Email Marketing – A guide to responsible Email Marketing
The aim of this article is to help you to use email for market development to grow your business and build client relationships, and at the same time avoid the downsides of email marketing such as legal penalties.
The first problem you will face, in developing your email marketing strategy, is how to create emails which are appreciated and accepted by your contacts, and to avoid creating emails which are classed as “spam”. This article does not address the issues of where to find your database, we will leave that to other marketing specialists. Our aim is to assist you to undertake email marketing based on the database you obtain from your existing sources.
I hate spam. We all hate spam. We all want to get rid of spam. At the same time, we have to remember that there are two sides to this coin. You want to get rid of spam coming into your organisation, but what are you doing to prevent spam being sent from your organisation, either as a result of your marketing team being unclear about spam policies, or because your email servers are vulnerable to criminals using them to transmit spam?
All organisations need to market and communicate with their clients and business networks. Email Marketing is an extremely important tool for you to use to deliver these messages. Email is now the prime method by which organisations communicate written information and news bulletins to their clients and networks of business contacts. You are probably passionate about and proud of the services or products that your organisation provides, and you would like to tell the world about how great they are. Sending out mass email marketing promotions seems to be the ideal low-cost method to get your message “out there”. However, there are strict laws and heavy penalties in Australia against sending out unsolicited emails. There are also a severe risk to your reputation if, owing to your action or lack of security over your email system, your organisation becomes labelled as a generator of unsolicited email.
The law does not restrict the transmission of legitimate business communication, however the questions that arise are… What is a “legitimate business communication”? Where do you draw the line between legitimate communication versus spam? How can I prevent our email servers being used by criminals to generate spam?
The good news is that you can use email for marketing promotions, provided you are well informed about how to go about email marketing correctly. Email marketing provides you with a fantastic marketing opportunity that can deliver enormous benefits to your business. At the same time, it is a tool which, like any tool, must be used correctly in order to maximise the benefits and minimise the safety risks.
Applying an Anti-Spam Code of Conduct to your Email Marketing Communications
The first step in building an effective Email Marketing strategy is to establish an Anti-Spam Code of Conduct for your organisation. The goal of this code of conduct is to provide ground rules whereby you can conduct responsible email marketing which is consistent with ethical business practices and complies with the spirit of the law. By following the Anti-Spam Code of Conduct you will be able to promote your business whilst avoiding activities that may damage your reputation or incur penalties.
This document is just a starting point for the development of an Anti-Spam Code of Conduct for your own organisation. You can adapt it to the needs of your organisation to establish your own Anti-Spam Policy. Our only request is that you acknowledge our contribution to your development of an Anti-Spam policy for your organisation.
SpamDetour is one of Australia’s leading providers of Anti-Spam software and services. One of the key benefits of SpamDetour is that we are a real company with real people that you can talk to about your problems and the opportunities that are available to you. You can phone us on (03) 9320 0000 and speak to a person who can communicate with you in plain English to address your concerns. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and receive a reply which is written by a real person.
There are three elements to SpamDetour’s policy in our partnership with our clients to fight spam.
Our first goal is to help our clients to reduce the amount of frustration and time wasted dealing with incoming spam.
Our second goal is to help our clients to grow their business and develop an effective Email Marketing strategy and at the same time to ensure that they do not generate spam.
Thirdly, we help our clients to operate secure email systems which are difficult for criminals to use in generating spam.
Outgoing email marketing… when is it spam?
Your Email Marketing … When is it spam?
As part of our Anti-Spam service we believe it is important to help the business community to establish policy guidelines on how to avoid adding to the spam problem by generating spam themselves. The suggested guidelines within this document will assist you to moderate your organisations outgoing emails and at the same to allow you to develop your email marketing and communication with your clients, your prospective clients and network of contacts.
Please note that this document is intended to be a plain-English practical guide for managers. We do not provide legal advice. If you require specific information you should review the Anti-Spam legal information which is available at www.acma.gov.au or speak to your legal advisers. The penalty for a single day’s infringement of the Anti-Spam law can be up to $220,000 and a second breach can incur a penalty of $1.1 million, so it is important to ensure you observe these laws.
If you require detailed technical information regarding anti-spam protection please email email@example.com or call (03) 9320 0000.
The main principles of the Anti-Spam law are that a message must meet the following three conditions:
- Consent The message must be sent with the recipient’s consent. A person may give express consent, or under certain restricted conditions, consent may be inferred from their conduct and existing business or other relationships;
- Identify The message must contain accurate information about the person or organisation that authorised the sending of the message.
- Unsubscribe The message must contain a functional unsubscribe facility to allow the person to opt out from receiving messages from that source in the future. Unsubscribe requests must be honoured within five working days.
So, the principles are clear, but there is a wide range of scope for interpretation. Also, the legal provisions are directed at what you can’t do. You need to use email for your promotions and communication with clients and your business contacts. The law does not spell out what you can do within the law.
The questions that arise are:
- (a) What are the practical steps to implement an Anti-Spam policy in your organisation? and
- (b) How can you achieve your email marketing goals without getting into trouble with the law or damaging your reputation?
Developing an Anti-Spam Code of Conduct to your organisation
This document provides you with an Anti-Spam Code of Conduct which you may wish to implement in your organisation, or which you may adapt to your special requirements. We hope you will find the code of conduct useful. You are welcome to use the code; the only request we make is that you acknowledge our contribution to developing your own anti-spam policy. Also, please return to our website at www.spamdetour.com.au at regular intervals as this document is subject to reviews and enhancement.
Anti-Spam Code of Conduct Basics
The following list provides you with basic elements of a policy that will allow you to achieve effective email marketing whilst staying within the bounds of the law and best practice. Email marketing is a reasonably complex issue and you will undoubtedly want to expand your code of conduct beyond the list below, however this should at least get you started with a basic policy.
1. Appoint an in-house Email Marketing Coordinator
The fact is, you need to use email from time to time to market your products and services. People who tell you that you can’t use email for communication with your clients, your prospective clients and your business network generally… they are just not being practical. The real issue is, how can you use this vital business tool effectively and safely?
As a business manager you are responsible for all emails which are generated by your employees and agents. It is no defence to say that you were unaware of emails being generated by your team members. Therefore, it is important to instruct your staff that all emails which are designed to be sent to multiple people/organisations are approved by your Email Manager before they are sent out.
Even in relatively small organisations, sometimes people in one department may be working on a promotion or news item, while people in a different team are working on another promotion. Sometimes this results in two email communications being sent out at about the same time. The chances of you annoying your clients (and leading them to report you to the anti-spam authorities) will be made worse if your clients or prospects receive two promotional emails from you at around the same time. That is why it is vital that your Email Marketing Coordinator should be one central role across your whole organisation. Quite apart from the legal issues, it makes good sense to have a single person coordinate your email marketing activities, so that your clients and other people in your market perceive your organisation as well coordinated.
Who should the Email Manager be? Remember that if you get it wrong, the penalties can run into millions of dollars. Therefore it is important that the Email Marketing Manager should be a person who has the necessary seniority and experience to deal with important matters.
Your Email Marketing Manager must have a good working knowledge of the Anti-Spam law and should be the “go to” person for all of your staff, in relation to email communications.
2. Managing Unsubscribe Requests Effectively
The keys to effectively managing unsubscribe requests are
- (a) Ensure that all members of your staff understand that the financial penalties and potential damage to your reputation are important issues. In other words, educate your staff to take all aspects of email marketing very seriously, including the unsubscribe task.
- (b) Act upon unsubscribe requests very quickly. Once you receive the request you must immediately ensure that the person/organisation is removed from all email databases immediately. Otherwise you run the risk that another outgoing email may still contain that person/organisation’s details and, by virtue of the delay, you may unintentionally send an unsolicited email to the person/organisation. Such inefficiency is a clear case of spam and may leave you open to legal consequences.
- (c) Provide your staff with the tools to unsubscribe effectively. One of the key tools is to have an efficient and effective centralised database which allows you to instantly unsubscribe a person/organisation from every email list throughout your organisation.
- (d) Make sure you have identified who the addressee really is. Sometimes there are technical difficulties in implementing unsubscribe requests. Often, you will receive unsubscribe requests from people who you never sent emails in the first place. Do not ignore these unsubscribe requests. The reason people are receiving your emails (even though you “did not send them”) is that email addresses are frequently inherited. For example, most email marketers send out their emails to bcc addresses, so that by the time the email reaches the addressee the details of the addressee have disappeared. E.g. you may have a bcc of firstname.lastname@example.org on your email database, however Mary left the company some time back. Now, her emails are being inherited/received by email@example.com. Joe Jones may not exist on your database at all. If there are hundreds of people working at jones.com.au it can be difficult to trace the connection between Mary Smith and Joe Jones. The situation becomes more even complex when the email domains are different. One way to overcome this issue is either not use bcc or else to to place a trace code on every email which you generate, e.g. if the email in question has a trace code of 1,234 then you simply need to ask Joe for the code and you will immediately realise. To achieve this requires special marketing software. Details of how this is achieved are beyond the scope of this article. Please contact Communicat for details.
3. Implementing a Centralised Email Marketing Database
It is vital to have a central database which is available to:
- (a) record and classify every person and organisation that you deal with
- (b) that each person/organisation is profiled and
- (c) that this central database is used by every person within your organisation.
One of the major risks which can lead to penalties and bad relations with your clients is where unsubscribe requests are handled by individuals within your organisation using separate email databases (for example in their MS Outlook address list), and therefore unsubscribe requests are handled in a piecemeal fashion.
For example, one of your staff members receives an unsubscribe request from Mr Smith/Smith Corp and duly removes Mr Smith/Smith Corp from their contact list. Then, a short while later, another person in your organisation (who is unaware of the unsubscribe request, or has not yet acted upon it, who co-incidentally adds them into their personal contact list) broadcasts an email to Mr Smith. This behaviour is very likely to produce an angry reaction from Mr Smith and may well lead to your organisation being reported to the government authority that deals with spam.
This is one situation where having a centralised database is extremely important for the benefit of the overall organisation.
4. Profiling your database
Your central database can be relatively simple, but it must have a facility for profiling all of the people and organisations that you deal with. For example, Mr Smith/Smith Corp may be happy to receive emails regarding your company’s fruit products, but they do not wish to receive emails concerning your company’s machinery products.
At right is an example of a typical profiling system. This is a real-life example based on the Communicat Customer Database software which is promoted and sold by SpamDetour’s associated company, Communicat Business Solutions.
This profile system is available as a standalone database and can also be purchased as an add-on to Microsoft CRM (Microsoft Customer Relationship Management System).
It is vital that you know your clients and your prospective clients and that you profile them in your database, so that you can send selective email communications according to the interests and needs of each person and organisation.
One of the advantages of having a database with a profile facility is that, when you receive an unsubscribe request, you can implement it in relation to those products and services that are of no interest to your client/prospect, but you don’t have to lose contact with them altogether. Perhaps this client/prospect does not want to receive communications regarding mining, however they are interested to receive information regarding exports.
Establishing client/prospect profiles will allow you to achieve targeted marketing across all aspects of your marketing strategy.
5. Use an effective email marketing software transmission program
It is tempting to use your existing email software and to use the bcc feature to conceal your client list. At some point most people who are involved with email marketing have inadvertently pasted their email address list into the “to” box of the email screen, and then pressed the “send” button, only to realise to their horror that they have just communicated their whole client list to the world at large! The temptation is therefore to use the bcc feature, however it has the drawback mentioned at point above, that it makes it very difficult to track inherited emails to unsubscribe them from your database. Effective email marketing has some complex aspects and, if you want to get the most out of email marketing you need to invest in the effective software, systems and procedures. Please contact Communicat for assistance.
The best policy to avoid the problems of untraceable emails (inability to unsubscribe) is to use an email transmission program which sends out each email individually, and uses a trace code. That will allow you to instantly track emails which have been inherited by third parties (e.g. the person you addressed the email to has now left the organisation, and their emails are being received by another person who you do not have in your database and cannot trace).
If you fail to track your emails you will not be able to effectively handle unsubscribe request and you leave yourself open to legal penalties and incurring damage to your company’s reputation.
As with all things, there are pluses and minuses to every strategy. For example, using an email marketing software program is generally a good option however it will require some training to operate it correctly and it may limit your ability to transmit inline graphics. Please contact SpamDetour to discuss the pros and cons of using email marketing software.
6. Professional Email Marketing Formats
There are a number of rules which need to be followed so that your email communications are received as valued information rather than spam.
- (a) Valuable content: Emails which convey useful information and which promote your brand are likely to be well received. On the other hand, emails which have a “hard sell” message are likely to be classified as spam. Sending “salesey” type emails will cause annoyance and you will wear out the welcome of your customers/prospects.
- (b) Professional presentation: Ensure that emails have a professional appearance and are well written. In this day and age, very few people have the skills or the time to create professional documents. When you send out emails you do not have to pay for postage, printing, etc. however you need to invest in achieving a professional standard of communication, out of courtesy to the audience who will receive your communication. This will require you to gain assistance from people who can write well, design quality graphics and who have the technical expertise to be aware of technical issues which may impede delivery of the email to the recipient. In other words, you should operate a coordinated team of two or three people in creating each email communication. The team would consist of “the client” (the person who requires the email to be created), plus advisers on writing, graphic design and internet/email technology.
- (c) Ensure a professional technical standard of email and delivery method. This topic includes some technical issues, e.g. the type of document you create (use of jpgs, pdfs, etc.), ability of the email to be read on email clients which strip out graphic content (due ot the risk of viruses embedded in graphic images), through to the type of server which transmits the message. You should engage technical advisers who are aware of the rules by which anti-spam systems operate. Anti-spam systems operate based on a combination of a scoring system (which detects spam content) combined with checks against Blacklists. The scoring system rates a number of factors such as certain words, images, spelling, as well as technical factors. Each component of the anti-spam evaluation process will contribute to the spam score and the aggregate score will determine with the email is passed through to the recipient or retained as spam. A technical adviser who is aware of the scoring system will be able to assist you to create email documents which stay clear of spam triggers.
This article is not designed as technical document therefore we suggest you contact our sister company, Communicat Business Solutions, for advice regarding the technicalities of transmitting your email message.
7. How to reduce the risk of your organisation being banned on Blacklists
In addition to educating your team and following the guidelines about responsible email marketing, there are some additional important steps that you need to take to minimise the chance of your organisation being Blacklisted through as a result of excessive email communication, poor unsubscribe practices or through the actions of criminals and hackers.
Many Australian organisations have found themselves in a situation whereby, through no fault of their own, they experience difficulty in transmitting legitimate emails. This arises because of external criminal activity which results in legitimate organisations becoming publicised international blacklists.
Blacklists are one of those examples where prevention is far better than cure. Once your organisation becomes recognised on a Blacklist the news will spread quickly throughout the world and it will be virtually impossible to get off the list. Remember that the Blacklists do not just indicate organisations which deliberately generate spam. The Blacklists also include organisations where their email server security is lax, and therefore those organisations have been or are susceptible to being “taken for a ride” by spam criminals.
There is a major scam alive and well in the world whereby criminals and hackers (fully or partially) “hijack” your email system to transmit emails (overcoming their own blacklisted status). In other words, the spammers are the parasites, and you may be the innocent host of these criminals.
For example, criminals promoting certain types of medication or financial schemes seek out email servers which they “hijack” and use to transmit their emails. These unethical and/or illegal emails may be sent from your email servers, and the consequence is that your services will quickly be reported on internal registers of uncontrolled or spam-generating email systems. You need to ensure that your email system is maintained at a highly secure level to minimise the chance of this happening. The hacking technology which criminals use to achieve these scams is changing all the time. We recommend that you implement a managed security system such as www.net2.com.au to ensure that your system is protected.
One simple precaution you can take on your email server is to impose a blanket limit on the number of emails which can be transmitted at one time, with no exceptions to the rule. For example, if you limit your email servers so that they can never transmit more than 1,000 emails at any one time, your system will be less attractive to these criminals, who need to send out millions of emails on a regular basis in order to snare their victims. This will be a frustration to your own staff, however it is far better than running the risk of being discovered by criminals that your servers are capable of sending out large quantities of emails. The very fact of limiting the quantity of emails you can send will reduce your attractiveness to criminals.
If you increase your internet bandwidth this will also make you more vulnerable to spammers, since high-speed systems are more effective transmitters of spam. Therefore, if you increase your bandwidth you should also review your email server security at the same time.
The bottom line with security is to ensure that your security service provider provides a pro-active support service to ensure that your internet security is constantly maintained and upgraded to protect your organisation against the ever present threat of criminal and unscrupulous operators.
There are some types of internet-based criminal behaviour which at this point, are impossible to overcome. For example, the internet currently provides no protection against criminals sending out emails which imitate genuine organisations. Criminals send out millions of deceptive emails every day which are carefully designed to exactly emulate emails which might be generated by your bank, or by your own organisation. You can’t prevent this dishonest and illegal practice, however you should ensure that you have professional and pro-active security management and support for your network servers so that you are less of a prime target for criminals… so that they will go elsewhere to practice their illegal trade.
Remember that most internet criminals operate beyond the reach of legal systems. Typically their location is heavily disguised so that they are difficult to find, and even if they can be find they may be in countries where internet criminal activity is not fully subject to the law. In other words, the key to minimising problems with Blacklisting is to take preventative action and have a high standard of internet and network security support, such as that which is available from www.net2.com.au
Anti-Spam Code of Conduct – Summary
Don’t be discouraged by the legal and technical issues of developing an effective email marketing strategy. Email marketing is a relatively new technology which has only been around for approximately a decade. As with any new technology, there are pluses and minuses.
The bottom line is that email marketing is a fantastic method to maintain contact with your clients and to expand your sphere of influence. Just like a fire, or any other tool, you need to develop expertise in the safe and effective management of the email marketing tool. The trick is, there are no panaceas in business, you have to make the effort to use the tool correctly. There have been some spectacular examples of organisations which have achieved great success from sensible use of the email marketing tool. Invest your time and learn how to use email marketing correctly and you will go on to success.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss your organisation’s anti-spam policies please contact us on (03) 9320 0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org