Earlier this month, the topic of permission spurred heated debate on Inbox Insiders, an industry discussion group in which I participate. One group argued that explicit, upfront permission is the gold standard and that anything less -- including eAppends -- is unethical. The other group suggested that it should be fine to send an email to someone who has chosen to do business with you and hasn't opted-out of communications.
Putting aside for a moment the questions of ethics or eAppends, the real question seemed to be: "How explicit does permission need to be?"
As responsible marketers, we need to consider first how our customers would like to interact with us. And if we avoid loaded questions about permission and data sharing, we could come up with a pretty good picture of what our customers want based on how our customers behave. And to be clear, we're talking about the average Joe (or Josephine) here. Not the rabid fans who think your brand is the best thing since sliced bread, but the rest of the group that makes up a decent chunk of your sales.
So what would that hypothetical consumer say? Here's a clue:
To all responsible and reputable emailers that I've bought products or services from:
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.
Since I already do business with you, I expect to see some emails that actually relate to what I've bought or maybe searched for or even read/reviewed on your site. But you can also send me random items... eventually something will be of interest. It's your dime (or 0.025 cents or whatever you pay to send me an email).
Don't expect me to open everything - but I'll go back and search for your emails when I am ready to buy. And when I decide you're just not relevant to me -- like Babies 'R' Us now that my kids aren't exactly babies anymore -- I'll just delete your emails or opt-out or hit the "spam" button or something. Whatever is convenient for me.
Of course, if you decide to waste my time by waiting for me to raise my hand and ask you to send me emails, I'll do business with someone who has the guts to send me their best efforts instead of hiding behind silly arguments about the ethics of talking to me in a channel I use daily. For all I know, I already gave you my email address and permission. Or not. I don't care either way. This non-relationship you think we have isn't worth my time or effort unless and until I decide I need something you have. Please remember that in the future, when you're agonizing over whether to send me a message or not.
Sincerely, Your customer
How many of you think it's your customer's responsibility to figure out how to ask you to sell them stuff?