Permission based email

Paul Boag

How to use email to promote your products and services without alienating your users

I know it has been said a hundred times but it is worth saying again; email is the ultimate application of the information age! Email has literally transformed the way we communicate and now increasingly is being used as a marketing tool. Below I take a look at the power of email and how it can transform your marketing strategy.

Permission based email vs SPAM

We have all heard of SPAM. It is annoying and intrusive and I believe undermines your company brand. Not that I don’t understand its appeal. In essence it is a numbers game. Send emails to enough people and you will get a percentage return. However I believe that in the long run this is a counter productive approach. I am convinced that permission based emailing is more effective because it generates a high quality of lead. So what exactly do I mean by permission based emails. Well basically permission based emails (or opt-in) means the recipient has expressed an interest in receiving the email and has signed up to do so. The recipient has also been given the opportunity to unsubscribe at anytime.

Creating an effective email

Although opt-in emails do receive a higher response rate than SPAM you can increase this still further by following some simple rules when writing the content for the email:

  • Make sure the subject line is short and informative. People use the subject as a method of filtering their emails so it is important that it is descriptive of the generic content of the email. However don’t forget that it needs to engage the user and encourage them to open the email.
  • People often receive many emails a day and so rarely spend long on each one. Keep your writing to the point and use headings and bullets where appropriate to emphasise key information.
  • Make sure you leave the reader with a call to action. Whether that is to call a number or click on a link. Make it clear what they should do next if they are interested.
  • Where possible make it personal. Emails can often be unfeeling and lacking in emotion. Make sure your content is friendly while not being over familiar. Make sure the from address is a persons address like of a generic address like
  • Because users won’t always read the whole of your email, try to ensure that the key message is summarised in the first paragraph.

HTML or plain text. The big debate

One of the big decisions you have to make is to decide whether your email is going to be in HTML format or plain text. To be honest there is no simple answer to this one, but a good rule of thumb would be that if the recipient is a consumer then they often prefer HTML formatted emails with all the rich media this provides. However corporate, government or technical users often prefer to receive plain text emails. Although I love the richness of HTML emails I am more and more forming the opinion that it is better to play safe with plain text especially now that email clients such as Outlook 2003 and AOL 9 now block HTML email by default.

Response Rates

So what should a good campaign generate in terms of response? Well that is a difficult one to answer and largely depends on the industry you are in and what the demographic of your target audience is. However a good campaign can expect to realise anything between 4% and 20% response rate. It has to be said that unfortunately these figures are dropping as more and more companies realise the potential of opt-in email.

Trying different approaches

It is always a good idea to try different messages before you do your full mailing. Take 3 different messages with different content and maybe different formats (HTML or plain text) and send these to a small subset of your whole list (say 10%). Monitor the results and use that to decide which message was the most effective. Although this does slow down the process slightly, it is well worth it because it can have a significant effect on achieved response rates.

Entry points

Whenever you do a mail out that encourages people to visit your website, it is always a good idea to create a unique entry point. This separate page can be written specifically to follow up on the content of the email and helps to ease the user into the site. It is also an excellent tool to ascertain which users come via which campaigns. You can simply look at the traffic that hits that particular page in order to see how effective the campaign has been. It is even possible to then "tag" those users so you can see if they actually make a purchase.