Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
What do you do when the government, with the stroke of a pen, restricts one of your most important means of communicating with customers?
For years, Macadamian Technologies Inc. had compiled a list of its clients' e-mail addresses. The software design and development firm, which is based in Gatineau, Que., used it to cultivate relationships with current customers and woo prospective ones as well by sending out helpful white papers, customer testimonials, podcasts and videos.
That was before one of Canada's most comprehensive and strict privacy bills, called Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), took effect on July 1.
The law, which was passed to combat electronic spam, requires businesses to get express consent from recipients in order to send commercial messages such as e-mails or texts.
The 17-year-old company's database had yielded good results over the years, but now its use has been severely curtailed. "Our reach is going to be reduced. That's really a concern," said Brooks Riendeau, senior manager of market development for the company, whose software applies to a range of activities, including social media, productivity and health care, where, for example, they assist physicians in accessing patients' records any time and anywhere.
To comply with the law, Macadamian sent e-mails asking for consent. It noted the kind of content it had been providing, and explained what its customers could expect to receive in the future.
The response? About 10 per cent opted in, Mr. Riendeau said, noting that while an overwhelming majority of the remaining 90 per cent didn't expressly reject Macadamian's approach, neither did they respond. And that, under the CASL legislation, is as good as opting out.
Having a pre-existing business relationship doesn't necessarily help, either. The CASL law provides for the notion of "implied consent" if the other party is already a customer.
For instance, one could argue that a prospective client who has filled out a form and requested a piece of information from Macadamian would then be considered to have a relationship with the company. But that "really doesn't necessarily go all the way with the new CASL legislation," Mr. Riendeau said. It expressly requires a direct, simple affirmation of consent in order to continue sending communications, he said.
Macadamian now finds itself looking for alternate strategies that will provide the same type of reach it found through its database.
The Challenge: How can Macadamian make up for the reduction in effectiveness of its e-mail marketing?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Kersi Antia, associate professor of marketing at the University of Western Ontario's Richard Ivey School of Business, London, Ont.
E-mail based solicitation is really all about sending out large numbers of blanketed rather than targeted kinds of messages. Even if a firm gets lucky doing that, the best they can hope for is about a 1- or 2-per-cent response rate. It's an outmoded method of doing business. It irritates people and engenders exactly the kind of thing that the CASL has been a response to.
Alternatively, some companies are doing some very neat things to create a buzz about their brand, and gaining both recognition and customers. One that stands out for me is WestJet, which is using social media platforms in a very creative manner, such as the "Christmas Miracle" video or the April Fool's Day messages they've been sending out in the last few years.
Social media creates buzz, and viral marketing takes on a life of its own. So the number one thing I would suggest is to think more creatively about what you would like your brand to stand for, in terms of a message you could get out that people would be receptive to.
Think: How can I be different from all the others? Increase your credibility and relevance. Show how you're in the forefront of what's going on out there such as with Q&As and blog postings, or publishing white papers for interested parties to download, and thereby consent to being contacted.
Mark Hanley, manager, entrepreneur centre, Kingston Economic Development Corp., Kingston
Why not consider going back to the age-old tradition of print media? I realize it's more expensive and it has to be distributed in a reliable manner. But print media still has its place.
The other option is cold calling with one-on-one personal telephone calls. That is very time consuming. But blast e-mails represent a very lazy way of marketing. Businesses should consider taking more of a targeted marketing approach.
I recall what one company did long ago, before the Internet. They went to a trade show and investigated the list of buyers who were going to be in attendance, and contacted each one of those buyers by fax, telephone and with a hand-addressed brochure. Then they booked times in hotel rooms to meet one-on-one and show them the product. They came back with about 10 times the signed orders required by their investor.
I think there's a lesson there. It took a lot of effort but created a real foundation for a good market.
So I think there are alternatives. They're not as easy or cheap. But I think a lot of businesses today are looking for very quick and easy solutions. Whereas in the past, we really had to be cautious with our marketing dollars and make sure we were very effective and very targeted.
I also think sometimes we track metrics that really aren't relevant. We forget that we're not just trying to collect a boxful of business cards or 1,000 connections online. We're trying to convert those into sales.
Rob Cameron, chief product and marketing officer, Moneris Solutions Corp., Toronto
Stop and think about the sectors and the verticals or industries where their solutions and expertise will have the greatest traction, and focus on those. Then, since they no longer have this express consent for commercial electronic messages to organizations within those industries, I would look at partnerships.
Look to partner with associations and agencies that would have already captured the express consent of members of those targeted industries. Pharmaceutical, health advocacy and education groups might, for example, be a great place to look. I would also look at opportunities to leverage existing or even new business relationships to create complementary solutions to address a wider customer base.
And a third area to look at, given their strength in digital user experience, is creating compelling content and information that would actually bring people in their target verticals to them. With those inbound interactions would come the opportunity for them to create leads and ultimately, sales.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Improve your brand
Create a unique message that will draw people to your company. Provide services such as Q&As, blog postings and white papers.
Look for partners
Form partnerships with associations and agencies that already have the express consent of their own members to advertise to.
Go back to marketing roots
Pick up the phone or try print media. Targeting more carefully can ultimately yield stronger sales results.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.