The Truth about Permission

Gretchen Scheiman of OgilvyOne wrote a piece for MediaPost the other day, entitled, "Does Permission Need To Be Explicit?" It's an interesting read and she is most certainly entitled to her opinion. I'm not really going to debate the point with her; other readers have commented, attempting to do so, and I am happy to let them have that discussion without my participation. However, the implied advice given in the article is so far outside of best practices that I wanted to take a moment and tell you what I think, what I know, based on my many years of working with clients, trying to fix deliverability issues.

Gretchen quotes an imagined viewpoint of the prospective customer or repeat customer: "Feel free to send me email. I don't really have the time to bother with figuring out how to give you permission. I don't want a relationship with you, I want you to sell me stuff as well as you can so I can make an informed decision whether to buy."

An interesting theory; but not one supported by the facts. Every piece of data I have at my disposal tells me that the vast majority of subscribers don't actually have that point of view. The simplest way to figure that out is to try it. Take your customers who didn't opt-in. Start emailing them. What happens? Your spam complaints go up. Past a certain point, you'll get blocked or bulked.

Why? Because you assumed, instead of asked for permission. The article is misleading titled, asking about "explicit" permission -- but making assumptions, mailing people who didn't ask for it -- that's not any kind of permission at all. What she describes is actually the kind of backwards, non permission-based process that puts you on the fast track to deliverability woe.

As I mentioned, Gretchen posted a theorized point of view statement from an imaginary consumer. Mickey Chandler, over on his Spamtacular blog, asked a real consumer: his father. Click here to read what his father thinks about the whole thing, which was, basically, get those bums out of my inbox!

What really scares me is this bit of thinking. In comments, Gretchen asks, "why are you assuming that every customer has enough interest in every organization that they do business with to make it a point to hunt down every single permissions page so they can sign up for emails." To me, that statement highlights a significant disconnect between marketers and consumers. (Bad) marketers want that opportunity to be able to email "every customer [with] enough interest in" their organization, without that permission. In other words, she's saying, how dare it be made so hard. But from the consumer point of view, what consumers want every company who they might have some interest in to suddenly have access to their email inbox?

The data provides a clear answer: very few of those consumers want this. It would overwhelm their inbox. There's not enough room in the inbox to fit all of those messages. Consumers only want that inbox full of stuff they've actively asked for. There is a such a clear correlation between "lack of permission" and "high spam complaints" that, with every "this is spam" click, every email user is making it abundantly clear that they only want desired email in the inbox, and that marketing email without permission is clearly undesired.
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