, while staying within CAN-Spam rules that allow for promotions directly related to an interest already expressed by a customer. PizzaHut.com encourages visitors to register online, then follows up with e-mailed promotions to new registered users who have yet to place an order.

The Postfuture template includes an opt-out feature designed in a way to help Pizza Hut assure that CAN-Spam is followed by all of its franchisees, Rader says. While Pizza Hut maintains about 1.6 million e-mail addresses in its national customer database, individual restaurant franchisees will use parts of that database to target their local customers through their own campaigns using Postfuture’s templates. The templates allow franchisees to customize the marketing promotions, but not to alter or delete the opt-out link. “That lets us feel more confident about franchise partners sending out messages on our behalf,” Rader says.

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