Permission Marketing: A Loaded Term?

I was talking to a group of friends the other day, and the topic of discussion turned to the term "Permission Marketing." How useless it is as a measure of best practices. Every ESP (email service provider) or direct sender uses the term, making it entirely neutral as a measure of whether or not a company is a spammer, or if they're a provider that would allow spammers on their network.

I wouldn't go so far as to immediately brand somebody as a spammer for using the term "Permission Marketing" -- I do believe that, when you're talking about how a company can handle email marketing properly, reasonably and ethically, "Permission Marketing" is the correct term to use.

But, if you're an email sender, or an email service provider, my recommendation is that bragging to the world that you're a permission marketer is not useful or helpful, especially if the message you're trying to convey is that you're NOT a spammer. Instead, share concrete examples and specific policies. Give concrete examples of what you've done in *specific* situations to help address a spam issue. We hit spamtraps, we ran afoul of this or that blacklist, we instituted this permission pass campaign based on these variables to address the issue. Now their deliverability rate is significantly improved, and their response rate is up X%! On the policy front, don't burden the reader with excessive legalese. Use clear and simple language. We prohibit spam. If you receive spam, report it to us at this address, and this is what we'll do about it. Maybe even be honest. We're not perfect. We may not always be able to prevent somebody from spamming you. But we do try, and we are responsive to complains. If you receive something unwanted, please consider working with us to address it.

If you work for an ISP or blacklist, trying to gauge the reputation of the sender or their ESP, there's different things you look at. (Their blog is rarely an accurate measure of reputation.) Look for their sending reputation. Plug their sending IP addresses into things like (Register with SenderScore's website, and they'll give you useful info on spamtrap hits and user unknown rates and etc.). Check for spamtrap hits (if you're one of those lucky souls that runs a network of spamtraps). Look for public complaints. Look for other blacklistings. (Ones that you would agree were meritorious.)

Are you getting spam from this sender? If yes, there's a problem. If no, there's not a problem. It's that simple. Don't get caught up in the mistake of judging somebody based on what their website says versus what their actual practices are.

I suppose there are exceptions to every rule. If a website brags about email appending and databases for sale at low low prices, then sure, that is likely indicative of a spammer. But that's probably the exception moreso than the rule.
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