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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: XYZmarine@sell.com 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.

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