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Be aware of spam laws in e-mail marketing

Spam – it’s not just something you can eat anymore. It’s also junk or unsolicited mass e-mail. Experts estimate spam constitutes more than 50 percent of the e-mail flying through cyberspace daily. I know I find myself spending time these days culling through e-mails to find the good from the spam.

Since the winter boat show season is just wrapping up, many aggressive dealers should have assembled a list of e-mail addresses from prospects met at the shows. Some shows provide a list of visitors to exhibitors who request it. And, some dealers actually buy boat registrations lists to use in e-mail marketing campaigns. In spite of the fact that spam is viewed with widespread disdain, e-mail remains a popular marketing tool because it’s easy and its distribution cost is virtually free. And, let’s face it . . . in the boat business today we need to use every available marketing tactic, including e-mail, to get prospects into the showroom.

Enter “CAN-SPAM.” Officially known as the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act of 2003,” CAN-SPAM actually became effective more than five years ago. And while, to date, there haven’t been many federal prosecutions of spammers, CAN-SPAM does outline certain requirements and prohibitions that every dealer with an e-mil marketing program should observe:

1. The use of deceptive subject lines is prohibited. We see it every day in our e-mail. But don’t do it. The CAN-SPAM Act requires that the e-mail subject line should not deceive recipients. It means you must be direct and honest about your purpose for the e-mail. Lines like “Boat Show Follow-Up” or “XYZ Boat Special Information” will likely get opened . . . “You’re Our Big Winner” or “probably won’t. In fact, the latter could automatically end up in the recipient’s spam file!

2. While not likely to be applicable to a marine dealer, sending a marketing e-mail under a false name is unacceptable. For example, you can’t use something like: or abcboats@ebay, etc.

3. Always give the recipients a way out. All e-mails sent for marketing purposes must offer an easy way for the consumer to opt out of all future mailings. This can be done most easily by providing a simple “click on this to unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the e-mail. According to CAN-SPAM, if they do this you will have 10 days to comply with the request. Future e-mails sent to a customer who already unsubscribed can net you a $250 penalty per occurrence.

4. Although it’s an e-mail, there also needs to be an actual physical address of the sender. Notably, even a post office box or private mailbox address is acceptable, albeit seemingly counter-productive. In addition, CAN-SPAM says it must be clear to the recipient that marketing e-mails are a solicitation for business.

Notably, these rules are aimed at e-mails that are essentially ads being broadcast to a wide list of recipients who may not want them and didn’t ask for them. The whole premise is simply to make marketing e-mails transparent, not to discredit or discourage the proper use of e-mail in marketing programs. E-mail can be a valuable tool for the dealership’s sales team. Use it properly and it will produce good results.

Oh, yes – if you’re wondering why spam is called spam…credit for inspiring the use of the term goes to a 1970s funny TV sketch on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in which a group of Vikings sing a chorus about Spam (the processed meat product)  that drowns out all other conversation at a restaurant. And now you know.


4 comments on “Be aware of spam laws in e-mail marketing

  1. Maxwell Hazelwood

    An excellent summary and warning Norm – thank You

    Volume of these messages has increased substantially lately restricting legitimate business details of fine products

    Max Hazelwood, President WELMAX MARINE USA INC

  2. Maria Brandes

    Thanks for the reminder. One thing that wasn’t mentioned was that most e-mail service such as Constant Contact will require you to prove that you have permission from the addressee to email them. Just because you have a relationship with a customer you do not have permission to e-mail them yourself or through a third party. When gathering e-mail addresses be sure that your document incudes a footnote stating that they are giving permission for you to send them e-mails. You can also include a happier note that you won’t sell the e-mail list to any other source.

  3. David Tomen

    Norm, it would be interesting to learn how many use email marketing in the recreational boating industry. Email marketing is by far one of the best marketing tools available today. And because it costs so little can be implemented by anyone.

    Email marketing can only be effective if it is permission-based. Rented or purchased email lists are questionable, and in my experience a complete waste of money. Business owners would be wise to use those funds to pay a low monthly fee for a quality ESP (Email Service Provider), and coaching their staff to ask for an email address with every customer interaction.

    Setting up an autoresponder series offering tips to boaters in preparation for the upcoming boating season will keep your name fresh in your customer’s mind. The next time they need to replace a pump, or even to buy a boat – you’ll be top of their list to call.

    The simplest way to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act is to include a footer in every email and include an unsubscribe link in that footer. It’s unobtrusive as it’s at the very bottom of your email copy and signature line. In fact, all of the major ESP’s will not only prevent you from broadcasting an email that doesn’t have an appropriate footer – they’ll also put your account on hold if you have too many bounces, or unsubscribes.

    If anyone needs help with their email marketing please let me know. Since I left yacht brokerage in 2009 I’ve helped many companies both large and small in many different industries with their email marketing efforts. I’d like to see more people and businesses in this industry get the most benefit from one of the best marketing tools available today.

    Happy boating!
    David Tomen
    Swift Current Marketing, Inc.

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