Asking for Permission

For those of you who have been following this space for the debate on appropriate email marketing, we have some good (we think) news for the writer whose question we quoted last week. For those who are newly dialing in, here’s a recap:

    “I understand the ethical dilemma that faces marketers. As a consulting firm, we have generated a very specific list of client names, both current and past. I have been pushing and pushing that we do some sort of targeted email-based marketing program here. I was shocked to find that the firm still uses broadcast fax. Anyway, how do I bridge that gap between sending out an unsolicited email asking for permission and sending spam? It is sort of the chicken or the egg thing, isn’t it? What comes first, the permission? You can’t get the permission until you send the email asking for the permission. What’s a fella to do?”

The good news? In the dozens of answers received and viewpoints expressed, not one writer (not even self-proclaimed spam-haters) argued that the writer was precluded ethically, legally or by rules or etiquette from initially emailing everyone on the client list simply to invite them to join a mailing list. Some writers felt that free information ought to be included or offered in that initial invitation mailing, others suggested that offering a white paper or the like would both improve response and prevent ill-feeling, and many felt that automatically subscribing the clients to any sort of opt-out-required list was irresponsible.

We agree. Although there is no explicit permission for any emailing at all, a cordial and respectful invitation to receive information from a company we have previously done business with is not offensive. We are not saying it might not annoy some, particularly as the unsolicited email problem escalates, but for now, in a B2B context, the practical advice from the very wide range of respondents to last week’s column gave the green light to a single invitation mailing. Better make it a good one, because the same group begins to frown when that single mailing grows into a repeat experience.

Send one good note, with a compelling and enticing offer, and you are still OK.

So take the readers who chose to respond. Although we can’t call it a representative sample of ClickZ readers (and certainly not representative of the universe at large), we got a large enough return to feel we’d heard a cross section of opinions. More focus group than random sampling, we’d say.

Though there were many fine gradations on what individuals approve and disapprove of, (and what readers themselves report being likely to respond to) our respondents clearly accept the inevitability of B2B email when a prior business relationship exists.

Lots of respondents called the issue silly, then proceeded to contradict each other with what they consider appropriate. The only thing we could be sure of after reading the masses of accumulated emails is that this is NOT simple.

One respondent asked that we give up looking for consensus and “pick a new dead-horse to beat.” We’re happy to have some semblance of agreement and think this represents a good time to let the email dilemma go for a while. Next week we’ll jump back to our effort to build a glossary with a discussion of the confusion that exists on personalization and customization.

Let us know what other issues you want to see debated here. We’re always glad to surface the issues that make this new media business tricky to handle.

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