Why e-mail marketers must respect "Permission" - or pay the price

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I'm dumbfounded by an attitude of entitlement that seems to be prevalent among many email marketers. That is, that because someone has opted in to a subscriber list - or in many cases, simply not opted out - we as marketers have the right to e-mail that subscriber as much as we want, with whatever content we want.

Frankly, that's nonsense. Permission marketing is a privilege, not a right. Marketers who fail to understand that will end up where they belong - in the spam can.

Why am I on my soapbox about this? Because I've had heated discussions with a wide variety of marketers - from senior executives at fellow marketing technology companies to clients who want to bend the rules to fit their agendas.

The arguments go like this: "We're compliant with CAN-SPAM"… "Well, they did opt in to our list"… "They didn't specify a frequency preference"…or my personal favorite, "They gave me their e-mail address at a trade show, so I don't need permission."

And to this I say, you're missing the point. E-mail marketing is not about having the biggest list. It's about respectfully and consistently reaching people who want to hear from you, with topics they want to hear about.

But don't take my word for it.

In a Forrester study, the two main reasons participants said they opened commercial e-mails were because they recognized the sender as a company they signed up with (40 percent) and because they recognized the sender's name (52 percent).

Not surprisingly, companies that send to permission-based house lists typically report clickthrough rates of 5 to 15 percent - while those sending to non-permission-based lists are lucky to hit click throughs of only 1 to 2 percent.

Or, to put it another way, your subscribers go through their e-mail the same way you do. If it's relevant, you open it. If it's irrelevant too many times, you'll unsubscribe. And on a bad day, you just might report it as spam. One too many spam complaints, and ISPs will start blocking every e-mail you send out.

So it's time we all start thinking about e-mail marketing as a relationship-building exercise not as a numbers game. When we do that, we take the time to build better lists through permission-based best practices and we think before we hit "Send."

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