E-Marketing: How to Avoid a £500K Fine

Sarah McInerney

Head of Content

Sarah has almost three decades of experience in crafting compelling, engaging content specifically designed to boost sales and enhance brand loyalty. She’s also an expert in developing unique tone of voice that helps brands connect with their audiences. Her marketing and client service background has given Sarah a natural understanding of how to write content that makes readers take action. Whether it’s signing up to a mailing list, making an enquiry or donation or clicking the buy button, Sarah knows precisely how to convert with words. Pen down, Sarah is a proud member of the Essex Wildlife Trust and spends most of her free time enjoying inspiring walks through her local woodland and nature reserves, admiring everything that flaps, flutters and flowers.

Rather like the common, misguided view that if it’s on a website, it’s public property; so many businesses embarking on e-marketing campaigns think that because they have an email address, they can send advertising material to it. But there couldn’t be anything further from the truth.E-marketing, as with any direct marketing, is heavily regulated by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Fines for breaching the strict rules governing the sending of promotional material are high, and are set to increase to a maximum of £500,000 on 25 May 2011.

And for those who think, ‘I won’t get caught’, don’t believe it. There are people out there who will be only too pleased to report an unsolicited email to the ICO; with the dangling carrot of thousands of pounds in compensation, who wouldn’t?

So, what do you need to know if you’re embarking on an e-marketing campaign? Here’s a brief run down of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, but make sure you read the guidelines in full on the ICO website before you get started.

Marketing to Consumers

The regulations state that when sending marketing material to an individual via email:

  • Your identity must not be disguised
  • A valid email address must be provided so that the recipient can unsubscribe from future mailings
  • The recipient must previously have consented to receiving the material, unless there has been a ‘soft opt in’

A ‘soft opt in’ means the recipient is a customer with whom you’ve done business. You can send them marketing material providing it relates to services or products you have previously sold them, and there is a simple way for them to opt out of future mailings.

Marketing to Businesses

When marketing to a business, some of the rules are the same, but there are differences. You must:

  • Not conceal your identity
  • Provide a valid email address so the recipient can unsubscribe

The recipient will not be able to enforce a right to opt out of your mailings under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. However, under Section 11 of the Data Protection Act, they could request you stop mailing them.

Consent is not required to email a business, however courtesy should be exercised. You probably know yourself how frustrating it can be to receive high volumes of promotional emails, especially if they are not relevant to you.

E-marketing can be effective, if it’s done correctly. As well as adhering to the official guidelines, here are a few ‘soft’ suggestions that could make all the difference:

  • Only send information that will benefit the recipient, and clearly show how it will benefit them
  • Include useful material, such as tips or guidance, so the recipient can see some value in your mailing
  • Ensure your mailing is designed to be easy on the eye and that recipients are given the option to display any images rather than being forced to wait while they download
  • Check how your mailing will appear by running test mailings

Embarking on an e-marketing campaign? Take care: getting it wrong could be expensive. If you want to make sure you get it right, and will get the best return, talk to us.

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