Question: We have a general marketing opt-in and several customers who’ve selected it although the permission statement does not specify communications channel(s). Can we consider these opted in to receive e-mail?

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Answer: Yes, however your situation is an excellent illustration of an all too common predicament in e-mail marketing—the general rather than specific sign-up center. Whether for multichannel or e-mail-only communication, a general opt-in statement works against you in a variety of ways.

Here’s a common scenario: A company begins an e-mail marketing program and plans to send a single type of e-mail communication, such as a newsletter. Over time, its e-mail marketing program evolves to accommodate multiple legitimate reasons for communicating by e-mail, different content for distinct products and services, or new lines of business. Whereas there was once a single e-mail program for customers to join, there could now be several. Yet without specific opt-in and opt-out choices, an e-mail unsubscribe request must be treated as an unsubscribe to all e-mail messages, programs and formats. What’s a company to do?

Ensure your sign-up and unsubscribe pages not only keep pace with one another but with your growing or changing marketing programs and business. As soon as you diversify into different types of e-mail marketing communications (newsletter versus announcements versus offers and promotions versus transaction confirmations), modify your opt-in and opt-out pages to provide both subscribe and unsubscribe choices for each. Yes, you’ll have to “grandfather” some early subscribers into general opt-in and opt-out brackets but, provided you consciously evolve your sign-up pages over time, the less your overall list will be subject to global unsubscribes.

Some companies (Starwood and Amazon, for example) go so far as to provide communication channel preference choices for all marketing, whether online or off. Should you choose this route, remember you not only have to abide by these preferences but strike a balance between the general and the specific—and in general, specificity rules.

Karen Talavera is the owner of Synchronicity Marketing (, an integrated marketing consulting firm specializing in e-mail marketing strategy, campaign development and education.

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