The operative word here is “imply.” Marketers often consider the visitor as being interested because he or she came to the website and completed a form. From the visitor's perspective, however, she gave us only what she wanted us to have. It's a grey area—one side considers the action a commitment, while the other might consider it a non-commitment.
In discussions on this topic, one side often argues that marketers should provide a check box, and if the visitor checks it, he or she is opted in. The other side argues that if people gave their email address, marketers have permission to contact them.
In the strictest sense, the first argument usually carries the most weight. I'd like to propose a sort of middle ground. In my opinion, you have at least one opportunity to send this person an email—the confirmation. Does it simply say “Thank you,” or does it accomplish something for you?
This confirmation is a transactional email. It is a verification of the transaction, but it is more than that, the door is open—if only for a moment. Marketing expert Jeffrey Hayzlett talks about meeting the expectation of the customer; at some small level, we have an agreement. Value is exchanged for value.
So the question really becomes, can we earn the right to have another transaction, and another? Do you provide lasting value, a continued exchange of value that hopefully someday leads to trust? Or is the next email simply, “Thanks for requesting the download, here it is.”
I think we do have to consider someone completing a form as an opt-in, but it's not unconditional—it never is. We have to earn the right to continue the dialogue.
Ed Thompson is director of demand generation for the Pedowitz Group (www.pedowitzgroup.com), a demand generation agency.