Is it better to get permission up front for your email marketing program, or just beg for forgiveness later?
The short answer is YES, of course it’s better to get permission. It’s always better to get permission. Permission is the first step toward setting expectations, creating relationships and keeping data clean. Permission is a subscriber engagement opportunity.
However, it’s only a first step. Permission does not give marketers a license to just send whatever, whenever. In fact, more than just a one time exercise, permission must be re-earned with every message. Lots of subscribers who gave permission unsubscribe or just ignore future messages. They also complain (click on the Report Spam button), which depresses inbox placement for all campaigns. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox.
What really matters is not that permission was granted, but that it is earned. Adopting this attitude leads to decisions like:
- Sending only messages that have real value, at the time when they help subscribers most. For example, sending newsletters every month on the third Thursday might be a fine strategy to just “stay visible,” but sending promotions on days when subscribers are ready to take action on timely deals is a better one. Send more messages when a subscriber is “in market” (e.g.: just purchased, up for renewal, etc) and fewer when they are not.
- Re-engaging with non-active subscribers before too much time goes by. If the messages are not resonating, stop them, or offer to change frequency or content type.
- Preventing list churn and fatigue by moderating frequency. More messages are not welcome. More messages that are valuable and relevant are welcome.
I’m sure that advocacy of permission over forgiveness will take the wind out of a few readers’ sails. Permission requires a strong value proposition. It also means your file could be smaller. That is more work for fewer records. On the surface, it might sound like poor marketing strategy, but actually, it results in a better situation. Subscribers who really want to be on your file are always going to be more engaged and return higher response and revenue. Lots of “sleepers” on the file only return somnambulant results. Subscriber satisfaction and the resultant ROI is, after all, the whole point.
Marketers might also consider that not every subscriber has to be subscribed for everything, or forever. If you gather business cards at a trade show, for instance, it’s not illegal to email them a single follow up note (or maybe 2-3) that thanks them, offers a nice treat and invites them to opt-in for your email newsletter. Woo them rather than just assume they want to be on the file. Similarly for co-reg data or whitepaper download requests or sweepstakes. Interest in a particular offer like these does not necessarily also mean ongoing interest in a newsletter or promotional offers. Take time to nurture these prospects, rather than flood them with messages they didn’t ask for, and don’t really speak to their needs or interests.
I’d love to hear from folks who have adjusted permission rules and found good (or bad) results. How are you thinking about permission as a strategic engagement tool, rather than a barrier to list size?