What is an Opt-In and Why?

Brochures are precursors of opt-ins.I just returned from a long trip out of town. As always when traveling, I gathered a large pile of brochures, maps, flyers, and local newspapers. I love combing the racks at motels and Welcome Centers, culling the tastiest information and bringing it back to whatever room I currently occupy to peruse and plot my next adventures. These kinds of lures are taken for granted. Whether at the doctor’s office, the Chamber of Commerce, or the basket weavers’ convention, we expect to have access to free information. We need the descriptions, the images, the specifics; we want graphic details before we’re willing to buy. Printed brochures, premium items (like fans or pens with your company logo), fact or tip sheets and the like have been used for centuries in business. Today’s “opt-in” is the direct descendant of this familiar marketing tactic. However, the opt-in we have today actually improves on its forebears by doubling as a lead-generation device. While the venerable brochure fostered new clients, it did not provide that lead’s contact information. In contrast. a website opt-in is usually accessible only via a process that involves sharing at least your first name and email address. Any item or service that requires more than a petty-change commitment from the buyer must provide this kind of value-added selling. Our initial urge to purchase may be emotional, but we’ll soon seek to rationalize that choice. We need further proof from you, as seller. Try to keep in mind an idea of the enormousness of the web. You may have a home base in your website, but that means almost nothing if you do not go out and whole-heartedly invite others in to visit. You hand these people your opt-in, as a lure or “ethical bribe,” hoping they’ll want more. In that light, your opt-in is a precise metaphor for your business offering; it encapsulates your message and values, so that those who access it can

  1. Come to know you better,
  2. Understand your offerings and options more specifically,
  3. See more clearly how your offerings will solve their problems.

So let’s look at a few examples. These are hypothetical, but you get the idea.

  1. You make a uniquely fabulous pizza, and run a take-out restaurant downtown. Your opt-in is a great pizza dough recipe.
  2. You are a private investigator. Your opt-in is a fact sheet titled, “The Myths of Privacy.”
  3. You’re a visual artist, specializing in landscapes. Your opt-in is a downloadable  “25 Favorite Color Themes.”
  4. You run a few tanning salons in town. Your opt-in is free membership, which includes specials, a Facebook group, and newsletters.
  5. You’re a novelist. Your opt-in is a tip-sheet with your favorite writing or creativity jump-start tricks.

It used to be that you worried about how to design your company’s brochure so that it was current but also had a long shelf life, because printing was an expensive operation. The internet relieves us of 99% of that cost, and today we can publish freely and frequently.  Today, these free gifts of helpful information or entertainment demand our creativity and expertise, but they cost next to nothing to produce. Small businesses can benefit over the long term from a single opt-in that works well, or they can often change out a series of opt-ins, continuously refining.


Small Business Online Branding offers assistance in designing, creating, and promoting your opt-in for lead generation. More info here and here.

About Mary Ruth

Mary H. Ruth is a virtual assistant, online marketing manager, copywriter and editor, and certified inbound marketing specialist. She has over 30 years' experience in administration and marketing in both non-profit and business sectors, having earned a degree in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975. Now living in Gainesville, Florida, she's been working online since late 2007.

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