The dos and don’ts of email marketing: Email etiquette to make a positive impression
As the owner of a small business trying to make its mark, you’ll almost certainly rely on your computer to do some of your marketing. Email is fast, and best of all, free. That combination makes your return on investment higher for email marketing than any other type. No wonder email is the most widely used marketing tool in the world.
But it’s not as simple as you might think.
- U.S. law – the CAN-SPAM Act – places strict limits on how you can use email to market your business, and imposes fines of up to $16,000 per email for violations.
- Internet service providers (ISPs) often have even stricter rules on what constitutes spam and simply won’t deliver your email – everything from your domain – if they think you’re spamming their customers. You don’t want to end up in spam jail.
- Worst of all, your real and potential customers – the people whose hearts, minds, and dollars you’re trying to win – will think you’re a lowlife.
Wait a minute, you say, I’m not going to blast 10,000 emails. I’m sending out notices to, maybe, a hundred friends and customers about a new product or a special sale. Well, you don’t have to be a bulk emailer to break the law or violate email etiquette. The CAN-SPAM law says any message whose primary purpose is commercial is subject to the law.
The bare minimum: CAN-SPAM
Here’s what U.S. law says.
- Don’t use false or misleading header information. Especially the “From” and “Reply to” lines must be accurate and identify you.
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line should accurately reflect the contents of the email.
- Identify the message clearly and conspicuously as an ad.
- Tell readers where your business is physically located.
- Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving email from you – and honor that request promptly.
- Monitor what others are doing for you. You are responsible for the misdeeds of someone you hire to help you with your email campaign.
Smart Next Steps
Obeying the law will keep you off the to-do list of the FTC’s enforcement attorneys – but your target customers will punish you severely for other transgressions. Industry standards and best practices provide six important tips.
Get permission. Always. This isn’t push marketing, it’s pull. There’s a reason email is now called “permission marketing.” And don’t just get permission once, get it twice. It’s called a “double opt-in.” When someone subscribes to your email from your website, social media, or other marketing tools – opt-in #1 – send an email to them asking them to confirm their subscription – opt-in #2. (The confirmation opt-in eliminates malicious or prank subscriptions.)
Beyond getting permission, your request for a confirmation should be clear about what they will get and how often. Establish expectations that subscribers will get an email from you every Wednesday afternoon, the first Tuesday of every month, or periodic special offers, product updates, or important industry information (but never press releases).
Pass it on. You want to encourage recipients of your emails to forward them to friends or colleagues, but if you offer them a reward for doing so they are acting on your behalf under the law and are subject to the CAN-SPAM law too. So be careful about offering inducements to forward your emails. However, always include a subscription button or mechanism on your marketing emails, in case they are forwarded. You want everyone who receives them to be able to begin the opt-in process, too.
Never buy a list of addresses. Ever. You don’t know where those addresses came from and the people behind the addressees certainly haven’t given you permission to contact them.
Write a descriptive, punchy subject line. Capturing the reader’s attention is imperative. You want to alert recipients at a glance what you have for them and who the message is from.
- Among many other useful tips, Mark Brownlow (he’s worth Googling) suggests a three-stage objective for your subject line: Recognition, Interest, Action.
- No longer than it needs to be. Some think short is better, others say if the email contains an offer it should be shorter, if it’s information it can be longer. In reality, the subject lines in most email programs are not very long, so you have limited characters to capture attention – as recipients quickly scan their overfull inboxes and decide which emails to open.
- Personalize the email, but not the subject line. None of your friends put your name in the subject line, do they?
- No CAPS, $$$ or !!! Yep, that’s spam!!!
Write interesting, informative copy. Write in a casual, conversational style. Respect recipients; give them something for their time. A discount, special offer, useful information. Target your offers to the recipient. The beauty of email is that it can be narrowly targeted based on what you already know about customers.
Limit graphics. Many email filters block graphics, so keep all essential information in text. Limited use of graphics can augment your message, but provide links to your website for more visual presentations.
If you need help, it’s easy to find.
The marketplace is crowded with ethical, effective companies that will provide email marketing expertise. Many have produced software that will help you manage your program. And many will also help you integrate email marketing with CRM and your social marketing tools, too.
It takes time to develop relationships.
In any medium – face-to-face, phone, email – give it a chance to happen. You improve your odds if you conduct your email marketing the right way. Mind your email p’s and q’s.
You can get more info, including answers to FAQs, at the website of the Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov.
Dave Smith has been a freelance writer for 30 years on topics ranging from national defense policy to national baking contests. He has written for and about many of the world’s leading companies on assignments from Andorra to Zambia. His reporting has been read in corporate boardrooms, the State Department, Pentagon and White House.
How have you used email to grow your business? What has made your efforts successful?