You know you need to keep up with rapidly accelerating technology to keep your marketing messages and channel use relevant to your target customers.
At the same time you need to keep up with regulations that are changing almost as rapidly that are designed to protect consumers from aggressive marketing practices.
Here are a few tips to help you walk the consumer privacy tightrope and keep your messages out of the spam folder.
Depending on your industry, there’s a variety of regulations that impact the way you can use consumer information and email your customers. The two laws that cover most are the FTC Act, which restricts commercial deceptive or unfair acts, and CAN-SPAM, which defines what a business must do when sending emails to customers.
Other pertinent laws include COPPA, which regulates how businesses engage with minors, HIPAA, which covers medical privacy, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which governs consumer financial privacy. The latter two both deal with whether medical or financial information can be shared, who it can be shared with, and what’s required in order for it to be shared.
Miscellaneous collection and sharing rules are more loosely governed by the FTC’s Fair Information Practice Principles, which frame everything within the context of notification and consent. You’ll want to review these documents and keep them handy for ongoing reference.
CAN-SPAM is one of the more complex email compliance acts on the books. Marketers have been known to fall into non-compliance without ever realizing it. Below are the primary rules you must follow for CAN-SPAM compliance.
- Refrain from using false or misleading information in the subject line and sender sections
- Make it clear that the email is for commercial purposes
- Include the physical contact information for your business
- Inform recipients about how to opt out and respect their request within 10 days
- If using a third party to handle business emails, monitor their processes to ensure compliance
Email marketing offers customizable solutions to help you connect with your customers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single set of regulations that covers all consumer privacy and data regulations. So it’s up to you to understand your customers’ needs and expectations and provide easy ways for them to maintain control over their privacy.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Opting in is preferable: While only the ability to opt out is required by CAN-SPAM, limiting what you automatically send customers without having them choose to receive it is wise. Giving customers this kind of control builds trust, and it ensures that everyone receiving emails from your business are qualified leads.
- Offering a clear option: Customers must be able to easily opt out of your email marketing in order to be CAN-SPAM compliant however, you should consider providing them with the ability to control what they do or don’t receive as it aligns with personalized contact and avoids annoying the customer.
- Provide clear information: In addition to providing honest information about who is sending the email in the Sender designation, this should also be clear in the body of the message. You don’t have to say “this is a sales email from our business,” but the intention of the email should be obvious and not misleading
- Strategize frequency: According to a MarketingSherpa study from early 2015, about 60% of consumers prefer receiving emails from businesses weekly. While 86% said they don’t mind hearing from a brand every month, only 15% prefer receiving daily emails
We recommend you survey your customers to adequately gauge what’s best for your audience. Consider providing the option to control how many emails they’ll receive from you, and utilize this in conjunction with segmentation.
Transparency and trust are always key when it comes to collecting and using personal information. Using consumer information to improve your business and personalize your goods and services will meet with the most customer approval, even when it involves selling that information to a third party. We recommend always offering customers the ability to opt-out or control what data is shared. As a cross-channel brand, you’ll need to have a database capable of controlling information directives across platforms.
As for the practice of selling or buying information, it’s important to remember that while this is largely defined by the privacy notice that your customers agree to, the FTC has made recommendations to Congress about adding requirements to the data brokerage industry as recently as 2014. Remember that regulations can change and update to meet new needs. Stay on top of regulation changes by subscribing for updates or setting Google alerts to let you know when relevant new articles are posted online.
The best practices we’ve mentioned will not only keep your database in compliance with government requirements, they’ll also ensure a positive relationship with your customers. By protecting your customers’ interests, you position your brand as one that cares about doing the right thing. By building a strategy to do this across platforms, you also position your business for success.
- Audit your current processes for messaging customers and handling their data
- Review the proper regulations to ensure compliance with consumer privacy law
- If necessary, implement changes to bring your policies in line with regulations
- Conduct customer research to gauge how often your customers prefer to hear from your business
Developing a plan to meet your customers’ expectations using the email marketing best practices above should also keep your database safe and in compliance with any new regulations that come along.