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Did CASL fulfill its quest of freeing us from the tyranny of digital junk mail?

In July 2014 we saw the introduction of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), a new law aimed at reducing, if not completely eradicating, spam from Canadians' inboxes. Now one year later, where do we stand? Did CASL fulfill its quest of freeing us from the tyranny of digital junk mail?

According to a recent study, there has been a 37 per cent decrease of Canadian-based spam over the past year. It is good to hear that the people of Canada's kingdom are safer than ever behind the tall walls of their new CASL.

However, a survey conducted by Cyberimpact this June found that while CASL took a hard blow at junk mail, it also impeded the competitiveness of homegrown businesses.

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Does CASL hurt your marketing efforts?

More than 60 per cent of respondents believe the CRTC has failed to provide small and medium-sized businesses with adequate information about the legislation. Despite a round of information sessions, businesses still lack guidance on how to comply with the law.

The legislation is also so complex that even legal experts disagree on how to interpret parts of it.

The message conveyed to companies is often inconsistent. Combined with fines of up to $10-million, CASL has scared Canadian businesses: 10 per cent of those surveyed have stopped sending commercial email altogether and another 30 per cent have trimmed their distribution lists. Where this is good news for consumers' inboxes, as a business, you should reconsider cutting in one of your most cost-effective marketing assets.

Furthermore, nearly half (48 per cent) of businesses said that CASL thwarted their ability to compete with their U.S. counterparts. Many falsely believe that U.S. companies are not subject to the legislation.

In light of those results, truth be told, it is not the law itself, but a misunderstanding of it that is hampering business.

Compliant with CASL, successful in business

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CASL's main objective is to reduce the number of spam and spammers, not prevent your business from flourishing. This legislation actually reinforces email marketing best practices, not hinders them.

Always keep in mind that every email campaign success is only as big as the relevancy of the mailing list you are using. Now, not only must you ensure that people on your lists have an interest in the content you wish to share with them, but you also need to receive an express or implied consent.

Here are a few tips to help you be compliant with CASL and successful in email marketing:

  • All those business cards you gathered over the years can be considered proof of consent, as long as there is no explicit mention that person does not wish to receive email.
  • If the email address of the person you wish to contact is publicly available online, you can communicate with that person at the condition it relates to his or her field of activity. It is also recommended to keep a proof (such as a dated screenshot of the URL).
  • When someone requests information or a quote, you can communicate with that person for six months following the request. Make sure to remove that person from your list after this period (unless you received express consent).
  • A subscription form on your website or Facebook page can help you build your lists.
  • When organizing online contest, add a checkbox asking participants if they wish to subscribe to your mailing list.

One thing to remember when building your distribution list is that it's not about quantity – it's about quality. It's always better to have a small list of interested contacts than a big list of contacts that do not care. The latter increases your chances of receiving complaints and potentially costly fines.

Moving from spam to content with a value

As part of your email marketing, consider moving from mass mail to a more personalized content strategy that is tailored to your audience.

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To do so, you must master segmentation, which means splitting your mailing list in groups. Basic segmentation can regroup people based on preferences, demographics and profile, psychographics or behaviour. You can, and should, also go a step further and use advanced email segmentation for your campaigns. By making use of combined and derived data, you can create segments based on buyer personas, predict behaviour with propensity models and so on.

While businesses using advanced segmentation see a significant increase in the return on investment of their campaigns compared to more basics segmentation, only one company out of five (21%) uses sophisticated segmentation activities. To be successful, you need to know more about your audience than just the basic demographics. Know where their interests lie, what their purchasing habits are, etc. In doing so, you will be able to provide them content that speaks to them and in the end, provides real value.

Personalization is also key in reaching millennials, as a recent study shows that this generation is 44 per cent more likely to permanently disengage with brands if they receive high volumes of mass generic email. Four out of five millennials (84 per cent) are likely to unsubscribe from email lists when bombarded with large numbers of irrelevant messages. It's clear: personalizing your communications will help you drive success with the future generations.

Still not convinced?

So with the challenges that CASL brings, is it still worth investing in email marketing? Yes! 2015's Email Marketing Census concludes that email marketing continues to be one of the top two marketing channels for delivering ROI. It will also continue to be one of the highest channels for delivering ROI in the next five years, according to 74 per cent of companies.

Plus for each dollar invested in email marketing, businesses see a ROI of $74, according to the English Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Despite the fact that uncertainty surrounding the CASL has prompted many companies to cut down on – or even cut out – the use of email as part of their marketing strategy, it's worth the effort to learn how to navigate the new rules. Given that email is not only the most effective, but also the least costly marketing tool, it seems absurd to deprive your business of such value.

Stéphan Lestage is Vice President at Cyberimpact, a Canadian email marketing solution built for CASL.

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