The CASL Checkup: How Canadian Consumers and SMBs View Email

July 1 marks the one-year anniversary of the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL). Marketers may recall the frenzy that broke out when news of the law was first announced and concerns surrounding unclear terms, shrinking contact lists, and intimidating fines rose to the surface. 

One study on the topic, released in June 2014 by small business email marketing service provider Constant Contact, found that 44% of small business owners and marketers were concerned about how to actually be CASL compliant, and 41% were nervous about collecting expressed consent from existing contacts. And although nearly half (45%) of the respondents said that they would continue to email customers as usual, one fifth said that they would do less email marketing and 4% said that they would stop altogether.

To see what life is actually like in a post-CASL world, Constant Contact did a follow up study and surveyed approximately 500 Canadian consumers and 500 small business owners in April 2015. The verdict?  It’s business as usual.

Seventy percent of small business owners and marketers continue to use email marketing the same way they always have, according to the study. In fact, 9% of respondents say they’ve increased their efforts and 6% say they’ve started using email marketing for the first time. Although, 13% of business respondents say they’ve decreased their email marketing efforts and 2% claim to have stopped emailing altogether. Sixty-five percent of small business owners also say that their email list size has stayed constant, compared to the quarter of respondents who say their list size has decreased. Ten percent even say that they’ve experienced list growth.

“There’s been a lot of concern that CASL is actually negatively impact[ing] the results of email marketing,” says Lisa Kember, regional director for the Canada East region at Constant Contact, “but the fact is that this data proves what we’ve been seeing already within our customers…that  really not much has changed since CASL went into effect.”

But just because small businesses are emailing their customers the same way they always have doesn’t mean that they’re emailing them optimally. According to the research, many small business owners are missing key opportunities to engage with customers and drive sales.

Consider the following: Canadians dedicate 1.2 hours to their inboxes every day, according to the research, and they’re checking messages frequently. Eighty-four percent of consumer respondents check their email at least twice a day, and more than one third (38%) check it six or more times a day.

Skeptics may suspect that consumers are only interested in checking personal messages, but Constant Contact’s research suggests that they’re open to receiving messages from small businesses, too. After all, 68% of Canadian consumers list email as their top choice for connecting with small businesses, surpassing other forms of marketing, including telephone (12%), mail (8%), in-person conversations (7%), and social media (5%). In fact, 66% say that they’re just as likely to sign up for small businesses’ marketing emails as they are to subscribe to national brands’ messages. Receiving discounts and special offers (71%), taking part in specific promotions (38%), and staying informed (36%) are consumers’ main motivations for subscribing to a small business’s list.

“[Email has] been around for decades simply because it works,” Kember says. “It’s the best way to nurture ongoing relationships with customers in a low-key way, and it leads directly to repeat business.”

Despite these incentives, many small business owners aren’t leveraging the channel fully. In fact, 37% of business respondents aren’t using it at all, and just 19% of this population are planning to add email to their marketing mix this year. Kember cites costs, concerns around data ownership, and limited resources as factors for these respondents’ hesitation to embrace email marketing.

“Small businesses are obviously, in many cases, the owner or a handful of people who are all pretty stretched wearing multiple hats,” she says. “So when you think about taking on one new thing, sometimes that can be a hindrance.”

As for those small business marketers who are taking advantage of the channel, 61% are doing so solely through a mailbox provider, like Gmail or Outlook, rather than an email marketing service provider. Kember says that this poses many risks for small business owners, including not having access to permission tracking tools, CASL-compliant email sign up forms, unsubscribe functionalities, or mobile responsive capabilities.

“If you do [use an email marketing service provider], you then can track who’s opening your messages [and] how they’re responding to them—as in, what information they’re clicking on,” she says. “You can start to use that to then manage or market differently to different consumers based on the responses that they have.”

Of course, it’s never too late to get in the email marketing game. For small business owners who are new to CASL, Kember points out that being CASL-compliant will only bolster a business’s email results, not weaken them, and that obtaining full, expressed consent, rather than implied consent, is the best way to go.

“If you’re going to market with permission,” she says, “then you’re already going to be more effective because you’re marketing to people who want to hear from you.”

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