Email marketing: how not to break the rules

Email marketing rulesHow is your inbox looking?  Do you open your email each day knowing that everything you receive is going to be useful, entertaining and a joy to read?  No, me neither. Still, there’s a reason I don’t unsubscribe from all of them.  There are plenty of retailers out there that I buy from now and again.  They’re useful information sources for birthday or Christmas presents.  I stay on their list because it’s useful to know when they’ve got a sale on.

If you send email marketing out to your customers, you may well fall into that category.  As long as your customers are happy, it’s all fine.  However, break the rules and you could find yourself on the end of more than an angry phone call.

What are the rules?

Email marketing is governed by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.  These anti-spam laws are designed to make sure that we aren’t bombarded with emails that we don’t want and didn’t sign up for.  Unsurprisingly, the first rule is that you can’t add anyone to your email list who didn’t ask to be added.

When I’m trying to build my email marketing list I like to use an opt-in or freebie (like this one for professional service providers).  I can target it at people who are likely to need and be interested in my services so I’m not spending my time contacting people who are never going to work with me.  It also means that I subscribers understand what they’re signing up for.  You provide an email address, you expect to get some marketing.

Legally, you are allowed to ‘cold email’ a registered company or limited liability partnership (LLP) but they can be tricky to identify unless you’ve checked their status, say via Companies House.  You could also still be caught out if you email an individual within a company with something that isn’t related to their work.

You might think it’s OK to add new networking contacts to your list.  Think again.  Unless they’ve given you permission, adding the email addresses from your pile of shiny business cards still counts as spam.  That doesn’t mean you can’t add them on – you just need to ask first.

The penalties

The laws against spam email are regulated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).  The ICO has the power to hand out fines and you could also face civil action from anyone who has suffered a loss as a result of your actions.

In March 2017 Flybe were handed a £70,000 fine for emailing customers who had specifically opted out of receiving emails.

Why it matters

Keeping your email marketing within the law is hugely important, not only because of the potential for fines.  The way you communicate with your customers should be at the heart of your brand.  Get it wrong and you run the risk of trashing your public image.  It also means that you lose any possibility of securing a favourable review or referral.  Now, ask yourself how important those are to your business.

Keep your email marketing within the law and it could skyrocket your business – get it wrong and you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

Further reading

Government guidance on direct marketing

More on the regulations from

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