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Professional trade show presenter Heidi Miller based a recent episode of her “Diary of a Shameless Self Promoter” podcast around the concept of email newsletters and spam. Heidi, who collects a lot of business cards through her work, had mentioned previously that she was considering taking email addresses from those cards and signing them up to her newsletter.

Several callers to her show suggested (correctly) that without explicit permission from those contacts, subscribing them to her list could be considered spamming. One of the callers described a great method to handle this specific situation. When she meets people, she specifically asks them if they would like to receive her email newsletter. If they say yes, she has them write ‘Yes to Newsletter’ on the back of their business card. Conversely, if they say no, she notes that on the card instead.

That way, when she processes the new contacts after a convention or show, she has a clear indication of who has opted-in and who has not. Nobody is accidentally subscribed and she always has the original permission to refer to. If you deal with a lot of offline permission situations, you might consider adapting this to your situation and put it into use.

When you add new subscribers to Campaign Monitor, our anti-spam policy requires that you have clearly explained that you will be contacting them by email. This technique could be part of a good permission management process.

Do you have any experience dealing with getting permission offline? What’s your process?

  • Cheshire

    I run the business side of Impact Theatre, a small theatre company in Berkeley. At every show we hand out audience survey cards, which people fill out in order to possibly win a prize and also help us gather demographic data which we use in grant applications. Of course we also have a line for email addresses.

    Previously we did what Heidi Miller had done, adding those emails to our list, but around the time we started using Campaign Monitor we got religion about being good opt-in practitioners (our add form is double opt-in), so we added a little box for someone to check if they wanted to join the mailing list. The percentage of people at each show who gave us permission was about 10-20%, a very disappointing result. We thought maybe they were missing the box, so we bolded the box and the “add me to the mailing list” line. Still about 10-20%, depending on the night.

    Since we now manage our mailing list responsibly, we don’t add anyone who doesn’t check the box. But it kills us that so few people actually check the box, and we don’t know whether they a) just really don’t want to be on it, b) still miss the box, or c) turned in their survey before they made up their decision that it might actually be nice to receive email from us.

    We’re hoping it’s b) or c), obviously, but we thought we’d lost them regardless. Last night, however, I read an interesting article on the power of a simple thank-you note to your customers, and I realized I’d missed a huge opportunity.

    I picked out 32 survey responses in which the person hadn’t checked the box, and I sent an email to each person thanking them for coming to the show, inviting them to let me know what they thought of it, reminding them about the next show, and then telling them I noticed they hadn’t checked the box. I wrote that if they deliberately didn’t check the box, that was totally cool, but if they had actually wanted to be on the list (or if they’d decided later that they wanted to be), they could let me know or go to the signup page. I personalized the emails if I had something from their survey that I could work in, so they’d know it wasn’t totally a form letter.

    Since these emails were a one-time-only thank-you, I think it was ok to do. The purest of email marketers might just say thank you and leave it at that, and maybe that’s what I should have done. I’m curious to hear others’ opinions on the subject.

    Finally, the results: in the 24 hours since I wrote those emails, two of my recipients chose to join the list, people who otherwise would have stayed off it. That’s neither a fantastic raw number nor percentage, but hey, it’s two more people who will probably come back and hopefully tell their friends about Impact. And everyone else who didn’t respond, maybe they liked the attention even though they still don’t want to be on the list, and maybe they’ll be back, too. No one wrote to tell me to go to hell, so that’s a good sign, right?

  • Chris In Cincinnati

    What I’ve always done is follow up with a personal email saying that I enjoyed meeting them, added something else relevant to the relationship and then mentioning that I have a newsletter.

    Something along the lines of:

    “Oh, and also, I write a monthly newsletter that I think you might find helpful, would you like me to send it to you?”

  • Brian

    We have taken to this method: Ask people if they’d like to receive the newsletter and if they say “yes” simply collect and then put their info in your double-opt-in subscribe form. That will kick off an email to them that asks them to verify their address.

    This acts as both a measure to ensure that they truly want to be on your list as well as a way to ensure every address you add is legitimate. From signup lists to typos from business cards, it’s easy to get bad addresses in your list – unless you really enforce the double opt-in practices.

  • Heidi Miller

    Thanks for the mention and for continuing the conversation. It’s quite an interesting one, with lots of helpful suggestions for getting the word out via email without being obnoxious. Thanks!

  • daniel mee

    Not involved in offline signup in anyway but reading this (for tips in case I do) I thought that maybe one way that Impact Theatre could improve the take-up of the Newsletter opt-in is to give them something for it – “A free ticket each month to one lucky subscriber” or simply just mention what they can expect. The customer might see that you profile emerging performers in your eNewsletter and think “oh, I would like to know that”. Same goes for the other techniques – if you summarise what customers can expect from their registration or give them a thankyou for signing up, you may increase your take-up rate.
    It’s all speculative though – I have no experience in this :)

  • Mythophile

    It’s always hard to get customers to sign up for more mail. Including coupons or offering a service are couple of good ways. It’s also smart to do something like Brian mentioned. The confirmation message is a good contact point for adding new information the user might be interested in having.

    It all comes down to quality over quantity. It’s better to have 10 actual readers than 100 subscribers who dump your email the moment it arrives.

    Have you though about sending out reminders in your newsletter? Exclusive discounts are good incentives as well. A local theater where I live includes coupons from a local coffee shop. Maybe you should find some local businesses who would benefit from some extra publicity. You probably have a very targeted audience and marketers love target audiences.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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