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Permission Levels for E-Mail Marketing Contacts

4 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Building Your E-Mail Marketing Lists

Collecting e-mail addresses and contact information without asking for permission to send marketing e-mail can cause prospective subscribers to hesitate — or worse, view you as a spammer who abuses their privacy. Obtaining the proper level of permission also ensures that your list starts out in compliance with the current CAN-SPAM laws.

You should be able to attest to each subscriber’s permission level, and your subscribers should feel that they did indeed authorize you to send the type of e-mail they receive from you.

Accepting implied permission from your e-mail marketing contacts

Implied permission happens when someone shares her e-mail address with you in the course of normal business communications. The transaction implies that the purpose of giving you the e-mail address is to receive e-mails from you in reply.

An example of implied permission is a prospective customer who shares her e-mail address on an online form to obtain a quote for your services. This prospective customer expects to receive a quote via e-mail, but if you send additional e-mails, you run the risk that your new subscriber will feel violated if you fail to disclose the fact that sharing an e-mail address on the quote form results in additional e-mails.

Implied permission is not considered a best practice, primarily because it doesn’t take much extra effort to move from implicit permission to a higher standard. You can easily add a link to your permission policy under the e-mail address field in an online form, or include text that reads: “By sharing your e-mail address, you will receive your quote along with concise weekly product updates from which you can unsubscribe at any time.”

Seeking explicit permission from your e-mail marketing contacts

Explicit permission happens when you disclose how you plan to use a prospective subscriber’s e-mail address. For example, a website visitor who clicks a link that reads Sign Up to Receive Our Weekly E-Newsletter and then fills out an online form and submits it grants you explicit permission to send a weekly newsletter. Sometimes potential customers get in touch and explicitly ask to be added to your e-mail list.

Types of explicit permission you can adapt to your own subscriber situations include

  • Verbal: When someone hands you a business card or dictates an e-mail address during a phone conversation, you can ask whether it’s alright to send them your e-mails.

  • Written: Reply to e-mails you receive to ask whether you can add the folks who contact you to your e-mail list.

  • Physical: Post a professional-looking plaque or sign next to a guest book or sign-up form that states “Thank you for giving us permission to send you our weekly e-mail coupons by signing our guest book. We promise never to share your e-mail address with anyone outside the company without your permission.”

  • Incidental: You can ask for explicit permission in the context of a transaction related to your e-mail information. For example, you might want to give online shoppers the ability to receive cross-promotions by selecting a check box during the check-out process. The text describing the check box could read, “Select this check box to receive periodic promotions that enhance the value of your purchase.” Just be sure that the default setting on the check box is deselected (clear), or else it is no longer an example of explicit permission.

When you ask for permission to send e-mails, be specific about what you’ll be sending whether it’s a monthly newsletter or weekly sales notifications.

Confirming permission with your e-mail marketing contacts

Confirmed permission happens when you respond to someone who has given you permission to send e-mails with an e-mail requiring her to confirm her interest by reading your intended usage policy before clicking a confirmation link. If the subscriber doesn’t click the link, her e-mail address doesn’t get added to your list, even if she explicitly filled out and submitted a form or physically signed your guest book.

A prospective subscriber must click an additional link for confirmed permission. [Credit: Courtesy
Credit: Courtesy of ConstantContact.com
A prospective subscriber must click an additional link for confirmed permission.

Although confirmed permission is the most professional form of permission, it’s also the most difficult for subscribers to understand and isn’t always necessary or suitable. Generally speaking, use confirmed permission when you want to be absolutely sure that your subscribers want your e-mail, especially if

  • You send sensitive information.

  • Your subscribers tend to forget signing up.

  • You want to verify that your subscribers are using real e-mail addresses.

  • You want to have a physical record of the subscriber’s authorization to send e-mail.

Confirmation e-mails generally have lower response rates, so if you’re using explicit permission to build your list, you might lose subscribers who really want to be on the list but fail to read the confirmation e-mail and click the required link. The trade-off, however, is that your confirmed subscribers are more likely to receive and open your e-mails.

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