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Affiliate Email List Compliance: What You Need to Know

CAN-SPAM regulations. ISP rules. Canada’s recent Anti-Spam Law (CASL)… In today’s complex direct marketing environment, we often hear advertisers ask if affiliate email is still worth the risk. And our answer is always the same: YES!

According to Internet Retailer’s 2014 Top Tech Guide, affiliate marketers played a role in driving $230 billion in online sales for leading U.S. retailers. Affiliates can guide new audiences to your site, influence consumers at different stages of the buy cycle, and get in front of your fast-growing mobile audience; promoting app downloads and brand engagement like never before. Meanwhile, affiliate email list compliance doesn’t have to be a major challenge—or very much of a risk, for that matter. Here are some tools and strategies to help you control what your affiliate marketing partners are doing, and enjoy wildly positive returns.

Only Partner with Reputable Affiliates

Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily. There are a handful of steps conscientious advertisers can take to recruit and vet A-plus affiliate email partners. For example:

  • Find out how their subscriber lists are built. It should go without saying—but we’ll say it anyway: email lists should never be bought.
  • Look for transparency and check references (e.g. who have they worked with in past? What are their past conversion rates and/or deliverability metrics?)
  • Try to connect face-to-face. If you’re not up for multiple recruitment trips, meeting up at an industry conference works well.
  • Ask if they have a dedicated compliance person or compliance team. If yes, add them to your short list.
  • Contact a trusted email suppression management group (that’s us!). Based on years of experience and industry knowledge, we can recommend quality partners.

Automate and Protect Your Suppression Files

If you are managing affiliate email lists and updating suppression files manually, you don’t need us to point out how tedious the work is. Do a cost-benefit analysis of the hours you’re losing every day, and research tools that can automate the process for you. Some of today’s best
integrated email compliance platforms make it easy to distribute suppression lists to CPA networks or specific partners. (So long, FTP files!)

Not only do automated tools save time, they neutralize huge risks associated with consumer information. As an advertiser, you never want to share plain-text lists with partners. If an affiliate accidentally (or purposely) emails an opt-out recipient on your behalf, you can be held liable and can incur fines of up to $16,000 per violation.

So while you’re researching automated distribution tools, pay attention to affiliate email list security features. Throw out your spreadsheets, and start collecting/sharing customer data in a secure, hashed format. We’ll talk more about the different ways of hashing your data and the advantages of a list scrubbing option in a future post…

Regularly Monitor Your Email Partners

Even after conducting thorough interviews, you’ll want to monitor your affiliate email partners to be sure they’re following best practices and staying compliant. If you have an affiliate who is not downloading your suppression list on a regular basis to scrub against, or a partner who generates an unusual amount of unsubscribes, it’s time to investigate. Email compliance management tools give you up-to-date insight on what individual partners are doing—including proactive alerts based on your exact terms.

Beyond Compliance, Think Brand Integrity

A great affiliate strategy shouldn’t end with compliance. When it comes to email, the potential for negative ROI and brand damage sometimes looms even larger than FTC violations. So treat your prospects—and especially your existing customers—like intelligent, valued audiences.

Remember that affiliates are an extension of your brand. Work with partners who create relevant offers and well-designed landing pages, for people who have expressed interest in content/products similar to yours. Emphasize targeted campaigns and accordant suppression lists, so current customers aren’t pummeled with offers that don’t make sense. (Here’s a bit more advice on practicing suppression list management, beyond your compliance goals.)

We’d love to hear your stories about affiliate email and email list compliance… How did you recruit your partners? Which suppression list tools are you using? What’s working and what’s driving you crazy? Please share!