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Transactional Marketing vs Relationship Marketing: What's the Difference?

Allison Smith

Sep 18, 2023

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While all marketing efforts focus on promoting your brand, building brand awareness, generating sales, and gaining customers, there are many different ways you can approach your marketing strategy. In general we can think of marketing strategy as falling into two broad buckets: transactional marketing and relationship marketing.

Transactional Marketing: Aims to secure a one-time sale from a large number of customers

Relationship Marketing: Aims to encourage repeat purchases from a defined pool of customers

When you think about transactional marketing vs relationship marketing and which one you should use, it depends largely on who you view as your ideal customer and the type of relationship you want to have with them pre and post-sale.

In this blog, we will discuss the ins and outs of transactional and relationship marketing and how to apply these strategies to your business model.

We'll cover:

What is Transactional Marketing?

When you think of the word "transaction", you think of an exchange between two parties, typically for a mutually beneficial outcome; one party paying for something else with items of roughly equal value, whether it be monetary or otherwise.

Transactional marketing focuses on the number of sales transactions registered, the profit per sale, and the cost of each purchase. The transactional approach to marketing leverages point-of-sale promotion, which is a key element of the marketing mix

  • Product: What consumer needs does your product meet?
  • Price: How will you price your product so that it is attractive yet profitable? 
  • Place: Where will you distribute your product?
  • Promotion: How will you get the word out?

Transactional marketing aims to maximize the number of sales by consistently attracting new customers, rather than encouraging repeat purchases with the buyer, like relationship marketing.

A sales pitch you might hear on popular at-home shopping channel QVC is a great example of this type of strategy.

When you tune in to this channel, you'll see many different products sold throughout the day. The goal of each product demo session is to sell as many items within a specified time. The product manufacturers don't take the time to engage with the audience and build a relationship. Instead, it's a straightforward, one-way conversation where the moderators use discounts, incentives, and buzzwords to generate as many sales as possible.

QVC product demo

Source: PYMTS

What is Relationship Marketing?

As opposed to transactional marketing, relationship marketing is focused on your relationship with the consumer. Here, the goal is to create a connection that ensures customer retention and repeat purchases.

Relationship marketing strategies include loyalty programs, personalized messaging, and high-quality customer service. These marketing efforts are investments in the promise of long-term sales.

When implementing this strategy, you'll want to ask yourself questions like: What is the customer looking for? Would they find this valuable? Do they want to see this ad?

A great example is a courtesy call from a customer service team. A simple check-in to poll or survey the satisfaction level of the customer builds your relationship with them and provides you with insights and data you can share internally, to help you learn and improve the quality of contact between customers and the company.

Transactional vs Relationship Marketing: Key Differences

At this point, you are probably asking yourself the question: "What is the difference between transactional marketing and relationship marketing?"

The difference between these two marketing strategies centers on the fact that one is focused on sales and one focuses on returning customers. Whichever strategy you choose to deploy, it starts with understanding your customer. Where do they conduct product research? Where do they shop? What is their typical budget?

This comparison chart helps clearly outline the difference between the two: 

Basis for ComparisonTransactional MarketingRelationship Marketing
MeaningUsed to target customers so as to make one-off sale transactions.A form of marketing with the primary aim of retaining and satisfying customers by providing prolonged value.
Time considerationShort termLong term
Customer contactLowFrequent
ObjectiveMake a sale or get an order from a new customerBuild customer retention and become the sole or preferred supplier in the market
Centers onCompleting the transactionBuilding trust beyond the transaction
Nature of the relationshipShort & intermittentLong and strong
Customer commitmentLowHigh

These additional points will help you clearly understand what makes each strategy unique: 

  1. Transactional marketing is based on a single sale formula and geared towards short-term benefits.
  2. Relationship marketing promotes customer loyalty and improves ways of doing business for long-term customer retention
  3. In transactional marketing, customer interaction is minimal, whereas in relationship marketing it is often.
  4. Transaction-oriented efforts focus on increasing the number of sales, whereas relationship-oriented actions focus on the customers.
  5. Transactional efforts lead to low customer commitment, and relationship efforts lead to higher commitment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Transactional Marketing

Like any business strategy, there are bound to be benefits and pitfalls to a transactional marketing approach.

Advantages of Transactional Marketing

Here are some of the top advantages of transactional marketing:

  1. Quick Revenue Generation: Transactional marketing can lead to immediate sales and revenue, making it suitable for businesses that need to generate quick cash flow.
  2. Clear ROI Measurement: Since the focus is on individual transactions, it is relatively easy to measure the return on investment (ROI) for specific marketing campaigns or efforts.
  3. Cost-Effective for Short-Term Goals: Transactional marketing can be cost-effective when the goal is to achieve short-term objectives such as clearing excess inventory or promoting a limited-time offer.
  4. Suitable for Low-Involvement Products: It is effective for low-involvement products where customers don't need a lot of information or consideration before making a purchase.
  5. Scalability: Transactional marketing strategies can be easily replicated and scaled up to target a larger audience when needed.

Disadvantages of Transactional Marketing

Here are some of the most critical cons to be aware of when using transactional marketing:

  1. Lack of Customer Loyalty: One of the significant drawbacks is that it often fails to build long-term customer loyalty. Customers may not feel a strong connection to the brand, leading to a lack of repeat business.
  2. Short-Term Focus: Transactional marketing is primarily focused on immediate sales, which can lead to neglecting the long-term strategic goals and customer relationships.
  3. High Customer Acquisition Costs: Continually acquiring new customers for each transaction can be costly, especially if there's little retention.
  4. Vulnerability to Price Competition: Transactional marketing is susceptible to price wars and competition, as customers may switch to a competitor offering a better deal.
  5. Limited Upsell Opportunities: Since the emphasis is on a single transaction, there may be limited opportunities to upsell or cross-sell additional products or services.
  6. Missed Word-of-Mouth and Referrals: Building strong customer relationships can lead to word-of-mouth marketing and referrals, which transactional marketing often misses out on.
  7. Ineffective for High-Involvement Products: For products or services that require significant research and consideration, transactional marketing may not provide the necessary information and support.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Relationship Marketing

Relationship marketing is broader and serves more long-term business goals. Let's take a look at its ups and downs as a business strategy:

Advantages of Relationship Marketing

Here are the most critical pros of relationship marketing:

  1. Customer Loyalty and Retention: Building strong relationships with customers can lead to greater customer loyalty and repeat business. Loyal customers are more likely to continue buying from your company and become brand advocates, recommending your products or services to others.
  2. Higher Lifetime Value: Customers who have a positive relationship with your brand tend to have a higher lifetime value, meaning they generate more revenue for your business over time through repeat purchases and upsells.
  3. Reduced Marketing Costs: Acquiring new customers is often more expensive than retaining existing ones. Relationship marketing can reduce customer churn, resulting in lower marketing and acquisition costs.
  4. Better Understanding of Customer Needs: By actively engaging with customers, you can gain valuable insights into their preferences, needs, and feedback. This information can be used to tailor products and services to better meet customer expectations.
  5. Personalization and Customization: Relationship marketing allows you to personalize marketing efforts, offers, and communication to individual customer segments, increasing the relevance and effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.
  6. Positive Word-of-Mouth and Referrals: Satisfied and loyal customers are more likely to spread positive word-of-mouth and refer others to your business, helping to attract new customers.
  7. Competitive Advantage: A strong customer-focused approach can differentiate your brand from competitors and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Disadvantages of Relationship Marketing

Here are the most critical cons of relationship marketing to pay attention to:

  1. Time-Intensive: Building and maintaining relationships with customers can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, requiring ongoing communication and support.
  2. Slow ROI: The benefits of relationship marketing may take time to materialize, and it may not provide immediate returns, which can be a disadvantage for businesses seeking quick profits.
  3. Initial Cost: Setting up the infrastructure for relationship marketing, such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems, can involve significant initial costs.
  4. Risk of Overreliance: Over-reliance on relationship marketing can make a business vulnerable to economic downturns or market changes that impact customer loyalty.
  5. Not Suitable for All Products: Relationship marketing may not be as effective for low-involvement or one-time purchase products where customers don't have a long-term relationship with the brand.
  6. Potential for Customer Expectations: As you build relationships with customers, their expectations may rise, and meeting those expectations can become increasingly challenging.
  7. Competitive Pressure: Competitors may also adopt relationship marketing strategies, making it more challenging to stand out in the market.

Transactional Marketing Example

Let's look at an example of how brand attachment plays less of a role in transactional marketing experience:

Imagine that the fence around your house needs mending. You have the lumber and the paint but are missing a hammer. You drive to the local hardware store where you find several hammers to choose from at various price points.

Because you're not as familiar with these products you have no way to be as discerning as a handyman or woman might be. As a general consumer, you're going to approach your choice differently, looking at four key factors:

  • Product: Most of the hammers appear the same, but one has a cushioned grip that feels nicer than the rest.
  • Price: All products are priced comparatively, except the hammer with the cushioned grip, which is slightly more expensive.
  • Promotion: The hammer with the cushioned grip has a tag attached to it offering one free packet of nails with purchase. None of the other hammers have such offers attached to them, making the higher price seem like more of a bargain.
  • Place: The hammers are located next to the nails, so you can easily see the prices and calculate the extra value you'd be getting.

Since you don't buy hammers often (and doubt you'll buy one again anytime soon) you opt for the hammer that has a promotion attached to it.

Relationship Marketing Example

Returning customers who purchase your products on a regular basis are a testament to the quality of your products or services. Investing in the customer relationship might require more planning, time, and budget, but it's well worth the effort. According to one study, engaged customers spend over 23% more than an average customer.

Here are two examples of brands that have seen success using the relationship marketing model:


  • Product: SoulCycle’s community for cyclists and fitness enthusiasts aligns with their customers’ wants and needs for a healthy, positive environment. 
  • Price: For a 45-minute fitness class, SoulCycle is expensive when compared to competitors but customers pay for the experience and community aspect.
  • Place: The SoulCycle experience becomes relevant when a customer has an instructor who personally inspires them, thus creating a familiar environment they will want to return to.
  • Promotion: SoulCycle personalizes their playlists and provides a spa-like atmosphere, generating a feeling of partnership with customers.
SoulCycle studio


Relationship marketing is all about building the connection between a brand and its customers for the long term. Zappos is known for being a customer service icon and internal culture as well.

In fact, the customer relationship is so important to Zappos, that it's in their employee guidelines that customer service reps have the authority (and budget) to wow customers:

All Zappos customer service representatives have the authority to accept special-case returns, offer partial or full refunds in cases of loss of service, pay for damages, and provide solutions in any other manner they deem appropriate.

Here is a video from their #ZapposCulture content on YouTube, discussing the theory of "holacracy" and the importance it plays in their customer relationships.

At the end of the day, while both strategies are executed in different ways and serve different goals, they both are dedicated to providing the best customer experience. Now, think about which approach your marketing team currently focuses on and what strategies and tips you can embrace to improve.


Interested in learning more about your customers and the metrics that matter most? Meltwater offers a consumer insights solution. Simply fill out the form below, and we will be happy to show you!