In this second of our three-part series, The Six Cs of Permission Email Marketing, we continue to define the permission fundamentals by examining the third and fourth dimensions of permission: Clarity and Confidence.

3. Clarity

As a dimension of permission, clarity alone has many aspects. When requesting permission (an "opt-in") for example, first and foremost that very fact should be clear. There are numerous shades of gray here—and, sadly, many online marketers seem to thrive in muddy waters.

Your first step to staying clear is to ensure that your request is exactly that—an obvious yes-or-no choice rather than an assumption of permission.

Too often, marketers asking for tolerance—or forgiveness—claim they are permission marketers. In today's world, forgiveness does not equal permission. Opt-out is not opt-in, and no attempt at reframing it after the fact will make it so.

Take the high road. And if you're planning for 100% permission email, understand that a percentage of your prospects and even your customers will decline your communications. Learn to accept rejection, and instead focus your efforts on those who have voluntarily said "yes."

The remaining dimensions of clarity in permission marketing have more to do with the data gathering process than with the request itself.

  • Can you state, in WIIFM* terms, why someone should provide the data you're asking for? Do you articulate the clear benefit to your audience members when, for example, they provide their company size? ZIP code? Annual income?
  • Is there a special perk or gift you offer when a member provides his/her birthday? Renewal date? Completes a survey?
  • Scrutinize every data element that you request within the permission process; if you can't justify it, leave it for later. Once you've gathered basic contact information, you can always go back for more.

Finally, is it clear what will be sent? In which channels and formats will communications arrive? Postal mail, phone, email? Catalog, direct mail, phone call, e-newsletter? Can you provide examples (either via a link to an e-communication or photo of offline advertising; or through the mail) to create confidence, comfort and credibility?

Remember not only to tell but also to show.

4. Confidence

The fourth dimension of permission email marketing is critical to ensuring that it works, and hinges largely on your credibility. Whether someone will opt in to your communications has a lot to do with how much they trust you and a little to do with how strongly they desire what you have.

Break or abuse that trust, or fail to live up to your promises, and no matter how badly they want or need your product... customers will seek it elsewhere.

What are you doing in your permission processes to ensure your word is good? For starters, disclosing how data will be used and shared is essential. A comprehensive privacy policy typically has a Data Use or Data Security section that addresses such concerns. If you will share or extend permission to a parent company, sister brand, or subsidiary, clearly say so. Better yet, allow your audience members to chose the extent to which their permission and data is shared.

What else can you do to inspire confidence?

If you're gathering and storing highly sensitive or protected data such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, or health/ medical attributes, explain in plain English how you protect such information from being shared, stolen, or abused. Furthermore, explain why it is in your customers' best interests to provide it and/or allow you to store it (convenience?). They'll need to understand how they will personally benefit before they'll surrender security.

Finally, building confidence is a way of doing business, not a one-time job. Creating explanations, examples, and policies is a start; living up to them is what's ultimately important.

* * *

No doubt, permission marketing involves considerable forethought and planning, which is what makes it both more complex and infinitely higher performing than opt-out approaches.

*"What's in it for me."

Next: The final two Cs of Permission Email: Control and Confirmation.

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image of Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder of Synchronicity Marketing, a company specializing in digital marketing training, coaching, and education.