Do your e-mail recipients know you and do they care?

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In the build-up to the holiday shopping season, there's a need to reach as many people as possible with our campaigns, but some are forgetting the basic tenets of permission-based marketing — particularly when it comes to e-mail. Just because you have someone's e-mail address doesn't mean you should automatically add him to every e-mail list you manage. That's a recipe for disaster on all fronts.

When a person gets an e-mail in his inbox, he instantly asks two questions: Do I know this person (or company) and do I care? If the answer to both is 'yes,' then the person is probably going to at least open your e-mail to take a quick glance. That's what we as marketers are aiming for, to get people to open with our or our clients' messages. But, if the recipient doesn't recognize the sender or doesn't care to be getting e-mail from the person, at best, the e-mail will be quickly deleted. At worst, it'll be marked as spam, which will damage your reputation as an e-mail marketer.

This relationship between sender and recipient becomes more important — particularly in business-to-consumer marketing — with Google's Gmail Priority Inbox and Microsoft's Hotmail now using certain metrics to determine where, if at all, an e-mail should land in an inbox. Because Google and Microsoft are essentially measuring how the recipient interacts with the sender to determine placement, it's more important than ever that your messages, and those of your clients, are recognizable, wanted and draw the reader in.

To ensure the messages being sent are recognizable, make sure the "from address" and "sender name" are obvious. Don't use the e-mail address and name of your summer intern for your company's messages. Only the intern's family and friends will recognize it, and they are probably not your target audience. That's the easy part.

Harder is getting the recipient to answer in the affirmative when it comes to the “Do I care?” question. That's where getting permission to e-mail is important. If someone is saying he wants to receive your e-mail campaigns, chances are he cares about what you're sending. (Naturally, you have to continue to offer value in the stuff you send, but that's a topic for another day.)

As a refresher to marketers gearing up for the holidays, the four types of permission are:

No Permission: The recipient has not given you any OK to send e-mail campaigns. Doing so is a violation of the CAN-SPAM act and can tarnish your reputation. Plus, if the Federal Trade Commission were to get involved, there could be fines — no one wants that.

Implied Permission: This is the gray area: You have a relationship with the recipient, and because of that he will know when you send him an e-mail. Maybe he's a prior customer or attended one of your events. You can send these people one-to-one e-mails, but adding them to a mass list might land you in some hot water. If you're going to do it, make sure there's a permission reminder at the top of your e-mail campaign that allows these folks to opt out quickly and gracefully.

Explicit permission: The person signed up for your e-mail list on your website, in your store or during a purchase. These are the people you covet.

Confirmed permission: Better known as double opt in, those with confirmed permission have signed up for your list and gone through an extra step to verify they truly want to be on your list. This method can result in fewer sign-ups, but those who do are valuable leads.

As you prepare your e-mail campaigns for the season, make sure the people you're sending to have given you permission to do so. Your engagement numbers will be better and, hopefully, your revenue numbers will be, too.

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