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Why you need more consent in your email marketing strategy

*This post was originally sent as a newsletter to my subscribers. Want to get these stories and inspo directly to your inbox & before anyone else? Join here.


Int. Doctor’s office. Late afternoon.

It’s a hot and heavy Sunday, and I’ve had way too many Vietnamese coffees (4.5) to be this chill about my problem.

I walk into the clinic, describing my issue to the masked receptionist.

She offers me a seat on the orange benches and tells me it’ll be about 20 minutes before it’s my turn.

An hour passes. I sit there, anxious. 

Before coming in, I made the terrible yet common mistake of googling my symptoms and almost getting a heart attack from reading about all the possible ways in which I could die.

“It’s just a rash,” I tell myself, “and it’s good that you’re here now.”

The doctor is a lovely middle-aged Vietnamese man.

He asks me how old I am and where I’m from (two questions I never really know how to answer, because I’m mentally 72 and don’t have a home base).

“I have a rash or an allergy on my upper back,” I describe the reason for my visit, “it started on Thursday, and I thought it may be just acne, but it’s not it. It’s gotten worse, and I’m worried.”

“Can I take a look?” he swiftly takes out a small, pink flashlight.

I turn over and take off my tank top. He begins to examine my back.

“May I?” he touches my bra straps.

“Yes,” I say with no hesitation.

He moves them aside and continues to look at my back.

“Do you have that anywhere else?” he says shortly after.

“No,” I say decisively. 

He wants to check, just in case, and asks me to turn around.

He continues to examine additional parts of my body, always asking “May I?” before doing anything.

(Side note: I’m very grateful that I don’t have an issue with exposing myself in front of male doctors. I know that many women out there don’t feel half as safe to do so, especially in front of ones they don’t have any prior positive experience with.)

(Side note 2: I never strip down as fast as when I need to do so in front of professional medical staff. I might need to reassess the whole “looking for an Irish Carpenter” trope and let other occupations apply as well, considering that stat.)

As he continues to examine me my stress fades away, because all my brain can think about now is consent, how well he practices it, and ethical emails (duh).

Just because I agreed that he’d examine one intimate part doesn’t automatically mean that he can carry on and check another intimate part.

We have a similar responsibility as senders toward our subscribers -

Just because they permitted us once upon a time to send them emails doesn’t mean that we can send them every single campaign... Or even need to.

They might not want that. They might not be in the position to read/engage/invest. They might not be in the right segment for them to get specific emails.

Unlike social media, where posts are less likely to appear on our feeds and fight for our attention, emailsget directly into our subscribers’ inboxes. It’s their place. And we need to respect that.

Here are 3 examples that I use with my clients so that you, as a sender, can get more consent from your subscribers:

1. About to start a general promotion for a service/product? 

Let your people know about it in advance, and let them opt out of that sales sequence if they choose to. And for the love of pasta, let them opt out of the sales sequence through the individual emails too.

  • Bonus points: automate sending a feedback email (with or without incentive) to those who opted out, and ask them what led them to do so. Done well, you’ll gain a much deeper understanding of your subscribers’ decision-making process - which you can use to fine-tune and optimize your next sale, your offers, and messaging as a whole.

2. Starting a promotion around or for a specific date/holiday that can be a sensitive topic for your subscribers (like Mother’s Day)? Know who to ask for extra consent. 

I’ve recently had an interesting, brief, but rather emotionally charged discussion about it on Threads, where some folks called these pre-promotion emails insensitive and unnecessary.

Of course, different people in your audience will react differently (so split-test it). But very generally speaking, if you sent a “Would you like not to get emails about [insert holiday]?” email last year - in more sensitive cases (like Mother’s Day), it might make more sense to keep those people snoozed and not even send them that expectation-management email again. 

Where does the line cross between what’s more or less sensitive or appropriate? Your subscribers hold the answer to that one. Converse with them.

3. Empower and encourage your subscribers to design their own inbox experience even (andespecially) when you’re not promoting anything. 

Here’s an example: Create a strategic preference center (you can get inspired by mine) that allows your subscribers to choose which tags/segments/automations they’ll be a part of, how frequently they’ll get your emails, or take a temporary break from your emails (instead of unsubscribing!).

Remember that consent is not only sexy (not in my story today though) but also makes your subscribers trust you more in your ongoing conversation.

And trust is the first currency you need to gain and care about if you want to see any other currencies coming in at any point.

Ask for more consent, when appropriate. It’s not a one-time thing. And you’d be surprised how very few brands and companies out there make such a basic effort.

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