While they’re celebrating Canada Day this year, e-mail marketers may also be feverishly reviewing their e-mail lists to make sure they comply with a tough new anti-spam law.
Although there have been questions about its enforcement, Bill C-28, also known called CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Law), carries some potentially serious implications for businesses. For instance, firms found to have sent unsolicited e-mails or other digital messages (such as mobile phone calls and text messages) could face fines as high as $10 million.
Recently, Industry Canada also announced plans to build a Spam Reporting Centre. The centre, dubbed The Freezer, will field reports and complaints of spam. The gathered information will be used as evidence of potential violation against offenders and used by enforcement agencies in levying fines or other penalties.
These initiatives target spammers, but legitimate small and medium business operators as well as e-mail marketers at large firms must also familiarize themselves with the CASL and make sure they are well positioned for compliance.
Here’s a checklist and a few pointers of what you should know to make sure your business is on the right side of the law and avoid being put in The Freezer.
Proving you’ve received the consumer’s consent to send out marketing material is perhaps one of your strongest defences, according to Neil Schwartzman, executive director of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) and vice chair of the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG).
“Before sending out anything, it’s vital to determine first if you have the consumer or receiver’s consent,” stressed Schwartzman who worked with Industry Canada during training sessions on the CASL.
Inbox Marketer, a Guelph, Ont-based digital marketing firm, said that although Bill-C28 still contains situations where “implied consent” (consent taken to have been granted by a person not expressly, but rather inferred, such as through a business contract), it is important for businesses to clarify the requirements for “expressed consent” in the context of the legislation.
The law recognizes ordinary business activities as forms of implied consent, including existing business relationships and business messages to addresses that have been published or disclosed. So, for example, a business can send messages to customers who have purchased goods or services within the past two years, said Stéfanie Power, media relations representative for Industry Canada.
If a business has express consent from the recipient, there is no time limit on sending commercial electronic messages. In certain circumstances where follow-up messages are part of the initial service provided, such as sending messages containing account or warranty information, consent is not required, Power added.
After CASL comes into force, businesses will have three years to send messages to existing contacts, regardless of when they last communicated.
The following tips from Inbox Marketer are for e-mail marketing, but they can also be adopted for use in other forms of digital marketing:
- Make sure subscribers are clearly informed that they are consenting to receive messages from the sender. Permission should be clear and straightforward. Have subscribers check or send in statements such as: Please sign me up to receive your daily newsletter or I would like to receive periodic e-mail alerts from your company.
- Retain details around the consent as proof.
- Provide people with double opt-in features which requires sending an e-mail message to the subscriber asking the person to confirm or activate the subscription.
- Promptly send subscribers a welcome message upon confirmation.
- Make sure all current records indentify the permission status and supporting information for each client.
- Develop a plan and policy to obtain expressed permission from people who are in the implied consent category.
- Make sure your database management system can manage time limits. Until an implied permission subscriber has confirmed express permission, there needs to be a “stop send” date attached to the record to ensure compliance with implied permission limits of two years.
- Messages must clearly identify the sender as well as the person or company on whose behalf the message is being sent.
- The “From” address must be consistent with branding presented at the sign-up.
- Misleading subject lines such as FW or Important Notice designed to induce higher open rates from receivers, are not acceptable.
- Messages must include the contact information and postal address of the sender.
- Contact information must be active for at least 60 days after deployment so that recipients can contact the sender.
- Messages should include functioning unsubscribe mechanisms which allow recipients to unsubscribe or opt out from future messages without incurring cost. This mechanism must be tested with every deployment.
- The mechanism must be conspicuous and clear.
- Unsubscribe orders must be processed as soon as possible. Business are not allowed to send messages after 10 business days from the time the unsubscribe mechanism has been activated.
- If you are offering multiple choices, allow the recipient to selectively unsubscribe from individual items in addition to allows the recipient to unsubscribe from all items.
The unsubscribe page can be used to gain valuable insights about your customer according to Inbox marketing. For example, allowing subscribers to change their e-mail address or other contact information, rather than have them unsubscribe and then re-subscribe with their new address.
Businesses can also include a short poll to ask the recipient why they are unsubscribing. Inbox Marketing suggests you keep it “painless” by limiting the list to four or five – the last one being “Others – please specify.” This poll must be presented as optional as recipients cannot be required to do anything beyond indicating their desire to unsubscribe.
How to optimize your campaign
Despite restrictions presented by CASL, SMBs can still find ways to improve their campaigns within the legislation’s confines, said Schwartzman of CAUCE.
First, he suggests, that businesses establish baseline policies for interacting with subscribers across all technologies. This will meet the CASL requirements but also allow you more customer touch points.
He also encourages business to segment subscribers and targets based on expressed preferences, observed behaviour, demographics and customer lifetime value. “Use opt-in consent methods for capturing contact information,” he said.
- Enable subscribers to specify when they can be sent messages and the frequency of these messages. Only send messages when the content is relevant and timely to the recipient.
- To ensure e-mail is delivered by the Internet Service Provider, ensure the Domain Name system and Internet protocols match the corporate branding of the e-mail.
Schwartzman also recommends that business periodically review their policies and practices to ensure they are operating within the law.