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Aimee Pagano

By: Aimee Pagano on January 24th, 2024

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Are you datably responsible: exploring permission-based sending models

consent based marketing | data activation | data governance | email compliance

mailto:demo@example.com?Subject=HighRoad Solutions - interesting article
Compliance isn’t easy, particularly when it dictates an overhaul in thinking. So it’s understandable that adherence to new policies takes time. With that said, today’s compliance and privacy issues are moving at light speed. It’s no longer a ‘nice have’ to give your audiences some arm room. It’s a must.
Associations continue make moves to respect their members’ dance space when it comes to emails. Most of our clients have dimmed down the mass blasts and have truly started effectively incorporating tailored, targeted messages to their constituents.
But there’s still so much more that can—and should—be done from a compliance and privacy perspective. Let’s take a look at leading practices in compliance and consent. 
What is email compliance? 
This is an easy one. It’s your org’s way of adhering to regulatory standards and legal requirements in order to protect the data and privacy of your audiences. In the simplest terms, it’s:
  • Will you go on a date with me? Check Yes or No. 
What is permission-based sending?
Now this is when it’s gets a little more complex. This takes compliance and steps it up a bit. It’s your org’s holistic approach to matching audience consent with marketing intent. In other words, you’re not just meeting the legal mark—you’re also honoring your audiences' preferences and giving them the leeway to guide their relationship with your org. So it looks a little more like this:
  • Will you go on a date with me? Yes? Cool. What day and time? What food do you like? What type of restaurant would you like to go to?  {And at the end of the first date}
  • Are we moving onto a second date? Is there chemistry between us? Do we have enough in common? {And at the end of the second date}
  • Do we have enough to challenge one another? Do we share similar interests? Are our life aspirations in sync? {And so on, and so forth} 
So you can see, permission-based sending goes beyond the simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ into deeper conversations and relationships. It's your org’s way of identifying whether your contact (whether it be a prospect, customer, or even a member) has interest in your thought leadership (AKA free marketing content), your programs (AKA transactional offerings), and/or the holistic value that your membership offers. 
What are the benefits of permission-based sending?
Yes the recipient—who always comes first—gets the benefit of basic privacy, but it's not an entirely altruistic effort. Yes, by instituting consent-based practices, your organization gets a take-home as well:
  • Adhere to legal regulations: CAN-SPAM Act and GDPR are just a couple of the regulatory policies out there to minimize non-consent practices. These policies were put in place to protect the rights of all recipients. Under no circumstances should organizations not adhere to these policies. The global opt-out is a basic right to anyone with an inbox.
  • Protect your sending reputation: Putting policies in place reduces spam complaints and reports with your org’s name on it. Since having a pristine sending reputation has a direct correlation on your brand (and your domain), your best bet is to stay under the spam radar. 
  • Replace opt-outs with opt-downs: Globally opting out is a hard hit when you’re an association. Particularly when one of the primary products you offer is membership, and your programs and content are distributed via email. So why risk over-saturating your members’ (and customers) inboxes when you can put categorical preferences in front of them? This way, they can opt down into specific communications vs opting out altogether.
  • Protect your brand: A reputable sending status does wonders for your brand. Users need to know that you're a legitimate organization with viable solutions and programs for them. 
  • Market with intention: Behavioral and transactional data can go a long way. But when you combine that with first party data, now you’re deeply connected to your audiences. Allowing your user to define their own paths with your organization gives you the tools to communicate with them at the most individualized level.  
  • Drive member and program revenue: Pushing the right education, thought leadership, and program promotions in front of your members enhances the member experience. By giving them what they want, you’re bilaterally growing program revenue, retaining members, and bringing in new ones. 
  • Minimize cost on ill-fit contacts: Focusing attention on those who aren’t within your audience scope (personas) or those who just aren’t interested puts a lot of energy and spend on efforts that’ll never come through. Think quality, not quantity from a lead perspective. Whether they’re a prospect for membership or a member interested in an event, you want to know upfront if you have a chance. Spending time on anything less will continue to hit your wallet.
What programs can be put in place to honor consent practices? 
So you can see, consent-based practices are interchangeable with just really good marketing and engagement techniques. By leveraging these practices, you're building your strategic marketing empire. You've got permission, intent, intelligence and data all built into your foundation. So, what tools help you get to this place? Let's dive into some of the best tactical tools to execute on permission-based sending models:
1—Email Preference Center (EPC)
The global opt-out at the bottom of your email template does wonders from a legal perspective. But the first-party data counterpart on the right that reads “Manage your preferences” is the key to creating and sustaining relationships with your audiences. An Email Preference Center is exactly how it sounds—it’s a central location that holds a members, customers, and even prospects’ communication preferences. 
Most omni-channel marketing automation platforms, like HubSpot, have EPCs natively baked into their system so that you can manage all preferences, along with integrated data from your AMS (thanks to our Spark integration), plus behavioral data (think lead scoring, web downloads, form fills, etc.), all from a single sign-on. Whether you already have an omni-channel marketing automation platform with this functionality, or you’re in the market for one, this is your best bet to jumping on the permission-based sending bandwagon. 
2—Consent and GDPR checkboxes in lead magnet forms 
Any form, whether transactional or lead gen, should include a consent checkbox along with a GDPR checkbox (where relevant). But this is just the start. Which brings us to the next best practice. 
3—Double opt-in functionality
Double opt-ins are one of the most sure-fire ways of creating the division between Implied and Expressed Consent: 
  • Implied Consent: Given when an individual gives you their email address for a business purpose, but has not explicitly stated that they want to receive marketing emails from you.
  • Expressed Consent: Given when you ask an individual for permission to send them marketing emails and they agree. The recipient has to manually opt-in to receive your emails through written consent.
Double opt-ins might not necessarily grow your prospect list in terms of volume but they’re excellent for identifying clean data and quality leads.
Think about Perry Chance. Perry likes your gated content (lead magnet). In order to get to the content, he needs to fill out a form. He fills out the form with his contact info and immediately gets access to your content. 
But that’s really all Perry wants from your organization. Unfortunately, now he’s been enrolled into your org’s recruitment campaigns and there was never interest to begin with. He’s not engaging in any emails which is bringing down your metrics. You may or may not be paying for his contact to sit in your system. And, to boot, he’s probably not too happy about what’s hitting his inbox, resulting in spam complaints and unsubscribes. Not a good look from a brand and customer experience perspective.
So how should it really have gone down with Perry? Queue the double opt-in. 
After Perry fills in his contact info, an automated double opt-in email gets generated to one; confirm that his email address is in fact, legit. And two; confirm that he truly wants to hear from your org. Using the dating metaphor from above, this is what a double opt-in would look like: 
  • Are you a real person or am I being catfished? Okay cool...you're real. Now, will you go on a date with me? Yes or No. Okay cool. I 'think' you said ‘yes’. But, I just want to make sure before I make reservations? Yes or No. 
4—Reconfirmation campaigns
Reconfirmation campaigns come in when you have constituents in your platform that have “passed” the double opt-in test but have been unresponsive for a period of time dictated by you (i.e. 6 months). These dormant contacts, who also negatively impact your metrics, sometimes just need a little push whether in or out (and remember...'out' isn't a bad thing).
Reconfirmation efforts are automated campaigns that simply ‘check-in’ with your audiences on whether or not they want to continue hearing from you. When users receive reconfirmation emails, they get the chance to opt-out of communications. They opt out. You don't have to worry about them and you can focus on those that stay opted in. For those who stay opted in (where you're seeing correlations of 'opens'), this is the group that you really want to nurture and test out. They may be disengaged because they're interested in your org but haven't felt compelled to participate based on what you've put in front of them to date.
So, carrying on with the dating analogy, a reconfirmation campaign would go something like this:
  • Hey. We talked about hanging out again but I haven’t heard from you in a bit. Still want to hang? We can try going to an ice skating rink instead of a restaurant if that's more of your thing? Yes or no?
What’s acceptable and what isn’t?
So we’ve talked about permission-based tools and programs that you can put into place to manage consent. Now let’s run through what sources are automatically acceptable from a consent perspective and what aren’t. 
Unacceptable forms of consent:
  • Third-party lists
  • Personal business contacts from a previous company
  • Contacts who submitted a form on another org’s website
  • Contacts who emailed you directly

Acceptable forms of consent:

  • Contacts who submitted a form on your website
  • Contacts who made a purchase from your org in the last two years
  • Contacts who donated or volunteered with your org in the last two years
  • Contacts who signed up and are active in your programs and membership
  • Contacts who subscribe to your Email Preference Center (EPC)
  • Contacts who signed up for your newsletter
  • Contacts who converted on your ads
Where do transactional emails fit in?
Hopefully you're seeing a much clearer view of true consent. But of course, there are always exceptions to rules. Adding another layer of girth around the confusion zone, associations (and marketers in general) also need to understand Transactional Emails. Since membership as a product is inherently transactional, it's understandable that things can get a little murky when it comes to definitions and applications in this area. So let's just clear out the debris:
Transactional Emails
Emails where there is a confirmation or responsive output involved. Here are requirements and examples:
  • Doesn’t require an opt-in
  • Confirms that they have completed a transaction/action with you
  • Member sign-up confirmations (not synonymous with member welcomes) 
  • Registrations confirmations
  • Invoices and receipts
Marketing Emails: 
Emails to contacts who have opted into communications from your org. Here are requirements and examples:
  • Requires an opt-in
  • Consent isn't given simply because they're a member
  • Membership recruitment campaign
  • Event promotional campaign
  • Can be promotional or informative in nature
Where are people getting stuck?
The theme here is respect. Respect of time, inboxes, privacy, interests. And the tools are all out there to help manage this level of respect within organizations. Particularly marketing automation platforms, like HubSpot, that are built on the back-bone of these principles. 
So what’s holding some associations and non-profits back from employing these practices? Yes, change is hard. Yes, having numbers go down versus up is scary. Yes, you have memberships and missions which seem to fall into more of a grey area. To help you get started with this, here are some Q&As to further clarify permission-based sending models and help you culturalize this idea with board, leadership and staff: 
Q: Should my membership automatically be opted in for all communications?
A: Sure. But, your very first communication with them should give them the chance to opt-out or opt-down from communications. Consider putting the consent box in your membership application, member profile, and/or incorporate an Email Preference Center into your Member Welcome Series. Running quarterly ‘Update Your Preferences’ campaigns is also a good practice since your members’ needs are always evolving. 
Q: Does the double opt-in apply to members as well? 
A: No. The double opt-in in best used in pursuit of prospects. Double opt-in functionality is applied when an anonymous contact hits your website and fills out a form to access content or programming. Once they fill out the form and become a known contact, they then receive the double opt-in to ensure they’re interested in future communications. Your membership list is ready-made so EPC functionality is actually best for this group. 
In instances where a member fills out a form on your website to access gated, public content, you can apply Progressive Profiling to ensure they don’t have to fill out information that you already have on them. You can also set up filters to ensure that they don’t receive the double opt-in. 
Q: Legally, do I need to offer categorical preferences through an EPC? 
A: While you legally do need to offer a global opt-out, you don’t need to offer up preference opt-outs. Offering up categorical preferences (either by program, by communication, by topic, or a hybrid of everything) is, however, a best practice and should be considered for associations and non-profits if you’re looking to maintain relevance and value with your audiences. 
Q: What platforms are best to help me execute permission sending models?
A: Most omni-channel marketing automation platforms will have this functionality baked into their systems. As the originator of the ‘inbound’ methodology, HubSpot is the most robust and intuitive tool to carry-out these practices in parallel with your growth and engagement strategies.
Q: What’s the best way to organize my Email Preference Center (EPC)?
A: Associations and nonprofits traditionally organize their Email Preference Centers by programs and/or communications. And this is still a good practice. But organizing by topic areas—or a hybrid of everything—is recommended to create truly custom experiences.
For example, Harvey Tucker checks the ‘Artificial Intelligence’ checkbox. He not only gets opted into a functional AI newsletter, he gets updates on AI conferences, AI CEs, and AI volunteer opportunities. Topical settings allow for more concerted member journeys. Consider approaching your Email Preference Center the same way you approach your organizational taxonomy. 
Q: Are consent tools the same as engagement tools?
A: No. Consent management tools are based on collecting permission to continue communicating with a contact. Engagement management tools include: lead scoring, lifecycle staging, re-engagement campaigns, etc. Some marketing automation platforms, like HubSpot, have these features baked into their platform. 

Get a jumpstart on permission-based sending with HubSpot
Learn how HubSpot, the leading omni-channel marketing automation platform for associations and nonprofits, can quickly put you in the permission-based sending zone. Book a consultation today to learn more.

About Aimee Pagano

Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.