Email Regulation: Too onerous or just one factor?

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Marketers are famous for complaining about government email regulations. Especially with CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Law), marketers blame the law for forcing them to change the way they send email to Canadian recipients and through Canadian email servers.

I agree that email laws have forced marketers to rethink how they acquire email addresses and manage their email marketing programs. Over the last 10 years, we’ve seen marketers moving from broadcast to targeted email. We’re also talking more about emphasizing email address quality over quantity.

But marketers’ ire over these laws is misplaced, whether we’re talking about CASL, CAN-SPAM in the United States, the UK’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations and the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation, or any of the other email or privacy laws in effect in countries around the world.

The law is just the starting point

It’s easy to focus your frustrations on laws regulating email, but they aren’t the only factors that govern email. Marketers operate within a pyramid of rules and practices that shape how email marketing works:

Level 1: Email laws

These laws generally seek to protect consumer rights and privacy and to define, regulate and reduce spam. Marketers must comply with these laws, but they don’t address other challenges that affect a marketer’s ability to reach the inbox.

Level 2: ESP rules

These rules determine what your ESP will and won’t send. Legitimate ESPs don’t send spam. Circumventing your ESP’s rules can get you fired from your ESP, even though what you send conforms to your government’s laws.

Level 3: Email best practices

These are what your customers and subscribers expect to see from you. They’re tied in with your brand equity. Although we as an industry still don’t agree on all best practices, we’re developing a base of expectations.

Level 4: Blacklist operators

Even though your email message meets government law and follows your ESP’s rules, it could run afoul of a blacklist provider like Spamhaus and Barracuda, whose rules and definitions could block your message or even your access to the email server.

Level 5: The ISPs

Your message has cleared the previous four hurdles successfully, but at this level, it must make it through one final set of filters: the ISP’s own set, which are informed by recipient actions, especially when they click the “report spam” button.

Don’t stand on the sidelines

It’s time to stop complaining about email laws being overly restrictive. If you don’t like the law, do something about it.

  1. Get involved. Participate in industry events and organizations that work with governments to write and amend the laws. The Email Sender and Provider Coalition worked with the Canadian government on CASL. Email marketers have to know not only the art and craft of digital marketing but also what’s brewing on legislation affecting them.
  1. Reach out for help or advocacy. If you’re confused about the laws governing email either in your own country or the countries where you send email, contact knowledgeable people in the email industry who can explain the law or send feedback to the agencies that oversee commercial email.

The Email Experience Council has compiled comprehensive information about global email laws and has a voice in Washington through the DMA.

Advocate for email

Although it might not look that way, no government is looking to make it impossible to do business. It’s all about making sure consumers are protected.

Central to the law are these questions: “Do you have permission to send this email?” and “Do you have permission to have that person’s personal information?”

Beyond that, it’s up to the email industry to answer what’s relevant, when and how to send. Email marketing isn’t just about pushing the “send” button. It’s being involved in legislation, privacy, deliverability and contributing input.

Although the laws might be restrictive, it takes people on the front lines to add their voices to what’s being proposed or enacted. If nobody steps up, nothing is going to change.

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Ryan Phelan
Ryan Phelan brings over 15 years of worldwide online marketing experience to Adestra as the Vice President, Marketing Insights. In this position, Ryan is responsible for the marketing efforts of Adestra in the US. Ryan is a respected thought leader and nationally distinguished speaker. In 2013 he was named one of the top 30 strategists in online marketing and serves on numerous boards and advisors positions in and outside of the industry.
Ryan Phelan

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