CASL Survey — The Results Are In
Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL) came into effect on July 1st 2014.

The law itself is dissected extensively elsewhere but here’s the summary - by July 1st, you had to get recorded consent showing that the people on your mailing list actually meant to be there. Since very few email lists actually asked for consent pre-CASL, that meant that you probably had a flurry of “please consent!” emails in June. Personally, I was surprised at how many consent emails I got, especially from places that had never emailed me before.

We have a mailing list (you can sign up here!) and we lost about 50% of our subscribers to CASL. Our clients lost anywhere from 20% to 80%. Which got me thinking – how is this affecting other email marketers across Canada? I put up the CASL Survey on August 5th and it ran until mid-September. Out of 937 visits to the survey page, we got 92 responses. I’ll be the first to say that this is a pretty small sample, but I think the responses are fairly representative – especially the comments.

You can download the data here or a slightly more attractive PDF if you want to do your own slice and dice. Let me know if you do!

Here are the big takeaways from this survey:

  1. CASL was harder on big email lists (over 10,000 members) than small ones.
  2. There was only a slight trend upwards in email opens and clicks post-CASL.
  3. Less than half of the respondents sent out more than one email asking for compliance, but that didn’t seem to affect their consent percentage.
  4. Respondents with less than 1,000 people on their lists are more likely to send emails less than once a month.
  5. CASL didn’t seem to affect unsubscribe rate – you’d think that if someone went through the trouble of providing consent that they’d actually stay on the list.

Now, onto the data!

Q1: How big was your email list pre-CASL?

I really wanted to hear from people with mailing lists in the 100,000 plus range, but we only managed to get 5 responses from this group.

Email List

Q2: Did you send out emails to get CASL compliance?

Here’s where the data starts to split a bit based on list size. I wish I’d included a “how else are you getting compliance?” follow-up to this question. Also, for the 22.8% of you who didn’t ask for consent, I can’t tell whether to congratulate you on your chutzpah or ask if you’re not in Canada. I know (based on the comments) that we had some outside-of-Canada respondents, but I don’t think it was more than a few.

Emails sent

Q3: What percentage of your list provided consent?

I found this response particularly interesting. Big lists (over 100,000) did better than expected, but mid-size lists (between 10,000 and 100,000) did quite poorly. I tend to err on the side of discounting the 100,000 plus data since there were only 5 responses, and I suspect that the 10,000 to 100,000 group is telling the real story. I’m sure that there’s also a bit of self selection in those who filled out the survey, too – if you had a spectacularly great or really horrible CASL experience, you’re more willing to talk about it.

Consent Results

Q4: Have you sent out an email to the list after non-consenters were removed?

People, we need to talk. You need to email your mailing list more often! I waited a month to start the survey because I wanted to make sure that everyone had emailed their list at least once. But 40% of you hadn’t! 9% (9 responses) are just going to stop emailing altogether. It’s not that bad!

I also found it interesting that the less than 1,000 crowd was most likely to send emails more than once a month. Don’t be afraid to email your list more often! You might even find your subscriber numbers go up.

Also, those of you who didn’t remove non-consenters — you just keep on rockin’ your bad self.

Email mailing list

Note, questions 5 through 9 were only shown to respondents who had emailed their list. I made these questions optional in case someone didn’t track this data. We had 40 respondents for these questions.

Q5: Has your open rate changed?

I honestly expected to see more increases here. I’m happy that there were no “it decreased a lot” responses but I’m surprised that it only stayed the same or increased a bit.

Open rate

In this next chart, I compared the data not on list size, but on what percentage of the list provided consent. Now, this makes more sense.

Percentage that provided consent

Of course, if almost your entire list hung around, you’d have a similar open rate since you haven’t dumped very many from your list total. I think the biggest gain was in the groups who only had 25% of their list consent – you’ve got a much better list on your hands now, even though it’s smaller.

Q6: Has your click rate changed?

Now, this is the data that really shows where CASL is a good thing. 37% of respondents showed an increase in clicks (only 5% had a decrease). Open rate is a tricky stat because it depends on a number of factors and personally I view click rate as a more important stat.

Click Rate

Q7: Has your conversion rate via email changed?

I’m pleasantly surprised by the number of respondents who actually check this stat. Thank you! Only 22% of you didn’t track this. Again, there were nice increases for those who saw their list size decrease as a result of the consent process.

Conversion Rate

Q8: Have you observed any changes in the number of spam complaints compared to pre-CASL emails?

Really, this is what the whole consent thing was designed to do — make sure that you actually want to be on the list. If CASL was working as designed, this should have decreased a lot. But it didn’t.

This actually makes me sad — why the heck would you consent and still complain that the email is spam? Hopefully the “it’s the same” respondents didn’t have any spam complaints at all, before or after, and that’s why it’s technically the same.

Spam Complaints

Q9: Have you observed any changes in the number of unsubscribes compared to pre-CASL emails?

This makes me wonder even more for humanity. Why would you consent to stay on a mailing list and then unsubscribe? Or, email marketer, did you not have an easy unsubscribe process before? (If not, shame on you.)

Unsubscribes

Q10: Anything else you want to tell us about email trends post-CASL?

You can download the whole thing at the top of this post, but here’s some of my favourites:

  • We send in excess of 30,000,000 emails a month on behalf of our clients. Our clients, and we agree, refuse to change our practices to adhere to a bogus foreign law. We are operating 100% legally according to US federal and state law! We will not be dictated to by a toothless foreign state whose citizens cannot pronounce “about” correctly.
  • This law sucks to be quite frank. Gorilla marketing is one of the ways our company gets results and the best results at that. A great deal of our customers are outside of Canada so having this law in effect makes marketing a lot more difficult.
  • We’re putting a lot more effort into making eblasts valuable. CASL has been a good exercise — even though it’s reduced our overall reach by 75%, we’re reaching the folks who actually care, and serving them better. It’s turned enewsletters from awareness fluff to focused marketing pieces.

That last comment was particularly awesome, and I’ve heard it from more than one person. When your email marketing is on auto-pilot sometimes you need a shake up to make it more interesting and engaging.

Q11: Did you change how you collect email addresses as a result of CASL?

Collection changeI hope that we’re all doing a better job of vetting who gets added to our mailing lists from now on. Yes, if you meet someone at an event and they give you their business card (with their email on it) that does count as implied consent for your mailing list. But it’s only implied, not express and you’ll need that by 2017.

Q12: What is your biggest concern about CASL?

Now, I made a bit of a goof here. I probably should have rephrased the question a bit and made it multi-select. That being said, I did love how the answers were all over the place. The biggest response was “It won’t prevent actual email spam,” and I’m so glad that no one replied, “My boss/supervisor/client told me to ignore it, but I’m worried.”

I also think that it was probably Jill Scheyk who answered “I’m not worried! CASL is amazing!”.

Brilliant choices

Here’s some gems from the “Other” section:

  • US company operating in compliance with US law. Bring it on you stupid Canuks!
  • It isn’t a law that was supposed to address the B2B crowd. It was supposed to address issues of B2C. They should have it only apply to B2C.
    What about @replies on Twitter? [Ed. Note: “CASL applies to direct messages in social media and inboxes. It does not apply to, for example, Facebook walls and Twitter feeds.”, via Canadian Business]
  • Many of the above, but I think there’s a lot of potential for people to get fined harshly for accidental issues/non-compliance. Which can be a lot of pressure when you’re managing these tasks, especially if your company doesn’t take precautions seriously/underestimates the importance of CASL.

Q13: Any other comments on CASL?

I love tossing these fields at the end of surveys. You usually get the best stuff here.

Our American friend wanted to say this again:

  • US company operating in compliance with US law. Bring it on you stupid Canuks!

And here’s some of my favourite responses:

  • this is absolutely ridiculous.
  • It set us back 30 years in business. What an ill thought out waste of time and massive inconvenience. It may have a slight impact of propping up Canada Post.
  • On question 12 it should be click all that apply. I do not think that CASL will actually reduce spam as 99% of spammers are not sending from Canada. I do believe that CASL will adversely affect our business, I do think the fines are silly for companies trying to comply and I do not believe there is, was or will be adequate information in usable form from CASL to support businesses on going needs.
  • CASL forces marketers to do some strategic targeting. You can’t be lazy and add anyone who casts an eye your way, creating monster lists with 3% open rates (example). If the majority your prospects are not interested in what you are saying, then you have a targeting problem. I think it’s a great way to shorten sales cycles and focus sales teams on people who are truly interested.
  • The bulk of spam I [sic] is from offshore sources that scrape websites for emails, which will CASL really doesn’t have any teeth to deal with. Any newsletter I used to receive could always be unsubscribed from but the REAL spam is what I’d like to be rid of
  • I know the QUALITY of my list has improved, but with such a low re-opt-in response, it feels like I’ve been defeated somehow. I don’t like how you can’t automatically check a subscribe box for new customers on my site, and that there’s no specific provisions on sending e-mails to customers who have made a purchase but didn’t explicitly opt-in… They’re obviously interested in my brand if they made a purchase!

Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out this survey. I hope that you find the results enlightening. Have more to add? Leave a comment below.

  • Tema Frank

    Interesting results, Dana. I’ve got to confess, I ignored many of the pleas simply as an easy way to shrink my inbox. I have a bad habit of signing up for way more than I can possibly read.

    But thinking about it now, I realize all that did was create an American skew in what I see.

    I wonder if Canadian companies should try resending consent requests now that things have calmed down. They can do that during the transition period, can’t they?

    Leave a reply
    • Dana DiTomaso

      I believe that you can still request, but I’d probably want a legal or CRTC opinion on it.

      Leave a reply
  • CDS Toronto

    I would like to know how much companies have spent on CASL compliance. i.e. How much mone has the government forced them to waste? This law has hamstrung basic day to day communication and made small businesses nervous. The real spammers couldn’t care less.

    Leave a reply
    • Dana DiTomaso

      I would also like to know this! I bet we’ll see some reports once companies close out their fiscal year ends.

      Leave a reply
  • Crystal

    I have a question about the last comment that was left: and that there’s no specific provisions on sending e-mails to customers who have made a purchase but didn’t explicitly opt-in…

    Does CASL cover this topic? Specifically, I’d like to know if someone has bought a product or service if the company is automatically allowed to offer additional products.

    Ex: you book a trip through a travel agency and don’t purchase traveler’s insurance at the time of booking, and the company sends you an email offering to purchase the insurance OR your trip is drawing near and the company sends you an email offering seat selection

    Since it’s designed to help customers with their trip even though there’s a cost attached, is that allowed? Would it be good enough to just have an unsubscribe link in these types of “notification” emails?

    Thanks!

    Leave a reply
    • Jen Salamandick

      Hi Crystal,

      Under CASL, this is not allowed unless the customer has opted in to future communications. Only transactional emails are allowed — so for example, if you got email saying you could check-in and pick your seats (at no cost to you), that would be fine. But if an email came prompting you to pay to upgrade to a seat with more leg room, that would not be CASL-compliant. You can email jen[@]kickpoint.ca if you have more CASL questions! Thank you for reading!

      Leave a reply

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