Best Practices for Permission Email

Permission email marketing is one of the most cost-effective tools marketers have ever known. IMT Strategies estimates by year’s end marketers will spend at least $1 billion on permission email marketing programs. This could well be the most cost-effective piece of your e-marketing budget.

When deployed improperly, however, mass-emailing campaigns can damage brand credibility and provokes consumer outrage — if not outright hostility. These highly charged emotional responses evidence the power of email to deeply touch customers.

Based on an email marketing practices survey of 400 email users and 200 marketers, IMT Strategies recommends the following eight best practices for leveraging the potential of permission email while avoiding the pitfalls of spam.

  1. Gain ‘Active Consent’

    Require your customers to clearly opt-in to permission email relationships. In this way, you avoid the potentially damaging ambiguity that opt-out strategies create. What you want to avoid is your customers feeling that they were “tricked into” an “opt-out” relationship.

    Over the long run, opt-in strategies lead to higher response rates and lower overall list management costs, while opt-out strategies lead to lower response rates and higher rates of permission list churn.

  2. Deepen Personalization

    Create more personalized permission email campaigns. Move beyond basic name and address targeting by going deeper into customer profiles to create relevant content, products and offers. This will help you maintain permission list loyalty, improve the “signal to noise” ratio, and increase your response rates.

  3. Recognize Levels of Permission

    Customer permission exists along a continuum. While you should permit customers to opt-out of the marketing relationship with each email message sent, forcing your customers into a strictly “on” or “off” marketing relationship is unnecessarily limiting.

    Modularize your e-marketing offerings. You can, for example, allow your customers to choose among a menu of different email offerings such as a newsletter, discount offers, and product specific updates. Enable your customers to convey specific information about their product interests and frequency sensitivities, and then allow them to select those services which best meet their needs.

  4. Deploy Reminder Services

    More than half of leading marketers IMT Strategies surveyed have already experimented with reminder service and scheduled alert programs, including event reminders (e.g., birthdays), replenishment (e.g., refills, upgrades), and service ticklers (e.g., scheduled maintenance). Our research shows that 33 percent of email users have registered for reminder services.

    Reminder services address current customer needs and shape future customer buying behavior. In sum: Develop scheduled alert services targeting your customers.

  5. Expand Use of Advocacy

    Join the other 50 percent of leading marketers who are experimenting with “wild fire” advocacy marketing programs (a.k.a. “viral marketing”). Leverage the trust that your prospects already have for recommendations from friends about new web sites. Keep in mind that over 75 percent of customers report that they have received online referrals from trusted acquaintances.

    And more importantly, 20 percent of email users we surveyed cited “word of mouth” as their primary means of discovering new web sites, after “search engines” and “random surfing” and well ahead of marketing strategies requiring actual expenditures such as web banners or TV ads.

  6. Adopt Cross Brand/Cross Vendor Programs

    As part of your email marketing practice, pursue co-marketing promotional strategies across brands and with partner companies. Developing these programs allows you to realize higher levels of trust within your core customer communities, reach new customer communities, and create marketing leverage.

    Cross brand and vendor programs also enable you to expand the breadth and value of permission email campaigns by cross-fertilizing permission communities with a broader range of offers, content and solutions.

  7. Measure Performance and Return on Investment

    Identify the overall response rate for a given campaign (e.g., click-through and conversion) and track responses to the level of individual customer profiles so that you can target future campaigns to segments that have exhibited certain buying or response behavior in the past.

    Surprisingly, nearly 70 percent of marketers from our web survey did not measure both click-through and conversion rates from their most recent email campaigns this despite the availability of simple and robust tools for measuring response functions.

  8. Improve “Frequency” Management

    Align the frequency of email contact with your customer’s expectations and needs. Their frequency expectations vary significantly by circumstance, ranging from hourly pollen updates to quarterly big ticket sales solicitations.

    This is of particular importance because customers demand relevant, targeted content and offers in exchange for granting permission. Sustained high volumes of untargeted email communications will cause customers to withdraw their consent to the marketing relationship.

IMT Strategies is an e-business research and advisory service affiliated with META Group. For a free summary of the report, Permission Email: The Future of Direct Marketing, visit

Related reading