Email Etiquette: Ask Permission First or Forgiveness Later?

By Steve Robinson
Director of National Organizations, Constant Contact

email-marketing-picRemember when you were a kid and your parents told you not to put your hand on the hot stove? Or when you mistakenly went along with the crowd and your parents said, “If all the other kids were jumping off a bridge, would you do it, too?” What if I told you that email marketing is a lot like the hot stove? And just because lots of small business owners send email to customers without their permission, it doesn’t mean you should, too.

Sure, it’s exciting to see your email list grow. It feels like your efforts are paying off and that you’re actually making some headway. But if you add customers without their permission, you might be undoing all of that hard work. Why? There are lots of reasons why it can be bad for your business, and we’ll dig into those, but let’s first consider things from the customer’s point of view.

Picture this: It’s the first thing in the morning. Your customer grabs their phone or flips open their laptop and a hundred or so emails start to download. The steady flow of messages to their inbox goes on all day and your customer’s well-trained brain can’t help but gravitate to a certain email based on interest and priority. If they’re not expecting your email, they’re likely to ignore it. Or worse, they’ll delete it, block you, or report it as spam. 

You might think that if a customer doesn’t want to receive your emails, they’ll simply unsubscribe. Also known as the “sorry, not sorry,” approach to marketing, this can put your reputation at risk. Not to mention that your email provider might be forced to curtail your future marketing activities.

Instead, why not just ask permission first so you can engage your most enthusiastic and active customers. The ones who are going to drive so much more repeat business and word-of-mouth than any cobbled together list could deliver that you’ll wonder why you even thought to reach out to strangers in the first place.

Inspiring Customers To Subscribe

Now you’re probably wondering how you get permission, especially if you do a lot of business online as opposed to face-to-face interactions with customers. The short answer is that you simply ask. When you’re engaging a customer and they’ve had a good experience with your business, ask if they’d be interested in subscribing to your emails. And here’s the important part – you really have to call out what’s in it for them, such as insider deals and valuable, original content. If you lead every conversation and newsletter with the customer in mind, they’re more likely to subscribe and share your content with their friends.

Other ways to inspire customers to subscribe are to add a link in your email signature, include an option in the online order form, post back issues on your website, add in teaser links on your social media pages that lead to your newsletter, and keep a sign up sheet at your receptionist’s desk or cash register.

There seems to be a bit of confusion when it comes to what exactly constitutes permission, let’s clear that up. When a customer makes a purchase or visits your website, this is an opportunity to engage them and, ideally, inspire them to stay connected with you. It doesn’t mean you have permission to add them to your email contact list. You still need to ask, but you can make it easy for them and you by following the tips cited above.

Focus On Your Fans

When you make it easy for interested customers to stay in touch and you continuously provide them with great, original content that’s focused on their needs, you’ll attract those who are most closely aligned with your vision. This frees you up to focus on building closer ties with your most engaged customers as opposed to trying to appeal to the masses. After all, your customers aren’t the only ones with a lot on their to-do list, so why not invest your marketing efforts in the audiences that will drive the greatest return?