Email marketing is a fantastic way for businesses to boost their sales and keep their customers up to date on what they're up to. It's fast, it's relatively simple to set up, and it's one of the most cost effective ways to market your business and drive customers to your website.
That is, if it's done properly.
Email marketing is also one of the quickest ways to irritate your customers and make them stop buying your products. And it's an easy way to break the law. Did you know that email marketing is regulated by Federal law? In 2003, the United States Congress passed an act that legislates how and when a business can send emails to customers or potential customers. Though as with most laws, it has an inherent flaw: it's in legalese, so most people really don't understand it. As marketers, this makes our job more difficult, but nonetheless, it affects us, so we've got to pay attention.
Here's a quick guide that gives a breakdown of the Act, and it focuses on the main parts you need to be concerned with. Ready? Here goes:
The legislation passed by Congress that regulates commercial email is called the "Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003," or CAN-Spam for short. Got a nice ring to it, eh?
This is the most complicated part of the legislation. Technically, Spam is "Unsolicited Commercial Email." In plain English, Spam is "annoying emails you didn't ask for from companies you don't know, selling products you don't want."
Well, if you're ok with breaking Federal law, then go for it. Otherwise, you've got to pay attention. And the size of your business has nothing to do with it. the penalties can be severe: you can be fined up to $300 per email if you're convicted of breaking the law. Not only can it be expensive, it can also land you in jail, as they Act has criminal penalties for violators.
You've got to be especially careful in this case. Unfortunately, you are still liable whether you're the one sending the emails or you've hired an outside marketing firm to send them. So ask! Ask if your vendor will send your email in a way that's sure to comply with CAN-Spam. If you get a blank stare, run away! And hire someone else who knows what they're doing, and how to keep your company out of trouble.
Wow. That's a toughie. It's probably too hard for us to explain. We're not lawyers. What we can do though, is offer a few tips on what good email looks like. Generally speaking, here are some simple rules for email that is compliant:
Obviously, we're not a law firm and we can't offer legal advice. So if you're really nervous about the emails you're sending out, you should probably have an attorney take a look. But in our opinion, if you're having a hard time deciding if your email campaigns are Spam, they probably are.
If you really want to learn more about the entire act and all its consequences, check out the FTC's Compliance Guide for Business. Also, don't forget that the laws regarding this matter are subject to change, so if Congress passes another act, or if the FTC (the regulating body in charge of enforcing the law) changes or strengthens the rules, like they did in 2008, you've got to keep up. Oh yeah, if you're a consumer that's battling Spam and you want to do something about it, you can report it here.
One final note: this legislation only applies within the USA. Other countries (Europe, especially) have far more stringent anti-Spam laws that go much further and impose higher penalties for infractions. So if you're based outside of the USA or are sending emails all over the world, you may want to check out the laws in other countries. We suggest you start by visiting www.Spamlaws.com. Good luck, happy emailing, and stay away from the Spam!