11 Marketing Rules To Keep Your Business Out Of Legal Trouble

Want to know what the FTC and other government entities say about marketing? Well, what’s written in black and white can usually be summed up as “don’t lie.”

Still, there are some areas of business where activity is regulated carefully. If you want to make sure your business steers clear of any legal troubles, here’s 11 rules you want to follow.

1. Don’t advertise results that aren’t typical, at least not without disclosure. If you sell an oil additive, don’t make an extraordinary testimonial the focus of your marketing without a proper disclosure.

2. Disclose any paid testimonials. Better yet, don’t pay people to leave a testimonial! Obtain testimonials the old-fashioned way: by asking politely in person or in an email. If you have to pay for a testimonial – or if you give someone something of value in exchange for a testimonial – disclose that fact. (More details about the proper use of testimonials here.)

3. Keep your customer’s private data secure. Any data that’s not public knowledge (such as your customer’s mailing address, purchase history, phone number, email, and so on) must be protected.

4. Have a clear and easy to read the privacy policy. A good privacy policy will help you avoid trouble. We recommend an online privacy policy for SEO and a positive user experience, too.

5. If you have a written warranty, there are some rules you want to follow. This is especially relevant for auto parts manufacturers. See the FTC’s website for details.

6. Be smart with email. Federal and state law regulates email senders to varying degrees, and there are also best practices that most email service providers expect businesses to follow. Some general rules:

  • Don’t send emails to strangers. While it’s not technically illegal to send emails to people that your company doesn’t have a relationship with, it’s generally not considered a good practice. Instead, try and collect emails by either a) selling people parts or b) offering them something of value in exchange for their email address.
  • Make sure your email subject line is honest. Don’t send someone an email with the subject line “Information About Your Account” that turns out to be a coupon or special offer announcement.
  • Every email you send must have a business name and physical address.
  • Every email you send should have a clear and obvious “unsubscribe” link, with a one-click unsubscribe system.
  • Every email offer should be legitimate and honest, just like all your other advertising.

As a practical matter, the key to staying out of trouble with email is to send good, useful emails.

7. No ecommerce sales tricks. Don’t bait customers with a cheap product, then switch them to a more expensive item after explaining that the cheap version is “on backorder.” Don’t abuse “auto-renewal” terms, offering people a free trial and then hitting them with a hefty automatic renewal fee. Don’t misrepresent the parts you’re selling and/or what they can do.

8. Be mindful of sharing user behavior data. It’s entirely proper for a business to track how visitors interact with their website. However, sharing that behavior data can be dangerous if it’s not handled properly. Be sure you disclose how you’ll be sharing data in your website’s terms and conditions area (and privacy policy), and when in doubt, don’t share.

9. Make it easy for your customers to complain, and listen to them when they do. By making it easy to complain, you can diffuse complaints before they get too big. By listening, you reduce the likelihood of future complaints. Ignore complaints, however, and you run the risk of regulators looking into your business and lawsuits.

10. Use the old “What Would My Mom Say? / How Would I Explain This To My Kids?” rule. It’s surprisingly effective in terms of helping marketers avoid problems with the general public.

11. There are no shortcuts to success. If a marketing tactic promises unbelievable results, beware. Most successful marketing takes time and patience and works in tandem with a well thought-out strategy.

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