6 Levels of Permission-Based Email: Marketers Find More Than Six Degrees of Separation Between Double Opt-in and Opt-out Lists
Asked not once, not twice, but three times if they genuinely want to learn more about Lenny Clarke's comedy and other events coming to the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H., more than 28,000 patrons say yes, they really do.
Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of the theater, says during the past seven years, the Palace has been collecting email addresses from ticket holders then verifying their opt-ins twice, "so we'd get it right."
Email notifications sent out to the list also include segmentations, such as the one for Clarke's performance. Two weeks before the comedian took the stage, 7,000 Palace patrons who'd indicated their interest in comedy learned about Clarke's August 2011 performance. Then, a week ahead of time, a smaller listing about Clarke's stand-up reached the full list. Ramsey believes the email efforts have helped make the theater, which had closed its doors a decade ago, become a true success today. Because of the theater's database of valid email addresses, the 900-seat venue can host 180 events a year and is able to attract newsletter sponsors and advertisers.
Ramsey is doing it right, says his email vendor, Elyse Tager. Permission-based email marketing is always the best choice, says the regional development director, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, for Waltham, Mass.-based email marketing software provider Constant Contact.
But where she and other email marketing advisors differ is on whether single- or double-opt in is preferable for conversions. The only outlier appears to be the Welsh government and its proposed organ donation policy—but more on that opt-out discussion later. First, suggestions for permission-based lists come from Tager and:
- Shelly Alvarez, a senior strategic services consultant at New York-based digital technology company PulsePoint;
- Mary Foster, a customer support specialist with Nashville-based email marketing product and service provider Emma;
- Brenna Holmes, director of the interactive department at Arlington, Va.-based direct marketing firm Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey;
- Mike Hotz, associate director of strategic services at San Bruno, Calif.-based email and cross-channel marketing software provider Responsys;
- Pawan J. Mehra, founder and principal at San Francisco-based multicultural marketing agency Améredia;
- Phil Olson, a senior strategist with Wunderman Seattle, a local office of New York-based marketing agency Wunderman;
- Michael Thompson, chief deliverability officer at Boston-based email and cross-channel database marketing services provider ClickSquared; and
- Kara Trivunovic, global director of strategy at StrongMail Agency Services, the agency arm of Redwood City, Calif.-based email and social media marketing software and services provider StrongMail.
1. Getting consumers to opt-in once seems to have the most strenuous backing from these advisors—even from Tager. While the Palace Theatre is a success story, it's true, Ramsey's practice of triple opt-in is a bit much for most organizations, Tager says. "My recommendation is to always use the single opt-in process," she says. "You definitely want to know that there is some level of interest and commitment." As for the extra opt-in, she says: "The double effort can further differentiate your company's credibility and trustworthiness. For most companies and industries, I feel this is overkill, and you run the great risk of losing many potential customers by being too cautious."
"Opt-in. Always," Holmes says. Getting permission twice may be preferable, but asking at least once is a must for marketers whose content management and customer relationship management systems don't allow for email address confirmation messages, she says.
2. Double opt-in, however, is the ideal, say Mehra and Hotz. Consumers who opt-in, then verify that choice are the most engaged and "convert at a much higher rate than single opt-in," Hotz says. He later adds, "I typically recommend the confirmed opt-in approach, as most subscribers are not yet used to looking for a link in their welcome email to confirm their subscription, and your overall subscription rate will be lower due to confirmation abandonment."
Mehra says his agency goes beyond double-opt in when working on multicultural email marketing campaigns for its Philadelphia-based client—media, entertainment and communications company Comcast. "At least once a year, it's good practice to confirm and reinforce opt-ins for increased email effectiveness," he says.
3. Monitor engagement to keep consumers opted in. Olson, who works on both B-to-B and B-to-C programs, says: "High conversion rates are about targeting good content to the right audience—one that has actively opted into receiving your content and shows interest in it by opening/clicking through, at least occasionally. In a nutshell, highly targeted content sent to highly engaged lists results in the highest number of sales."
4. Look for opt-outs within opt-in lists—possibly every six months, Foster says. "Members who have never opened a mailing are telling you that they've all but officially unsubscribed," she says, later adding: "Removing non-opens will allow you to focus on segmenting other levels of inactivity, such as members who are reading, but [are] not actively clicking or otherwise engaged."
5. Recipients' inactivity may signify another necessary action: Data hygiene. Holmes says, based on observation of clients: "Up to 30 percent of email addresses change every year. Update those emails with a change of address confirmation match or, in shorthand, ECOA."
6. An opt-out list is always a bad idea, interviewees agree. More than that, make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe and ask them why they're doing so, Holmes says.
Marketers can also allow subscribers to opt down, Alvarez says. She adds: "For instance, you can offer to change the frequency of your emails or provide them with other types of newsletters or email programs to subscribe to. One company that is doing this well is SpaFinder."
Then there's always the option of regaining the affection of lost customers, Thompson says. "You may want to extend generous offers to win back customers who have defected," he suggests.
While some may debate her on this assertion, Tager says providing consumers with a pre-checked box for opting in to a list is, in practice, placing them on an opt-out list. "Honestly, I never recommend this," she says. "I think you are telegraphing a 'slippery' image with this concept."
None of the advisors commented on what the Welsh government is considering. Granted, it's not an email campaign, but the proposed "presumed consent" rules would mean citizens would automatically become organ donors unless they opted out, according to the BBC. So, similarly, even if marketers think they have the support for an opt-out program and they'll get a lot of customers that way, it just might backfire.
On Jan. 18, Experian CheetahMail took an even stronger stance—doing away, company-wide, with the practice of opt-out email appends.
Hotz says: "Although opt-out may be allowable under Can-Spam, you are asking for an increased number of complaints along with a large group of unengaged 'subscribers' who may not even realize they are a part of your email list."
Trivunovic agrees: "Yes, you will have more email addresses in your database. But if they are all complaining and unengaged, does it really matter? If a tree falls in the woods … right?"