Implied Opt-In: A Useful Permission Marketing Tool or Spam?

Apr 19, 2006 3:32 AM  By

By now most marketers know, and should be using, the commonly accepted protocols for obtaining permission from prospects and customers to send them commercial e-mail. Many of these previously well-established and common sense rules have in fact been mandated by the federal Can-Spam Act of 2003.

The process goes something like this:

• A person notices some kind of marketing offer, be it online or off, that requires a response to an online landing page where contact information is requested in exchange for the offer. If the site visitor thinks the value exchange of contact information for offer fulfillment is “in balance,” he will complete and submit a response form.

• Included on the response form is the request to continue to send marketing e-mail to those who submit the form. Unless the offer is specifically for a subscription to some form of continuing e-mail communications such as an e-newsletter or a specific condition for fulfillment such as a sweepstakes entry, this request usually takes the form of one or more questions with check boxes or radio buttons provided for “yes” or “no” answers. (The accepted protocol is to not preselect these buttons.)

• Submission of the response form, with any “yes” boxes checked, means that the person has opted in, or agreed to receive further marketing e-mail that conforms to the type described in the form. This submission should be verified by a “welcome” e-mail acknowledging the opt-in, restating your e-mail address and mailing frequency, and explaining the procedure to voluntarily unsubscribe, if so desired. This is called a single opt-in process. You can take it a step further by asking for verification of the opt-in with a response to the “welcome” e-mail; this is called a double opt-in. There are pros and cons to either approach, but the major negative to a double opt-in is that, by requiring another action from the new prospect, response is likely to decline.

This is the way reputable (and lawful) marketers build their lists of people who have given permission to receive marketing e-mail. It’s the same for business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketers alike. It is called permission marketing and is the proven best way to communicate with both prospects and customers on the Internet. But it all starts with obtaining permission to communicate by e-mail.

But let’s look at another situation that is not uncommon to b-to-b marketers.

For this article, let’s say that Evelyn Bennett, the marketing vice president of MedEtech, a midmarket b-to-b healthcare technology company, has relied on traditional marketing channels to develop leads and retain existing customers. She has a heavy trade-show schedule, participates in events and seminars, advertises in relevant trade publications, and runs one or more direct mail campaigns quarterly. Of course the company has a Website, but collateral fulfillment is mainly paper-based.

Evelyn has noticed that her group has accumulated a fairly substantial number of e-mail addresses, many on business cards, as a result of their marketing communications activities. E-mail addresses have also been generated from the “contact us” form on the company Website, as well as having been supplied by existing customers. Moreover, the sales organization has been collecting e-mail addresses from their lead-generation activities. So far, though, the marketing department hasn’t done much with these e-mail addresses.

Evelyn has explored ways to migrate some of her marketing activities online and has looked at marketing automation and e-mail marketing software and services providers to possibly provide this capability. She decides to start with an e-mail marketing services provider (ESP) because she is not sure that she could justify the cost of a marketing automation application.

An obvious choice is for a pilot program that would be an e-newsletter to nurture new leads and help move them through the sales pipeline. The e-newsletter would also help the company retain contact with their existing customers by providing them with relevant information useful in doing their jobs, thereby supporting the company’s reputation as a trusted adviser on matters related to healthcare technology. Evelyn obtains approval to purchase a subscription from the ESP she had selected and to demonstrate its viability with an e-newsletter pilot project.

She decides on a two-track plan for the pilot project. While developing the content and creative for the e-newsletter, she will also work on building a list of subscribers. Evelyn wants to make use of the corporate Website to obtain subscribers to the e-newsletter, so she has the Web design team make and place a banner on places in the site likely to attract the attention of healthcare technology professionals. These banners are linked to a landing page describing the e-newsletter and containing a subscription form. She configures this landing page for search engine optimization. She also researches renting lists of e-mail addresses of healthcare technology professionals who have subscribed to similar online publications but decides to hold off on this step.

When Evelyn has compiled all the e-mail addresses accumulated from her previous marketing activities, she sees that she has 10,000 names and addresses in what is now her house list. These are definitely the people with whom she wants to communicate the most. But she has learned that she must have their permission to receive her e-mail marketing program’s communications. She runs the numbers of what she could expect from a traditional single opt-in subscription campaign.

Based on industry response levels, she thinks that she could get a click-to-conversion rate of about 30%. This means that she could expect to subscribe about 3,000 of the individuals on her house list from the first mailing of her e-mail subscription offer. She had also learned that, if the response from the first e-mail is good, she’d be wise to resend the slightly modified offer to nonresponders about a month later and to expect a slightly lesser response—let’s say about 25%. A third try a month after that should yield her another 20% of the remaining holdouts. This means that she could probably expect to subscribe about 5,800 of her prime contacts for her initial e-marketing program in about three months. While this would be faster than collecting the e-mail addresses of the “walk-ins” from the Website, she wouldn’t be able to start building the relationships that she envisioned with the other 4,200 contacts in her house list.

Evelyn had heard about another strategy called implied opt-in. This strategy is based on the assumption that since people have given her their e-mail addresses, she has permission to send them at least one e-mail. And if she says in it that she would like to follow up that e-mail with further marketing communications of a specific kind unless they objected, then she has obtained their permission to continue. Some of you may consider this to be a gray area of permission marketing, and others will consider it to be a useful tool to be used in certain situations. Because of the upside potential to quickly start communicating with the vast majority of the important contacts in her house list of e-mail addresses, Evelyn was in the latter camp.

She carefully crafted the implied opt-in subscription offer:

From: Evelyn Bennett [ebennett@medetech.com]
Sent: Tuesday, July 19, 2006 4:57 PM
To: page@jpdassoc.com
Subject: MedEtech eNews – An e-newsletter for the Healthcare Technology Professional

MedEtech eNews – An e-newsletter for the Healthcare Technology Professional

July 20, 2006

Dear Page,

Because of your past relationship with MedEtech Inc, a healthcare technology firm in Cambridge, MA, you have been given a complimentary subscription to MedEtech eNews.

MedEtech eNews is a quarterly e-newsletter for healthcare technology professionals concerned with new technology and related matters. In each issue we will bring you the latest industry news plus insightful commentary that will aid you in doing your job.

For example, our next issue of MedEtech eNews will feature:

• Industry News – The latest from healthcare industry trade organizations, shows and conferences.
• Government Highlights – A legislative update on both what’s been passed and what’s pending in the healthcare field.
• New Technology – Snapshots of what’s on the horizon in our industry from industry pundits and insight from MedEtech professionals.
• Ask MedEtech – Relevant questions from our customers that are answered by our healthcare technology experts – and the opportunity to ask questions of your own.

You may not have the time to stay current with everything that’s happening in the world of healthcare technology. Let us do it for you with MedEtech eNews. We’ll make sure that you don’t get left behind.

Remember, you already have your own complimentary subscription to MedEtech eNews. You don’t have to do anything else to receive it each quarter. However, if you don’t want to receive your personal copy of MedEtech eNews, just let us know by replying to this e-mail.

We are sure you will enjoy reading MedEtech eNews, and will be able to put its timely information to good use.

Sincerely,

Evelyn Bennett, Vice President

(Footer containing CANSPAM-required information)

The results (taken from an actual but unnamed project):

• 98% deliverability. About 200 addresses were not delivered, split almost evenly among fails, hard bounces, and soft bounces. The fails were checked for typos in the address, corrected, and resent along with the soft bounces. Hard bounces and repeated soft bounces were removed from the list. (Note: There was no knowledge of what went into ISP and company cpam folders.)

• 70% unique opens. All of the e-mail was in HTML format, and the ESP had the capability to identify the almost 7,000 contacts that opened their e-mail subscription offers.

• 0.5% opt-outs. Only 49 opt-out replies were received.

• 2% other responses. Surprisingly almost 200 people responded saying that they were looking forward to receiving MedEtech eNews, with many of them asking how they could recommend a friend for a complimentary subscription.

Under certain conditions, I believe a strong case can be made for using an implied opt-in strategy:

• Implied opt-in is better suited, perhaps even exclusively suited, for b-to-b e-mail follow-ups to people who have supplied their e-mail addresses in the course of an offline business-related contact. They are almost always looking for relevant and useful online content. On the other hand, consumers who are still being bombarded with spam are likely to opt out in large numbers. Even worse, they could issue spam complaints to their ISPs or one of the blacklists if you follow up with the e-newsletter after not hearing back from them.

• When migrating a customer or prospect list from offline to online, implied opt-in is the fastest way to get the majority of your contacts in sync with your e-marketing initiatives.

• Implied 0pt-in should be used only once and for an initial marketing e-mail, with further marketing program offers incorporating either a single or double opt-in process. Be sure to offer something that will be perceived as valuable. Don’t waste your one-time opportunity.

It worked for Evelyn Bennett, and, under the right circumstances, it can be a very useful strategy for you as well.

Page Duffy is the principal consultant with JPD Associates (www.jpdassoc.com), an Internet marketing firm based in Andover, MA.