Is Permission Enough?

Posted by Stephanie Miller 

I spoke at both INBOX and Internet Retailer recently, and at both events heard smart marketers ask, “Why do readers unsubscribe, ignore or complain about my emails? They opted-in!”

The answer is that permission is not forever. Subscribers opt in and then promptly forget about their actions. Many marketers are not clear about what they will be sending, or at what frequency. That disconnect is real — in fact, it’s not unusual to see a high number of complaints and unsubscribes on a Welcome Message.

Nor is permission a panacea. Opt-in doesn’t replace relevancy and keeping your promises.

To that end, here are a few key moments in the subscriber experience when permission should NOT be assumed:

– When you add a new content set
– When you launch a new product/press release, etc.
– When you haven’t emailed in a really long time (like more than 3 months)
– When you “find” an old file that hasn’t been used (maybe ever) – yes, this happens all the time!
– When you’ve already sent more email this week/month than you promised.

Do you need to re-permission everyone just to send a press release or introduce a new type of email promotion/newsletter? Not necessarily. But be sure to make it really clear that you are sending subscribers something outside the original permission grant, and give them a very visible and prominent chance to unsubscribe. Do this for several messages in a row, not just once. I know it feels counter-intuitive to encourage an unsubscribe – but really what you are doing is re-confirming the permission grant. And, when you use a Preference Center, an unsubscribe request can be “flipped” into a satisfying interaction with your brand and email program.

The alternative is higher ISP complaints (and depressed deliverability) as well as brand degradation and reduced subscriber satisfaction. Subscribers have a lower tolerance for email messages than we marketers do. Be sure you understand and respect what we call the subscriber fatigue factor – the point at which subscribers start to turn off your email program for lack of relevancy or too high frequency. The subscriber fatigue factor for your program can be determined through control group testing.

For B2C, your subscriber fatigue factor is likely one to two emails a week. If you send triggered product alerts or abandon shopping cart emails, you may be able to add another one to two each week (but not for every subscriber, just those in market this week). If you send a content-based newsletter like tips or a buyer’s guide, you can usually add one to two more messages a month. We just worked with a client today on building a weekly sales email that always appears on the same day, adding value and building a relationship around Monday “Better than Coffee Sales Alerts.”

The trick is not to benchmark for some magic number and keep blasting away. In fact, the Email Experience Council found that many retailers who are “outliers” in terms of the frequency benchmarks tend to generate much higher response rates (opens, clicks, sales). That’s because those marketers have found the mix of content and contact strategy that makes sense for their subscribers or segments of subscribers.

Your program not quite there yet? It’s okay to baby step into it as long as you respect your existing permission grants and subscriber interests. For now, avoid sending more than you promised, and always be clear what the value is to the subscriber before you send.

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