Privacy and E-mail Best Practices

Whilst Paul the Octopus was recently gaining notoriety predicting World Cup results in Germany, in Hong Kong, another kind of octopus was getting itself into some distinctly hotter water.

Octopus Rewards, a local reward programme operator, had been caught selling member data to a number of local telemarketers. Whilst what they were doing was probably not illegal under Hong Kong’s privacy legislation, overnight the operator managed to massively raise the profile and awareness of data privacy issues in the city.

This has an immediate knock-on effect on consumers; causing them to double check their email inbox to ensure that only the most trusted brands were getting through. Unlike the sneaky cephalopod’s (mostly) unwelcome promotional phone calls, consumers are far more able to exercise control over who talks to them by email.

It takes just one unwelcome email to have you flicked into the spam box. Not only have you kissed goodbye to that customer, some mail service providers may consign all your emails to their customers to the spam box at the same time.

Working with our clients over the years, we have always advocated an approach of complete openness, honesty, and promotion of the highest standards of preference and privacy management. These are practices that not only ensure your emails are more likely to be delivered and opened, but also demonstrate to your customer that you are a brand that cares about and respects them.

Here is a timely reminder of some best practices to follow:

Privacy policy – Have a clear and accessible privacy policy online and summarised on the footer of each email. Outline your commitment and your customers’ rights. Doing this will bring a significant level of comfort to customers, that you are a responsible brand, without them even ever reading your policy. Your policy should also make it clear what your customer is signing up for and what they might expect, such as signing up for news about hotel offers and getting an avalanche of dining offers instead. Not necessarily a problem if you have made that clear to the customer up front.

Opting out – Make it easy to opt out. One click and one confirmation; the simplicity provides comfort that will reduce usage. Sometimes marketers forget to update the opt-outs in their databases, so it helps to maintain an opt-out database at the email broadcast provider. They will thank you as they get to maintain their credentials with ISPs and mail service providers.

Subscription double opt-in – This is great for customers to really understand what they are getting themselves into. Once you sign up online an email is immediately dispatched to the registered address and the customer needs to click on a link to validate your subscription request. Great for stopping your buddies signing your work email up for a daily dose of Jenna Jameson.

Say no to third-party lists – This does not pay! When buying or renting a list, you’re buying into the vendor’s business and privacy ethics and often questionable collection methods. Unfortunately, none of this is to a particularly high standard. E-mail from companies where there is no consenting relationship increasingly does not get opened. You’re not making any friends with the email service providers either. With the usually high bounce backs, most email service providers will put your emails on deferral or even blacklist your IP address as soon as your bounce backs hit a certain threshold.

At the end of the day, adopting the highest standards for customer privacy is plain and simple good business practice; customers don’t generally buy stuff from people who annoy the heck out of them.

Good standards lead to a greater level of trust, higher opening rates, and greater engagement. You get your message across and the customer is more likely to buy something.

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