In one week, I heard from two companies in the same industry. The comparison is instructive, I think.
Every month, I get a great email from Paul McGowan, founder of PS Audio. His newsletter is anticipated, personal and relevant. I signed up for it and I look forward to it.
Paul mentions his products, their reviews and their new technology. He also tells stories and acts like a real person. Because I signed up for the newsletter, I open it. Because he never abuses my trust, I trust him. If I hit reply, he writes back.
When it's time to buy the sort of thing he sells, I won't look around much, because I'm already sold.
I also got two identical emails (with different subject lines) from a speaker company called Thiel Audio. I never signed up to hear from this company, and judging from the email addresses they used, they harvested my address either from an attendee list at a conference at which I spoke or from an old business card.
The problem with believing that just because you have access to an address you have the right to mail is that there is no friction with email. It's free. You can email a million people in a heartbeat, costing the recipients time (and thus money) and you not much of either. The recipient knows this, and feels exploited or cheated. It's not fair, and so the lack of friction backfires. The very ease of interruption makes the interruption more annoying.
I get a lot of spam from non-reputable companies, but it was surprising to get this html ad via email from a company that used to have a good reputation.
My email box is where I live all day. They showed up, uninvited, and worked to sell me something even though they had no connection with me as a consumer or a blogger. That's not brand building, it's the opposite. Even worse, it's undependable.
With PS Audio, Paul realizes that over time, the more months I get the newsletter, the greater the chance I'm going to trust and like and buy from him. For Thiel, the opposite is true. The more they send, the more people will get in the habit of deleting or unsubscribing. It's not an asset, it's a risk. It doesn't scale, it shrinks.
No doubt, there are old-school marketers who will talk about their right to email or interrupt because it's not against the law, or perhaps it generates short-term sales. The thing is, consumers now have rights too. The right to ignore, to distrust and to choose someone else when it comes time to spend money.
There are a hundred ways to skulk around, to collect email addresses, to write clever privacy policies or to argue about whether opt-out ("you can always unsubscribe!") is a valid way to build a brand. None of those schemes work. What works is exactly one way: making promises and then keeping them. Every person who unsubscribes or deletes or just stops reading your mail is a person lost, a negative word-of-mouth opportunity waiting to happen.
Run an ad in traditional media or online and promise me a great newsletter, or a prize or news or even a discount if I sign up. That's clear and honest and it works.
A spam campaign feels like a smart idea, but over time, the more you use it, the less your brand is worth. A permission campaign, on the other hand, only grows in value, until it gets big enough that you can build an entire business around it.
Earning permission is a long-term, profitable, scalable strategy that pays for itself. Think about how much better off a brand would be if it took the time to make promises, keep them and be transparent about its communications.