Email Marketing – 3 Questions to Ask BEFORE You Start

Email Marketing - 3 Questions to Ask Before You Start

7 Graces community member and former lawyer Lubna Gem Arielle discusses how to ensure our email marketing is legally compliant and well-received by your subscribers.

Have you ever signed up for free goodies on someone else’s website? You happily receive them and save to read or view later. Then you get details of upcoming events, then details of products, and another email and another. They arrive like a flock of hard-working, carrier pigeons. Their grubby old feathers drift past and stick to that unopened honey-coated present, and suddenly it repels you. Annoyed, you unsubscribe, and make a mental note to self “X = annoying spammer.” Or worse.

On the other hand though, you’re building your business. You’ve heard that you have to build your list; that a good way of doing this is to have a squeeze page, and maybe offer a gift, say an e-book. Then you can send out your newsletter, and maybe the odd marketing offer in between, details of your workshops, and any last minute changes or special offers. Before you know it, the pace, quantity and volume of your emails have picked up. It happens, doesn’t it? How do you ensure you are not turning delight into dismay?

I suggest you answer “yes” to 3 questions to keep your email marketing sweet.

Question 1: Is it LEGAL?

This is the simplest of the 3 questions to answer. The short answer is that permission-based marketing is safest and best. Here are the legal details of email marketing in tweet-sized bites:

Many countries have legal requirements & restrictions regarding the sending out of marketing emails.

In the UK, the Data Protection Act 1998 + Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 cover email marketing.

The Data Protection Act 1998 applies when you collect an individual’s contact details.

Your legal obligations under the Data Protection Act stem from 8 Data Protection principles.

The 1st Data Protection Principle is an overarching duty to deal fairly with data; the remaining 7 drill into the details.

Under the 2nd Data Protection Principle, you can only use data collected for a specified purpose.

Find out if you need to register with the Office of the Information Commissioner using their online quiz:

Email marketing requirements are set out in The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.

Under the Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, you must have permission to send unsolicited email marketing.

Unsolicited email marketing refers to any materials that have not been specifically requested.

Email marketing communications include details of products, services, offers and promotions.

You can send an unsolicited marketing emails if the recipient has given consent to receive your general marketing messages.

You can’t send marketing emails just because someone didn’t say no when you gave them a chance (opt-out consent).

You must make your identity clear and give an opportunity to opt out each time you send out a marketing email.

As you build your list, say if it is for email marketing & obtain consent.

Permission-based marketing is best.

What this boils down to is making sure that you have registered with the Office of the Information Commissioner if you need to, and that you obtain permission from each person on your mailing list before you send out marketing emails.

Obtaining permission can be simple, when you do it at the right time – which is as you collect contact details for an email marketing list. Tell folks what you plan to send them and get their consent. So, for example, if you are passing round a clipboard at the event, ensure it states that in adding their details, individuals are giving their consent to receive marketing emails from you. When you exchange business cards, don’t just assume you can harvest contact details for your marketing list! Where you collect details on your website be clear and direct as to whether the person will receive a free gift and/or marketing messages forever more (or at least until they unsubscribe or, on a worst-case scenario, press the spam button).

Question 2: Is it spam?

“Spam” in itself isn’t a legal term. SPAM was originally a trade mark for Hormel’s Spiced Ham, named in a competition won by Kenneth Daigneau in 1936. It featured in the Monty Python “I don’t like Spam!” sketch in the ’70s and evolved into a term coined by Usenet groups for unwanted, annoying messages sent via the internet or email. When it comes to emails, no one likes spam.


Monty Python: ‘I don’t like spam’

After all those spam dishes, now think about all the combinations of spam and legal. Legal and spam. Not legal and spam. Spam and not legal. Not legal and not spam. When it comes to emails, no one really wants to receive spam. Given the wider purpose of marketing messages, greater and more long-term damage can be caused to a business by being an annoying spammer than by not complying with the law. Rather than generating sales you may be creating awareness for the wrong reasons, by sending out way too many /long / dreary/ irrelevant marketing messages.

A recipient can report a marketing email as “spam” whether it is non-compliant with the law or merely annoying. For the latter, the recipient’s annoyance threshold applies. Remember, not everyone sees everything in the same way. Chances are that even if you think your products/services are vital and valuable, someone else might not. Even if your own mother says something like “Oh Lubs. That’s Fan.Tastic,” as you show her your marketing missive, it just might not be.

In Greek mythology, poor Persephone was sentenced to six months a year in the underworld for eating just six of Hades’ pomegranate seeds. With marketing emails, the consequences can be nearly as dire, because you can irritate or even enrage your customers or potential customers; and if you push them to breaking point, they may even report your message as “spam.” If that happens too often, your email service provider may suspend or withdraw your email service even if you sent the emails legally. Avoidable hassle-factor aside, of course you can restore the email service or migrate to another. But it can be more difficult to remove negative perceptions and restore respect in the minds of individuals. The fact is…

You can start off being legally compliant and for emails to be received without any qualms, yet be perceived as a spammer over time.

Enough gloom. Spam can often be avoided by turning to the third question.

Question 3: Is it DELIGHTFUL?

Imagine you hear your letterbox clang and a thud on the mat. You run to the door and there’s a small pile of post. How do you feel as you turn over each of the following?

  • A brown envelope with a transparent window
  • A letter from America
  • A handful of pizza flyers
  • A parcel from Amazon – it must be the book/DVD you’ve been waiting for!

Some items make us feel happier than others. Evoking a sense of delight in our marketing communications also relates to the Grace of Inspiration and being mindful of the effect that our words and communications have and whether these will inspire the recipient. We usually know, and can mostly choose, whether to create delight or dismay. My personal preference is to receive (and send) predominately content-based emails, rather than bare marketing messages.

As you build your list, asking “is it legal?” will allow you address the key compliance issues and as you send out marketing emails, ask “is it spam?” and/or “is it delightful?” to ensure that you are making the impression you intend to create. Do your messages tickle and tease; or do they induce an allergic reaction?

Please join in the conversation. What standards and sanity checks do you have in place before you send out your marketing emails? What pushes you to unsubscribe or press the spam button as a recipient? Let’s find out what works!

If you’ve found this useful, please share it with your friends.

Until next time,

Lubna Gem Arielle
17th February 2014

Lubna Gem Arielle

LUBNA GEM ARIELLE is a former lawyer who went back to art school, passionate about knowledge transfer and creation. She is a part-time lecturer at Birkbeck and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, a freelance writer/presenter for Legal Network Television, professional speaker and the founder of 6 Minute Legal Bites, making law accessible to artists and creative entrepreneurs. She is the author of the Butterfly Stories and also a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing programme. You can find out about Lubna’s London-based workshops that help artists write their own legal contracts at Read Lubna’s ‘Legal Bites’ on Twitter at

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

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