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Is Permission Marketing Still Relevant?

Mistakes happenYesterday I recapped my Finding and Following Your Customer’s Digital Footprint Twitter chat and I mentioned the following points:

  • Have a clear sense of what’s your data (aggregate usage information, opens, clicks, shares, retweets, etc). vs. customers’.
  • All personally identifiable information (PII) belongs to customers, always. Handle with care.
  • If you’re uncomfortable telling customers how you plan to use their data, ask yourself whether you should collect it at all.

Well, I got an email asking why these concepts are so important. I’m not going to quote the email in full (I want to protect the guilty on this one), but, as the writer asked,

“I’m not saying I want to be ‘evil,’ but what’s evil about trying to grow my business? How am I supposed to contact prospects if I’ve got to ask their permission all the time? Isn’t the point to drive more revenue?”

I’m going to answer these in reverse.

First, of course the point is to drive more revenue (assuming, of course, you’re a revenue-focused organization; if you’re not, insert your “business” metrics where you see “revenue,” “profit,” etc.)

But the point isn’t to drive more revenue today with no thought for tomorrow.

Yes, we live in an instant gratification society, one focused on immediate earnings and early exits. I myself am fond of saying that marketing is next quarter’s sales. But you can’t sacrifice your future for short-term gain (well, you can; I’m just saying it’s a bad idea).

This isn’t just “touchy-feely,” holier-than-thou stuff, either (though I’m getting to that in a minute. There’s a practical reason for this approach. Finding customers is expensive. Really expensive, in fact. So a customer who buys from you just once isn’t a great investment. Instead, you want to cultivate longer-term relationships with people, earn their trust, and also earn their repeat business. It’s much simpler to sell to people you’ve sold to before. And that’s much easier if you’ve demonstrated that you take their concerns into consideration.

It happens to be the right thing to do. But it’s also a good business.

Now, the second reason is this: It’s not your data.

Your customers entrust you with a limited amount of information, for a specific purpose. You should use it for that purpose and only for that purpose. If they want it back, or want to opt out, or want to move on and not hear from you any more, that’s their right. How would you like it if I borrowed your car, then wouldn’t give it back when you needed it? Or if I trashed it, spilling chili dogs and Diet Cherry Pepsi all over the floor?

So why do you think it’s OK to treat their data that way?

Seth Godin once wrote a fantastic book, called “Permission Marketing” about this very topic. It’s a little dated, but it’s well-worth the read. For me, it’s still the gold standard. And the reason is because, like all fundamental truths, they really don’t change over time.

So, yes, work to grow your business. Do what you can to drive your revenues. And feel free to push for better and better results. But do it in a way that’s good for your customer today and good for your business tomorrow.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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