The word "opt-in" has been abused for far too long in the email marketing industry. Misuse of this phrase by list vendors and senders has led to it no longer represent a good faith relationship between sender and customer. The definition is now far too vague and encompassing, creating problems and breeding lack of trust. Originally, opt-in was created to define that an list member had given their permission to a email marketer to send them specific information. Unfortunately, the perception of what permission "opt-in" actually gives has been stretched to the breaking point and now "opt-in" is wrongly believed by some, to give them, or anyone they sell the address to, free reign to send a list member anything they want.
When the functional definition of a word has strayed so far from the original intention, it ceases to be useful and should be tossed aside. Therefor, in order to improve the way email marketers interact with their list members, the word "permission," needs to replace "opt-in." The word permission more accurately defines what marketers should be seeking from their list members. It's not a complex word, the definition is well known, and people use it in common situations; because of these factors, "permission" is far superior in breeding quality email marketing practices. Changing a simple question such as, "Is this list opt-in?" to "Do I have permission to send to this list member?" can make a whole world of difference in perception and function.
It should be the goal of the marketer to know exactly what their customers want to receive. This very specific information is the "permission" and it should not be bent or stretched. In order to keep list members happy, or keep them at all, email marketers must make changes starting with the first moments of their relationship with list members. In email marketing, the process starts with a sign up form or other contact information collection method. A sign up form should be extremely transparent and let the users know exactly what they are signing up for. It should also provide users with a variety options about how, how often, and in what context they can be contacted. The more options provided on a sign up form, the more exclusive permission becomes. When a customer is able to relay exactly what they want, it's much easier to give it to them. Marketers should seek out as much permission as possible from list members and adhere to it very strictly. The moment that a customer feels they are being sent something they didn't ask for, the trust between that customer and sender can be broken. These delicate relationships can be nearly impossible to repair.
Defining a list as simply "opt-in" or "not opt-in" is no longer enough. For email marketers to be successful, they need to to focus on collecting more specific permission data from their customers. Just because a list is "opt-in" does not indicate that the members should be sent whatever a marketer wants. A true "opt-in" list should represent specific permission provided by a contact, as well as a honest relationship that with that contact.