Elayne Whitfield, BA, MVA ~ VA Industry ExpertSubscribe Now

Permission Marketing: How to Market Ethically Through Email

Permission Marketing - How to Market Ethically Through eMailMarketing in general often raises ethical questions and subjective interpretations of what is right and wrong. From online marketing to face-to-face and traditional direct mail marketing; advertisers, businesses, and marketers have always had to walk a relatively clear, well-defined line. On one side: ethical business -- opt-in lists that let people opt out just as easily, buyer-friendly sales tactics, generous return policies, and a desire to build trust. On the other: unethical business -- aggressive marketing, unfriendly tactics, and a short-term business mindset.

While marketers are often branded as the latter, most are very ethical and buyer-focused. Marketing depends on repeat business, and the most effective online businesses know that satisfied customers, clients, and participants are exactly what they need to ensure that customers return to them in the future. Returning customers spend money, are very easy to deal with, and are often the most profitable and valuable customers available. Rather than focusing on the short-term, most smart marketers are intensely focused on the long-term potential of establishing customers who will keep coming back to them.

Email marketing is one of the most popular and trusted forms of online marketing but it, too, draws the same kind of ethical questions. Spam is a major problem online and it hurts responsible email marketers more than anyone else. Just like short-term offers and unfriendly tactics hurt the rest of the marketing and direct sales world, massive spam marketing efforts have affected legitimate email marketers more than they have the spammers.

When Email Marketing Becomes Spam

The word ‘spam’ gets thrown around so often that it’s easy to lose track of what it actually means. Spam is not sending targeted messages to interested buyers, but rather it is sending too many emails to too many people who never asked to be contacted. Unfortunately, many email marketers overestimate the value of their email updates and cross over into the latter category. This short-term focus might lead to rapid sales and quick product uptake, but it leaves little in terms of long-term potential and establishing a reputable brand name.

How to Market Ethically Through Email

Provide value, don’t just offer what your business is selling. Whether you are providing tips and advice through email or merely interesting content, you have an obligation to provide value to your prospective customers before you expect it from them.  Marketing guru Seth Godin is fond of a specific term, one that he coined himself. He calls effective email marketing “permission marketing” and defines it as marketing that has the audience's permission to be received. Permission marketing is always more effective than its alternatives over time, and is a real boost for return customers, repeat clients, and long-term arrangements.

Why Permission Marketing is Best for Customers and Marketers

Marketers are human. Despite the overwhelming (and somewhat alarming) belief that marketing plans are thought out in a harsh corporate office, most marketing plans are pieced together by people that are just as susceptible to marketing as the audiences they target. Marketing is about trust, and consent is the basis of all trust.

When your email marketing becomes spam, every transaction is temporary and short-term. Customers appear, but they never stay. When your email marketing is based on permission – namely deep and value-providing permission – customers appear and keep appearing. As both a long-term marketing platform and a low-maintenance marketing method, permission email marketing provides more results, less work, and greater returns for your business than any unethical approach can provide.

There’s just something unappealing about the spam approach that cannot be rectified by any amount of other positive business practices. If you want to establish your business and your brand, focus on the long-term and use permission marketing; it will be worth it.