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Anti-Spam Legislation Delivers Wake-Up Call to Canadian Associations

New spam prevention laws in Canada were the jumping-off point for a fast-paced conversation about marketing, engagement, and respecting your audience during the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit in late July.

Greenfield Services Chief Strategist Doreen Ashton Wagner opened the session with some startling statistics. She said some associations reported losing up to 80% of their external prospect lists after Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) took effect July 1, for the simplest of reasons: lists age very quickly, and when the organizations asked their less frequent contacts’ permission to continue soliciting them by email, the contacts declined.

Thanks to CASL, it was easy enough for the recipients to make a dent in their incoming email volume. All they had to do was not answer the flurry of requests they were receiving from multiple senders in the second half of June. As long as they did nothing, the senders were obliged to remove them from their lists.

Good News or Bad?

The question for Summit participants was whether the sudden loss of email volume was good news or bad. Panelists Rachel Stephan, Principal of sensov/ event marketing, and Mitchell Beer, President of Smarter Shift, agreed the user response to CASL was an important wake-up call.

Stephan said it’s scary for organizations to suddenly see their email lists thinned out by hundreds or thousands of recipients. But if 80% of a list of sponsors, advertisers, and exhibitors was mostly a mirage, it’s better to aim for a higher percentage return from a smaller, more engaged audience. Beer took the point of view of the audience for marketing emails, asking whether anyone in the room was receiving too few incoming messages. (Shocking spoiler alert: No one raised their hand.)

By relying more on inbound, “pull” marketing, rather than traditional outbound techniques, the panelists said associations can use proactive acquisition campaigns and online networks to develop deeper, more positive relationships with members, sponsors conference participants, and other stakeholders.

New Ways to Communicate

Discussion during the session focused on content marketing techniques that emphasize conversation, peer learning, and community, rather than pushing for a quick sale to place an expo booth, an ad, or a conference registration. The most successful online communicators:

  • Develop detailed audience personas that reflect a deep understanding of the groups they’re trying to reach
  • Listen closely to each audience, to understand what information they need and what they’re trying to achieve
  • Deliver targeted, original content that reflect their audiences’ interests 
  • Give back to the community, by fostering genuine conversations and online engagement.

Participants heard that CASL has forced associations to personalize their marketing and pay closer attention to their audiences’ preferences. Stephan quoted Experian Marketing Services’ recent finding that customers would no longer buy from an organization that failed to take account of their preferences and purchasing history.”

Click here for highlights of the 2014 Engaging Associations Summit and a sneak preview of the 2015 event.