email marketingMy opinion is that when it comes to marketing communications, particularly email marketing, it’s always better to ask!

Permission-based marketing is simply the process where your customers actively sign-up or opt-in to receive your marketing communications. It is most frequently referred to relation to email marketing.

Email marketing is a very cost-effective marketing technique when done well but has the capacity to alienate your customer base and create a negative effect for your brand, if done badly. And it often is!

Since 11 December 2003, in the UK, an opt-in* is required for all email marketing to consumers, under The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003. And a permission-based marketing approach is a must-have for any reputable company and failure to follow best practice can land you in ‘hot water’ with a large fine for failure to comply with the above regulations.

* All end consumers (non-businesses) must be able to opt-in to your email communications. The ‘soft opt-in’ applies if they are already your customer and you are sending related products/services (treat this with the privilege it deserves). Be aware that sole traders/LLPs are viewed as consumers. Businesses can be sent unsolicited emails but it is likely to damage your brand if abused!

Many organisations still seem reluctant to be open and honest with their customers about their personal data and how it will be used for marketing purposes. Honesty is always the best policy.

Here are 5 top tips for effective permission-based email marketing:

1. Send email only to those who have “opted-in”
Ideally, you should use the double or confirmed opt-in, where a confirmation email message is sent to the subscriber, who in turn must reply to the message for the opt-in to be activated. You must earn your customer’s trust and respect – sending them unsolicited emails just doesn’t do this.

2. Always respect the opt-out
An opt-out shouldn’t be viewed as a negative and something to circumnavigate or avoid at all costs. A customer may opt-out for many reasons and may choose to opt-in again in the future. Respect their wishes and they’re more likely to return in the future. It’s important to make the unsubscribe a simple process and you must include a link in every message that allows the user to opt-out easily. You often see a “reply to unsubscribe” message but these do not always work if the user has multiple email accounts and are less trusted. Preferably, use an email system, like MailChimp, Constant Contact or iContact, which manages this for you and provides unsubscribe links in their standardised email templates.

3. Allow users to express themselves
What kind of information do they want to receive? How frequently? Encourage them to give you as much information as you need to enable you to tailor and target your marketing. This means they will receive information of value to them. Make sure you deliver value in every email communication. If you haven’t got anything of value to say, don’t just send it because it’s time for your monthly email newsletter or you haven’t done anything for a while. Profile, target and plan a proper email contact strategy.

4. Never rent lists, build your own quality in-house
The quality of bought in lists is very variable and often extremely poor. Utilise your own customer data and build your list in-house. Utilise your website and offline communications to gather your database. Use every opportunity to build your own to enable you to market your business effectively.

5. Value the Privacy Policy
Every business should be open about the data it collects and should have a visible Privacy Policy. Make a clear and proud statement of your compliance with the DPA and how you intend to collect, store and use their data. It reinforces how valuable your customers are to your business.

Would you waste time, energy and money sending personal emails to complete strangers? No, so it’s essential to ensure your email marketing applies these common sense principles.