Spam versus permission-based marketing

Just about everyone objects to "spam" in their email, but "permission-based marketing" is a different matter, suggests Derek Scruggs of US-based MessageMedia.

Just about everyone objects to “spam” in their email, but “permission-based marketing” is a different matter, suggests Derek Scruggs of US-based MessageMedia.

During a visit to Wellington Scruggs said not only is it more ethical for a company to request a prospect's email address; it produces a more fruitful commercial relationship.

Scruggs’s title is “permission advocate” – “I wanted to be ‘permission evangelist’ but that carries a higher salary,” he jokes. His whole job is promoting the ethics of permission marketing through email.

This channel, if properly managed, results in as many as 10% of people who see the original request responding to it, he says. This compares with about 1% for a banner ad, and probably less for unsolicited email – despite the greater volume of people typically approached through that medium.

But while a powerful technique, permission-based email must be handled with care.

Unsolicited email is completely unacceptable, Scruggs says, and is ultimately bad for business. Disgruntled customers reporting a company as a spammer may induce ISPs to reject all its future emails, and will certainly detract from its reputation.

However, he admits no matter how careful you are about asking permission, “in some people’s eyes you’ll be a spammer – and if they think you’re a spammer, then you’re a spammer.”

Some of the techniques he advocates may in fact come close to unsolicited email in some users’ eyes. For example, he considers it acceptable to ask customers to recommend “friends” to receive marketing messages.

Email is attractive as a marketing tool because it’s an easy medium for customers to use, Scruggs says. “It’s the reason a lot of people have an Internet connection; it’s persistent – still there when you disconnect, unlike a Web site."

And whatever else people do on the Internet, they always check their email, usually at least once a day, he notes.

With the ability to transmit images and video, “email can be as rich as a Web site,” he says. Though clearly, before transmitting messages of such large bulk, the seller must be particularly careful that the recipient has given permission for such material to be received.

The marketer should start the relationship with the customer with a simple request, such as asking for their email address. “Don’t present them with a large questionnaire about their interests,” he says. That can be done later.

A key principle is always to provide an “opt out” route; even though the customer has “opted in” in the first place, their attitude may change, and they should always easily be able to unsubscribe from a mailing list.

When there is this degree of respect for the customer’s wishes, a fruitful relationship can in many cases be established.

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