In Canada, the law governing the sending of text messages is known as “Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation” or CASL (pronounced “castle”).
This law does not pertain to text messages alone, but applies to most forms of digital communication, including email and social media communications.
In order to send CASL-Compliant Text/SMS to your contacts, prospects and clients, it is critical you abide by this law for three reasons…
- The penalties for sending unsolicited emails are very harsh, with fines running into 6 figures.
- Sending unsolicited messages to your clients can be very damaging to your brand; people are very sensitive as to what they perceive as spam on their cell phones.
- Spamming reduces the viability of this marketing channel for everyone.
Luckily CASL is significantly more flexible than U.S. law, allowing Canadians more opportunities to reach their respective audience via bulk or mass texting.
Let’s talk specifically about what you need to send CASL-compliant text messages to your contacts or customers…
- Express consent, or
- Implied consent, and
- CASL-compliant templates.
1. Express Consent
Express consent means pretty much what it sounds like it means; your contact, client or prospect gives you “express” permission to contact them via text messages. This can happen via…
- A handset initiated opt in (i.e., your client subscribes to your service on their phone by texting a keyword to either a long code or short code).
- Oral permission (you will need to document this in some way so you can support it should you ever be challenged).
- Written permission (either physical or digital).
Express consent is the most desirable form of consent because it does not expire (it can be revoked by the client at any time, but that’s a different story). You’ll see why this is important in a moment.
If you do not have express consent, don’t worry. Very few Canadian business owners have written or signed consent from their clients of contacts. Luckily, you have one other option…
2. Implied Consent
Here’s where the flexibility of Canadian law becomes evident.
In the U.S., if you don’t have express consent from your audience you’re out of luck.
You can’t message them.
In Canada however, business owners catch a bit of a break. The fact that you have an existing business relationship with a client gives you their implied consent to send them text messages…
If and only if the date of your last transaction occurred within the last two years.
In other words, the tricky thing about implied consent is that it expires.
Businesses that have regular ongoing relationships with their clients—like dentists, chiropractors, dog groomers, furnace maintenance, massage therapists, etc.—almost never have to worry about obtaining express consent for messaging. That’s because the two-year expiration period necessary for implied consent is reset with every new transaction.
In other words, every new transaction resets the clock on that two-year time period.
However, if you have only periodic contact with your clients and your business doesn’t lead to regular repeat business, this two-year expiration data becomes critical. That’s because if you send bulk text messages to them outside of this time frame you are technically spamming them, and subject to stiff government fines.
Putting this Into Proper Perspective
Since CASL came into effect in 2014, there has been a lot of hand wringing and hair-tearing in the business community. But reality, CASL is not that tough to deal with, if you keep a couple of things in mind…
- The two-year expiration is critical if you’re importing a database of client phone numbers into a mass text messaging service. In this case, you really need to know when your last transaction was, because if it is outside of the two-year window, you’re spamming.
- The expiration period is less critical if your client is added to receive your SMS broadcasts at the beginning of your relationship (i.e., at the time of the current transaction). Why? Well, it seems unlikely to me that a client who happily receives your SMS broadcasts over the next two years, yet does not complete another transaction to extend the period of implied consent is suddenly going to be enraged and report you when she receives your marketing messages at two years + one day. In reality, clients who don’t want to receive your messages will have opted out of receiving them ages ago. Those who still receive them obviously find them valuable.
I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on T.V. This should not be considered legal advice or a recommendation on how to conduct your business. Messaging contacts outside the two year implied consent window is illegal, and there is a risk in doing so, even if it’s infinitesimally small (in example #2 just above). I raise this point because I think it’s important that a practical perspective is presented and you have a realistic idea of the risks you assume.
An Additional Downside to CASL’s Implied Consent
There is one additional—and my opinion significant—downside to using implied consent to message your audience.
Brand depreciation. What do I mean by this?
Well, here’s the deal…
Just because you have the legal right to connect with your audience via text message marketing, doesn’t mean you should. Your audience may not appreciate it, especially when it comes straight out of the “blue.”
Worse, since people are extremely sensitive as to what they perceive to be spam on their mobile devices, you may actually do your business more harm than good, if these messages annoy them.
However, you can mitigate the damage to your brand by using your first message to send a respectful introduction to your service, outlining its benefits, addressing some of the common concerns your recipients will have and welcoming them to unsubscribe if they don’t want to be a part of it.
We highly recommend this, as it will make a huge difference to your opt-out rates.
Here’s an example of such a message:
“Paul, as a valued customer we want to welcome you to ACME’s mobile VIP club. We’ll be sending two very special promotions a month. There is no charge for these messages, your data is safe and encrypted and you can stop at any time. Don’t want these messages? Reply STOP to end.”
While obtaining express consent is more work and will definitely result in a much smaller database of clients, this is a hugely motivated, passionate and high value audience, and will drive much a much higher number of conversions for you.
Note: Two critical factors as far as the considering whether to use “implied consent” to build a SMS marketing database are; one—the nature of your relationship with your audience (friendly, personable and intimate, or cold and corporate?), and two, the nature of your messaging? (Are focused on GIVING to your clients, in the form of great deals, special discounts, links to great information, etc.? Or are you focused on TAKING? As in wringing as much revenue from them as possible? I hope it’s evident that in both cases, the former is always preferable over the latter).
If you’d like to chat with us about the nature of your relationship with your audience to get our take on things, we’d be happy to provide additional perspective. You can email us here or call 877-403-2402. Don’t hesitate to reach out… we’re happy to help out at any time.
3. CASL-Compliant Templates
The last thing Canadian businesses need when sending mass broadcasts is a service that provides CASL-compliant messaging templates.
In other words, all messages are automatically appended with everything you need to stay legal.
What Do CASL-Compliant Templates Include?
CASL requires two things…
- A one-action opt-out or unsubscribe option. This is the “reply STOP to end” message you may have seen tacked on to the end of SMS marketing messages. Replying with “Stop” must immediately remove the contact from the messaging database, with no additional steps required.
- Information identifying the identity of the message sender. In an email, this information can be included in the email itself, but because of the character limitations of text messaging, it’s appropriate to include a shortened link to a mobile responsive web page that displays this information.
Local Text Marketers’ Canadian Mass Texting service includes CASL-compliant templates…
This messaging is hard-coded into the template. There is no way for a Canadian client to send a message without this information included in their messaging, which means there’s no way to send messages that aren’t in compliance.
Note: When you sign up for our Mass Texting service, your first step—even before you begin setting up your account—is entering your business’ contact data. We take this data and display in a mobile responsive web template anytime someone clicks the “info” link.
Summary for CASL-Compliant Text/SMS
Sending CASL-Compliant Text/SMS in Canada is something most businesses should consider; as more and more people drop their landlines and rely on simple text messaging for the bulk of their day to day communications, delivering your messages here not only bypasses the noise and clutter of traditional advertising, it puts your message where it can’t possibly be missed.
However, bulk texting is a permission-based advertising channel.
In order to legally send messages in Canada, you must have an established relationship with your contacts (as defined by the two different forms of consent), and deliver your messages in compliant templates.
We ensure you connect with your audience legally.
Click here to learn more about our mass texting service. If you have questions, email us here, or call 877-403-2402