Evangelizing Permission


Last week the Only Influencers email discussion group tackled this question posed by Ken Magill.

How do you gently educate one’s customers or employer to use permission-based marketing?

Ken published the responses in his Tuesday newsletter. For a number of reasons I didn’t participate in the conversation, but I’ve been thinking about the question a lot. How do I evangelize permission? Do I evangelize permission?
I wrote down a few of the things I’ve done to where permission has been part of the conversation in the last 14 years.

  • I’ve talked with hundreds of big and small companies privately about permission and sending only opt-in email.
  • I’ve publicly commented on permission to the FTC.
  • I’ve participated in private discussions between spammers and anti-spammers searching for that middle ground.
  • I’ve participated in public discussions on policy and delivery.
  • I’ve worked with dozens of Spamhaus listees to clean up their permission practices and get them delisted.
  • I’ve worked an abuse desk for a large network provider.
  • I’ve consulted for some of the worst ROKSO spammers out there.
  • I’ve evangelized to large companies who think their mail can’t be spam.
  • I’ve worked with small entrepreneurs who just wanted to use email to talk to their customers and investors.
  • I’ve worked with companies that send me email to fix some of their minor bobbles in practice.
  • I’ve blogged for years on email delivery and permission.

Permission weaves its way through almost every conversation I have about email and delivery. But it’s not the sole thing I focus on when dealing with customers. What I really evangelize, rather than permission, is that a successful email marketing program is based on sending mail people want. Having permission from the recipient makes it oh so much easier to send mail those recipients want and are actively engaged in.
When working with clients to fix a delivery problem or just teach them about mail delivery, I don’t say a lot about permission. I talk more about mail people want and mail people expect and mail people are engaged with. Permission is but a small part of accomplishing all of those things. Mailers who focus solely on the technical specifics of permission “They checked the box!” or “But they gave me their email address!” often face many of the same delivery challenges as mailers who buy guaranteed opt-in lists from the broker down the street.
Mail delivery is not just about the buzzword ‘permission’. Rather it’s about a much broader, much more complex model of the relationship between email senders, ISPs, recipients and the rest of the email ecosystem. ‘Permission’ is a part of that, but just a part.
Many people, including some of the Only Influencers participants, want a very simple description of the world and a list of rules to follow and checkboxes to tick that mean they’re doing things right. But reality is much more complex than that, and more complex than you can sum up in a couple of buzzwords or checkboxes.

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  • Maybe the thing is – If you do have affirmative permission, then it is a little easier to get away with sending stuff people don’t really want, ioccasionally, whereas if you don’t have affirmative permission, no matter how compelling the content, it is still email people don’t want, and they treat it thusly.
    Just a thought.

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