Cardinal Path’s response to COVID-19 Cardinal Path is sharing all we know to help marketers during COVID-19.  Learn more.

Everyone who uses email knows what spam is, and most of those people hate it with a passion. This is perfectly understandable because of the huge inconvenience it puts on the receiver who now has to sort through his inbox to find which emails are actually legit. So why would you want to associate your self, your email and your product with a group as unsavory and loathed as email spammers? Most of you would not, and that’s why permission should be first and foremost in your mind when building your list and starting you email marketing campaign.

What is Permission?

Permission in email marketing is “formal consent” to receive marketing messages via email. Although that’s a good start, it’s really just scratching the surface. Permission also extends to email frequency and email content.

Just imaging you sign up for a monthly newsletter about real estate investing and then two months down the line, without warning, you start getting weekly emails about making money in the stock market. They may both be about making money and receiving 4 emails per month rather than 1 is not a drastic difference but the emails you are now receiving are no longer being sent with your consent.

Now some people may not think of it as a big deal if they have the above bait and switch pulled on them but there will certainly be a large chunk of the list that do. Now what word do you think will be popping up in the minds of the subscribers who are no longer getting what they want? That’s right, SPAM!

Although making a few changes to you marketing message and frequency isn’t going to land you in the slammer for email spamming, you have to understand that what the law considers spam and what people believe is spam can often be two very different things. As an email marketer you will want to avoid both because each one caries with it consequences that you don’t want to deal with.

Consequences of Not Receiving Permission


It’s obvious to most of us that serious legal problems may arise if you send to a list that has not given you the ok to do so. It’s considered illegal in the eyes of the law due to the CAN-SPAM Act, something all email marketers should read, and should be completely avoided. What fewer people know is that there are issues that can pop up even if you are not technically spamming. Just having some of your subscribers consider your email as spam, usually because of a permission issue, can play havoc with your email campaign.

The main problem you will run into if you have numerous people on your list reporting your email as spam is deliverability. Excessive spam reports will signal to the email service providers that your marketing message does not deserve to reach the intended recipients. This can result in you having your domain or the IP of the server you are sending from blocked.

So in the times we live in, with the “Report Spam” button increasingly becoming, in peoples minds, an “Unsubscribe” or “I don’ like this” button, remember to stick to what you have permission to send.

Even Obama Can’t Save You


A few days ago someone here at VKI received an email, with the familiar face of Barack Obama at the top, soliciting support and donations for “The first Moroccan American Candidate for US Congress”. This would normally be fine but this email happened to arrive unsolicited (No one gave permission), and didn’t have any option to unsubscribe (Permission can not be withdrawn). These two mistakes put the sender at legal risk and may cause issues with the deliverability of emails they send in the future. Not to mention that it doesn’t look good for the candidate they are supporting.

So what’s the lesson here? Even a good cause and a smiling picture of Obama can’t save you from the dreaded spam button. Your only insurance is to follow the rules.


The email does not appear to have been sent directly by the congressman. It was most likely just a supporter who made some mistakes while looking to help out.

The Permission Check List

Let’s end this with a quick check list you can use to decrease the likelihood of your subscribers hitting the spam button.

  • Permission to send – This is the most obvious one. Before you send them an email you need you get the ok from the recipient with either and opt-in or double opt-in process.
  • Email frequency permission – If on sign up they give you permission to send once a month you need to stick to that. If you want to send more frequently, say once a week, you will need to get their permission first by sending them an opt-in email for weekly mailings.
  • Topic of content permission – Make sure you are sending your subscribers emails that are on the topic they signed up for. Nothing will get people hitting spam buttons faster than content they have no interest in.
  • Ability to withdraw permission – An unsubscribe option is an absolute must. Not just to prevent people from considering your email spam, having that option is the law.
  • Permission to transfer – Permission for your list doesn’t mean permission for your friend’s list. If you want to transfer your list to another email marketer you need the ok from the subscribers on the list.
  • Permission to cross promote – If you have multiple mailing lists and want to cross promote the products you are selling on one to the other list then get then subscribers permission by sending an opt-in for the other list.