Do we always need explicit permission?
If you had asked me that question a few weeks ago, my answer would have been, "Yes, always." As with most of my colleagues in the email marketing industry, I feel strongly that permission is at the core of email.
That being said, some recent events -- conversations as well as personal experiences -- have caused me to pause and reevaluate permission.
(For those who know me, you may be saying, "Is this really DJ Waldow writing this?" I assure you, it's me!)
Allow me to explain.
In July, I wrote an article titled "Assumptions And Opt-Out: A Deadly Combination," in which I talked about an email I received from KSL, Salt Lake City's mega-media company. I dissected the opt-out email I received from KSL, discussing the "many reasons why this was a poor decision by KSL.com". Looking back, I was pretty harsh. Five months, several insightful conversations, and a few purchases from KSL emails later, I'm changing my tune -- slightly.
Earlier this month, while at the Email Insider Summit in Park City, Utah, I joined a roundtable discussion led by Brian Westnedge of ReturnPath. When I sat down, the group was deep into a conversation about permission and deliverability with (ready for this?), Daniel Coburn, the director of operation and support at Deseret Digital Media (aka KSL). Daniel was talking about the very campaign I'd back in the July article! To Daniel's credit, he took the criticism head on and even clarified a few points. I sent him a link to the article and he commented publicly.
Take a minute to read Daniel's comments. I'll wait. [Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.] Okay, now that you're back, let's review what Daniel wrote. He said "everyone on the list...were marked as 'allow us to send you emails' and it was not a hidden option ... [users] had signed up for an account with allow us checked, and had verified their account."
I stand corrected. Armed with this clarification, I would agree that this email was not really an opt-out. It was, in the sense that the company wrote, "If you do not wish to receive our new deals just click this link to Unsubscribe." However, I did have a KSL account. I had checked the "allow us to send email" box. I had verified my account. I had opted in. The challenge for KSL was the time lag between when I opted in and when the company that first email. As Daniel mentions in his comments, "instead of assuming everyone on a sizeable list would want to receive the emails we decided it was best to say, 'Hey you are already on our list, and we are going to start using it, are you sure this is what you signed up for?'"
If KSL had to do it all over again, I would suggest that the company should have been sending emails from the moment permission to email (opt-in) was granted. Establish a relationship, build trust, and provide value to subscribers. I think KSL might have bumped into fewer deliverability issues had it been sending from day one.
Here's another thing to consider. Even though I was bothered enough by this email from KSL to dedicate an entire article to it, I never unsubscribed. Why? Part of me was actually interested in what the company would be sending me. I was sold on the value. So I waited. I started getting daily emails from KSL. Following the Groupon model, KSL sends daily emails with really good (local) offers. I've even purchased a few.
That brings me back to the original question: Do we always need explicit permission?
My new reply is: "Not always."
Where do you stand?