What Is Permission-Based Email Marketing? (+Best Practices)

Aaron Agius
Aaron Agius  |  May 13, 2019

In his 1999 book Permission Marketing, Seth Godin noted, permission-based email marketing “is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” 

Seth argued that you need humility and patience to execute permission-based marketing, and that there are no rooms for shortcuts.  

No room for shortcuts; this is marketing for the long term

You need the person's consent to receive your messages, and the messages need to be tailored towards their interests. By offering something of value to the consumers, something that they actually want, they – in exchange – give you their email address and agree to let you send future correspondence about your business, products, or services.

The beauty of well-executed permission-based marketing is that you are only collecting the email addresses of people who may genuinely be interested in what you have to offer. 

Related: Read more about Seth Godin's expert marketing ideas

Permission-based email marketing best practices

When you get permission-based email marketing right, you enjoy the benefits of higher open and click-through rates, enabling you to drive traffic to your site and turn that into revenue. That means a higher ROI for your business. 

TIP: Discover the best email marketing software to help reach your potential. 

See the Highest-Rated Email Software →

Getting permission in the first place

This may sound obvious, but you need to make sure you have permission in the first place - as Seth Godin pointed out. What isn't so obvious is the difference between implied permission and express permission. 

So, what’s the difference?

Implied permission

Implied permission is when a person passes their email on to you but has not stated that they want to receive marketing emails from you. The most common example given for implied permission is when somebody fills out a contact form.

Express permission

Express permission is when you specifically ask for a person’s email address, and they give you permission to send them marketing emails – usually via the use of a form or a checkbox.

Knowing the difference is vital to making sure that you send the right marketing messages to the right people. The closer you can match the express permission by giving away knowledge, tips, and resources, the more likely that person becomes a potential customer.

Never buy an email list

There are no shortcuts, and buying an email list is one of the mistakes that many people make. The names on the list have not given you permission to contact them, so the odds of people on that list being interested in what you have to offer is slim. 

Never ever, ever buy a list – it just isn't worth the time, money, or effort. Most of the time you’ll see abysmal open and click-through rates. Also, you’re harming your brand's name and reputation when you contact people without their explicit permission.

Let people know what they’re getting in exchange

Nobody wants to be bombarded with content that they don’t find useful in a time frame that they find unacceptable. In the first email you send somebody, you need to let them know how many emails to expect and how often to expect them.  

  • Frequency: How often are they going to receive emails from you? Let them know exactly how many times they’re going to hear from you per week, month, or year. If that makes them uncomfortable, they have the choice to opt out.
  • Content: It’s likely that they’ll have given you their email for a specific piece of content. Make sure that you let them know what sort of content you usually send out in case it isn't what they’re after. Again, this gives them a choice to opt out if it isn't what they want.

Don’t hide the “opt-out” button

Sure, we’d all prefer if nobody opted out of our marketing emails; email lists aren’t easy to build in the first place. However, you need to make sure that you make it easy for people to opt out if they choose.

You don’t want to hurt your brand by being deceptive or cluttering their inbox with unwanted emails. Plus, you don’t want your emails to be marked as spam in a moment of frustration.

Make the opt-out button easy to find in every single email you send, and go out of your way to make sure you remind them that they can opt out. A common timeframe is an email every once in awhile with “Don’t want to receive our emails any longer?” copy.

Stop sending too many emails

According to email marketing statistics, 78% of consumers unsubscribe from brand emails because they said they were receiving too many messages. If you’re too aggressive with your email marketing, you risk having your emails marked as spam and annoying potential customers with message overload.

With so many companies engaging in permission-based email marketing, it is easy for the consumer to suffer from email fatigue. When putting your campaign into action, you’re likely to find that quality is better than quantity for overall ROI.

Examples of permission-based email marketing

You need to make sure that whatever you offer is put together with your audience in mind. It needs to be connected to your business; otherwise, you’re likely to be collecting the email addresses of people that will never open anything you send.

If your business sells adventure equipment, then a GoPro Camera may be attractive to your audience, but will add little value to your list if you’re a law firm. Free prizes will always attract people who enter competitions as a hobby. Know your audience.

So what can you give away that will be attractive to your audience?

I’m a big fan of giving away expertise. You often have it in abundance at your business, and it can come in different formats.

White papers

White papers have been popular with digital marketers since before the term “digital marketing” existed. Don’t overlook them; they are still a great way to collect emails.

The undisputed king of the white paper and permission-based email marketing is Hubspot. For several years, they’ve been pumping out white paper after white paper and have amassed a huge collection of them – nearly 500 to-date.

They cover just about every topic a potential Hubspot customer might be interested in.  

free marketing resources landing page

 

While the email capture form may be a little on the aggressive side, you can’t question the quality of the content and the time that they put into their resources. In addition, they also create well-optimized landing pages that perform well organically, leading to new users discovering them daily.

Exclusive content

Exclusive content can be a great way to get permission from customers. Look at this example from Wordstream.   

wordstream ad example
 

This process is great because it’s simple; the content matches the target audience; it’s exclusive and isn’t featured elsewhere on the site; and it uses the company’s expertise.

Webinars

Webinars are another great way that you can attract relevant people to give you permission to send them email marketing messages. With the tools that we have at our disposal, they are easy to create and often take very little time to put together compared to a white paper.

SEMrush is incredibly good at webinars and often hold them several times a week. They’ve also been smart in the way that they gather together digital marketing experts to run and participate in a lot of these webinars.  

webinars image


The content is high-standard, delivered by experts, and is always of interest to their target demographic.

Takeaways

Permission-based email marketing helps build trust and a relationship between you and the consumer. Delivering targeted content to the people who actually want to receive it and are likely to stay loyal customers is one of the highest ROI digital marketing tactics that you can use.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn't easy. But it is a long term tactic that can help elevate your business to the next level...if you’re patient.

Ready to read more about best marketing practices in 2019? Learn how to create an email newsletter to further the ROI of your marketing campaigns.

Aaron Agius
Author

Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius, CEO of Louder Online, is among the world's leading digital marketers, according to Forbes. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer: a fusion between search, content, social, and PR. Find him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or on the Louder Online blog.