How UK Data Collection Laws Affect Email Marketers

by Anna Penrose

Date

November 23, 2012 at 2:00 PM

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Email is a critical tool for lead generation and lead nurturing; not only does it allow you to continue a dialogue with those who have shown an interest in your company and keep them coming back for more, it also helps marketers reach new and untapped markets. With email, there are no geographical boundaries, and growing your business to leverage new locations is increasingly viable.

If you are looking at using email marketing to help you explore the UK market specifically, however, you may find you have a bit of a pickle on your hands. That's because when marketers are collecting data from the UK, specific laws apply that may not apply in other markets. Failure to comply with these data collection laws could not only end in disaster for your email marketing, but could also put you to the wrong side of the UK law. With these roadblocks, it's no wonder the Direct Marketing Association values a single email address in the UK at £9.11.

If you're looking to grow and nurture your email database in the UK, this post will help acquaint you with the laws you need to be aware of, and explain how they'll affect how you do your job as a marketer.

UK Email Marketing Laws in a Nutshell

Email marketers targeting a UK audience should acquaint themselves with the 2003 Electronic Communication Act. It governs email marketing, and states that you cannot email anyone unless they have previously opted in to receive your email. This means they must have stated they’d like to receive your communications through actively signing up.

There is, however, a 3-point caveat to this. You can send to anyone:

  • If a previous relationship exists;
  • You are selling products/services of a similar nature to what they have shown an interest in;
  • The addressee was given the opportunity to opt out (free of charge except for the cost of transmission) at the time of sign up. The opportunity to opt out must be given with every subsequent message, meaning there must be a valid unsubscribe link on every email you send.

Further -- and this is obvious to any legitimate email marketer -- you must not conceal your identity. Be sure to use a recognizable and non-spammy 'From' name and address. 

What constitutes a previous relationship?

Anything that indicates that person has shown an interest in your products or services; an inquiry on your website or via the phone where they’ve left their email address; or making a purchase on your website. A request for a quote is enough, they don't have to complete a transaction.

Having connected with someone on LinkedIn or having their business card, on the other hand, isn’t enough to be considered a previous relationship -- unless they've already indicated that they would be happy to receive your promotional material in any of the previous ways we just discussed.

Going Above and Beyond the Law When Collecting Email Opt-ins

The law is pretty basic and makes being legally compliant easy, but if you're looking to be an effective marketer, you should obviously go above the law and into best practice territory. Data collection is about the quality of the data you're collecting, as well as respecting the personal nature of the information you hold. And of course, good and legally compliant data means getting expressed opt-in from all subscribers. Email sign up forms should follow these guidelines to help you not just stay legally compliant, but boost opt-ins while doing it:

  • Calls-to-action should outline the benefits, i.e. "Receive the latest news straight to your inbox."
  • Landing pages, thank you pages, and the email that confirms their opt-in should set the expectations, inform new signups of email-sending frequency, and explain the type of content they can expect.
  • Include at least one welcome email from your email signup that confirms their opt in.

Inquiry forms should also have a tick box (not pre-ticked) and a minimum of a link to the privacy policy. And if you're an ecommerce business, you should have a dedicated opt-in instead of simply automatically adding shoppers to a list.

Another common way marketers acquire opt-ins is through incentives. When running an incentive, ensure the incentive is small and relevant to your business, as people who sign up for the incentive -- whether it's a prize draw, giveaway, gift, or whitepaper -- may otherwise be interested in only the incentive, and not your business offering. That means all you're doing is growing your database full of recipients who aren’t actually interested in your products or services.

You may also decide to pursue co-marketing opportunities, collaborating with other businesses to grow both your databases. To remain legally compliant and not suffer quick list depreciation, it must be clearly states that the data will be shared between the two of you. Requiring opt-in for both is advisable.

Finally, you should not email anyone you have not recently contacted, or has stopped engaging with your email content. It's likely that they either don’t remember your company, they've stopped using that email address, or they've lost interest in your content. Continuing to email them will only serve to harm your online reputation.

What About Buying Data?

The law covers any consumer, sole trader, and partnership data -- all except those from limited companies. You can still buy data about limited companies; but just because it is an option, doesn’t mean it's a good idea. We strongly recommend against such actions as it ruins engagement with subscribers, harms online reputation, and undermines any inbound marketing activities you may be engaged in. We spend so much time as marketers building up our online reputation and working on improving engagement rates, it would be damaging to contradict this.

Remember, as someone who wants to be an effective marketer, it's much better to have a smaller mailing list of people who are generally interested in your products/services and a higher likelihood of purchasing in the future, than a large list of people, most of whom are unengaged with your brand. You’ll see your brand engagement improve, and your ROI skyrocket.

Anna Penrose is an email marketing specialist at Jarrang, a UK-based online marketing agency with ten years experience working with clients in multiple sectors from luxury travel to financial services.

Image credit: @Doug88888

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