How to prepare for Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

Canada’s new Anti-Spam Legislation is coming. It will come into force July 1, and it will have a broad sweeping impact on all organizations that use e-mail marketing, mobile marketing, and other forms of digital communication. Since most organizations will fall under this very large umbrella, it is important that everyone start paying attention sooner rather than later.

With the enforcement date right around the corner, it’s time to start taking action today to make sure your business is ready for the new regime.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Can’t I just worry about this later?

Some marketers may take this approach. And, those marketers may very well be in a panic situation later on when CASL goes live on July 1, along with its very steep (up to $10 million per violation) penalties. Gambling that CASL never sees the light of day is high risk and pretending that it doesn’t exist is hardly a good business strategy. Whether marketers are happy about this new rule book or not, the fact remains that it is something that needs our attention, and the sooner you start, the easier it will be.

Getting proper consent from all your subscribers (especially if you have a lot of data) can take a lot of time. It will be a lot more effective to do this at your own pace and follow a pre-planned strategy instead of being pressed up against the CASL deadline. The second is that if you don’t start taking the proper steps now, every new subscriber acquisition that doesn’t follow the specific CASL rules is just making your problem bigger in the future. By making a few important changes to your policies, an organization can ensure that all new subscriber acquisitions are CASL-friendly.

What should my first step be?

Begin by taking a look at your current database and communication tactics. What many organizations don’t realize is that there may be a lot of subscribers who are already CASL-friendly, depending on your current practices. CASL is all about consent, so the first goal is to segment your database based on whether you achieved proper consent. The topic of ‘valid consent’ is a robust one, but in short the primary thing is whether or not your subscriber took an active step (such as signing up for your mailing list where you explicitly say they are going to receive emails from you and they agreed to it) and you have evidence to backup that consent. The evidence usually takes the form of a signup or confirmation IP address and date/time stamp.

Once you have thoroughly reviewed your database, create segments for those that need to be re-confirmed and those that are already CASL-friendly. If you are unsure, then it is generally better to be safe than sorry and put those subscribers in the ‘re-confirm required’ segment so that you are more protected.

Ready, set… reconfirm!

Now that you know who needs to reconfirm their subscription, it’s time to start running reconfirmation campaigns. There are a variety of ways this can be done, but the key objective is getting that explicit consent where the subscriber proactively says “yes, I want to receive your emails,” and you can save the evidence of that request. This can be as simple as a link in your existing newsletter, where you openly and honestly disclose that you want to make sure you’re sending people the emails they want and you kindly request them to verify their subscription.

Audit your signup forms

Take an in-depth look at every form your organization has that enrols people onto a mailing list. This can include the primary signup form on a website, landing pages used for lead generation, micro-sites, Facebook tabs, etc. Don’t miss any forms because the goal is to know that you’ve got CASL-friendly practices in every form, everywhere! CASL is opposed to sneaky pre-checked boxes that try to opt a user in unless they take an action to opt-out. The act of opting in needs to be proactive not reactive, so be on the lookout for any enrolment checkboxes and make sure they start unchecked and are worded correctly, otherwise in the eyes of CASL it voids all your new acquisitions. It is also a good idea to make a clear statement that by submitting the form, they are consenting to receive emails from your organization.

Welcome e-mails for double opt-in

The concept of double opt-in or a closed-loop subscription process has been part of “email marketing best practices” for a long time already. However, if you’re still not doing this, it’s a good idea to start now! Not only will it prevent fraudulent subscriptions, but it will make your CASL evidence that much stronger. The general idea is that upon signup, the subscriber is sent a welcome or confirmation email with a link they need to click to verify their subscription. This way you know with certainty that the email address entered into the form belongs to the correct person who is signing up.

Evaluate your online and offline workflows

Take a look at all the ways an e-mail address can be added to your mailing list. While the topic of signup forms has been addressed above, organizations usually have multiple channels at work. For example, are you gathering e-mail addresses at a trade show or other event? Make sure you know every channel that feeds data into your mailing list so you can create proper procedures for acquiring the opt-in and (the more difficult part for offline acquisitions) having evidence to prove your claim.

Date stamp new customer orders

CASL has a “Two Year Rule” that essentially lets an organization send emails to someone if they made a purchase or signed a contract within the last two years. During that two year window, proper consent needs to be acquired in order to continue emailing them after the two year window. It is important that an organization has accurate records for the exact date of a customer’s last purchase (or contract signing date) so that this window is clearly defined. If an organization just records a new customer without a date, then it will be impossible to measure (and prove) that you are within the two year window. Furthermore, knowing when the two year window ends, provides a clearly defined timetable for when alternate consent needs to be secured.

All of these changes will help make sure that you are ready for CASL. While none of them are outrageously complicated, it will take some time, effort, and critical analysis to ensure your organization has all the bases covered.

Robert Burko
Robert Burko
Robert Burko is President and Founder of Elite Email, a world leader in email marketing solutions. As one of Canada's chief email marketing and digital marketing specialists, Burko has appeared on national television, radio, podcasts, and in countless print publications and blogs across North America. He is one of only two authorized speakers for the Email Experience Council in Canada. Having worked with both small and large organizations around the globe, he has provided insight for popular local and international brands. In 2011, Robert won the Toronto Board of Trade "Under 30" Business of the Year award. He currently lives in Toronto with his wife and daughter.

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