Jodi Daniels is a privacy consultant and founder/CEO of Red Clover Advisorsone of the few Women’s Business Enterprises focused on privacy.
“Win a free trip to the Kardashians’ favorite island!”
“Hi; $250k Life Insurance Coverage for $15/month. No Exam Opportunity Available.”
“Check out our holiday specials!”
Now if you’ve looked in your spam folder, chances are you’ll see something like this. Imagine how frustrated you would be if the “holiday specials” email you sent ended up in the junk mail with fake life insurance offers.
Well, if you’re like most small business owners, there’s no need to imagine. Email marketing is today’s junk mail catalog, so it’s not surprising that business owners are wondering if it’s worth it.
It is. Immediately average return of 42 GBP for every £1 spent, as per 2019 data, more than 80% of small businesses rely on email marketing for customer acquisition and retention. The trick, of course, is that these metrics apply to effective email marketing campaigns. Businesses face two obstacles: technology and privacy regulations.
What are the regulatory challenges?
By the mid-2010s, increasingly common data breaches exposing sensitive consumer data — and the unethical data mining practices of businesses and social media platforms — resulted in robust digital consumer privacy advocacy.
Governments took note. In 2016, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the world’s first and most aggressive data protection law. Other legislative bodies followed suit. Many countries now have laws governing the collection and use of personal information. The United States has no federal laws on digital data privacy, but at least four states (CA, CO, VA, UT) do, and others have proposed bills.
Here’s the catch: It’s likely your business is subject to privacy regulation, even if your state doesn’t have a law on its books. Virtually all existing privacy laws have minimum threshold requirements to determine whether a company must be technically compliant. Even though your business may fall below these thresholds, your customers may require you to comply (this is especially true for B2B customers) or may expect the same privacy rights they enjoy from your competitors.
Remember that privacy laws care about where the people you collect data live, not where your business address or headquarters is located. This means that if your business is located in Florida but has customers in the EU or CA (or any other place with a privacy statute), you are required to comply with those regulations. In addition, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also says that companies must disclose what they do when it comes to data collection and data use. This means that just about every website needs a privacy statement. That can be difficult if you are not an expert in international law.
What are the technological challenges?
Many tech companies tried to stay ahead of the regulatory crackdown and jumped on the data privacy bandwagon as a precaution. Google’s Promotions tab keeps most marketing emails out of Gmail users’ primary inboxes. Apple added the Hide My Email feature added to its privacy war chest, meaning millions of Apple users can now block open and click-through data from email marketers.
And how your email list handles your emails can affect your deliverability metrics. If you have a high bounce rate, your emails are more likely to be marked as junk. If more than a few users mark your address as spam, it will be difficult to maintain your position as a trusted sender.
How can you do it right?
With regulatory and technology challenges, it’s clear why some entrepreneurs are giving up. But creating effective, compliant email marketing is easier than you think. Rather than basing processes on a single law or platform, consider implementing the following privacy best practices to build a program that is compliant, but also adaptable to change:
• Clean up your email list regularly.
• Personalize your content.
• What information you collect and why;
• How you will use the information and with whom it will be shared;
• How and for how long it is kept; and,
• What customers can do to adjust, correct or delete their data.
Clean up your email list regularly.
An outdated email list is not your friend. A clean list reduces your unsubscribes and chances of being tagged as spam, while increasing your deliverability and open rates. But how do you get a clean email list? I usually recommend one of two approaches:
1. Email verification services like ZeroBounce, Kickbox Email Verification or Bouncer can lower your bounce rate by filtering out invalid email addresses before sending a single email. Inactive subscribers should be deleted every three or four months. Immediately delete any user who marks your messages as spam.
2. A preference center is a cost-effective way to both increase your first-party data (personal information a user voluntarily shares with you) and ensure that you email people who want to hear from you.
Make it personal.
The best, most compliant way to get your email marketing through filters is to personalize it. Avoid clickbait, spammy subject lines. If you have customer names, use them. Set a regular publishing cadence.
Above all, make sure that you have permission to send emails and that you follow customer preferences for communication. It can be tempting to access email addresses in your sales database, but if customers haven’t explicitly consented to receive marketing information from you, then don’t†
It’s all about trust.
The most important part of email marketing is trust. Customers need to be able to trust that you will comply with both the law and their wishes when using their information. Make it easier for everyone to develop that trust.