“Did you hear the breaking news?” he asked.
This is how my continuing education class started. With a conversation about consent. A group of Realtors catching up on the latest about Cosby, Kavanaugh, and the #MeToo movement.
How appropriate for an email marketing class that begins with an overview of the CAN-SPAM Act. But in email marketing, it’s legal to market to people without permission. You’re simply required to unsubscribe them when they ask. (Well, there’s a little more to it, but that is the gist.)
But I believe it’s time for us to do better. Because giving consent and having our requests respected is important—in sex, in life, and in marketing.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
There are three forms of consent in email marketing.
You add an email address to your list without permission.
You add the email address of someone you know—friend, client, lead—without permission.
You add the email address of an individual to your list who has given you permission.
Let’s talk legalities
Unlike sex, where express consent is the only legal option, permission is not required by law for email marketing in these United States.
This means we can force our marketing on unsuspecting people. Yay us! Sometimes they’re people we don’t know (no consent) whose email addresses are given to us by a trade association or a colleague or obtained through a list rental. And sometimes they’re our clients, colleagues, and friends (implied consent). Either way, we feel like it’s okay to add these people to our email list because they may be interested in our service or we have some sort of relationship with them already.
Emailing without consent or with implied consent may be legal, but is it a good idea?
Another student in my class addressed this question head-on. She’s overwhelmed and upset by the volume of email she receives from her peers—a mix of people she knows and people she’s never met. Her inbox is full of marketing she doesn’t want and it sometimes buries email from people she really wants to hear from, and it’s incredibly frustrating. Email has become such a negative experience for this agent that she’s afraid she may be making her own email recipients feel the same way.
She’s not alone. I belong to two Facebook groups, Lab Coat Agents and Masters in Real Estate, where there have been long threads about this same thing. Everyone hates being added to email lists without express permission. Yet we keep doing it. To each other and to everyone in (and out of) our sphere of influence.
People do mind when we add them to our email list without their express permission, whether we know them or not.
What’s at risk
Your sender reputation is a lot like your credit score. If you have a poor sender reputation, it will impact your ability to deliver campaigns to subscribers’ inboxes.
Numerous factors determine your sender reputation, including but not limited to the following:
- The amount of email you send
- How many recipients mark your emails as spam or otherwise complain to the ISP about your campaigns
- How often your emails hit the ISP’s spam trap
- Your inclusion in different blacklists
- How many of your emails bounce
- How many recipients open, reply to, forward, and delete your messages, as well as click the links inside them
- How many recipients unsubscribe from your email list
If your list contains contacts who did not give consent to receive marketing from you, or contacts you added because consent is implied—your sender reputation is at risk.
People who don’t know you are more likely to mark your email as spam or complain to the ISP, and people who do know you are more likely to delete your campaigns. Neither scenario is good for your sender reputation.
Your sender reputation is an essential part of your email deliverability—the ability to deliver campaigns to subscribers’ inboxes.
When your sender reputation is poor, your campaign may be sent directly to recipients’ spam folders or rejected outright.
Email Service Providers like Mailchimp require permission as part of their terms of service, and, with enough dings to your sender reputation, your email privileges may be revoked. Game over.
Conversely, the better your sender reputation is, the more likely an ISP will deliver your campaigns to your subscribers’ inboxes.
If you’re playing it loose with your sender reputation and email deliverability, it’s likely you’re overlooking important CAN-SPAM requirements—like honoring unsubscribe requests within 10 days.
Violating CAN-SPAM requirements will bust your budget. According to the Federal Trade Commission: “Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to penalties of up to $41,484.”
Yes is always best
Express consent may seem like a real drag when it comes to building your email list, but yes is always best.
- You demonstrate that you value the trust and privacy of your clients, peers, and friends.
- It strengthens your brand because your subscribers want to hear from you. If you’re sending without permission, it may dilute your brand because people may not like your intrusion on their inbox.
- Your sender reputation is better and so is your email deliverability.
- Subscribers interested in what you’re offering will improve your open and click-through rates
- Your unsubscribe and abuse rates will decrease
If you’re like me, at some point in your list building efforts, you’ve probably added people to your email list without their express consent.
Don’t feel guilty.
Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”