Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
June 25, 201411:37 PM

The Marketing Of Permission

Have you ever tried to unsubscribe from an email newsletter?

I don't know about you, but I handle multiple personal and business email addresses, and I sign up for a variety of emails (some are retail or business-based sales ones, some are informational e-newsletters, and some of them are email communications from places like banks, mobile operators and the like). More than often, some of these subscriptions wind up offering up my email addy to third parties (either because I asked to see those relevant offerings or because I didn't uncheck a box in a rush to fill out a form). It's funny/sad to me, that Seth Godin's seminal book, Permission Marketing (published in 1999), not only stands the test of time, but serves as a simple/powerful guidebook for all brands. The business book's thesis is simple: get permission to communicate with people. Get explicit permission. What does this mean? Just because you signed up to receive your billing from a company via email, it does not mean that you have given this company explicit permission to communicate anything else (beyond your bill) from them. Still many businesses has been spouting off millions of emails, because they feel that this business contract gives them implied consent to send you stuff (over and above your monthly bill).

Permission isn't cloudy. Permission has become cloudy.

With that, we all know that once your email is somewhat public, there are spiders, engines and more that are crawling the intertubes to build these vast databases. I keep one of my email addresses fairly public and easy to access online, this opens up the floodgates to spam and more than my fair share of unsolicited emails. When things quiet down (usually around Christmas time or this time of the year), I assess my email and unsubscribe from any emails that aren't capturing my attention. This is a problem on many levels, but the main one is this: if I never subscribed to an email in the first place, hitting the unsubscribe button is often a black hat technique that enables the sender of the email to both validate the address and, potentially, sell it with the knowledge that it's a working address. Gross. I know.

Let's put some laws into effect on this, shall we?

Well, it turns out that the Canadian government is doing just that. Lately (as if the constant stream of spam in my inbox was not enough), there has been a non-stop deluge of emails from every organization asking me to opt in to keep receiving emails from this. These notifications are happening because the government in putting in place an anti-spam law (titled CASL - Canadian Anti-Spam Law) that takes hold on July 1st. Businesses are doing their best to ensure that they are on the right side of the law. In its simplistic form: the government is making it essential for every business to get explicit consent to send emails and other marketing messages. In theory, this seems like an amazing thing, but in practice, it makes me long for a time when all I had to do was grapple with spam in my inbox.

The problem with the marketing of permission.

What do you think is happening?

  1. Companies that I hardly want to hear from are now asking for explicit consent. Meaning, if I want to just get my monthly bill from them, their messaging is making it both difficult and unclear if I am signing up for billing, marketing messages or both? From the consumer's side, I would say that the vast amount of these messages are asking for explicit consent across the board. So now, I'm totally uncomfortable, because it's hard to tell what the brand's definition of "explicit" is.
  2. If I don't respond within 48 hours to their initial emails, they have set up triggers to continually email me asking for this consent. I get it. They're nervous. July 1st, is quickly approaching and they don't want to be offside, but I work for a living and simply don't have the energy to respond on command. So, my brand experience is getting increasingly bad. Yes, I'm starting to hate these brands for their constant nagging and filling up of my inbox.
  3. This is a true spammers dream come true. Now, any brand can buy a bunch of email lists or spam everybody claiming  that they already have a relationship with the customer. It's hard to remember what and who I signed up with, and this little push might get me to agree to receiving emails, even though I was never signed up in the first place. If ever there was a free opportunity to make a run at a lot of emails, this is it... and it's clear that many evil brands are going for it (sadly).
  4. Phishing. When I get an email from a brand that I do serious business with, and they're asking for consent or personal information, I always assume that this is some kind of phishing scam. It happens all of the time. Regardless of how credible some of these emails are, I'm betting that there are many unscrupulous businesses that are taking this moment in time to phish for consumer information and data.    

Do the right thing.

If you do any sort of studying about what this anti-spam law truly means, and how to be doing everything above the board, you learn something. You learn that most brands that have followed Permission Marketing or have always asked for explicit consent, and done things with the consumer's best interest in mind, have nothing to fear. The brands that are (and will continue) to struggle with getting this explicit consent are the ones that should make consumers raise an eyebrow. Just because consumers have given an email address at a store to have their receipt emailed to them, or if they have given a business permission to email a monthly bill, it is not a right to send any kind message (marketing or otherwise) beyond that one. Once again, marketers have crossed a line, and one again, the government has stepped in. While this sudden deluge of emails may seem minimal in the grander scheme of things, once again, the customers loses. Why do they lose? Because right now, our inboxes are filled with even more annoying emails thank usual and they continue to pile up.

Do you think that this makes those consumers more interested in communicating with a brand or less?

By Mitch Joel