Forgiveness is Good, but Permission is Divine

Stephanie Miller, email marketing expert
By Stephanie Miller
VP, Global Market Development

Is it better to get permission up front for your email marketing program, or just beg for forgiveness later? This was a central question we discussed during my deliverability panel at the Marketing Sherpa Email Summit with fellow panelists Dennis Dayman of Eloqua (@ddayman) and Jared Hanson of Hewlett Packard (@hpnews).

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. However, it’s only a first step. Permission does not give marketers a license to just send whatever and whenever – permission must be re-earned with every message. Lots of subscribers who gave permission also complain (click on the Report Spam button), which depresses inbox placement for all subscribers. They also unsubscribe or just ignore/delete.

What really matters is not that permission was granted, but that it is earned, every time a message is sent. If we adopt this attitude, then we’d make decisions like:

1. Sending only messages that have real value, at the time when they help subscribers most. Sending newsletters every month on the third Thursday might be a fine strategy to just “stay visible,” but send promotions on days when subscribers are ready to take action on timely deals. Send more messages when a subscriber is “in market” (e.g.: just purchased, up for renewal, etc) and fewer when they are not.
2. 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.
3. Preventing list churn and fatigue by moderating frequency. More messages are not welcome. More messages that are valuable and relevant are welcome.

At the Sherpa event, I could see that our advocacy of permission over forgiveness took the wind out of a few attendees’ 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. Subscriber satisfaction and the resultant ROI is, after all, the whole point.

To put a bit of wind back in the game, marketers might remember 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 white paper download requests or sweepstakes. Interest in a particular offer like these does not necessarily equal ongoing interest in a newsletter or weekly 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.

Thanks to Marketing Sherpa for a good event, and the opportunity to present! Anyone interested in more info from the panel or the show, please ping me, or add comments below.

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