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Stay on the right side of the law with email marketing

Email marketing can be a powerful tool for small businesses, allowing you to reach a large customer base with the minimum of time, cost and fuss. Yet despite the many advantages, your business can't afford to be relaxed about its legal obligations or you may end up regretting the moment you clicked send. Avoid the pitfalls and maximise the returns of email marketing by following our guide to email marketing and the law.

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Email marketing can be a powerful tool for small businesses, allowing you to reach a large customer base with the minimum of time, cost and fuss. Yet despite the many advantages, your business can't afford to be relaxed about its legal obligations or you may end up regretting the moment you clicked send.

Respect your legal obligations 

Just as your business would treat its tax or contractual obligations carefully, it is important to keep in mind that email marketing is a legally regulated area and needs to be treated with caution. Which means that sending email marketing messages incorrectly may not just anger potential customers; it could cost you money in fines up to £500,000. Individual or corporate? Your legal obligations differ depending on whether you are contacting an individual subscriber or a corporate subscriber.

  • An individual is a residential subscriber, a sole trader or a non-limited liability partnership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Corporate subscribers include corporate bodies such as limited companies, a limited liability partnership in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and any partnership in Scotland.

Paying attention to the nature of your marketing list will inform your approach to email marketing and help you avoid any legal pitfalls. Consent is king.  When marketing to individuals using email, the most important principle is consent. You can only send marketing emails to individuals if they have consented to receiving them. Sending messages without their permission is a breach of the regulations and makes you potentially liable to pay damages.

This is where the updated ICO guidance is key. It states that "extremely clear and specific consent" is needed from consumers for direct marketing via e-mail. This means that consent to receive a one-off message does not provide ongoing consent to receive direct marketing e-mails in future and also that "consent to receive phone calls cannot be extended to cover texts or e-mails, and vice versa." Businesses should use 'opt-in' boxes on websites and applications form to obtain consumers' explicit consent to receive direct marketing messages and keep clear records of the consent as evidence in case of a future complaint. Even if you only intend to contact businesses, remember that sole traders, which make up 74% of businesses, are treated as individuals for the purposes of the regulations.

Remember you must still provide recipients with a way to opt out of receiving your emails each time you contact them. Be open with your customers You would never conceal the identity of your business in a leaflet, or fail to provide contact details for your business in a newspaper advert. The same applies with email marketing. Not only is concealing your identity or failing to provide a valid address counterproductive, it is prohibited by the regulations.

When sending marketing emails always identify your business clearly and always provide a valid email address so the recipient can opt out of receiving emails from you. If you do receive an opt-out request, make sure you act on it swiftly. Doing so should avoid it turning into a full complaint. 

 

 

NOTES: the above article was originally published in 2013 if you would like to find out more up to date information with reference to Email Marketing you can find details on the Information Commissioners office 

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