When you make a business call, you don’t just launch right into the conversation without introducing yourself, right? Instead you say something like “Hi, I’m Mathew, we met at the Widget Summit and you asked me to give you a call”. You should do just the same with your email newsletters.

Over at Clickz, Stefan Pollard has a great article titled “There’s No Excuse for Trust Abuse“, about doing permission reminders the right way. His point is that a vague permission message — “your address was subscribed to our list” — can be even worse than none at all. It makes you seem lazy and possibly suspicious. Your message needs to be as specific as possible, to help people remember how they actually did ask for your emails. This is particularly important for lists that grow regularly, as new subscribers have no background of newsletters to remember you by.

A great technique to make your reminder messages more specific is to keep track of exactly where addresses came from, and refer directly to that.

You are receiving this email because you gave us your address at the Widget Summit in September.

Or perhaps

You are receiving this email because you subscribed on our website to the Widget Newsletter.

With some smart use of custom fields, you can personalize that message for each subscriber. The first step is to keep track of where people came from. Create a custom field for your list called ‘source’ or similar. Now you need to fill in a value for ‘source’ for each person. If you are importing a file of new subscribers after a tradeshow, use ‘gave us your address at the Widget Summit in September’ as the source column for each subscriber record.

For your online subscribe forms, make sure you have a hidden ‘source’ field prefilled with ‘subscribed on our website’ as the value, so that each time someone signs up using the form, the right value is set (check out our step-by-step guide to do this).

Now in your campaigns, you can just insert something like this:

You are receiving this email because you [source]. If you are no longer interested, you can <unsubscribe>unsubscribe instantly</unsubscribe>.

It’s that easy. Now your permission reminder messages are much more specific, and they will be much more effective in showing people you are legitimate and serious about having their permission. You can also use that same source information to start segmenting your list and offering different things to different groups.

Even though permission is not enough anymore, an accurate, specific permission reminder will go a long way to avoiding spam complaints, and help build up trust with your subscribers.

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