Will the new ICO powers help the fight against spam

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]As a response to the increased EU privacy laws, there will be an amendment to our Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) in the UK.

From the 25th of May 2011 the ICO will have the powers to fine businesses and organisations up to half a million pounds for incidents of unwanted marketing calls, emails and SMSs.

The powers include:

  • Monetary penalty powers extended
  • Increased investigatory powers
  • Compulsory notification when breaches occur
  • Increased audit powers
  • New rules for websites using cookies and similar technologies

For all of the details on each point and a word from the Information Commissioner himself, Christopher Graham read the full press release from their press release page.

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Now to the brain-dump / rant…

While this dramatically increases consequences and hopefully will act as more of a deterrent now, personally I’m not sure what this will really achieve for email marketing.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to kick the gift-horse in the teeth: it is definitely a step forward and gives hope for the future, but it merely means that there are more consequences for ignoring the PECR. However, the majority of the emails that get complained about are sent within the law, it is the law that is the problem.

Along with the US CAN-SPAM laws (often referred to as “u-can-spam”) the UK’s soft opt-in and zero protection for generic business addresses while popular with data brokers and lead generation businesses is despised by recipients and subsequently their ISPs. So much so that ISPs have their own sending regulations far beyond the legal requirements requesting only emails that have actually been asked for by their users.
And no-one who’s been blocked by and ISP has ever successfully sued an ISP for it – even though I’ve occasionally hear the phrase ‘illegal restriction of trade’ no-one tries it because they know they won’t win.

The large consumer ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and AOL (respectably) are all utilising engagement monitoring to help them more accurately assign a reputation and decide if someone is sending emails their users want and have asked for…or not. This reputation will then decide inbox placement and volume tolerances for brands by IP address, domain, email address and sometimes even the prefix.

You have to ask your selves, why have ISPs had to do this?

Answer: Because the law does not respect email or SMS properly.

As countries in the mainland EU like Germany and Holland have nailed down their data privacy laws, and now the EU  has improved their laws significantly and appropriately, they have nicely encroached on  the generally poor communication laws, and that can only be a good thing.

Now we just need the same protection in the UK because it’s not cutting it: email is not flyering.

One big problem is that once an email address has given 3rd party permission once, that’s it there is no way out. You just have to keep hitting the unsubscribe links – if you trust them – or hit the spam button, or get a new email account. And most of the time you don’t realise you’ve even given 3rd party permission.

Something has to give and change to improve the recipient experience and stop consumers just thinking that all marketing emails are spam:

  • Brands should be forced to clearly announce contact details usage and ownership in plain site of the submission form, not a linked Ts and Cs page full of small print.
  • Brands should not be allowed to force consumers into providing 3rd party opt-in when using their site.
    Eg: credit companies, comparison sites and gambling sites etc.
  • Ownership of that data must stay with the collector.
  • All email addresses should have the same levels of opt-in, whether they are consumer, business or generic business. However I will compromise for generic business address being given the same protection and opt-out rules as personal business addresses.
  • I can tolerate the soft-opt-in as long as the soft-optin emails are sent from the same brand which attained consent in the first place.

So my main issue is third party sharing of email addresses which to me is a privacy thing.

Maybe it is because an email address alone is not classed as personal identification, because it is without context, even if it is firstname.lastname@…?

It is someone’s email address and subsequently should be treated with respect and care born out of empathy, not contempt born out of greed from more money for nothing – great tune by the way, got it as a ring tone for whenever my Dad calls me.

There must be a reason why sharing email addresses so freely is still an acceptable practice, other than no-one has fought hard enough to change it?

Is it some kind of age old industrial loyalty to a revenue stream born out of peoples’ apparent endless confusion between postal marketing and email marketing

Maybe it’s some kind of pressure from elsewhere

Could it just be de-prioritisation.

Dunno is the answer, but something is wrong with it.

Confirmed Single Opt-in

Sign-up forms are of course the best way for people to give you their addresses.

The safest way to process sign-ups is with a double opt-in; by sending an email containing a link that needs to be clicked in order to complete the sign-up is the only way to make sure the person who entered the address owns the addressHanKany marketers (probably too many) won’t do a double opt-in through some annoying pitiful fear of missing an opportunity. Apparently people still think quantity over quality and want to treat email marketing like postal marketing, which saddens me. This attitude is probably the largest contribution tot poor deliverability.

We do have the welcome email, where someone is signed up instantly and an email is sent immediately after the sign up. It does unfortunately leave the form open to abuse, if someone wants something for nothing they can still enter someone else’s email address.

So what does one do when the bosses won’t allow double-opt-in but you want to ensure a quality list…

Engagement targeting from the welcome email!

It’s the first email you will you send them and on the back of their sign-up. This experience makes the first impression of your brand’s opinion of their list and the fact that it is sent so soon after the sign-up will get better engagement.
Hopefully you already knew that but also this will be you first opportunity to react to their engagement levels from an email.

In the same way as you should be segmenting by engagement over time ie: targeting frequent clickers differently to people to who haven’t opened the email in 3 months; you should use the recipients’ reactions to your welcome email to initially profile them for levels of rapport so moving forward you can know which calls to action will be achievable.

CURVE your subject lines the Trendline way

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]As you know, subject lines get the opens and if you want to do well you test subject lines. You have between 2 and 5 that you’d like to test. Any ESP worth any salt will allow you to add multiple subject lines to  a message and automatically perform live A/B testing during the delivery.

Some ESPs will ask you to send the test to small segment of your list and some ESPs will have features to choose the best subject line during the main delivery and send it to the bulk of the list after a period of live testing in the same delivery.

Either way, we all spend time trying to think about which subject would and should work best and during this process we find our selves categorising what we think a good subject line should have.

A very clever bloke called Alex Williams from a particularly experienced and talented agency called Trendline Interactive has really hit the nail on the head by defining the elements that have worked for him over the years and calls it CURVE:

  • Curiosity
  • Urgency
  • Relevance
  • Value
  • Emotion

In his blog “Do your Email Subject Lines have C.U.R.V.E.?” Alex illustrates each point in great detail, it’s well worth a look…read on

At Pure360, one of things we recommend to clients when choosing subject lines, early on, is to ask people in other parts of the business for suggestions. It is not always their suggestions of subject lines that help but the process of trying to quickly & clearly explain what the email is about, what they want people to do and why anyone should open it in the first place. Then getting feedback and follow questions as well as the subject line suggestions.

Not only do many marketers often find out that their perception, being directly from the other side of the email, is not always right but recipients CURVEs are not always the same a marketers’. On many occasions they find that the subject lines they have from asking the office are more successful – and on some occasions they are miles off 🙂

However you decide on your subject lines now, give the CURVE test a go and try to work it into your process where you can, and make sure you test, test, test.

Also don’t forget that the top line or two from your HTML version often appears under or next to the subject line in some inboxes and Outlook takes it from the plain text version if you have the auto-preview turned on.

Email UX – recipient experience top 5

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]You may have read me banging on about the recipient experience, whether it was about deliverability, engagement or ROI (they are all the same by the way) and when ever I read a good piece from someone else about it I cannot help but shout about it (eg: Scott Cohen’s Conversation Starter).

Well, I’ve found another one:

Email Insight less is more” by the legend of Remy Bergsma on his Emailblog.eu (April 11th, 2011) really got to the core of it.

It’s a great length of post too, not too long that you decide to save it for later and never get round to it,
but has all the points too: it has a nice contextual image and a simple 5 point list, what more can you ask for:

  1. Purpose
  2. Audience
  3. Time
  4. Followup
  5. Tone of voice

If you want to find out what this means for your email success…read on

If not, you really should do, so…read on

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There is not enough about the really core touchy feely, how to delight people consistently in email marketing. There is so much pressure on numbers and money, the recipient experience is fading. Senders either through lack of inclination or pressure are still thinking the word ‘blast’ (uurgggh) and forgetting that every recipient is an individual.

Each person is different and can look at your brand differently, based on their exposure to you, the way they found out who you are, their life long experiences of your brand and the amount of time since you last entered their thoughts or even line of sight.

Your call to action might not be achievable for every person on your list for any reason and you might end up losing people who would will spend later if you treat them right. So normalise it with some top level categories like their age, their last purchase, their last interaction, how long they’ve been with you etc.

Split the list for prospects and customers, split those lists for hot & cold leads and customers & fans and make sure what you want them to do is achievable. Help them achieve it and those who aren’t ready purchase now will be next time and you’ll know about it!

And don’t forget that with social media it is even easier for people to say things about you and people are more inclined to shout about a bad thing than a good thing – because a good thing is just the norm – so aim for delighted and if you under achieve all is well and everything else is gravy!

Webinar: You control Your deliverability

[tweetmeme source=”getintheinbox” only_single=false]Last week I delivered my deliverability webinar for Pure360. I have been informed it was very good 🙂

I really enjoyed doing the webinar, it eveolved nicely from a little blog post that evolved into my 5 deliverability top 5s and then into the webinar. I expect Pure360 will then reverse engineer it and each section will be published on their blog too… in fact one is already up there: Top 5 ways to improve your reputation. To be honest, the word deliverability should really have been in the title to ensure context but I don’t think we had too many confused people expecting some kind of psychological self help article.

If you’d like to listen to it your self, you can use the GoToMeeting link from Pure360’s web-site which co-incidentally is on the same page as the write up from the Q&A afterwards…read on

I also created a nifty little pdf guide which is also available for download on the Pure360 site…read on

Here are the slides from slides but to get the full experience I’d really advise listening to the whole webinar:

I hope you enjoy it, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments