Does Permission Expire?

My good friend Jon Dale was writing what I was thinking early this morning so I asked him to write a guest post. And just so you don’t miss it check out the app Jon mentions. It is incredible!

In an age of permission marketing where everyone is building huge lists of people who’ve given them permission to email them, I think it’s time to examine a new question. When does permission expire?

If you’re anything like me you start every morning with a full email inbox. But only a tiny percentage of the emails are actually personal messages to you. Most of them are bulk email…not technically spam…because they’re from people that you once upon a time gave permission to.

Seth Godin talks about using permission to send messages that are anticipated, personal, and relevant. But it seems to me that most organizations that I’ve given permission to over the years are only asking one question. Do I have Jon’s email address?

You might say, “Jon, good marketers don’t send many emails.” And that’s sometimes true. Saddleback Leather is one of my favorite companies and they only send newsletters a few times a year. But the truth is I’d love to hear from them every week. At the other end of the spectrum I get daily bulk emails from Nextdraft, Fast Company and Ransomed Heart that I devour as part of my daily routine…but those guys are all sending me anticipated and relevant content I love…not self promotion.

So, I think it’s time for email marketers to ask a few questions.

If I stopped sending email would anyone contact me to ask what happened?

And does permission expire? And if so, what should you do about it?

Meanwhile…check out Until marketers figure this stuff out, unroll will give you your inbox back.

8 Responses to “Does Permission Expire?”

  1. Lana Vaughan December 5, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    I think permission not only needs to be reviewed and renewed but often revoked. Permission was granted with the expectation of a mutually beneficial relationship.

    I get some of the same emails you mentioned but don’t feel the same connection or impact when I see them in my in box. You have a deeper relationship so they carry more weight when they arrive in your in box.

    The weekly or even the sporadic emails should be a continuation of the relationship not the totality of it.

    • Jon Dale December 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

      Lana, I completely agree. And it totally makes sense that the emails you look forward to receiving would be different than the ones I look forward to.

      I guess the question is partly one of who’s responsibility is it…the senders or the recipient. The way I think about it it’s the senders responsibility to be personal, timely and relevant. And one can probably argue that for the sake of the brand it may also make sense for the marketer to make sure that the people receiving email actually still want to get it. It’s a really interesting issue.

      There’s an interesting model for this in the way that iTunes delivers podcasts. If you don’t listen to a new episode of a podcast from a certain publisher…then after a certain number of episodes iTunes actually stops downloading those podcasts for you.

      What if email senders considered looking at open rates and if a user doesn’t open a certain number of emails they send an email asking if they still want to receive the emails. Of course this is totally counter to common wisdom, especially if you’re trying to build a big list.

      But what if the goal was to build a valuable engaged list rather than a big one?

      Interesting stuff to think about.

      I think it really all comes back to what Seth said…personal, timely and relevant. The question is how to do that at scale.

      • Lana Vaughan December 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

        I would be incredibly hesitant to give permission for someone to monitor my email closely enough to know if it’s been opened. I do think monitoring click through from emails would be acceptable. It would indicate there was something in the email the moved me to take a step if even just a minuscule one, closer to the sender.

        I get several emails on a regular basis that are not complete in the email and require clicking to finish reading. Those are the ones I look forward to because I know the content is worth the time to read all the way to the end.

        I would much rather have a valuable list than a large one. But since neither is a problem for me I am probably not the best person to assign worth.

        • Jon Dale December 5, 2013 at 6:11 pm #


          Thanks, thats really helpful.

          I was fascinated to discover that most bulk email senders actually know exactly who is and isn’t opening the emails they send. I discovered that because I’m on the inside of a couple of organizations that do large email sends daily and they monitor open rates and, as you pointed out, click through rates.

          I hadn’t considered that the public perception may be that senders don’t know if email is being opened and that if they took actions based on that fact it could feel very creepy.

          I guess it makes these questions all the more important.

          • Lana Vaughan December 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

            My perception was they didn’t know if it was opened. I am not surprised but unsettled to know this is a common practice. I will definitely be re-revoking permissions on some that I considered marginal.

  2. sethgodin December 5, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Well said, Jon!

    • Johnflurry December 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

      Seth, I agree. Jon has that way about him.

  3. Aaron McHugh December 9, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    Fellas-This is a great topic. Jon I believe that you are one of the rare one’s that would prefer authentic and engaged over bulk and anonymous. I believe your premise of asking does iTunes have a model is a very solid question. And in order for anyone to intentionally turn on an engine to automatically opt-out their subscribers then they will need to subscribe to the belief that 4 engaged allies are better than 400 who hit delete. Good going guys.

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