“There’s a new sheriff in town” or so the saying goes. It is a warning to outlaws and law abiding citizens alike. Find out what is different and make sure we don’t go astray of it. The laws regarding internet transactions are enough to get everyone’s attention. The USA’s CAN-SPAM and TCPA and Canada’s too long to be an acronym outline the ways we can legally contact each other in the course of daily commerce. Not to worry, businesses are slightly constrained but we can still send friends and family any trash we find on the World Wide Web.
Most importantly, if you are already doing things in a courteous manner, there is little change. The new laws require us to be forthcoming about who we are and what we are doing; calling someone we only know by their email address or contact information received from a vendor. In business, it makes perfect sense to make available means for discovering customer wants and needs. It really is that simple. Politely tell them who we are and why we are there and give them a chance to say yes or no.
Time for our first disclaimer!
It is true that compliance with the new laws should be no problem for most of us. Especially relevant is the heavy price to pay for non-compliance; over $41,000 for one offense in the US and up to $1M to $10M in Canada. According to CRM vanguard Mailchimp spammers have already been sued for millions. With this in mind, we are not lawyers and we are not giving legal advice. Read the laws and learn the risks. If you have questions, call an attorney. We are interpreting the wording in these laws for ourselves and we like dangerous things like climbing trees and kittens. If you like climbing trees and kittens, read on.
Who can we market to?
In the US…anyone…via email. Canada’s laws define this somewhat clearly as someone who has given us permission. “Permission” can be a well-crafted optin form or prior transactions with the sender. For this example, the optin may serve as expressed permission and a prior relationship with a company may be implied permission. In the US, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) states permission can only be expressed. Permission is important for phones because we can’t tell if it is a cell phone or landline until we call. As a rule, having proof of expressed permission gets our foot in the door and keeps it there.
For optin forms to work, they must have specific wording about the intent to market or a request for quote. Additionally, survey questions cannot be pre-marked “yes.” Clearly, the Canadian law and the TCPA attempt to ensure that a person receiving marketing content has asked for it. And really, would we want it any other way? We want to deliver offers to people that are interested and the law seems to strengthen that.
There are a number of exceptions which transcend the Canadian law’s permissions…
We can send a “…quote or estimate for product, goods or services…” if it was “…requested…” by the person receiving it. However, the definition of requested is unclear. On our site we have a shiny red button. It reads “Request Free Quote.” That is pretty clear to us. Those optins go onto a list designated as people requesting quotes so the “request” is stored according to Canada’s law. As a result, we may send quotes for products until the end of time. It may not be prudent but it would likely be legal (remember our disclaimer, please).
It’s obvious to us that this next one will be abused. Don’t blame us. Remember, we’re not lawyers.
Another exception to the permission rule has to do with safety. We can send warranty, product recall, safety or security information if a person “…uses, has used or has purchased…” a product, goods or services. The message can only be about the safety or security issue. It can’t say “Here’s your safety info now can we sell you flowers for Valentine’s Day?” Conversely, a list of car owners could be targeted with “Do you have adequate snow tires?” or “Do you have an effective vehicle theft deterrent system?” while providing information about the product. Canada’s winters can become extremely dangerous. Fortunately, they left this loophole for including products and services that could save lives.
Reading through these laws, we can see why CAN-SPAM didn’t bother with permissions. It is almost impossible to keep our inboxes and phones from piling up with garbage. And arguably, if we don’t do it for ourselves then we shouldn’t expect a few new laws to do it. What they have done is present us with the requirements for sending proper marketing content.
So, check your optin forms. Make sure they provide subscriber information that complies with these laws. Rebuild forms if needed and do some list cleaning. Give yourself better data that is compliant with the new laws and more effective at converting sales.
What can we send to people?
Both the US and Canadian laws are pretty clear about the content requirements for electronic messages. However, CAN-SPAM only refers to emails while Canada includes messages of any type; e.g., email, texts, drops, etc. Every message must have these parts:
- Your reply information has to be accurate. The US names specific parts including the originating domain name and email address while Canada wants “…information that identifies…” the sender and the person “…on whose behalf it is sent…” if they are different. Additionally, Canada requires a method to easily contact senders; i.e., no-reply’s are a no-no.
- Every message must include a method to unsubscribe. Both the US and Canada allow 10 days to comply with the request and it can’t cost anything to complete. There is lots of leeway in how this is done. We recommend using an easy to find button or text link. The easier it is to find, the less likely someone will hit it by accident. We can’t say enough about this. The internet is huge. If they aren’t enthusiastic subscribers then we don’t want them. They are a risk not worth taking.
That’s about it for Canada but the US has a few more requirements. The subject line must accurately reflect the message content and the message must be identified as an ad. Additionally, a street address or PO Box has to be included. The street address thing is puzzling to us. We are an ecommerce company not a candle shop or haberdashery. If we ever get an optout on a postcard we will probably laugh ourselves to death. But it’s the law so all our mass emails have our address on them.
What happens if I don’t comply?
As we mentioned before there are some ridiculously heavy fines. We want to make this very clear: This is not a guide to see what you can get away with. We believe these laws are fair. Furthermore, we believe they change nothing on a CRM system that is well designed. For example, Mailchimp’s terms of service are stricter than either law. They believe poor practices addressed by the laws impede delivery rates and we agree. Remember, we are supposed to be nurturing prospects not shaking them down or evading them. Courtesy is a business tool that cannot be overused. As your list supplier and co-conspirator in this sometimes crazy e-commerce world, we want the best for you. So, check your optin forms, get good lists and familiarize yourself with the laws or find a good CRM that does it for you.