I wrote an article not long ago about the CAN-SPAM Act and email newsletter marketing. It primarily touched on the most common mistakes in email marketing legal compliance. Also, much of what was addressed had more to do with business-to-consumer relationships and emails, and not business-to-business.
So what if your emails are more of a B2B situation and not B2C?
That discussion came up in the comments of the prior email marketing post, so I decided to bring some of those questions and answers to a new post for those who may be in a similar situation. Thank you Andrew for bringing this up! (I know you didn’t quite ask these questions this way, but it’s an easy-to-read format. And I’m addressing some things we didn’t touch on, or not cover well.)
Can I send other organizations unsolicited email?
The Bureau of Consumer Protections says, “The law makes no exception for business-to-business email”. In other words: whether your emails are going to businesses or consumers, you must be in compliance. Also, your ISP, web host, and email marketing company (such MailChimp, Constant Contact, and Vertical Response) all tend to include any unsolicited email as spam. At the very least, they are often inclined to view it that way. I would check with those organizations before beginning email campaigns to other businesses you have had no prior relationship with. Odds are good that what you are planning will be counted as spam by them and you risk getting your services shut down and blacklisted.
What if I just send out the emails one-at-a-time?
The Bureau of Consumer Protections says, “Despite its name, the CAN-SPAM Act doesn’t apply just to bulk email. It covers all commercial messages, which the law defines as “any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,” including email that promotes content on commercial websites.”
In other words: whether you are sending out one at a time, or many, it is still spam.
Is buying an email list illegal?
No. There’s nothing illegal about buying email lists, to my knowledge. Gathering email addresses by hand or buying a list are equally legal. However, just because you bought it doesn’t mean you’ll get to use it. Your ISP, web host, and email marketing services may have other thoughts on the matter. Some specifically forbid mailing lists created from purchased lists. What is legal, and what the TOS says for those services, can sometimes be different.
If you have never had any kind of prior contact with any individual or business, regardless of how you gathered the contact information, your web host, ISP and/or email marketing service may deem this to be spam. Web hosts, ISPs, and email marketing sites are within their right to tell you “no, you can’t do that” when it comes to your email newsletters too.
Personally, I won’t reach out to new organizations via email, but will instead do postal mail if I want to do a campaign of that sort.
Why is unsolicited postal mail OK but unsolicited email isn’t?
The main difference between unsolicited postal mail and unsolicited email is: you are paying for each mail you send via post office. If everyone at your ISP decided to send 100,000 emails per day, your Internet access fees would skyrocket. If everyone just sent millions of emails per day to emails scraped off websites everywhere, I suspect we’d bring the Internet to a standstill. The processing power needed would be massive and no one would be able to afford the servers to keep up with the demand.
How can I send as many emails as I want to anyone I want?
Buy your own server(s). Hire the people to maintain them. Pay your ISP for that kind of bandwidth. Get a loan. It won’t be cheap. There are web hosts out there that may have server packages out there for you that are more affordable, but for the average business on a shoestring budget, it may not be an option.
Further, let’s say you send out all these emails without breaking the Terms of Service (TOS) for your providers. Those on the receiving end of your email can just report your spam to THEIR provider, who will now blacklist you from their server. And now there are a pile of people you won’t reach. And in time, you’re going to find yourself blacklisted again and again.
On a personal note, I don’t do business with spammers. I don’t care if the email I get looks like the most awesome, supercalafragalistic web service ever, I’m not touching that company. I’m reporting them as spam and getting on with my day. Because these people either
a. don’t know better, which has me wondering how much else they don’t know about doing business online
b. do know better, but are people doing it anyway (and I prefer an ethical approach to business).
Either way, this is probably someone I don’t want to be in bed with.
People don’t like spam. If you want to maintain a good reputation for your business, just don’t do it.