ARI’s director of product marketing, Bill Wagner, answers real dealer questions in this semi-regular blog feature. Keep reading for Bill’s take on what you need to know before starting an email marketing campaign.

Q: I’ve been looking to start email marketing and would like to know how to go about building my mailing list. I’ve been approached by vendors selling mailing lists, and I have some old customer lists that include email addresses. Can I start there?

A: Email activity is governed by the CAN SPAM Act of 2003 in the United States, and there are couple hard and fast rules and a few best practice guidelines to follow to ensure you stay in compliance. You’ll also want to make sure you’re using a white-listed email service to help ensure that your emails don’t end up in your customers’ and prospects’ spam or clutter inboxes. I’ll cover the high points.

CAN SPAM is mainly concerned with ensuring that commercial email conforms to some basic rules. The most important of these rules are that commercial emails are labelled as such, an unsubscribe option is clearly provided, the sender or advertising company’s physical address is clearly listed and the email is not constructed in a manner that is misleading to the recipient. You can legally send emails to anyone who has expressed interest in your business and provided an email address, provided you honor any unsubscribe requests within 10 days. This means that purchasing general email lists from list vendors is something you should try to avoid. Sending unsolicited emails is a big “no” under the CAN SPAM act, and because the individuals on purchased lists might have no familiarity with your business, chances are they’ll mark your messages as spam anyway.

A white-listed email service is another must-have when you’re getting into email marketing. White-listing refers to the communication between your email platform of choice and your recipients’ Internet service provider, or ISP. ISPs actively try to limit the amount of spam that goes to their customers, so I’d recommend that you use a well-known third-party tool to send your marketing emails.

Avoid using Gmail or Microsoft Outlook for any mass email and instead opt for a tool like ARI’s Footsteps, MailChimp or ConstantContact. These tools don’t allow spamming behavior and help you get your emails into prospects’ and customers’ inboxes. An added benefit of these tools is they will automatically manage your unsubscribes, and they’ll stop an email if too many of your addresses bounce back. A high percentage of bad email addresses is often a sign to the ISP that someone is engaging in spamming behavior.

Start small with a list of accurate, active email addresses from people who have expressed interest in your business. Once you have a clean starting point on a white-listed email tool, you can start to build your list and start capturing the high return on investment available to dealers who use email tools. Providing a promise of value in exchange for someone’s email address is the surest – and best – way to turn email into a real revenue driver for your business.

Need help with your email marketing strategy? Learn how ARI’s digital marketing services can help.