Is it legal to send email campaigns to a purchased list?

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No SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, signed by President George W. Bush, requires certain elements to be included in unsolicited email correspondence to make it legal and to protect the sender from lawsuits, but how do you feel ethically about sending to a purchased list?

In my past life, working for a large, privately-held, ESP (Email Service Provider) here in Dallas, TX — I learned quite a bit about the legality and ethics associated with email marketing. I would often receive questions from prospective customers regarding the legal aspect of sending “unsolicited” email campaigns — or as we more commonly refer to it — SPAM.

SPAM email is one of those things that businesses don’t want to be associated with, but they always seem to creep closer and closer towards (especially in tight economic climates, or when their name acquisition efforts are not working as quickly as they would like).

So, in today’s blog, we’re going to review the legal aspects of sending campaign messages via email to purchased email lists.

This debate is really an ethical vs. legal one. As someone that previously purchased marketing lists and distributed email campaigns to them, I can tell you this — everyone that is on the list thinks that they can sue you for sending them your email.

I’m here to tell you that they can’t, so long as you cover your bases. So, let’s look at the legal aspects of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

Definition:

SPAM is the use of electronic messaging systems (including most broadcast media, digital delivery systems) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately.

Summary of CAN-SPAM Act of 2003:

  • Signed into law by President George W. Bush on 12/16/2003
  • Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003
  • SPAM is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • Commonly referred to as “You Can SPAM Act”, as it legalizes most email spam, in particular it doesn’t require permission prior to marketing
  • Prohibits states from enacting stronger laws against unsolicited mail

If you do not want to be sued or shut down by the FTC, here is what you need to include in your message(s):

Legal Requirements:

  • Sender must provide physical mailing address in unsolicited messages
  • Provide recipient with a valid opt-out request
  • A recipient cannot be required to pay a fee to opt-out
  • A recipient can do as little as replying to the sender requesting opt-out
  • Opt-out requests must be honored within 10 days of receipt
  • A few other elements that are too geeky to worry about here (false headers, open relays, etc.)

So, in summary — so long as you include those items, you’re good to start carpet-bombing every email address you can buy, right?

Wrong.

This is where the ethical aspect of the debate comes into play.

You see, major spam monitoring services (services like Barracuda, SPAM Assassin, etc.) are not legally bound to deliver your email to their recipients (even if you include all of the legal requirements). They can (and do) run every email through a rigorous series of tests in an attempt to weed out even potentially SPAM email messages.

Here’s a chart from the Barracuda website that indicates all of the measures a single email message will go through to reach one of their recipients:

Barracuda Spam Architecture

Once you get on a spam blacklist, it can be a rigorous and time-consuming process to overcome. In fact, most ESP’s will not allow their clients to upload purchased email lists for the simple fact that it creates a massive headache for them to “clear their names” again with those said blacklist management companies.

From an ethical standpoint, I would (and will always) advise against buying email lists for sure fire marketing initiatives. That said, there are always exceptions (and I suppose you can persuade me that it is acceptable for certain scenarios and with certain businesses), but not for non-profits and their fund raising efforts.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a very clear difference between “rented lists” and “purchased lists”. The rented list is one that is provided to you by a reputable firm, that has double-opted in their audience and asked them if they would be willing to “receive advertisements from their affiliates” (you’ve seen these lists, right?). These names are rented for a certain period of time (or number of sends) by the marketing organization (and are never truly in control of the marketer).

A purchased list is either manually or automatically scraped (via a program/script) over the internet to collect email addresses (usually on “contact us” forms, or directories, etc). More often than not, a purchased list seller will relinquish control of email addresses/names to the marketing organization to own and market to an unlimited number of times.

It seems like a hard mountain to climb, but the journey of a thousand miles starts but with one small step — so, I would always advise that the funds you would spend on purchasing a list are better spent on advertising and growing your email house file organically.

With proper targeting and A/B testing, you can actually get to a point where your cost-per-acquisition (CPA) is not that much (a few dollars) for a name/email address.

We actually have one client here at KMA that makes at least $5.00 every time someone gives them their name/email address (because they subsequently turn into donors so quickly thereafter).

In conclusion:

An organically grown list will always outperform (some of our tests show between double to triple the results) of a purchased list and will not jeopardize your overall email marketing efforts (or leave you offline for a period of time due to grappling with SPAM monitoring services that have blacklisted you as a SPAMMER).

The moral of the story goes back to an Aesop Fable about the Tortoise and the Hare — slow but steady wins the race.

— GC

Preselected values — your donation form’s best friend

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Preselected Form Fields

Preselected form fields are like driving your potential donors into a tunnel. Yes, they can turn around and leave the same way they came in, but if they convert, they're likely to convert at the level that you've selected for them.

I learned one of the most interesting factoids on a recent trip with my KMA colleagues to visit a valued partner in Salem Web Network a few weeks ago. It was a simple test that they had run, but the results were pretty staggering.

They wanted to run an A/B split test for a campaign on behalf of one of their faith-based non-profit organizations regarding whether or not Salem Web Network could generate better results by driving email traffic to a donation form with a preselected donation value.

In an attempt to not disclose any sensitive information about their test, their client and/or the exact figures that were generated, I’ve decided to share the figures based solely upon comparison against one another.

The first form (the control for the experiment) drove visitors to a campaign-specific landing page, with strong copy calling for donations for this particular cause. On the form, the Salem Web Network team used a standard array of donation form values that were relevant to the audience type. They did not leverage any preselected donation levels on this version.

The second form (the treated version of the form for this experiment) drove visitors to the same exact form as the control in every way, with the exception of the fact that the Salem Web Network team preselected the 2nd tier donation level.

The email marketing list was segmented at random to allow for the results to be to properly measured against one another. The email messages were exactly the same in every way, with the exception (of course) being the call to action link for the “control” email sending visitors to the form without preselected values, while the “treatment” email drove visitors to the form with the preselected value.

So, here’s the big question: Which form do you think performed better?

Based upon the title of this article, I’m assuming you already know. If you guessed the “treatment” version of the campaign, then you are indeed correct.

The “treatment” form outperformed the “control” in every major measurement statistic used to measure success by the Salem Web Network team.

Below are the staggering results:

  • 109.86% increase in overall number of donations
  • 111.21% increase in form completion percentage
  • 143.22% increase in average gift size
  • 157.12% increase in donations collected

The Salem Web Network team, being the good marketers that they are, eliminated the “control” version from the campaign plans and rolled the “treatment” version of the campaign out to the rest of the email file list generating a great ROI for their customer.

So, why is it that the “treatment” version of this campaign performed so much more favorably than that of the “control” version? It has everything to do with the psychological mindset of a donor.

Those that visited the landing page from the email list read and consumed compelling content contained in the email message and clicked through to the landing page for more information as to how they could support this particular client’s very noble cause.

Once on the “treatment” landing page, they were given an array of options to select in terms of a gift size. By controlling the form selection by giving them a level that we’d like for them to donate at (while, of course, allowing the donors to select whatever donation level they could afford, or felt compelled to give towards the cause), the Salem Web Network team effectively was able to lead donors to the water … and the donors drank.

This is an extremely important point to remember as a marketer — campaign targets (in this case, prospective donors) want to be lead in a particular direction. By sticking a landing page inside of your website (and showing your global navigation elements), or designing a form that has too many fields, or any other sort of items that can cause a psychological resistance to performing our call to action, we end up losing the sale.

Our landing pages need to be as streamlined and as simple as possible for our visitors to convert. If we do too much to “muddy the waters” so to speak, we provide our visitors with enough of a reason to leave us, rather than perform our call to action.

I will be implementing these tactics into future strategies for our clients moving forward and look forward to writing future blogs about amazing stories of increased fund raising results in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed these geeky numbers as much as I did.

— GC

More about Salem Web Network:
Salem Web Network is the online division of Salem Communications, which began in 1999 with a single website – OnePlace.com. Today, SWN consists of 12 national sites, including the most well-known brands in the faith marketplace, such as Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. Additionally, more than 50 radio station websites are part of SWN’s platform, which now reaches more than 7 million users every month.

The reason why you should continue using banner ads, even if the ROI isn’t there.

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The reason why you should continue using banner ads, even if the ROI isn’t there.

Advertising is not a direct response channel, but it can provide a significant lift to direct response marketing efforts when it is added to your overall mix of activities. Trust me, you're not throwing your money away when you advertise online.

If you’re like me, you’ve just wrapped up a great Independence Day break and you’re rolling up your sleeves in an attempt to put your nose to the grindstone. Don’t you just love 4-day work weeks? It makes everything seem to fly by, which is not necessarily a good thing.

After all, there are organizations out there that need help in their fund raising efforts — and the Strategist has been hammering away all week. I apologize for missing my Tuesday publishing date, although I highly doubt there is anyone out there that was disappointed. 🙂

Now, let’s get on with the show, eh? As promised in last week’s blog about the difference between marketing and advertising, I mentioned that I would write this week about banner advertising on the web and why you should do it, even if you ROI is not there.

We had a meeting with a customer before the holidays and this exact question was asked in our call. “Why should we continue to use banner ads if the ROI is not there?” It’s a valid question at the surface level. In today’s economy, it’s difficult to justify expenditures that do not bring a positive return on investment, right?

Well, I challenge that line of thinking. Why?

It’s a simple answer: Advertising is not a direct response channel.

Let me say that again — Advertising is NOT a direct response channel.

A direct response channel is where you’re engaging an audience directly, on a one-to-one level to ask them to perform a specific action. Believe it or not, by slapping a “CLICK HERE NOW!!!” button on your banner, you’re not actually marketing to an audience in a direct manner.

So, what is advertising? Advertising is an indirect response channel. It’s specifically used for brand building, brand awareness and brand loyalty initiatives.

Then, why would anyone want to spend money on that? Well, you can ask one of the million+ public companies that advertise daily on television, outdoor signage, over the radio, etc. — or I can just tell you.

When it comes to advertising, it’s about a consistent, repetitive interaction with a prospective and/or existing consumer base with your brand. The more times they hear the brand, the more “trust” is built in the brand. You may disagree with this, but I would imagine that you’re far more likely to buy a product from a large national brand than you are from the local mom & pop shop that sells the same widget, at a similar price point. It’s not just because of location (which is a major factor), but it’s also about the fact that you interact with the brand nearly daily.

With online marketing tactics like email marketing bringing such clarity and bottom line results to move the needle, it’s hard to justify to others within your organization the expenditures that you’re making in other online channels that are not “generating the same types of results”.

What if I told you that you need to look at your overall marketing/advertising mix as a mathematical equation? Remember all of the way back in high school when you took algebra? Well, take a look at this algebraic formula that I use to communicate the effectiveness of a true marketing and advertising mixture:

Marketing Effectiveness = (A + B) * C

Here are the variables that I plug into this equation:

  • A = Traditional direct marketing/sales activities
    This can include things like direct mail, telesales, trade shows, etc.
  • B = Online direct marketing/sales activities
    This can include email marketing, search engine marketing, etc.
  • C = Online/Offline Advertising activities
    This is whatever you are doing to advertise on the web, on television, outdoor signage, etc.

With this mathematical equation, the “A” value is increased when combined with “B”. But both values are MULTIPLIED when “C” is introduced to the equation. Yes, online/offline advertising is an expense in most cases (and really good marketing/advertising firms can find a way to give you at least 75% of your money back with their strategies — we do it all of the time), but by in large your other marketing activities will receive a lift when advertising is in the mix.

We’re in the process of compiling some figures to back these statistics up, so bear with me while we collect that data. I’ll be sure to post an update here whenever those numbers come back.

The idea is that even if your ad is shown to a particular website visitor and that visitor does not click on the ad — that they have received a “brand impression” (this isn’t ground breaking stuff, is it?). When we marketers target and deliver a direct response message to this visitor (direct mail, email, telephone call, etc.) — then the visitor will have already had an exposure to our brand, making our jobs much easier to ask them to perform whatever our call to action is.

My boss gave me a great video to watch the other day about subliminal advertising. This one is done by Derren Brown and it’s a short 6:40 watch.

I know, I know … you’re FAR too busy to watch the video, right? Trust me, it is totally worth it, so if you don’t watch it now, bookmark it and watch it later over a lunch break or something, OK?

They won’t let me embed the video directly, so when you attempt to watch the video, you will be driven to YouTube to watch it (in a new window).

Derren Brown — Subliminal Advertising:

If you don’t believe me, does this help?

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