How will POPI affect your marketing?

You might have to ditch your database

This a real possibility because if you use an outdated database after 1 July, you’ll f risk a huge fine. A lot of the conversation about POPI1 – or POPIA2 if you prefer – is about data security, but the POPI Act also demands that we don’t spam people with unwanted mails.  And the period of grace is up on 30 June. 

Before you get too stressed, are you using your database?  Not really? Me neither.  And don’t you love how we say not really when we actually mean no?  Then it’s not really a crisis, is it? It’s a matter of priorities.  Unlike the major corporates with big marketing teams, and multiple agencies, mid-sized companies can’t do it all and we need to focus. Except that email marketing might be about to become even more important – but more on that later.

But if you’ve been intending to start an email campaign and keep procrastinating, you are literally running out of time. Either revive your database now – or throw it out and start again.  (And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

I’m a big fan of POPI

I’ve been invited to invest in property in Spain, apply for an American Green Card, and even check myself into rehab. (I know I like the odd glass of wine, but that seems preposterous!)  I also get a daily email from [email protected] even though I’ve unsubscribed about 25 times. They just keep coming. So I’m a big fan of POPI.

I’ll confess that I gave Harold my email address willingly when I bought flowers for a friend but I don’t think that gives him the right to spam my inbox.   And  POPI agrees with me, and come the end of June, I’ll unsubscribe yet again – and hopefully then it will stick.

So where did everyone else get my email address? 

  • They bought a mailing list
  • I gave my details to someone who passed them on – either deliberately or accidentally
  • I gave them my details unwittingly
  • Or they stole them

It’s as simple as that.  Every time a security guard scans your licence disc, every time you fill in a form with your email address, enter a competition or download an online lead magnet, someone is collecting your details.  And now POPI means they’ll have to keep those details secure.  And if they let your details be stolen because they didn’t take appropriate precautions, or send you mail you didn’t agree to, they’re breaking the law. 

What about your email marketing?

I’d be deeply disappointed if you thought I was an attorney, but to C my A, here’s the disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and this doesn’t constitute legal advice, and this isn’t “how to” for POPI. 

But for me, there are 2 main issues for marketers:

  • You need to take all reasonable measures to keep the information in your address book, or on any database, secure and safe, and don’t share it without permission.  That means password-protecting your laptop and your phone or using their biometrics settings. You also need to make sure that the service providers you share information with, like emailing services and courier companies, have a POPI policy or at least a CCPA3, or GDPR4 policy.
  • And if use your database for marketing you need permission from the people on your list.

You DON’T have permission if:

  • Every time you get a bulk email copying 50 people you saved their details without asking
  • You bought a list 5 years ago and kept it on file
  • Clients willingly gave you their details ages ago but you’ve never been in touch with them; they’ve probably completely forgotten about you and any implied permission is out of date.
  • You have a tick box on your online lead collection form where people say they’re happy to hear from you – but the tick box is pre-ticked and they would have to untick it if they aren’t interested.  This passive acceptance just won’t fly anymore.

You DO have permission

  • If you’ve been using your database regularly over the past year or more, AND
  • If you’ve implemented every single unsubscribe request, OR
  • People who sign up to your lead collection form have to actively accept your offer to send them information. (Actually tick the tick box.)

How to revive your old mailing list

My rule of thumb used to be send at least 3 emails over the course of the last year.  But it’s a bit late for that. But there are still a couple of options:

  • Run a re-engagement campaign.  Send at least two killer emails between now and the end of June. Put together a promotion they’d love with a headline that makes them want to open your mail.  Set up a poll, or offer them added value or a discount. If you have an e-commerce site and they’ve bought from you in the past, send them a discount code.
  • If you only have a handful of people on your list, ask them to reply to your email (lots of admin, but very personal) or click on a new subscribe button, if they’d like to stay in contact. But only do this once.  Your list with shrink dramatically, but those who stay will be very loyal.

There are real risks

And the bigger your list, the bigger the risk.  Your out-of-date mailing list will no doubt have a high bounce rate – a key signal to email providers that your mail is spam. And since they have pretty good spam filters and in theory they could block all mails from your address. All of them. Even the ones you send from your own computer.  It wouldn’t be great if every single person with gmail address never got another mail from you.  Never mind the private domain emails hosted by Xneelo, Afrihost, or the other big South African email hosts.

This is why I don’t recommend you try to revive your mailing list if it’s more than two years old. This is a number I chose arbitrarily, but one mailing company I deal with sets this at one year, so if you want to take a conservative approach, you might prefer to use only emails collected in the last year.

Turfing your email marketing database is a real option

If you haven’t been using your database, it’s not going to make a huge difference if you decide to throw it out and start all over.  An out-of-date list is a cold list. These people aren’t engaged with you and your objectives, your focus and possibly even your target markets might have changed since you starting collecting names.

Instead of a re-engagement campaign, you could simply design a new attraction campaign.  The amount of work wouldn’t be very different.

Why you need to start a mailing list in 2021

Email marketing might not have been a priority before, but if you’ve been focusing on remarketing on Google or social media, you need to know that everything is set to change in 2022.  As part of the worldwide drive to protect personal information, Google will no longer allow the third-party cookies that make remarketing so simple.  Facebook is phasing them out too. There will still certainly be remarketing options, but it’s anticipated that this digital marketing tool will become significantly more expensive.

The power of email marketing is well-established, so if your remarketing campaigns are going to be more complicated or more expensive, it would be a great idea to have an up-to-date list of current and potential clients and customers that you have permission to speak to directly.

It’s probably time to get your email marketing up to speed

If you have any questions, let’s chat.  

Last thought

When you start your new email campaign, make your unsubscribe button clear and easy to find. Under POPI, every marketing email needs an unsubscribe button. Don’t hide it; you’ll just alienate people who aren’t interested anyway. And don’t stress when people unsubscribe. Better to have 100 people who love what you have to offer than 10 000 who don’t care.

  1. Protection of Personal Information
  2. Protection of Personal Information Act
  3. The California Consumer Privacy Act
  4. General Data Protection Regulation (the European version)

Ann Druce

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