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How to Use Permission-based Email Marketing to Your Advantage in a GDPR world?  

Marketers yearn for getting a foot into the door. Let’s admit it, all we want is attention (and great engagement rates). Don’t we? 

If not for the privacy concerns, spammy marketing tactics would still be popular.  

But that’s not what you want your brand to be known for. 

Today permission marketing is the norm. The term permission marketing was coined by Seth Godin for the first time in his book, Permission Marketing

Seth mentioned how people just want relevant info to reach them and how you can turn strangers into loyal fans In the simplest sense, permission marketing is when the user gives you the willful consent to reach out for marketing. 

According to Seth, permission marketing is a lot like dating. You spend some time with a girl before proposing to them for marriage. Just like dating, permission marketing has some ground rules. In this blog, let’s see how you can shift to the permission-based marketing approach with your email campaigns. 

Permissions in email marketing

Permission-based email marketing works on a simple principle — you can’t coerce someone to hear you out. As a marketer, you can’t be begging, threatening, or forcing anyone to give you their email address. Neither you can send them emails without their consent. 

No one likes unsolicited advice (or an email) in 2022. You can’t barge into anyone’s personal space, including their inbox, without their permission. 

Not that this is a new concept — Seth wrote the book in 1999 — but people are still not serious about “permissions”, yet. 

But with privacy laws like GDPR, getting permissions before emailing anyone isn’t a luxury anymore. So, what should you do to turn your efforts into permission-first email marketing? 

In his book, Seth explained how permission-based email marketing revolves around sending anticipated, personalized, and relevant emails to those who want to read them.  

  • Anticipation: Your email should be anticipated by the receiver. They should be waiting for the info to come to their inbox and not be surprised, startled, or shocked by an unsolicited email out-of-the-blue. 
  • Personalization: All emails should be mandatorily personal. Your email should talk directly to the reader and be relatable. Mass-market promotional emails don’t qualify under permission marketing tactics.  
  • Relevance: Emails should be relevant to your reader. It should talk about the things they care about (and want solutions for). Also, the reader should be actively interested in reading the email. 

How to add the essence of all these into your email marketing workflow? Let’s have a look:

  • You ask people to learn more about your product by giving you their email in return for something (lead magnet) without restricting them (or forcing them to opt-in) — Anticipation.
  • You start reaching out to those who agree to hear you out via personalized and relevant emails — Personalization and Relevance 
  • You nurture those subscribers, build a relationship, and convert a few into paying customers to grow your sales revenues — Anticipation, Personalization, and Relevance.

If your email marketing workflow works this way, you’re already doing great. Your subscribers are always interested in hearing more about your product and services. 

The idea of gaming your way through permissions might sound exciting at first, but you’d have to do everything slowly and methodically. Permission marketing is a game of patience and humility. There are no shortcuts and you can’t expect results instantly. 

Types of permissions in email marketing

All permissions aren’t equal in the world of email marketing. 

Before you move ahead, let’s have a quick look at types of permissions, as mentioned by Seth Godin in his book. 

  • Permission due to personal relationship: When the person has some kind of personal relationship with you (or one of your employees).
  • Situational permission: When someone allows you to contact them, though they don’t know you or have any confidence in your brand (particularly when they just want to download your lead magnet)  
  • Permission for giveaways: When customers give you permission for occasional promotions, giveaways, etc. 
  • Implicit permission: Permission you get from your existing customers after making a purchase or subscribing to your services to reach out for updates. 
  • Brand confidence (Explicit permission): When someone expresses interest in hearing from you willfully and allows you to keep contacting them. 

What kind of permission should you have? 

“I have an opt-in form on my website. I send campaigns to everyone who fills out the form. Isn’t it enough?” 

Sadly, permission-based marketing doesn’t work that way. You can’t just keep emailing everyone who contacted you (or someone who filled out a form) via your website.

If you’re serious about permission marketing, you should focus on building brand confidence and have them express permission. Everyone you email should have clearly given you explicit permission to send them marketing emails.

Why should you care about permission marketing more than ever in 2022?

Marketers have been sending emails ever since the dot com boom. Even Seth Godin acknowledges that he started a “spam fest” with the idea of commercial email marketing. 

In 2022, you can no longer do this anymore.

2022 is all about privacy and permission marketing isn’t as simple as it seems. The rules are too granular and specific. 

Remember the Facebook data privacy debate and the ensuing debacle? You don’t want to get into such a problem. Do you? 

Europe enforced GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in 2018, and if you haven’t adopted GDPR compliance, maybe it’s time. The law deals with how personal information is handled by companies and wants you to cover everything permission marketing as a concept underlines. 

GDPR clearly states that every business (even the ones not located in the EU) needs to have clear, explicit consent from users before sending them an email campaign. 

What does this mean for your campaigns? Check out the example below. 

Unchecked Boxes = GDPR Compliant Opt-in Form. Source: iubenda 

The form on the left is the best example of implementing “explicit permission” while the right form is not. The difference — a pre-ticked box that permits you to send marketing newsletters. GDPR clearly states that the user should act on his behalf to give permission. 

Also, GDPR compliance isn’t just mandatory for EU businesses anymore. The regulation’s purview is global and if even a single one of your subscribers (or customers) happens to be in the EU at the time he/she visits your website, you need to comply. And the problem with that? 

Non-compliance can lead to heavy fines. 

Breaking GDPR guidelines can result in fines up to €20 million or 4% of your company’s annual turnover. Not a price to pay for an email campaign. Right? 

GDPR came after a strong outcry about the need for privacy laws and was followed by similar privacy rules, regulations, and laws all around the world (CCPA, DCIA, PDPB, etc.). Today, every country needs you to have explicit (and express) permission legally or face fines, litigation, and even more. 

Many big players (and even regional businesses) have been fined by the authorities for GDPR violations (including permissionless, unsolicited communications) in the recent past. 

Recent GDPR violations and fines:

  • Amazon: £636m 
  • WhatsApp: €225 mn
  • H&M:  €35 million 
  • TIM: €27.8 million 
  • Austrian Post: €9 million 

How to get permission for email marketing without losing leads? 

Running email campaigns without having explicit permission isn’t worth the risk considering the fines.  

But, won’t it take more time (and effort) to get explicit permissions? 

Luckily, there are a few ways and best practices to get express permissions for email campaigns without wasting time (or being vulnerable to violations). These tactics would help you stay compliant and take the right steps in the direction of permission-based marketing. 

1. Use GDPR-compliant opt-in forms

According to Article 4(11) of the GDPR

“Consent of the data subject means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her”.

The regulation further states that consent should be given as a “clear affirmative act”. The user’s action should depict that he/she has given informed and unambiguous consent. The guidelines state that the consent can be portrayed by “ticking a box” on a website or choosing specific settings for information services.

What does this mean for your campaign? 

Your opt-in form should have a separate opt-in box to get consent (permission) from your subscribers. Then only you are ethically (and legally) allowed to reach out for promotions and marketing. 

Gone are the days of “pre-checked” boxes — that isn’t really GDPR-compliant. 

Here’s an example of a GDPR compliant opt-in form for your website, newsletters, and lead magnets.  

Unticked consent boxes are the way forward. Source: Hellobar

Notice how the opt-in form has two separate statements with unchecked boxes. Such a clear (and express) opt-in action on the part of users helps you take the first step towards permission marketing. 

Here’s a small checklist to ensure your forms are GDPR-compliant moving forward: 

  • Use clear and concise copy 
  • Ask consent separately for each purpose (one for sign up, another for receiving marketing emails, other to be in an email list, and so on) 
  • Never use pre-ticked boxes (the user should make an active effort to opt-in) 
  • Request to opt-in should be separate from the T&C checkbox 
  • Inform the users that they’re free to opt-out anytime they want
  • Have a framework to allow users to refuse to consent (don’t make checkboxes mandatory) 
  • Briefly explain how their data will be stored/used and why their data is needed
  • Use age verification measures in case your target audience is children
  • Add a link to your privacy policy on opt-in forms 

2. Use Double opt-in for your email audience 

We all are not new to double opt-in for emails. But did you know double opt-ins can keep you compliant with GDPR policies?

Double opt-in means that all new subscribers would get a follow-up email immediately (and automatically) after they sign up. The email would ask them to verify their email ID and give explicit consent to receive further emails. 

Encharge allows you to set up automated flows for double opt-ins, ensure GDPR compliance, and move forward with permission-based email marketing. 

Discover how you can automate double opt-ins with Encharge

Double opt-in adds highly-interested leads to your audience, boost deliverability rates, and help you drive more sales too (as users are interested to hear from you). 

But won’t the extra step decrease the chances of growing my email list? 

Andrea Bosoni from Zero to Marketing shared his experience with double opt-in: 

Like Andrea shared, clever copywriting can make extra opt-in action unmissable for the users. 

This will help you get express permission to contact them in the future. Not to point out that all this will increase your domain credibility — fewer chances of finding your emails into the promotions tab or worse the Spam folder. 

Best practices for adopting a permission-first approach (and improving engagement) 

When you’re reaching out to thousands (and sometimes more) subscribers via email, challenges related to deliverability, open rates, unsubscriptions, and more can keep haunting you time and again. 

With some smart tactics and best practices, you can win the ‘permissions’ race once and for all. Here are a few: 

  • Don’t make unsubscribing hard 
  • Segment your audience 
  • Ask them to opt-in (or out) based on their preferences 
  • Check-in with your cold subscribers now and then 
  • Use only one CTA per email 
  • Apply the 70/30 rule (70% informative emails: 30% promotional emails) 

Interested to know more? Check out our blog about email marketing best practices

Shift your focus towards permission-based email marketing today

Permission marketing isn’t something new or a problem to frown upon. It’s your best friend to help you improve open rates, deliverability, and audience engagement. 

Don’t just implement permission-based email marketing tactics just to be safe from privacy laws alone. Do it to make your audience more interested in your brand, product and see your sales revenues grow.

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