Our own Cris Angelini recently did an interview on affiliate marketing’s longest running podcast Affiliate Buzz, hosted by James and Arlene Martell. They discussed how UnsubCentral can help you stay CAN-SPAM compliant while reducing your email list opt-outs.
Here’s the full interview:
JM: What is UnsubCentral?
CA: UnsubCentral is a SaaS platform that allows advertisers to collect and distribute data, automat it, and also anonymize the data as well. So a big problem that advertisers had when the CAN-SPAM Act came out was affiliates who are mailing on behalf of the advertisers needed the opt-out list that advertisers owned, but they didn’t want to give out the opt-out lists to the affiliates, obviously. And then of course, the affiliates had worked very hard to get their email list and didn’t want to hand it over to the advertisers for them to scrub against. So UnsubCentral was born as a result of that, and we’ve been going strong since 2003.
JM: So if you could talk a little bit about that relationship where you’ve got an advertiser and you’ve got an affiliate and we have this law in the middle now called CAN-SPAM, that could be devastating for a company if they get taken on for it. If I recall correctly, even one infraction can cost you 10,12,15 thousand dollars. Maybe you can speak to that, first?
CA: Yeah, infractions can cost up to $16,000 each. It’s a bit of an odd number, but that’s what they came up with. Obviously, the CAN-SPAM Act was created to stop unwanted marketing, specifically generated towards customers and B2C-type advertising. And it’s funny really, the only people that adhere to the law are going to be your name brand and your reputable advertisers. Everybody still gets some SPAM every now and then from, you know, scams and things of that nature. But it really has helped clean up the messaging, and obviously it really works out to be a good thing for the advertisers as well. Because if you communicate with your customers when and how they want to be communicated with, they’re going to be better customers and buy more from you. So yeah, it’s been a good thing for the industry and the consumer.
JM: So when it comes to managing opt-outs, explain the scenario here. You’ve got an affiliate who’s got the list. I’d imagine you’ve got the advertiser who has a list. You’ve got an email subscriber in the middle that says, “I don’t want to be on your list,” and doesn’t realize how the scenario works. Walk us through how that works in regards to UnsubCentral.
CA: So from the consumer perspective or the end user perspective it’s very simple. They click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email they received they are taken to a URL, that we host, they type in their email address and click to unsubscribe. Now on the backend, it’s a bit more complicated. We set up automated transfers between the advertisers and the email service provider (or CRM system) and ourselves so that when we collect those opt-outs that come in from the affiliate mailings, we can pass those back along to the advertisers so that they stay CAN-SPAM compliant on their side with their own internal mailings. And then also for any opt-outs from internal mailings they have, we collect those back in the system as well. That way, the next time an affiliate comes to scrub their list or do a mailing and compare, all the new addresses have been added and everything stays up to date.
JM: So you mentioned CAN-SPAM compliant – for those who are maybe not quite sure exactly what that entails, could you address that?
CA: Sure, there are a couple of things with regards to CAN-SPAM compliance and several are fairly simple. You can’t use misleading subject lines, for instance. You have to have a physical address in the email itself. And the most important piece of CAN-SPAM and staying compliant is honoring opt-outs.If someone wants to stop receiving mail from you, you have to make it easy for them to unsubscribe, and you have to honor that opt-out within 10 business days. So say I don’t want to get emails from Ford anymore, or any other company, I can opt out and they have to take me off their mailing list going forward.
JM: Who would you say the UnsubCentral services are ideally suited for?
CA: UnsubCentral is ideally suited for B2C advertisers. We have some very small companies that are just starting out; luckily, we’ve had the good fortune over the last 13 years of working with some of the biggest advertisers in the world. Current clients like AT&T, Allstate, Progressive Insurance, and Groupon are some of our clients, and so we’ve had the ability to work with large and small customers, and any of those advertisers who are doing one of three things and doing affiliate email marketing are a great fit for us. For example, if they have multiple email systems to manage. An Allstate may have 3 or 4 different marketing groups and use different email service providers. We can be used again to collect the data from those different systems and push it back out. And then lastly, any advertiser who is doing any sort of co-marketing campaigns. So for instance, if United Airlines and Marriott want to do joint marketing, but they want to suppress their own customers for instance, we can take both lists, scrub them together, and then pass them back out and give them a list of their customers minus their co-marketing partner’s customers so that there’s no overlap. That’s really been a huge surge in business for us over the last couple of years because as more and more people understand how important data is, and even more importantly than that how important it is to keep it secure with PII, many of these businesses don’t want to handle that burden and so they outsource it to a company like UnsubCentral.
JM: With the scrubbing, you mentioned that advertisers have different email providers. Even I myself have different email providers at the smaller level. But we have these databases that have our clients and I would assume that, just trying to visualize this, you would pull that data from from the various email platforms/email providers into UnsubCentral and scrub the email list. Removing anybody who is in one of the lists that said, “Hey, I want to opt out,” you would then opt them out of the other list as well?
CA: That’s correct.
JM: Okay, so then, so that would be scrubbing. So I’m just trying to get a definition of scrubbing. So then talk to that a little bit, and also to this term “email suppression.”
CA: Sure. So again, email scrubbing is exactly what you mentioned; you basically take a mailing file (or a mailing list), and you compare it against an opt-out list or any sort of suppression list. It could be a customer list, it could be email opt-outs. Whatever you’d like to compare it to, and then returning the clean file or the suppressed file back to the mailer with all the names of people who are supposed to be opted out or removed from that file. UnsubCentral can handle it two ways. One, the affiliate can either import their file, or we can set up an API call to compare the file, pull it and compare, and give them back a clean file. Or, if they prefer, they can download an MD5 or hashed encrypted copy of the file that turns all the email addresses basically into unrecognizable character strings. Then they can use a desktop tool that we provide to do the same scrubbing and comparison on their own machine to get a clean file back to mail. So there are a couple of ways to handle email scrubbing. But at the end of the day, it’s just comparing two lists and removing people you shouldn’t be mailing to.
JM: Okay, I would assume this is all done in a pretty automated way?
CA: Definitely. That’s one of the things about UnsubCentral being a compliance tool, we’re not a sexy marketing tool, and we don’t make customers a whole lot of money, so our idea is to make it very simple to use. Basically it’s sort of a “set it and forget it” type thing right? You can set up campaigns, you set up your opt-out pages, you set up your lists and groups and rules, and then if anything goes wrong – let’s say a transfer fails or if a list hasn’t been downloaded or something – we will either email the affiliate or email the advertiser depending on who needs to respond. That way you don’t have to continually log into our system. You only have to do it when you’re alerted to.
JM: Okay, cool. So now the advertiser, I would imagine they put a point person in place – how does an advertiser typically work with UnsubCentral?
CA: Sure, so when an advertiser comes on board, they are assigned a dedicated account manager and that account manager does a couple of things. One, they help onboard them and set up their account. And then two, they’re their main support contact going forward. So we typically schedule an hour onboarding session, where we actually go through with the advertiser and help them create the list name, import their data, set up any sort of automation transfers that they need as well as enter any affiliates that they’re working with, set up their opt-out page, and so on and so forth. So we take care of their complete account setup at the beginning, so that they’re ready to start sending or start working with email affiliates right away. And then if there are any questions they have about the account or anything going forward, they can reach back out to that dedicated account manager, and they’ll support them for the life of the account.
JM: So what are some of the thing that advertisers need to know or need to be aware of? Maybe before giving you guys a call or visiting the website.
CA: I’d say the things that advertisers need to know are, one, know who you’re going to be using as an affiliate. There are quite a few advertisers that – and these are typically smaller ones – who come to us and who like us to try and find an email affiliate for them. Now we do have some partnerships, but ideally they’re going to want to do some research and find out who some reputable email affiliates are in their specific vertical. Obviously some OPMs and some affiliates target specific verticals, and they perform better in some than others, so just do a little research. Know who you’re mailing with, and then really all you need to know when you come to us is how large your suppression list is going to be. And your suppression list can be incorporated, not just email opt-outs, but it can also be customers as well. So if you want to suppress against that, know how large those databases are. Have a logo or if you would like to customize the opt-out page, have your HTML ready so that we can just cut and paste and put in there. And really that’s all they need to know. It’s a very quick setup. We typically have an account set up within 48 hours of signing on. A lot of them are done within one day. Typically, we’re the last step in getting an email affiliate marketing program going, so we have to be quick and agile and turn that around. If they know who they’re going to mail with, and then they know their database sizes, that’s really all they need to know to work with us.
JM: Do me a favor and talk a little bit more about a suppression list. Take it down to noobie level, where I am, with that term. What exactly is that?
CA: A suppression list is really any file that consists of email addresses that you don’t want to mail to. Obviously anybody who has opted out are going to be in that suppression file, right? And then some advertisers like to suppress against customers. For instance, if Netflix is running a promotion for $5 a month for 6 months, they don’t want to send that to me, who’s paying full $10 per month rates. They would include their customer list as well as their opt-outs in a suppression file. Some companies like real estate companies like to limit prospects as well. So they’ve gathered some leads that maybe haven’t converted, but they don’t necessarily want to have an affiliate mail them because they’re already doing direct mail or direct email to that group as well. So sometimes it can include prospects as well. What we’ll do is we’ll keep all of those files in UnsubCentral, and we’ll keep them separate so there’s no commingling. So at the end of the day, if the advertisers want to go pull their suppression file or their list they know, OK these are customers, these were people who opted out, and these were prospects, and they can easily tell the difference between the three. One of the other things we can do, and this is something that we just rolled out with release of our new platform last year, is a preference center. So rather than have a customer opt completely out of their emails, which can cannibalize your list or cause considerable list attrition, we allow them to opt down as well. So you’re still staying CAN-SPAM compliant. If they want to opt out of all emails, they can still do that, but we’ve found a decrease in unsubscribes by 75% for people that have implemented some sort of preference center. So they can opt down in frequency, for instance, going from daily to weekly or monthly emails, and they can also change the types of email that they would like to receive. For instance, if you signed up for promotions and you’re opting out and don’t want that any more, maybe you’ll actually sign up for a list for new product releases or webinars or blog information, things of that nature. And so what we’ve actually seen, as a nice sort of unexpected win, is that when people go to opt out, they’re not opting out completely. They’re actually opting in to additional lists that we store and give back to the client as well so that they can in turn go back and mail to them.
JM: Interesting, I’ve never heard the term opting down before. I can see how that’s, you said, up to a 75% increase.
CA: That’s right yes, there was a Gartner survey done a couple of years ago that said 78% of people who opt out from emails don’t opt out because they don’t want to hear from the brand anymore. It’s just the time or the type of communication isn’t what they want. By giving the consumer the ability to choose how often they’re getting messaged and what type of message, you can really cut down on your list attrition and your opt-outs. One of the other things that we’ve released, and I think it’s really kind of innovative, is that on the thank you page for unsubscribing, that doesn’t have to be a death knell, and you’re unable to market to that customer anymore; it means you can’t email them. So what we’d like to advise our clients to do is on that thank you page say we understand that you don’t want to receive emails anymore, we totally get that, but maybe you’d like to follow us on Twitter or Facebook to get promotions or deals that way. And so again, even though you may have lost that person, you know they’ve completely opted out, but you still might get a chance to market to them through your social media or other channels as well. Because again we’re allowing the customer to choose how often and how they want to be marketed to.
JM: Of course all of us have heard the horror stories of data breaches, online hackers, the whole mess that can happen. I would imagine email is similar to credit cards, although maybe not as damaging. In this case, how is email data security managed and what does an advertiser need to be aware of?
CA: Email security on the UnsubCentral side is managed in a couple of ways. So we have to manage the security of our own database and our own servers and environment there against attacks similar to what the credit card industry does with PCI as far as putting in best practices and keeping that environment secure. But UnsubCentral has the added complication of transferring large quantities of email addresses between advertisers and affiliates. To do that, we’ve set up a couple of different encryption methods. We support MD5 and SHA256. MD5 is a 32-bit hexadecimal encryption method which basically turns an email address into an unreadable string of characters. It works on the premise of replacing certain letters with other letters, and it has its own algorithm that runs so that you can hash the data and anonymize it so that it can’t be seen with the naked eye. SHA256 is a bit more complex – it actually is a 64-bit system, so it provides even more security and makes it much much harder to crack that encryption. To my knowledge, no one has ever cracked SHA256, so it’s been holding up quite well. Now in addition to that, we can also add a specific key. So in addition to SHA256 or MD5, we can create a special key for an advertiser that adds one more layer of anonymity to the actual process so that it will vary from affiliate to affiliate or advertiser to advertiser if they want to go down that road.
If you have questions about how to reduce your unsubscribes please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We offer encoded list scrubbing and secure sharing for sustained and single email campaigns. We’ve helped dozens of major brands protect their brand reputation. Learn more with our Compliance Handbook today!