What Canada’s New Anti-Spam Law Means for Your Business

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With Canada Day festivities done for another year, the cleanup is on. Not just in parks scattered with empty beer bottles or spent fireworks, but in the millions of inboxes that were recently jammed with emails from businesses asking for permission to send more emails. After weeks of commentary and plenty of condemnation, the new anti-spam law is now in effect. And this has left many businesses wondering what they can do to rebuild their valuable database of customer emails.

Reaction to the new legislation has been mixed, with some calling it a promising step and, at the other end of the spectrum, “a total waste of money or time.” Whichever viewpoint people subscribe to, the penalties for infractions should be enough to make them think twice before sending out electronic communications: individuals will face a $1 million fine, while organizations can be forced to pay as much as $10 million.

Mailbox overflowing with communications

Email marketing messages are piling up, making it more difficult than ever to establish a meaningful connection with consumers via their inbox. Will Canada’s new anti-spam law change anything, or has spam already been brought under control through filters and other methods?

Businesses Prepare for Adjustment

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) has been especially vocal about what it sees as the short-sightedness of the legislation. The worry is that penalties are too harsh and many legitimate businesses will be caught in the crossfire. A few high-profile penalties would certainly help gauge the enthusiasm of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to enforce the new rules, but it’s likely to unfold that the organization has neither the interest nor the resources to go after small-time violators.

Emails aren’t the only type of communication targeted by the legislation. Social media messages of a commercial nature can also be flagged for penalty if they are sent without implied or express consent from recipients. Another challenge for businesses will be figuring out what exactly constitutes a commercial message, since the criteria look open to interpretation. Marketing strategies can involve a more abstract or subtle approach, with the goal to spark interest in the brand rather than grab consumers’ attention with exclamations of “50% off” or “Last chance to save on everything in store!”

In both cases the idea is to sell, one just involves a less direct route.

Since many businesses already comply with best practices for sending electronic communications – providing the ability to unsubscribe, identifying themselves, including contact information – there shouldn’t be much reason to fear change. If you’re still unsure about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) and how to comply, the CRTC’s website is a good place to get all the facts (and none of the opinions).

Quality and Quantity

Whether or not businesses support the new legislation, they should be taking pause to consider their current digital marketing strategies. The law was never meant to block communications from legitimate businesses, but Canadians will be paying closer attention to their inbox, at least until the buzz dies down. In the span of a few days, as the Toronto Star reported, the CRTC already fielded more than 1,000 consumer complaints.

More than ever, the onus will be on businesses to make a strong case as to why consumers should subscribe to their communications. For some, the best tactic would actually be reducing the frequency of messages – the idea being that recipients should feel like they’re getting some value every time they open an email. It isn’t easy to achieve that perfect balance – a quantity and quality that keeps your brand at the top of the consumer’s mind without pushing into spam territory. But consumer attention is a fickle thing, and it should

Consider these quick tips for maximizing the potential of your email marketing campaigns:

  • Make it mobile-friendly. Recipients simply won’t waste their time zooming in to read messages, especially with their inbox already filling up by the hour.
  • Use web analytics and customer feedback to find the most popular aspects of your website, then leverage those aspects via your email marketing campaigns. Don’t take your audience for granted by blasting them with messages about stuff they won’t care about.
  • Pay attention to key stats for each marketing campaign to see what works and what doesn’t. You can measure email opens and unsubscribes, among other user activities, so why not take advantage of it?
  • Personalize your messages but be sensitive to growing consumer mistrust of data capturing and tracking. Showing recommendations or their previous purchases, while useful, only reminds them of this.
  • There’s only so many times that something can be a “last chance” deal before recipients start tuning out and stop taking you seriously. Instead, give an array of subject lines and content to keep their interest piqued.
  • Target key stages in the customer lifecycle and tailor your messaging accordingly. After a major purchase, for example, the customer will appreciate a no-pressure “thank you” message, maybe with a subtly placed link to your site.
  • Don’t neglect the design of your website. Give customers an attractive destination after following a link from an email, and for a seamless transition, make sure the branding is consistent across all platforms. You should also be using your website as a tool for enticing email signups, which goes back to the idea of providing a mobile-friendly experience.
  • Familiarize yourself with every aspect of Canada’s new anti-spam law. No matter how unlikely you are to be penalized, there’s no reason to risk a $10 million mistake

Small businesses will feel the biggest pinch over the new legislation, but their agility and personality are what give them the opportunity to build strong brand loyalty. Prior to the enactment of CASL, too, many subscriber databases were severely bloated anyway, and that meant businesses were clinging to useless leads. Value has always been what consumers were looking for, and in that respect nothing has changed with the introduction of anti-spam legislation.

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