Why Email Marketing is Different in Canada

Doing email marketing without the proper platform is a lot like parking where there’s a fluorescent yellow no parking sign.  You saw the sign, you knew the restrictions of the spot. But you told yourself “hey, I’m only running in, I’ll be fine.”  Only to come back to find  parking enforcement leaving you an expensive, little piece of paper between your wiper, and your windshield…. You pipe up, and try to make the officer believe that “you had no idea you weren’t allowed to park there”.  The officer responds “It’s your responsibility to make sure you understand what traffic symbols mean.”

Well…It’s the same thing for the Canadian anti-spam law (Often call the CASL).  If you are a business owner, and you use email marketing to communicate with your clients.  You could eventually be that person standing outside in the cold contesting an infraction.  Only the infraction will cost you a little more than just a parking ticket.  As a Canadian business owner it’s your responsibility to know if you are operating within the parameters of the law.

More importantly if you are using an American based email marketing platform, you probably think you’re safe, but the fact is that you could very well be at risk of not being in compliance with the law.  Why?  Because the Canadian, and American anti-spam laws have different rules. Using a Canadian based company ensures that you are sending emails within the Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL) guidelines.

Key differences between the US and Canadian Anti-Spam Laws

The main difference is that the American Anti-Spam law has adopted an opt-out model, while Canada has adopted an opt-in model. Under an opt-out model, businesses can send promotional emails unless the recipient states otherwise, or “opts out” of receiving them with the famous unsubscribe link.

Under an opt-in model, which is what we have here in Canada, the recipient must affirmatively give the business permission to send promotions, newsletters etc.  Yes the opt-in model makes it a little harder to build a mailing list, but it’s not impossible.  With the right tools, and the right information you will still be able to build a nice quality mailing list.

My friends, don’t despair, there is a silver lining: the number of people who unsubscribe from your emails will decrease, because if they opt-in they are actually interested in what you have to say.  You won’t be wasting your time sending emails only to have the unsubscribe link clicked.  Before building your mailing list, the first thing you need to do is understand the difference between the two types of consent.

Express consent

The express consent is when someone gave you their consent to send them promotional emails verbally, or in writing.  If they agree verbally it’s always recommended to follow-up with an email confirming the consent. That way you have proof.  If they register online it is recommended to use the double opt-in.  You’re probably thinking “Double opt-in? That sounds complicated.”  Don’t panic, I’ll explain.  The double opt-in means that once they register, they will receive a confirmation email asking them to confirm their consent.  This narrows down your key audience and prevents people from using another person’s email address.  The beauty of the express consent is that it doesn’t expire, unless the recipient withdraws his or her consent.

Implied Consent

Implied consent can come in many different shapes and sizes.  The key thing to remember here is that implied consents have an expiration date.  They could span from:

  • Existing business relationships or personal relationships
  • The recipient has made a purchase or entered into a contract with you (24 months after the purchase or end of contract)
  • They’ve inquired about your product or asked for a quote (6 months only)
  • You received or found their business card at a networking event;
  • Or their email address is publicly posted within your network or industry (their website for example). If people conspicuously publish their address or give it to you, you are allowed to contact them if your message is pertinent for the business, and relates to the recipients functions or activities within that particular business.

Your ultimate goal is to have all implied consents move over to the express consent column as quickly as possible. A good Canadian email marketing platform will allow you to do just that.  It will also allow you to document each and every consent, and offer the very important double opt-in.

How to grow your mailing list and stay compliant

Now that you’ve received an overview of the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation,  below are a few tips to help you grow your mailing list while following the rules.

Add sign-up forms everywhere

  • On your website and make it conspicuous
  • You can even use social media.  Facebook now allows you to add a sign-up button to your business page
  • To the invoices you send to clients
  • Your email signature

Offer exclusive content and promotions

  • Make it clear that only your subscribers have access to top secret information and promotions

Ask for their consent

  • You talk to your clients on a daily basis, why not just ask for their consent? (Again don’t forget to send an email confirmation)

Run in-store and social media contests

  • In your store or on your social media platforms, run a contest that they only have access to if they subscribe to your mailing list


  • When you attend events, conventions and trade shows, try to collect as many email consents as possible
    You can also ask people from your industry, who are not a direct competitors to promote you, and your mailing list on their next newsletter.  People are always looking for content, use it to your advantage.

Do NOT buy email lists

Premade lists are worse for your health than TV dinners.  I get that they might bring a sense of security, but they are not at all about quality. They are about quantity and a quick fix.  Furthermore, you have absolutely no way of knowing if  they are in compliance with the law.  You don’t know if the people on the list have given their consent, which means that you can’t document anything.

More importantly if you use a premade list you are also liable by law and are subject to penalties. You don’t want to be wasting your time, energy, and money on premade lists.  Or even worse, face legal troubles.  Instead follow these steps, and you will successfully build your very own quality mailing list!

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