Do Marketers really need permission?

Into every Forrester analyst's life a little blogging must fall! As the last blogging neophyte on our team I've put off introducing myself far too long. Okay, I admit it, I found the medium a bit intimidating but it's time to practice what I preach and find out what it's like to put my brand out online.

I find myself thinking a lot about the importance of permission for marketers. As consumers increasingly opt in to the things they want (personalized content, websites that match their hobbies and special interests, social networking sites) and out of the things they don’t want (ads, dull programming, traditional marketing pitches) marketers are going to have to spend a lot of time getting permission from consumers and figuring out how to hold on to it.

Direct marketers have always known the importance of getting permission and the difficulty of doing so. That’s why they sometimes resort to sweepstakes and cheesy creative—they need to capture enough people’s attention to get to the ones who will give them permission to pitch and, if all goes well, permission to sell them more things in the future, Brand marketers are beginning to have their eyes opened. If they can’t count on mass media audiences passively absorbing their messages through TV, radio and print how do they get on consumer’s radar screens? Attracting new customers is tough and getting their attention isn’t enough—you need their permission to keep talking if you want them to listen.

Technology adds another wrinkle. Say a customer buys from Amazon and checks “yes, I want to receive more offers on products like these”.

Eureka, permission! In the old days it would have taken 6 to 8 weeks for a direct marketer respond with a new offer: today a company like Amazon can respond immediately and with Big Brother-ish accuracy—“People who liked X also like Y and Z”. Is this within the bounds of permission granted or is it cyber stalking? Amazon found out it depends—an e-mail seconds after purchase feels creepy—one sent a week later is perceived as helpful.

Our team at Forrester discussed this issue and came to the conclusion that it comes down to human judgment. Just like social customs of how close to stand or whether to shake hands, bow or kiss cheeks, marketers who want lasting permission need to understand when their customers want to be entertained, when they want information and when they want to be pitched. Technology can run these processes together but the smart marketer will keep a very human understanding of what they have permission to do and when they have it. Otherwise they may well find their access denied.

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