Opting Out of the Opt-In Debate

While the Internet creates unprecedented opportunities for marketers and target audiences alike, issues associated with privacy and unsolicited email (or spam) have developed into what is now known as the opt-in vs. opt-out debate.

Proponents of opt-in tout this solution as the sole means to ensure that spam does not rear its ugly head in their target audience’s inboxes. Others fear its constrictive effect on their outbound marketing campaigns. However, behind this debate lies a simpler, more effective solution for marketers to keep the lid on spam and vanquish it to its deserved spot on the pantry shelf:

  • Deliver precision-targeted messages that seek to share the clear value of email economics with recipients.
  • Leverage the true power of email as a two-way channel.
  • Commit to maintain a dialog with recipients who choose to respond on any topic.

By implementing this solution, spam is simply rendered obsolete, and the opt-in vs. opt-out battle goes away. To understand why, it is important to grasp the true meaning of spam. The problem with spam is not that it is unsolicited, but that it clutters your inbox with random information that has no relevance to your needs and interests.

Therefore, looking at the root of the problem, the solution does not occur via soliciting marketing campaign participation through strict opt-in policies. Rather, it exists through initiating a focused one-to-one dialog with each member of a target audience on a continual basis. By engaging in this two-way exchange and offering opt-out options along the way, marketers place the onus on themselves to maintain the customer’s attention by providing useful and pertinent information.

Consider an analogy:

You’re at a cocktail party where you don’t know a soul. You are enjoying some pate and are pleased to discover the wine is an excellent match. As you pour a second glass you over-hear several people discussing the pate and wonder if you have stumbled on an icebreaker. Your first option is to stand on a table and scream at the top of your lungs, “Who’s tasted the wine and pate?’ You will likely discover that you annoy more people than you intrigue, and most likely, you won’t be on next year’s guest list.

Now consider a second option, and though it is seemingly obvious, it is one that often goes unpracticed. As you mingle, notice who is eating the pate and strike up a conversation about its compatibility with the wine. Now, in addition to having met someone who will share the wine with you, you have made a new acquaintance and provided some useful information. You may even become friends, and the next time you see this person, he or she may ask you for other wine selections, or perhaps for your opinion on another matter altogether. In addition, you haven’t been stymied by waiting for “permission” to strike up a conversation.

While this example deals with initiating a social dialog, the comparison with marketers and their target audiences is clear. By understanding the importance of a common point of interest, marketers often must look no further than their existing databases or their partners’ databases to develop responsible email based marketing campaigns. New technology can leverage existing information such as a customer’s name and their company information to generate a probable email address with a highly successful delivery rate. The focus is on existing relationships, and a common point of interest is already assured.

Looking at a world class publisher of business and management related content provides another example. This publisher needed to cross-sell new media such as CD-ROM and video to top executives who rarely open their own mail. Using email to get the attention of this group made the most sense, as this is the preferred channel of most CEOs today. This audience, however, has little tolerance for interruptions, for untargeted information or for extra steps to take advantage of the offer. The publisher implemented an email campaign featuring a highly targeted and relevant offer. By addressing the unique interests of each CEO and by providing a simple response mechanism (simply typing yes in a reply email), the program resulted in response rates and a return on investment that dramatically out-performed postal, fax and “transfer to a web site” solutions, with exceptionally low opt-out rates.

This two-way targeted philosophy holds true with business to consumer companies as well. A leading online music community that sells compact discs and music related materials faced fierce competition. Looking for new ways to acquire customers and drive purchase behavior, the company went to a direct response email and web-based delivery system. Operating from its marketing partner’s files of “known interest” audiences, the company produced a campaign that covered hundreds of thousands of email addresses in a 48 hour period, delivering exceptional response rates and driving down the cost of acquiring new customers.

An essential supporting attribute of both of these scenarios is the treatment of email as an effective two-way channel. Both campaigns initiated a dialog with their target audiences based on a known point of interest. In both situations the goal was an ongoing, two-way relationship with opt-out mechanisms depending upon each person’s changing interests.

The web’s killer app. Who hasn’t heard email referred to as such? The idea of a low-cost delivery channel with vast reach is a marketer’s dream.

But few have taken this reality to its furthest point. Email is much more than a low-cost delivery mechanism. It is an opportunity for marketers to engage an individual in an ongoing dialog, challenging one-to-one marketing to meet the promise of its name. Through this dialog, businesses can offer valuable information that pertains to each person’s known needs and interests, driving amazing quadruple digit ROI, and actually increasing brand affinity. And by capitalizing on email’s truly interactive nature, marketers can help remove spam from their menu of concerns.

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