Feb. 4 2013 12:00 AM

Don't let your email-based marketing communications float away from the governance orbit.

Plenty has been written about the need to retain individual emails so that both regulatory and potential litigation activities can be supported and controlled. These activities are usually governed by a combination of internal email policies and record retention policies directing users on a variety of email-based rules that may include what not to include in an email, how to file and save an email for retention and how to maintain the privacy of the interaction with outside clients. The retention and privacy aspects of managing email are particularly needed in highly regulated industries, such as Financial Services, Healthcare and Insurance.

However, many of these same regulated industries have another challenge—the governance of all kinds of outside marketing communications, including, but not limited to, email. Many companies understand the implications of running afoul of the "Do Not Call" registry (though that may have seemed hard to believe during the run-up to the recent US presidential election) and have procedures in place to monitor outgoing marketing calls.

Furthermore, many companies don't want to be viewed as delivering spam to their client base or prospects. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission, "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. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email—for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line—must comply with the law." Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000, so non-compliance can be costly.

Many enterprises have email communication policies, telephone communication policies and even policies to vet the messages that are sent out to client and prospects via snail mail. Yet, many companies do not seem to understand that they need to manage and govern all their communication processes in a consistent and compliant way. Companies need to have an expanded and broad-reaching marketing communications governance process to include email, phone calls (i.e., robocalls), social media and any other public discourse. This process must be communicated to and adhered by any third-party service providers that may be performing the outbound email or telephone marketing services.

"Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $16,000."

When it comes to email, the following elements should be included in the governance process:

Make one department or person responsible and accountable for the overall administration of the company's outbound email efforts. All email ID capture activities would be funneled through this department so that the appropriate language is used for capturing the information and so that the captured campaign emails can be brought back and coded according to the client/subscriber preferences outlined in the campaign. This group is also responsible for maintaining the opt-out list and making sure it is mapped against any new email lists that may be acquired from outside the company so they can be deleted off any new communications. This group would also be responsible for making sure that all campaigns or large-scale communication efforts are funneled through the appropriate review channels and that all marketing communications are retained according to any records retention policy.

Create a process map that identifies every group within the company that uses outbound email and identifies the primary purpose of the communication.The goal of this process map is to identify and manage all major email touchpoints. There should be one primary contact from each group identified on the map that has primary responsibility for email communications and campaigns.

Set and enforce internal brand and deployment standards. Many organizations already have standards created for their print communications, including standard fonts, logo use, terminology and legal language. These standards should be expanded for all outbound communications, including social media, websites, phone calls (at least from a messaging standpoint) and, of course, emails. All email templates and messaging should be in alignment with your company website, social media activities, direct mail programs, print advertising and other communications. Of course, in order to enforce these standards, an internal Communications Review Committee may need to be in place. If you have one for all your outside print communications, it should be taking on the responsibility of making sure all other outside communications are developed and distributed according to standard.

Capture opt-in or opt-out preferences at registration for any company information service. How many times does your company capture email IDs as part of a promotional campaign? Do you know where these IDs are going? Email IDs can be captured in many different ways for many different reasons. It is important to identify the specific reason the email has been captured (i.e., to receive a newsletter, to be able to log in to get account information, etc.) for each email capture mechanism and to capture and code that information along with the email ID. Even capturing an email when a prospect "likes" your company's Facebook page should be subject to this same scrutiny. The same goes for opting out of email communications. The language in the email should make it clear what opt-out options the email ID owner is getting. Are they opting out of getting this specific form of communication or are they opting out of getting ALL forms of email communication from your company?

Establish communication frequency rules. Without a central governance and review body, any organization could be inundating customers, prospects and other constituents with multiple emails in any given day. The same can be said for other forms of messaging, such as direct mail and telephone campaigns. An organization should have frequency rules for all email campaigns. If newsletters are sent on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you may only want to send survey emails on Mondays or Wednesdays. The email review/administration group should be the final authority on what goes out and when. Customer preferences should also be respected, and their desired level of frequency for email communication for informational purposes should be captured up-front during the registration process (such as for a newsletter registration).

Retain marketing communications as a record. You should worry about saving email communications at some point, but you don't necessarily have to save every instance of the email because you are retaining the information to comply with industry regulations related to marketing communications. We can't give any pat advice here except to advise that you research the regulations related to retaining marketing communications within your specific industry.

Governing the distribution of email-based marketing communications involves a much different process than that of managing individual email communication protocol. Yet, it should also be an integrated part of a larger marketing communication governance process that takes into account all forms of communications to all the enterprise's stakeholders, including internal communications (such as internal policy or human resource announcements), upselling efforts to present clients, communicating new initiatives to present clients or providing marketing information to new prospects.

If your organization is creating silos of marketing communications based on the delivery mechanism it is using for those campaigns, it could be at risk of getting fined for ignoring anti-spamming or do-not-call regulations. Even worse, inconsistent messaging to your customer and prospect base can dilute the brand, cause confusion and, in the end, negatively impact revenues.

PRISCILLA EMERY is president and founder of e-Nterprise Advisors, a provider of custom consulting and analysis services to Fortune 1000, government agencies and high-technology companies. With over 30 years of technology experience, her areas of expertise include information governance and records management practices along with imaging, document, records and email management and other technologies in the ECM landscape. For more, email pemery@e-nterpriseadvisors.com.

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