An Email Marketing Compliance Refresher for 2020
Email is the old kid on the block when it comes to digital marketing. The channel has been around since 1978, when the very first unsolicited email marketing campaign was sent to about 400 recipients promoting a computer system. The campaign was a wild success by any standard, generating millions of dollars in revenue ($13-14 million according to the legend) and setting up email marketing as a return-on-investment champion for decades to come.
A lot has changed since those early days for the channel, from the way we access and engage with our inboxes, to the content and interactivity in the emails themselves. One major change to the email marketing landscape came in 2003, with the advent of the CAN-SPAM Act. Looking back on it 17 years later, we can see that the law not only put some checks and balances on the channel to give consumers more control over the messages they receive, but also providing marketers with a way to continue using email as a highly effective piece of their overall marketing strategies.
The law has been reviewed and updated slightly since 2003 (mainly increasing the potential fines to $43,280 per email found to be non-compliant – up from the original $10,000), but the main elements have remained largely unchanged, meaning that marketers have been able to develop a firm understanding of the rules of the road, as they adapt to the evolving capabilities of the channel. However, it’s useful to review the rules set out by CAN-SPAM upon occasion, to make sure your email campaigns are continuing to adhere to the guidelines.
With that in mind, below is a brief summary of the seven key components for your email program to remain compliant with CAN-SPAM, as laid out by the FTC.
1. Use accurate header and routing information and clearly identify the sender of the email (person or business).
2. Write subject lines that accurately let your recipients know what the email is about. Don’t use deception to drive your open rate.
3. Make it clear that the email is an advertisement. The law provides quite a bit of leeway on how to achieve this, but don’t try to hide the marketing purpose of the email campaign.
4. Include your location, whether a valid postal address, P.O. Box or another mailbox that follows U.S. Postal Service requirements.
5. Provide an easy way for recipients to opt out or unsubscribe from receiving your emails in the future. Today, this is typically handled by providing a link for recipients to click on if they want to unsubscribe from your email list. Make it conspicuous and easy to use.
6. Act on those opt-out requests within the 10 business day requirement. After that period, no further marketing emails can be sent to those email addresses. Additionally, this provision prohibits selling or transferring unsubscribed email addresses to third parties, except for the purposes of complying with the law (such as storing suppression lists and making them available to marketing partners to scrub against their mailing lists).
7. Monitor your email marketing partners. Many companies engage with third-party companies like performance agencies, networks, or affiliates to market on their behalf through email. If one of these third-parties is found to be non-compliant, the company whose product or service they are promoting may also be held legally responsible.
It’s important to remember that all of these rules apply to any email marketing campaign, whether it is sent to your house file of current customers and subscribers or as an unsolicited message to recipients who have not opted in to receive your marketing emails. There is occasionally confusion among consumers about whether or not CAN-SPAM requires recipients to opt-in prior to receiving email communications from a company. In actuality, it does indeed allow marketers to send unsolicited commercial or marketing emails, as long as they follow the rules.
As we head toward 2021, email continues to be an incredibly popular (nearly 4 billion email users in the world) and high performing marketing channel (a 3,800% ROI is still a common benchmark referenced in the industry). Make sure your email program continues to be compliant with laws like CAN-SPAM to ensure it remains a valuable component of your overall marketing strategy.
*Quick disclaimer. None of the information in this article should be construed as professional legal advice. I am not a lawyer but do write and speak on email compliance-related topics in my role as head of marketing for OPTIZMO.