You know how it goes. You settle into a nice dinner with your family or have just tuned in to the season finale of your favorite TV show when the phone rings. It's a sales call. You didn't ask for it, and it certainly isn't happening at an opportune time. Even if the salesperson is offering something you might be interested in, you likely feel interrupted and frustrated since you didn't give out your phone number in the first place. Email marketing is no different in this regard, and sending unsolicited emails to people who don’t want to receive them might get you a random conversion here and there, but it will land you in hot water with the Internet service providers (ISP)s, ruin long-term brand-loyal relationships, and damage your reputation.
Permission email marketing occurs when recipients have taken action to explicitly request you add them to your email address list. For example, your favorite restaurant is sending you permission email marketing messages after you give them your email address. In this case, the emails may contain menu items, specials, or unique offers.
Permission is the key to any good email program. Like I've said a thousand times, email is about building a relationship that will ultimately drive brand value and increase revenue. Sending unsolicited emails to a prospect's or customer's already clogged inbox will not get you very far. If you think that getting permission to send email to someone is optional, think again.
Checks and Boxes
True opt-in means your subscribers are opting in by choice and checking a box on their own good will. Someone on your list who simply has not opted out should not be considered an opt-in. Or put another way, not unsubscribing or not checking the Do Not Send box is not the same level of permission as someone who willingly checks the Subscribe or Send Me Email options.
The first recommendation I have when it comes to gaining permission to email a prospect or customer is to never precheck a box for them. Say you visit a website for a company that sells widgets. You want someone to call you about the company’s different products, so you complete the contact form on the company website. As you are about to click Submit, you notice a box at the very bottom that has a check in it indicating that you would like to subscribe to the company's email program for special offers and promotions.
Often times, website visitors don't notice this box is checked and are tricked into subscribing. This is not the way to run a responsible email program. You need to put the potential subscribers in the driver's seat when it comes to email. Assuming they want email communications from you and creating the extra step of unchecking a box or, even worse, unsubscribing, won't work in your favor or theirs. You might get a bigger list but not a better list. If you are still focused on list growth by any means, you can skip ahead to Truth 17, and read what CBS SportsLine did in terms of making sure it had a list full of active subscribers.
When it comes to getting permission from your subscribers, there are many ways and places it can happen. The most important thing to remember is that all subscribers on your list must take some type of action to indicate they would like to receive email communications from your company. As long as your sign-up is clearly defined and subscribers can easily understand what they will receive and when, a single opt-in will do the job. A single opt-in occurs when users provide their email address and are then automatically entered as new subscribers. No verification or second step is required of the subscribers during a single opt-in process. The best way to follow up with this type of opt-in is to send an immediate welcome message. (See Truth 43 for more on welcome messages.) This alerts you to bad addresses and gives the recipients a chance to see your email program in action while they still have your company on their mind.
You may be wondering about double opt-in. This type of opt-in entails a person subscribing and then being sent an email asking them to confirm the desire to subscribe, usually by clicking on a confirmation link in the email. Although double opt-in gained momentum years ago, deliverability and usability issues with getting that confirmation email to the inbox and clicked have caused many to move away from it. In fact, only 3 percent of major online retailers use a double opt-in subscription process.
Many clients using a double opt-in process have a black hole of data for those who are not completing the second stage of the double opt-in process. This means often there are many would-be email subscribers who fail to complete the second step for one of many reasons and, therefore, are not in the database but may not know that. Ensure that you can identify where the "forgotten email subscribers" data resides and make sure the second step email goes out without a hitch.
Existing Relationship with no Opt-in
If you have a recent existing relationship with customers or prospects, it is okay to send them a one-time message offering an opportunity to join your email list. After permission is granted, you’ll be able to email them again, but remember that an offline relationship does not give you the right to email them. So get their permission before adding your offline customers into your email database.
An old List
If you have a list that has collected some dust and you've finally decided to rev up the old email program, ask subscribers to reconfirm or opt out. It is up to you to engage them again, but being honest and upfront about your intentions is a good first step. It can often lead to getting an updated user database as well. Here's some language to get you going: "We know you haven't heard from us in a while, but we are excited to say that we've made some improvements to our email newsletter and want to begin sharing them with you. You are subscribed already, but since you haven't heard from us in a while, we want to ask our valued customers and subscribers for continued permission to email them about our great offers and news. If you would like to continue to receive these email notices, please click here to update your profile."
In addition to always including an easy way (in each message) for recipients to opt out from your email program, include reminder language in your header or footer such as, "You signed up for this newsletter on our website or in our stores. If you would like to opt out of future newsletters, click here."
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