December 06, 2010

Is Permission Marketing Dead?

From big brands to new BFFs, spam is on the rise in your Inbox. 

Over 10 years ago, Seth Godin sent a shot over the bow with his book Permission Marketing.  He made the point that when you don't have permission to interrupt someone, you are hurting your brand and not likely converting much business either.  He argued that the key is to first ask for permission to add someone to a marketing list, then make offers to them until they decide to retract it.  For a period of time, big brands of all types took this seriously, some even requiring opt-in selection by potential list recipients. 

Recently, it's all changed, though, as companies of all sizes boldly started to add anyone to any list without any type of permission.  I realized this when I decided to clean up by bloated Inbox.  I noticed that I was receiving dozens of newsletters and announcements every week that I never asked for.   I patiently opened each one, clicked on the unsubscribe link and then flagged the email as Junk. What really surprised me was this: The biggest spammers were companies I did business with, but never gave permission to add me to their lists.  Joe's Jeans, Amazon, Roku, Participant Films, Target, Apple (yes, Apple) and about two dozen other companies that had required an email from me as part of an e-commerce transaction.  NOT ONCE did I select (add me to the list) and every time, I deselected it when it was presented to me.  In several cases, cashiers at retail stores asked for my email address, but never explained why.  Now I know.  

What does this mean?  A new generation of marketing decision makers have decided we don't have anymore privacy rights, so they are adding names to lists as fast as possible, and building a new eCatalog model to make our Inboxes as unwieldy as our mail boxes.  It's not just the .com sites or the spammers anymore, it's the marketers.  What they fail to realize is that when you require a consumer to unsubscribe from you or flag you as Junk Mail, you are weakening your brand to them - making it even harder for future/legit marketing to convert.  That was the point that Seth stressed to marketers with his book: Earn permission, it's an asset and a brand of it's own. 

In my case, I never add someone to my email newsletter.  They must choose to do so via visiting my site.  Often I offer book lists, downloads, etc. during my conference talks.  I could easily grow my newsletter from its current size (around 8,000) to about 20,000 or 30,000 if I was willing to break the rules - but I don't because I know it would be a violation of trust.  And I also know that it wouldn't be good personal branding when these unsuspecting folks start to receive my newsletter out of the blue.  Sure, I may reply to an old email from a fan with a single message about a new book, but that's a far cry from sticking them on a list distribution (to receive countless emails over time).

Audit your own company's policies here, making sure you aren't one of them too.  Sergio Zyman, former CMO of Coke, argued that good marketing "is a service, that adds value when you buy, consume or own a product."  Interruption without permission isn't a service, it's an annoyance, and can only reflect poorly on a company's marketing acumen.  

I'm no longer going to give my email address to stores I shop at.  I've got a Yahoo email address for eCommerce transactions, so I can still get my confirmations of a successful transaction or shipping information without having my regular email Inbox spammed.  I'm going to boycott companies that insist on adding me to their lists, or refusing to unsubscribe me when I ask.  Pass it on. 


Posted at 10:17 AM in Business Effectiveness , Marketing  |  Permalink  |  Comments (2)  |  TrackBack (0)



I wonder if that started all these laws surrounding such things now. Lot of legalities coming into play with marketing to people who don't want to be marketed to.


Great post, Tim! Thank you.

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