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Permission Debate is Settled; Please Stop Yapping About it

By Ken Magill

OgilvyOne’s Gretchen Scheiman last week created a bit of a ruckus with a piece on MediaPost headlined: “Does Permission Need to be Explicit?”

She wrote the piece as a result of a debate that had been taking place on the Inbox Insiders discussion list.

“One group argued that explicit, upfront permission is the gold standard and that anything less—including eAppends—is unethical,” she wrote. “The other group suggested that it should be fine to send an email to someone who has chosen to do business with you and hasn't opted-out of communications.”

 Scheiman’s conclusion? Permission does not have to be explicit.

“Since I already do business with you, I expect to see some emails that actually relate to what I've bought or maybe searched for or even read/reviewed on your site,” she wrote in the words of a hypothetical consumer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been barred for very good reasons from taking part in Inbox Insiders’ discussions. If I were an Inbox Insiders member, I wouldn’t want a trade reporter lurking there either.

However, if I were allowed to participate, here is what I would say:

Don’t you friggin’ people have anything better to do? What an unbelievable waste of time.

Yes, I am acutely aware of the irony of spending time weighing into a debate to say it’s a waste of time.

But the permission debate has been settled. Not to everyone’s satisfaction, but it’s been settled. No, explicit permission is not necessary. Marketers who don’t get explicit permission are playing a dangerous game, but, no, it’s simply not required. That fact may irritate some, but it is a fact.

Who ended the debate? The ISPs. They decide who gets their email delivered no matter what permission practices the sender has in place. Marketers who play too fast and loose with their permission practices and/or send irrelevant garbage suffer deliverability troubles. A marketer who employs fully confirmed opt in, but has a 10-year-old list that’s not been cleaned of inactive addresses will probably experience delivery troubles.

Conversely, a marketer who doesn’t get explicit permission but sends relevant, segmented, compelling email to customers based on past interactions and exercises good list hygiene [I know, rare] probably won’t have any trouble. That’s it. End of story.

Not only that, the very fact that these folks are debating permission nuances means they’re not the problem.

Inbox Insiders participants debating permission is akin to ladies who lunch debating over how they can change their own behavior to lower gang activity in South Central L.A.

According to a recently released study, infected computers send between 80 percent and 90 percent of all spam and just 50 ISPs account for about half of all infected machines worldwide.

“This is remarkable, in light of the tens of thousands of entities that can be attributed to the class of ISPs,” the study released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said. “The bulk of infected machines are not located in the networks of obscure or rogue ISPs, but in those of established, well-known ISPs.”

The study of 109 billion spam messages from 170 million unique IP addresses from 2005 to 2009 also found that of the 50 ISPs that had the most infected machines in their networks from year to year, 31 ISPs were in the top 50 all four years.

Got that? We may be able cut spam almost in half with the cooperation—coerced or voluntary—of just 50 well-known ISPs.

I know: “Easy for you to say fat, martini-addled, trade-hack boy.”

But this isn’t about what’s easy. It’s about where our energy should be focused. And a bunch of marketers who debate whether it’s okay to send email to customers—customers, not prospects, mind you—who haven’t explicitly opted in ain’t that place.

Author’s note: It’s entirely conceivable that I may have been barred from Inbox Insiders because I can be such a combative asshole.

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