Relevance Is The New Permission?

I’ve been meaning to blog more about this article for a while, in which Sherry Chiger examines the pros and cons of single and double opt-in permission for e-mail. Her opening line is a real attention-grabber – I nearly fell out of my chair when I first read it: “Once upon a time—say, 10 years ago or so—double opt-in was the gold standard of permission-based e-mail.”
Maybe what Ms. Chiger is trying to say is that double opt-in is not the only acceptable standard of permission – which is absolutely true. But it sure has a lot going for it: it’s simple to implement; easy to automate; easy for senders to measure; and happens in-band. For these reasons among others, it’s the best kind of permission to have, and that’s why it’s (still!) the gold standard.
But obtaining permission – even the gold standard – has never been a panacea for delivery issues. The problem with any flavor of permission is that, within the e-mail protocol, there is no way for senders to reliably assert what kind of permission they’ve been given. That means ISPs can’t measure permission per se; instead, they must measure spam complaints and other metrics as a proxy for permission. In other words, if a sender’s message is relevant to the recipients, the performance of a message sent without permission is often indistinguishable from permission-based messages.
Some in the sending community take this as proof that relevance is more important than permission – and this may be the point that Ms. Chiger is trying to make. I disagree. I think the real conclusion to be drawn is that there is no better indicator of relevance than permission – and that’s why permission is so valuable.
I talk to a lot of frustrated senders who’ve segmented their lists dozens of different ways to try and infer what messages are relevant to which recipients. They burn a lot of time, energy and reputation trying to force relevance. I’ve never understood why this is preferable to just asking the recipient for permission.

2 thoughts on “Relevance Is The New Permission?

  1. Permission and Relevance are orthogonal to one another. You can have relevance without permission and you can have permission without relevance. You need both.

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    • Sure. But I wouldn’t expect a recipient to grant permission for irrelevant content. In that sense, I expect permission is a strong indicator of relevance.

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