Email Marketing Lessons from the DMA 2013 Compliance Report

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Email Marketing

DMa reportThe mission of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is to advance and protect responsible data-driven marketing, which covers both direct mail and email. Members agree to comply with strict guidelines, which cover aspects like privacy, data collection, consumer notice, and use of data. The DMA recently released its 2013 Annual Compliance Report, which details consumer affairs and casework covering the period from February 2012 through June 2013. The CSR Committee reviewed 55 cases during this time period, and in twelve of these cases, companies failed to be compliant and to correct their behavior.

The most complaints by far were generated by consumers who wanted to unsubscribe from a real-world mailing or catalog list. Email complaints led the rest of the pack – which means that marketers could do a better job of managing email unsubscribes.


A surprisingly frequent complaint was a practice called “pass-the-buck.” In pass-the-buck, a consumer contacts a company directly and asks to be removed from a company’s mail or email list, and a company representative tells these people that they should instead contact the DMA to be removed from the subscriber list. As the DMA does not manage subscriber lists, this cannot be done; as a result, the consumer continues to receive the offending mail or email.  In the email world, passing-the-buck is against CAN-SPAM (and totally illegal).

Best practices to reduce email unsubscribes

Subscription best practices

  • Set the right expectations at the beginning. Clearly state how frequently you are planning on emailing subscribers, and communicate what the content of your emails will be so subscribers understand what type of email they’re signing up to receive (Note: this makes subscribers less likely to label your emails as spam)
  • Make it easy for people to opt-out with an obvious button or text in every email
  • Don’t request anything other than the user’s email address to complete an unsubscribe. Legally, you cannot force them to log into an account or take some other form of a second step
  • Have an “opt-down” method to let people unsubscribe from one of your campaigns  but remain in another
  • Offer subscribers multiple options for message frequency. Some may want to read your emails daily; others might prefer a weekly digest
  • Honor people’s email removal requests immediately
  • Consider using an unsubscribe survey that includes a comment box so people can tell you, in their own words, why they chose to unsubscribe

Email best practices that help keep people subscribed and engaged

  • Send content your subscribers (or the recipients of your email) would define as valuable – not self-serving content that only your company cares about
  • Ensure that the subject line has a value proposition
  • Keep subject lines short and accurate (Note: deceptive email subject lines lessen consumer trust)
  • Locate the most important words of your subject line toward the beginning
  • Proofread your emails; sloppy grammar and typos make emails look like spam
  • Match your email branding to your website branding so consumers can recognize that your email is genuine and trustworthy

Want to learn more about email basics? Visit the Act-On Email Resources page, where you’ll find white papers and much more.

Email subscriber list report