Permission-Based Email Marketing in Singapore: Complete Guide



The term permission-based email marketing (aka opt-in email marketing) gets thrown around a little too loosely nowadays. Yet it’s quite clear many people don’t understand what it means. Nor do they understand how to manage the said email permissions, especially here in Singapore.

So, let’s start with the basics:

What’s Permission-Based Email Marketing?

Permission-based email marketing is a marketing strategy that first requires you to ask for consent from your subscribers before you can start sending them commercial marketing messages.

In other words, your site visitors have to opt into your email list first before you send them any message. It’s a marketing strategy that’s against sending unsolicited marketing messages to people in your email contact list.

Why Permission-Based?

Failure to confirm if you’re subscribers are at peace with the idea of you sending them marketing messages puts you at risk of being viewed as an accidental spammer.

Your reputation is also on the line. Not forgetting the hefty fines that come with violating the laws and regulations in the Spam Compliance Act.

It’s simple: every time you send unsolicited email to a prospect or customer, it’s interpreted as spam.

It doesn’t matter if the recipient is already on your list, and you’ve even emailed them before. Just sending them an email that they didn’t request is enough to make you a spammer.

And as a marketer who cares about your online reputation, the last thing you want is for someone to mistake you for one.

Why Would Anyone Agree to Receive Your Marketing Messages?

The question going through your mind right now is, why would anyone agree to be marketed to?

Simple: your visitors permit you to market to them because they know there’s definite value in signing up with you. They’re not doing this because they like you or are looking to please you.

It’s more of an exchange. They’ll offer you their contact details in exchange for something you’re offering.

The value you can offer include:

A free trial of your products or services

  • A free report
  • Video cases
  • An exclusive discount
  • A seminar signup
  • Ongoing offer/useful content

By this token, you can tell that it’s an exchange of value. These visitors offer you value in the form of their email address and the permission to send them marketing messages. But even with that, you want to keep on sending them good stuff. Otherwise, there’s nothing to stop them from opting out of your email campaign (retracting the permission).

Another way to look at it is that you offered them something they wanted to get them to submit their email address. But there’s more where that came from, and the only way to continue receiving more of it is if they stayed opted-in.

What Doesn’t Qualify as Permission-Based Email Marketing Campaign?

You’re mistaken for thinking every email marketing campaign is permission-based. The odds are also good that you rarely receive unsolicited emails, not from people you hadn’t earlier on opted into their campaign.

But you could be wrong. Not every single one of these emails is permission-based, and even with a good spam filter, you may still not realise it.

Here are a few emails that don’t qualify as permission-based, yet you receive them:

  • You’ve probably received an email from someone you’ve never seen or heard before. Chances are, they bought your email from somewhere or from a company that skimmed it off websites. It’s sad to say that charities are notorious for this.
  • Someone stumbled across your email either on a website or your social media account and decided to cold-email you.
  • Maybe you didn’t know, but there’s a company somewhere selling your email address as a lead, and businesses are buying it. The fact that you once opted into someone’s email list sort of conveyed your interest in what they’re offering. So yes, you might receive an email from something you’re interested in, but at no point did you give them permission to start emailing you.

In any of the cases, the emails you receive don’t offer you any value.

It’s the same case if you’re using this strategy to build your email list. The chances are also high that you’re not getting enough ROI on your email campaign. When people talk about the benefits of email marketing, they’re not in any way referring to an email marketing campaign that relies on any of these strategies to build their list.

The Benefits of a Permission-Based Email Marketing Campaign

Here are some of the benefits associated with a permission-based email marketing:

Less Spam Risk

It’s not considered spam when you have the full blessings of your email subscribers. People are less likely to reject it because they consented to it. Meaning, the emails are less likely to get swept into their spam folder.

Because of this, your subscribers are less likely to opt-out of your email campaign so long as you continue sending them helpful messages.

An Unbelievable ROI

Studies show that for every $1 you spent on email marketing, you’ll most likely generate between $38 to $44 in returns. Keep in mind that no other marketing strategy bests this.

A majority of your subs will open your email. However, for a non-permission email campaign, the open rate falls far below 5%.

The average open rate for a permission-based email campaign, on the other hand, is just under 20%. Don’t get it twisted. This percentage isn’t that low when you consider how many emails an average person receives in a day. Yet, they still chose to read yours.

Strengthens Your Brand

Non-permission emails destroy your brand, but permission-based ones build it.

Imagine receiving unsolicited emails from a brand you barely know. What would be your reaction

You’ll be disgusted, of course — and live to hate them.

However, for a permission-based email system, you probably signed up with them to be informed or learn a thing or two from their regular email messages. You trust them, and also appreciate the fact that they keep you on the know.

It’s Relevant

Permission-based email campaigns give you great control over the emails you sent.

You can use analytics to study and understand your recipients and then group them accordingly. That way, you will be sending different email messages to different groups based on their interests, behaviours, and traits.

You have to make sure that each group receives messages that are relevant to them, instead of just mass-shooting them.

This is what is referred to as email segmentation. And according to the latest research findings, it can increase your revenue by up to 760%.

What Makes Permission-Based Email Marketing Work?

Permission-based email marketing works because it allows you to connect with customers in the way they’d prefer. It makes them feel like they’re in control of the situation, and the only reason they’re getting your messages is because they chose to.

Use relevant information to keep them in your subscriber list and use automation tools to ensure they receive the emails at their time of convenience.

Permission-based email marketing offers you a chance to maximise your marketing budget.

Key Tips for Running an Effective Permission-Based Email Marketing Campaign in Singapore

To run an effective permission-based email marketing campaign, here’s a list of all the things you should consider doing:

Define What a Quality Subscriber Means

You’re not just trawling around for any subscriber. Instead, you’re on the hunt for a specific type of subscriber.

Here’s the subscriber you want:

  • A subscriber that’s also your target customer
  • A subscriber that’s interested in your product offering, even if they’re yet to make any purchase
  • A subscriber that opens your email, at least once in a while
  • A subscriber that’s easy to convert
  • A subscriber that buys your products
  • A subscriber that doesn’t mind sharing your email with others
  • A subscriber that clicks on your links

These are the subscribers you should be looking to attract. Defining them will help you know what methods work best with them.

It’s Not About the Quantity of the Subscribers, but the Quality

Building an email list is not a number game. In as much as you’d like to see your email list grow, you do not want to end up with a bloated list that’s only draining your resources and bring nothing of substance in return.

You can cut on your marketing cost and increase your revenue by focusing on quality. You may be tempted to buy leads, but this is a trap you should try at all costs to avoid.

Remarket to Those That Opt-Out

Someone opting out of your email list doesn’t necessarily translate to the end of the road for them.

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We’re not suggesting that you bombard them with desperate messages. Neither are we trying to tell you that you should cling to the people that have already made up their mind — just a small effort to make them reconsider their earlier decision.

You can take a cue from Netflix. Talk to them politely and let them know that you accept their decision, but should they change their mind, they’re free to come back.

You can send them a follow email a few days after that, announcing about some of your offers, and simply ask them to come back for more of them.

Give Them Options

Have an option where your subscribers can check a box for the type of email they’d like to receive from you. As you’re soon to find out, it may take a particular type of email to trigger some of them to unsubscribe. That’s what you should be aiming to avoid.

If they’re irked by the frequency at which the emails are sent, you can give them an option to receive fewer emails.

Another option would be to ask for their feedback on the unsubscribe page. Find out why they’re opting out, and use the feedback you get to make a few changes.

Retarget Them on Social Media

Use social media to retarget your recent list of unsubscribers. Create a Facebook ad that specifically retargets the people that opted out of your email list. You can even go the extra mile by preparing an exclusive offer for them.

Create a Facebook Lookalike Audience

Just because a subscriber decided to opt-out, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were less interested in what you’re offering.

As such, you may use their information to find people with similar interests and start targeting them as well.

Create a List of Excludes

Not every subscriber you get is a good match. Based on the data you gathered from analytics, you can exclude some of the subscribers from receiving your social media ads.

Be sure to check out the new GDRP rules. These rules also dictate what you can and can’t do when someone unsubscribes from your email list.

Don’t Be Afraid to Lose Subscribers

Some of the people that subscribe to your email list will go, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. A common mistake that web owners make is trying to hide the unsubscribe button.

Don’t take your subscribers through hoops when they feel like opting out. The last thing you want is to end up with a group of subscribers who think they opted out. So, they end up passing your emails as spam, which may go on to hurt your credibility.

When someone wants to unsubscribe, it’s better just to get them off the rolls and instead focus on attracting a new group of subscribers.

Establish A Straightforward Funnel for Getting More Subscribers

People don’t sign with you so that you can start sending them marketing messages. They’re part of your community because they think you offer value.

While you’ll be directly competing with real people, your biggest competitor is the idea of limited time. Your subscribers have limited time on their hands, and what they want is for you to make every second of it count.

Serve them value with every message that you shoot their way, and you’ll be halfway there.

Offer Your Subscribers Something Uniquely Valuable

Choose your offer more carefully. While everyone wants a chance to win a new iPhone, including the people you’re targeting, offering them that will only bloat your list of subscribers with people who don’t care a whit about what it is that you do.

A better approach would be to pick an offer that’s uniquely valuable, something like:

  • A detailed report not found anywhere else
  • A quality how-to video that they need to resolve something
  • A uniquely exciting eBook quite useful to your targets
  • Discount or free add-on service on first order
  • An affirmative message, joke, or tip a day geared towards your audience

Learn From Your Mistakes

The only way to avoid bloating your email list with low-quality subscribers is to be keen on observing data. At the same time, you want to find out why your subscribers are dropping off.

If you’re keen on following data, here are a few things you’ll get to learn in the process:

  • How to create more relevant content for your subscribers
  • The ideal time to send them content
  • The frequency of sending emails to the various target groups
  • How to segment your list of subscribers
  • How to increase your revenue
  • How to attract more subscribers
  • How to increase engagement
  • How to create more relevant content

Listening to what analytics has to say will help you make the most of the opportunities before you.

The Don’ts of Running an Effective Permission-Based Email Marketing Campaign in Singapore: What to Avoid

Don’t Overlook the Role of Word-of-Mouth in Your Campaign

With permission-based email marketing, it’s easy to get your subscribers warmed up about the email that you’re about to send to them. In so doing, you’ll be creating an environment where some of them will be eager to share your message or brand with their family and friends. What you want to do is create content that many of them will be willing to share. Use social media icons, incentives, and so on.

Not Being Inconsistent with Branding

64% of recipients open emails solely based on who’s sent them. That goes on to confirm how important branding is to your marketing campaign.

Here are some critical stats to back this up:

  • 64% percent of recipients will open an email based on who it’s from
  • 42% will open an email based on the subject line
  • 26% will open an email based on the underlying offer
  • 14% will open the email based on the intro paragraph
  • 4% will open it based on your email length

A brand is something you build over time. It, in turn, compensates you by inspiring trust among the customers you serve. People have to associate your brand with certain innate qualities to the point that if they were to receive a poorly branded email, they wouldn’t even think it’s from you.

Here are a few branding elements to work on:

  • Font size and style
  • Layout
  • Language
  • How to relate
  • Image types
  • Colour schemes
  • And more

Email Marketing Laws and Regulations in Singapore

Every country has its own rules and regulations that govern the whole process of email marketing. Singapore is no exception.

Who Regulates These Laws?

Two legislation sources regulate electronic marketing in Singapore.

  • The Spam Act Control
  • Personal Data Protection Act

In Singapore, spam refers to any unsolicited commercial message sent in bulk via electronic media. In other words, the recipient never gave any prior informed consent to receive the message.

The Spam Control Act

The Spam Control Act seeks to regulate the title and content of unsolicited electronic messages that people send in Singapore. It applies to any form of marketing messages sent via text, email, or multimedia files.

It applies to all texts with a link to Singapore.

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Examples of messages that are linked to Singapore:

  • Any message that emanated from Singapore, whether a local resident or foreigner sent it. So long as it was sent from within Singapore’s border, then these rules apply.
  • Any message whose sender is an entity that’s either managed or controlled in Singapore
  • If the message is accessed or read through a phone, PC, laptop or any other device that’s within Singapore’s border
  • When the recipient of the message is from Singapore. It doesn’t matter if they’re foreigners or local residents, so long as they’re receiving the message in Singapore, then these rules do apply

The Terms to Understand

Unsolicited: Under section 5 of the Spam Control Act, an email is considered spam if i) the recipient never requested it to be sent to them, and ii) the recipient never consented to receive the email.

In other words, it’s only safe when the recipient personally reaches to you and request for the email to be sent to them or when they give you permission to send an email to them.

Sent in Bulk: In the Spam Control Act, a message can be said to be sent in bulk if:

  • 100 or more emails containing the same message are send to different recipient within a 24-hour time-period
  • 1000 or more emails containing the same message are send to different recipients within a 20-day period.
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Spam Control Act

Part III of the Spam Control Act demands that any person who sends, causes another person to send, or authorises someone to send unsolicited commercial messages in bulk complies with the following requirements:

  1. Unsubscribe Facility

Any electronic message that you send must comply with the following unsubscribe facility:

  • There should be sufficient contact information allowing the recipient of the message to unsubscribe.
  • The contact information you use must at least have a 30 days validity period. Plus, the cost of using a contact must not exceed the standard rate.
  • Once someone opts out, you have a maximum of 10 days to remove their email address from your mailing list.
  • After a user unsubscribes from your email list, you’re prohibited from ever disclosing any of their personal information to anybody else.

The unsubscribe address provided must be valid, obtained legitimately, and capable to receive a reasonable number of unsubscribe requests at any time for the next 30 days after sending your email message.

  1. Labelling and Content Requirements

Every single one of the unsolicited messages that you send must contain the following content and labelling requirements.

  • The subject field: This is the title of the message that you send. You’re not to use any false or misleading title for the message.
  • If the message is advertising something, you’re to add the letters “ADV” at the beginning of your title or subject field to clearly indicate that the message is advertising something.
  • The header information you use must be false or misleading.
  • The message must be accompanied by a working telephone number or email address with which the recipient might use to contact you.

The Risks and Penalties of Non-Compliance

Should you fail to abide by these laws and rules, what legal consequences awaits you?

First, any recipient of your message who suffer loss or damage as a result of you contravening any of the laws and regulation of the SCA has a hight to commence a civil proceeding for an injunction or damages.

The recipient is also entitled to a damage compensation equivalent to the loss or damage incurred or to a statutory damage that can range from S$25 to S$1 million for every commercial email message that they received from you.

How to Obtain Email Permissions

You, of course, want your email marketing campaign to be successful. The general rule here is that you should never add anyone to your list without first getting their permission.

But how do you obtain their permission?

Read on to find out:

Follow the Right Channel

There’s only one acceptable way to obtain email addresses from your site visitors. And that’s, offering them something valuable in exchange for their contact details.

Be Straightforward on Your Signup Form

Don’t bait and switch your subscribers. Let them know what type of content to expect and how often to expect it once they subscribe to your email list.

Respect Your Subscribers’ Privacy

Trust is of the essence here. Your subscribers want to be sure that they can completely trust you with their personal information. Post your privacy policy where everyone can read it, for peace of mind. Remember that this also enhances your credibility as a company.

Don’t Overwhelm Your Recipients

When your subscribers permit you to send them email messages, you want to make sure that you’re not doing it so often. In a recent study finding, customers were quick to point out that they unsubscribe from email lists, mostly because of receiving so many emails.

Regularly Update Your Contact’s Info

An email subscriber may change their email address, ESP, or job, and you may be the last person to learn about it. So, make a point to periodically ask them to update their contact details to avoid dealing with outdated information.

Pay Attention to Analytics and Email Reports

Pay attention to everything that’s happening to your campaign. Find out how many of your subscribers opted out. If you’re losing more than 0.5% of your subscribers, then that may be interpreted to mean there’s something wrong with your content or email frequency.

Never Buy an Email List

It bears repeating that buying an email list will do you no good, just harm. Permissions are not transferable. Even buying an email list from a direct competitor won’t do your campaign any good.

Double Opt-In Email Marketing

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The best way to guarantee permission in your email marketing campaign is adopting the double opt-in (aka confirmed opt-in) approach.

Double opt-in is where you ask your subscriber to confirm if they’re still okay with the idea of you adding them to your email list even after they providing their email addresses.

This option leaves nothing to chance. Nor does it deal with assumptions. So, unless a subscriber confirms they’re okay with receiving regular emails from you, there’s no way you’re adding them to your mailing list.

It’s a more rigid way of confirming your contacts’ subscription. In most cases, an email is sent to the recipient, asking them if they’d like to confirm their subscription.

A Sample Confirmation Email for Double Opt-In


Our team at MediaOne would like to take this opportunity to thank you for showing interest in our business. In order to ensure our mailing list is up to date, and to stop sending you emails that you’re no longer interested in, we would like you to confirm if you’d like to be added to our future mailing list.

If you’d like to continue receiving emails from us, click on the link below:

Confirm Subscription

We’re asking for this confirmation because we don’t want to keep sending you unwanted messages. We’d also like to inform you that if you do not confirm this request, we might not see the need to keep you in our mailing list. That means you’ll no longer be receiving emails from us.

Thank you for your continued support once again.

Tom Koh,

CEO, Media One.

Why Double Opt-In Email Confirmation?

The use of double opt-in email confirmation is considered the industry’s best practice. You’re advised to grow and maintain your email list using the double opt-in approach.

Why is this so?

  • Double opt-in lowers the chances of having spam complaints filed against you. It’s what you use to ensure you send emails to people that are actually interested in your message, without making any assumption.
  • It eliminates the risk of unwanted email address making it to your list. Someone signing up using someone else’s email or spam trap still has to hit the subscription button or link or wind up in your email list.
  • Improved Deliverability: Emails to those who confirmed their subscription is usually send from special mail servers, whose IP addresses are rarely blocked.
  • Double confirmation is the new normal, prevalent and widely acceptable. Online users do it all the time, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary in this.
  • Double opt-in isn’t only necessary for growing a list, but also for maintaining it. There’ll come a time when you’ll want to confirm an existing email list or confirm from those that rarely open your emails if they’re still with you.

When Should You Re-Confirm an Existing Emailing List?

You can use double opt-in to manually send a confirmation request to an already existing email list to get rid of inactive contacts.

Here are a few incidences when the re-confirmation is necessary:

  • When a permission-based email list you’ve been growing for a while suddenly starts to receive a barrage of complaints
  • To refresh your list after every one year. Usually, lists built over one year tend to perform poorly. You may find that you’re receiving so many spam complaints as the open rate continues to drop.
  • If you gathered a list offline, instead of just adding it directly to your email list, you might want to send a confirmation message to each one of them, and then add the ones that proceed with the confirmation to your new list.
  • When you want to communicate event-oriented or time-sensitive information. Manually confirming your existing list may help you to identify which group has any interest in the event.
  • When you wish to improve your click-through or open rat
  • When you want to increase the deliverability rate

Final Thoughts

Make the most out of your marketing budget with permission-based email marketing.

Are you looking to build your email list and grow your business? We can help with a no-non-sense digital marketing strategy that generates results.

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Let’s discuss your business and the goals you have. Contact us today.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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