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Permission: How to "Do The Right Thing"

by Michelle Keegan,  Constant Contact Email Marketing Expert

Permission is a subject of heated debate among email marketers and email recipients alike. Internet Service Providers establish their own rules about permission and spam, but the ultimate and the only irrefutable judge about what is spam and what is not is the recipient. If the recipient thinks your email is spam, guess what? It's spam. Or it may as well be because the reaction and the negative impact on your reputation is the same.


Here are a few common questions about permission, and my answers. Hopefully this will shed some light on how to "do the right thing" when it comes to email marketing.

Q: "When I collect business cards at a business or networking event, can I add those email addresses to my email list for newsletters and other types of communications?"
A.My suggestion is to use a personal email to communicate with each individual the first time and request permission to add the recipient to your list. There is a distinct difference between a personal email and an email campaign, and each one has its place. While some individuals who gave you their business cards may welcome your next newsletter in their inbox, some may be utterly offended. Needless to say, this is no way to begin a good business relationship. So, ask for permission first.

Q: "What if an individual's email address appears on the web. Isn't this implied consent to be emailed?"
A.In my opinion, no. Once again, use a personal email to get the recipient's permission to add them to your list. You will differentiate yourself by doing so, and reap the ongoing benefits.

Q: "I just acquired a company. An asset of that company is its email marketing database or customer list. Can I now mail to this list?"
A. Before you send anything, be careful of the quality of the list. How old is the list? How were the names collected? Is the list permission-based? How long has it been since an email was sent to the list? How targeted is the list? Has the list been maintained properly and cleansed of unsubscribes?

If you are selling similar, or the exact same products and services -- thus making the target audience the same and your email of equal relevance to any previous emails -- it is acceptable to send an announcement to the effect that you are the new owners of the company, but place opt-out language more prominently this time. (I am recommending an opt-out approach in this case based on the circumstances outlined above.)

"You are receiving this email because you are a customer of [Company Name] or have opted-in to receive email communications from [Company Name]. Please visit the Subscription Center to edit your interests or unsubscribe."

Will you lose a percentage of your list? Sure you will. But you will be separating the wheat from the chaff. And never underestimate the amount of goodwill and trust you will engender among your subscribers.

As a marketer, you will find yourself navigating the murky waters of permission on a daily basis. So, conclusively speaking, how does a marketer "do the right thing?" Only by knowing the rules and understanding the benefits of permission, being aware of the consequences of ignoring the rules and doing your best to abide by them using your own good judgment.

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