A brief legal guide to digital marketing

Legal guide to digital marketing

Thanks to improvements in technology and the rise of automated marketing solutions, digital marketing has become a simple and affordable way of reaching potential customers.

It has proven to be an extremely popular and successful method for businesses wishing to increase audience engagement.

Many small business owners are opting to carry out their own marketing functions. This is great news, as it can help save a huge amount on operating costs and help you better know your customers. But, when it comes to digital marketing (and in particular direct digital marketing), there’s a pretty long list of dos and don’ts.

We’ve covered quite a lot of digital marketing best practices in our other blog posts. Here, we’re going to give a little advice that will help you keep on the right side of the law when carrying out your own direct digital marketing.

It’s also important to note that even if you hire a marketing freelancer or company, they can often fall short on knowing the legal framework relevant to direct digital marketing. To protect yourself and your business, gain an understanding of the basics and ensure that anyone involved in your marketing efforts are complying with the law.

What is direct marketing?

Direct marketing is any form of advertising or marketing targeted towards specific individuals or companies.

Businesses now commonly use different forms of electronic marketing to deliver direct marketing campaigns. This could be anything from e-mail marketing, social media promotions, all the way to automated cold-calling.

The law

These forms of direct electronic marketing are of course completely acceptable, provided you comply with your obligations and the restrictions placed on businesses.

The legal and regulatory framework places obligations on organisations and marketers who collect data on customers.

Generally, electronic marketing can only be sent to individuals who have consented to being sent such information. Individuals include any organisation which does not have its own distinct legal status, such as sole traders and partnerships. Different rules apply to registered companies and limited liability partnerships.

If you share customer information amongst a partner network and other third parties, the customer must also provide consent to do this. Often, this practice will be covered in your terms or privacy policy.

Your obligations

The law is primarily concerned with protecting the privacy of UK and EU citizens. It does this by ensuring that guidance is in place for when a business collects, uses and stores personal details and sensitive customer information.

So when a business collects personal information about customers, it should provide the following information:

  • The name of the individual or organisation who is collecting it.

  • How and when the data is collected.

  • What the information will be used for.

  • What tracking information (or cookies) are used.

If you intend on using data in manner which has not previously been prescribed, for example for a research study rather than your usual marketing campaigns, then fresh consent would be required from the customer.

What else should you do?

Consent for direct marketing can come in different forms. Most commonly, opt-in / opt-out options on web forms. Consent is implied for soft opt-ins where, for example, you have gained a customer’s details in the course of previous dealings.

If you would like to go a step further, you can always take a look at the Information Commissioner’s Office guidance on direct marketing, which covers in more detail what can and can’t be done when it comes to direct marketing practices.

If you get it wrong…

The consequences can vary in severity depending on which aspect of the legal or regulatory framework you have failed to comply with. Often the most harmful is the damage caused to the reputation and goodwill of a business. It’s very easy for customers to lose trust in a business which comes under public scrutiny for failing to comply with laws designed to protect personal and sensitive information. Beyond this, you may be fined by the Information Commissioner’s Office, and sued by the individual whose personal data has been misused.

How to ensure compliance

  • Understand what you can and can’t do with customer information

  • Always obtain consent from a customer before adding them to a direct marketing campaign.

  • Keep an eye on your business practices to ensure they comply with the law.

  • Monitor how any outsourced marketing functions are carried out.

  • Allow the option to opt-out of any direct marketing campaigns the customer no longer wishes to be a part of.

  • Inform the customer of any partnerships or information sharing they may be subject to.

  • Treat customer data in a way you would expect your personal information to be handled.

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