The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires all commercial email to be permission-based; however, sending email to subscribers who have asked for it is about more than mere compliance. It can boost your reputation, which, in turn, boosts deliverability, as good standing with ISPs leads to more messages landing safely in inboxes. It also enables customers to set their own standards for your marketing messages, giving them the control they desire. And happy customers equal increased trust, loyalty and overall email ROI.
That's what you want, so... how do you get permission?
There are a variety of ways to obtain the appropriate opt-in for your messages, but the most important requirement is that your collection methods be honest, clear and legitimate. For instance, a great way to obtain permission to send email is to provide a subscription page on your website. Make such a page prominent by linking to it in the header of every page on your site.
In-store email collection is another method of opt-in that consumers trust because the anonymity of the internet is taken away. They associate a tangible place and person with your brand, and are thus more likely to share their addresses. They are even more inclined to do so when you provide them with incentives such as email coupons and special offers. Will you send regular coupons? Will they be first to know when a new product becomes available? Clearly outline the benefits of your email marketing messages. Give subscribers information about the frequency and content of your messages so they know what to expect.
To even further boost consumer confidence and, therefore, sign-up rates, it's advisable to include a link to your privacy statement, ensuring list members that you will not share their information with outside parties. And although it is not required, double opt-in -- which requires individuals to sign up once and then confirm again via email -- is considered a best practice. Because the subscriber is not added to an email campaign until he or she confirms, your permission to send to that person is less likely to be called into question. However, there is an increased chance of losing the address if the person chooses not to take the second step for some reason.
By its nature, permission-based email puts the power in the subscribers' hands. They decide which types of emails they would like to receive and how frequently they wish to be reached. They can also decide whether an email is wanted, relevant and timely. Messages perceived to be unwanted, not relevant or poorly timed are more likely to be marked as spam or junk mail. In the end, the subscriber makes the rules, not the marketer.
As such, violating frequency rules can be detrimental to your brand and customer relationships. In response to a 2007 Return Path survey, 37.4 percent of respondents said they receive more email than they expected when they signed up, which can lead to messages being incorrectly marked as spam. MarketingSherpa reported that, in 2007, B2B subscribers were twice as likely to consider email to be spam if it came too frequently. Both of these issues will damage your reputation and your campaign ROI, as well as your perceived trustworthiness among consumers.
On the other hand, it is possible to send email too infrequently as well. A 2008 Return Path study found that a third of the companies surveyed failed to send any email at all, such as a welcome message or confirmation, to new subscribers in the 30 days during which the study was conducted. After a month or more, subscribers may forget they gave you permission or consider your communications no longer relevant or timely. As such, they are more likely to mark your messages as spam when you do finally send them. So no matter how you obtain opt-in, make sure to send a welcome message and immediately get a dialogue going.
Other risks of allowing too much time to pass in between marketing messages include honeypot, or spamtrap, email addresses, which are an instant red-flag for ISPs; hard bounces, invalid recipients and high complaint ratios are used by ISPs to determine list health. A bad reputation among ISPs, especially when combined with some of the risk factors mentioned above, can lead to decreased deliverability, customer loyalty and trust, and overall brand favorability.
As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself, "When was the last time I sent an email to this subscriber?" If it has been less than a month, it should be OK to send again. If it has been longer than a month, think before you send. If it has been a year or more, you must re-establish permission with the individual subscriber before you send.
The bottom line is this: If you send random and unexpected email, there will be consequences where both ISPs and your customers are concerned.
DJ Waldow is an account manager at Bronto Software.