Is Transparency The New Permission?

For years, email marketing has been one of the few permission marketing channels.  Of course, there will always be those direct marketers who choose to leverage the email channel without permission.  These programs are doomed to suffer everything from disengagement to actual fines and legal persecution. 

Permission sits at the core of why email delivers such a high ROI as a direct marketing channel -- consumers raise their hands and volunteer to engage with your program, expressing interest and loyalty in exchange for.... what?  When a consumer gives a brand permission to communicate with them over the email channel, what do they expect in return?  The answer to that question varies by industry and subscriber, but in general they are seeking content that is editorial, promotional or transactional. 



As we look at the growing number of unengaged email subscribers (those members of an email database that no longer open or click on the messages they receive), we should consider "transparency" as a critical component of permission as we move into 2011.

Transparency exists when a brand clearly articulates to the subscriber (1) what they will be sending them; (2) the intent of the communications they send; (3) and how they will track and leverage the data collected within the program.  Increasing transparency increases trust and engagement over time.  Decreasing transparency decreases trust and overall program effectiveness.  Consider your email programs and how transparent they really are.


What you will be sending. In most cases, the email subscription process does not spell out all the communications subscribers are signing up to receive.  Remember, subscribers usually opt in for editorial, transactional or promotional content.  If you plan on sending all three types of messages, regardless of why the original subscription occurs, you had better alert your subscriber.  The consumer will be much more forgiving (and likely to engage) if you make them aware of your future plans for email cadence.  Welcome programs are essential to provide this level of transparency.  Show subscribers examples of emails they will be receiving.  Include ALL of the communications that may hit the subscriber's inbox; don't be shy.  Emails communications should be anticipated and expected.  Transparency should eliminate surprises.

The Purpose of the Communication:  I am a firm believer in extending transparency to include the business objective of the communication.  Brand marketers have a number of key performance indicators that are tied to email campaigns: site traffic, brand impression, sales, etc.  Make the objectives of your program clear to your audience. After all, the more effective the communication is at achieving your goals, the more likely you are as a marketer to invest in content and offers for your subscribers.  Transparency of purpose recruits your recipients to help you achieve your goal.  Groupon's programs are an excellent example of transparency of purpose.  Each program essentially details the following:  "We need to sell stuff, we need to sell a lot of the stuff -- in fact, we will tell you how many we need to sell, and if you help us get there, you get the deal. If not, all bets are off. "  Each recipient becomes an affiliate for the business. 

Many marketers have already embraced transparency in what they will send and why they send it, but few have opened up the kimono to share with clients what data they track and how they use this data.  As many readers of this blog know, there is much ado about privacy swirling around online marketing.  Why not be transparent with our subscribers regarding what we track, and why? After all, most sophisticated email marketers track data and engagement to facilitate more relevant and valuable communications with their subscribers. 

At this week's MediaPost Email Insider Summit, a debate raged around the reason for consumer privacy concerns.  My takeaway was that consumers simply do not understand what we track, why we track it and how it benefits them.  If they did, they would be more open and trusting. 

So how about this: as brands build preference centers where subscribers can provide data, why not present tracking data back to them?  Imagine logging into a preference center and seeing how many times you opened an email, browsed a site or made a purchase.  Take it a step further and show the consumer what segments they are in based on this tracking data, and allow them to correct or adjust these inferences.  Preference centers should be bi-directional.  The result of this fundamental shift and commitment to transparency would drive increased use of preference options and open the relationship between brand and subscriber.

Transparency does not have to be complicated. Start with more details in your subscription process and consider pulling back the curtains over time.  Bottom line is that your subscribers need to trust you and anything you can do to foster that trust provides for the protection of a very valuable asset - your email subscribers and brand advocates.

4 comments about "Is Transparency The New Permission?".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, December 9, 2010 at 12:57 p.m.

    Excellent article with fresh perspective on a word that's rapidly getting loaded with all sorts of extra connotations these days.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 9, 2010 at 1:36 p.m.

    Example: I ordered something for a friend for her holiday gift. Now I am being sent at least one email per day from that company which does promote heavily in many other places. As soon as I know she receives her gift and I am billed correctly, unsubscribe will be the first thing I do. Talk about data.

  3. Darrin Searancke from Halifax Chronicle Herald, December 9, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

    Great article, Ryan. Already started the discussion about how we can add value and retain members on our list/increase opt-in for our company e-mail campaigns. Thanks for the ideas.

  4. Ryan Clark from Silverpop, December 9, 2010 at 2:57 p.m.

    Great point Ryan- as we build more intelligence into how we segment, why not allow them to "self-medicate their content" (yes, I have already trade-marked that phrase) opening up the targeting and predictive process.

    The only potential downside is for the marketers that will have to carefully navigate what they call their segments. Some people may not feel flattered by how they are grouped under certain categories.

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