10 rules for successful permission-based
By Derek Scruggs (http://www.escalan.com/), who is an online marketing expert and the founder of Escalan, a Boulder, Colo.-based marketing consultant for small and midsized businesses.
1. Send e-mail only to those who have "opted-in"
to receive it.
Ideally you should use "confirmed"
opt-in, in which a confirmation message must
be sent to the recipient, who in turn must reply
to the message for the opt-in to take effect.
Avoid "opt-out," which forces the
recipient to receive messages until he says
The widespread practice of opt-out appears
to actually discourage e-commerce. A 2001
survey by the research firm Millward Brown
IntelliQuest found that 63% of Web users agreed
with the statement, "If I buy online,
I'll end up getting junk e-mail." And
the trend is up -- IntelliQuest found only
58% agreed with that statement in 1998. Perhaps
this is why many people use fake e-mail addresses
when buying online; Shop.org found in a 1998
survey that 60% of surfers have given false
information when filling out online forms.
Bottom line: Consumer trust is something
you have to earn. One of the best ways is
to respect consumers' wishes when it comes
2. Always honor user requests to opt-out.
Make it a simple process and include a Web
site URL in every message that allows the
user to opt-out. (A simple "reply to
unsubscribe" does not always work if
the user has multiple e-mail accounts, which
can be extremely frustrating for the end user.)
For some companies, it might make sense to
"down-sell" the end user. For example,
a news site that provides daily deliveries
may have success in offering the user an opportunity
to "downgrade" to weekly digests.
After all, many opt-outs are simply a natural
reaction to too much e-mail in general; a
reduced burden is often welcome.
3. Confirm everything by e-mail: The initial
opt-in, orders, shipping notification and
changes in the customer profile.
This blunts the problem of false information.
If a fake e-mail address has been entered,
the confirmation will either bounce or be
delivered to someone who possibly has never
heard of you, in which case he will contact
you and let you know your database needs to
be updated. Always include an opt-out mechanism
in these messages. As an added bonus, use
these messages as an up-sell opportunity.
For example, an airline could offer the user
a reduced rate for renting a car from a particular
4. Allow users to specify their preferences.
What kind of information do they want to receive?
How often? Encourage the user to give you
as much information as necessary to allow
you to effectively target them in your e-mail
promotions and other e-commerce activities.
But avoid asking for her life story. Instead,
structure your program so that you gain more
information over time ¡ª with her
permission, of course!
5. Give and you shall receive.
Customers don't give you their e-mail address
and other personal information out of altruism.
They do it in exchange for something of value.
It could be information (on your Web site,
via e-mail or through some other media), a
free gift, a coupon or a chance to win a sweepstakes.
Be creative, but also follow through by delivering
real value to the recipient with every message.
6. Your list is an asset that only you can
use; do not sell or rent it.
If you want to realize incremental revenue
beyond your own offerings, allow the users
to opt-in to receive offers from your partners.
If you do this, make sure you control the
mailings, and that your brand "introduces"
other brands. Example: "Because you opted
to receive promotional offers from our valued
partners, we at ABC Corp. are pleased to give
you a special offer from XYZ Corp." Ask
the company doing the promotion to give you
an exclusive on the offer for a limited time;
limiting the offer to only your customers
increases the value of opting in.
your Web site.
It reinforces how valuable they are to you
and reminds them that there are real, live
people "behind the scenes" of your
8. Respond to customer e-mail inquiries
9. Don't use rented lists.
The only exception is vendors who use the
method described in No. 6.
10. Always remember the network effect.
Bad news travels much faster than good on
An angry online customer can broadcast his
ire to millions by creating an "I hate
[your company]" Web site, e-mailing the
experience to friends, posting it on message
boards and other ways. Remember, in this economy
the customer is in control. Do not make the
mistake of treating e-mail and the Web like
the telephone and snail mail.