The 3 biggest risks in email marketing

An order confirmation, a newsletter or customer service via email: whatever form of email you send to your customers, they all fall under email marketing. Email marketing is subject to rules. If you do not follow them, you risk a fine, reputation damage or even a data breach. This article tells you how to prevent this.

Both large and small businesses are at risk of harm from unsafe use of email marketing. Large businesses are more likely to face regulators. Smaller businesses often do not have a security expert or security knowledge in-house, making them easier prey for hackers. No matter how big or small your business is, keep the following risks in mind:

1. Violation of advertising rules

If you do not comply with privacy laws (in Dutch) or advertising rules, you risk a fine. Avoid this and abide by the following rules:

  • Always ask recipients' permission before sending them a newsletter. After all, you cannot simply add a recipient of, say, an order confirmation to your newsletter list. You ask for permission by using a subscribe button, also known as an 'opt-in' button. Your newsletter should also contain an opt-out button, so recipients can unsubscribe at any time. Adding a subscribe button to an order confirmation is allowed.
  • Only create email lists based on your customers' behaviour, such as products they have bought from you before. Indeed, email lists based on personal characteristics, such as age, are not allowed.
  • Make sure you do not promise your customers anything you do not deliver. For instance, if you promise your customers in your newsletter that they will get a discount on a product, you must mention all the conditions. If you fail to do so, this falls under deception and is not allowed. 

2. Reputation damage

If you send out too many emails, or emails that do not match the needs of your target audience, it causes irritation to recipients. The inappropriate emails give them a negative image of your company. This can go so far as to damage your company's reputation.

Therefore, always research the needs of your target audience before starting email marketing. Drafting an email marketing strategy helps with this.

3. Data breach

If you do not store or process your customers' data properly, you risk a data breach. A data breach involves the destruction, loss, alteration or distribution of personal data, without intention. An example of a data breach is if you lose a the usb stick containing customer data. But it is also a data leak if you accidentally send an email containing personal data to the wrong recipient. A data breach can earn you both a hefty fine and damage your reputation.

Therefore, protect your customer data in the following ways:

  • Choose a secure tool for your email marketing. Check whether the tool has a privacy guarantee seal (in Dutch) and whether the server is in a country where the same privacy laws apply. Online lawyer Maaike van Boxtel advises choosing a European tool. "After all, as a sender, you yourself are responsible for ensuring that you comply with privacy legislation," Maaike explains. "Even if you make an agreement with the supplier of your email tool, things can still go wrong. Many email tools come from America. American businesses often cannot prove that they comply with privacy laws."
  • Update your email marketing software regularly. An outdated version can be susceptible to hackers.
  • Protect your customer's data. Only ask for data you need, do not keep the data longer than necessary and store it offline.
  • Train your staff. Educate your employees on the risks of unsafe and irresponsible use of email marketing.

Note that cybercriminals can also try to steal your money, personal data or passwords via email. They do this through phishing emails, for example. Read how to recognise a phishing mail.  

Getting started? Get strategic with 8 email marketing tips.