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Permission Marketing is an Oxymoron

Author: Robert Fleming
Website: www.emarketingassocition.com

For centuries marketers have been selling products and services using any channel available. 2000 years ago that was probably a cart with a bell and a sign. With the advent of the printing press came newspapers, flyers, magazines. Then direct mail, radio, television and blimps in the sky.

For over two hundred years in the United States, marketers have been selling the American public on products and services to make their lives more enjoyable, efficient and effective.

We have never once asked a customer's permission to do that. If we had, I would assume that most of us would not have DVD's televisions, SUV's or be drinking Coke. In fact, it is likely that the United States wouldn't even exist as a world economic leader. We owe much of our success to free and unencumbered commerce, free speech and our ability to compete and innovate. The ability to reach the public through any possible advertising channel has been essential to our growth.

Now we are asking permission. Email is, in reality, permission marketing. No other channel not magazines, television, direct mail or door-to door sales, is involved with this permission concept. Just email. Why not call it email permission marketing?

The problem with permission marketing.

The reality is that the entire reason for the concept of permission marketing is Spam. Period. People obviously do not want their email in boxes over flowing with unwanted emails. So as marketers we have come up with this concept of asking them if we can send them email to sell our products and services to them. Actually, the concept is decades old, for years we have checked boxes on direct mail postcards and forms asking "for more information" or "please contact me", although we have never called that permission marketing.

Since we are marketers we needed a name for this "new" concept in marketing. We coined it "permission marketing", but it is far from that. It is an oxymoron. Like jumbo shrimp. Marketing by its nature is intrusive. Advertising, from billboards to junk mail in general, are intrusive and always will be. No permission needed, yet, except for email.

Email is The number one Internet application in the world, fast becoming one of our primary means of communication. And marketers are stymied, confused and generally uneducated in this new channel.

Opt-in, opt-out, permission marketing, are all new terms. Dozens of people have made lots of money writing books about the subject. But does anyone really know how to use email for marketing?

The first issue is Spam. No one wants unsolicited email, well, practically no one. After all if the "Spam" you get is relevant and of interest to you it will be welcome. If you collect depression glass tea cups and you are sent an unsolicited, no permission email, about a great deal on tea cups you will most likely click through. And be happy and grateful to receive that email. On the other hand, you may receive irrelevant offers from companies that you have given permission to and call that Spam. Since nobody and everybody has defined Spam differently, you can take your pick of definitions.

A lot of people simply define Spam as email they don't want, permission or no permission. Period. As I said earlier if you want the offer, or information then it is not Spam to you, even if it is unsolicited. So where does that leave us as marketers?

First of all lets do a reality check. One, we are marketers. Two, we sell things to people. Three, we annoy a lot of people with our sales and marketing programs. Four, if we did not do what we do - our economy would not exist.

Second of all lets try to understand and work with this new and effective medium. Since we know people are sensitive about their email, lets go ahead and use opt-in tactics. But we need to go beyond that, beyond the Spam and the permission. Basically, if you send relevant email to people to who want it you will not have a problem. The problem is determining who is interested in your product or service and how to reach them thorough email. Unlike direct mail where you can rent lists of left handed redheaded soccer players, email does not have that degree of targeting available. Eventually maybe. In the meantime the most important thing you can do is to build your own list in-house. Offer a newsletter, and send your customers and prospects information of relevant value, not just pitches for your product. Give them a way to opt out, and a way to reply to you. If you use a list broker to send email, be very careful about the selection of the list, the source of the list and the company who will send your program out. The most important word in email is: relevant.

Eventually, this will sort itself out. The government will probably pass laws against Spam and the Spammers will move offshore and still send you more Spam. We will pay for these laws with higher taxes, and restricted e-commerce for US companies. ISP's will block email even when it is legitimate, and create some havoc in the electronic communication arena. As marketers we will have no shortage of books, lectures, events and seminars about this subject from the "experts" that know everything.

In the meantime, email presents an exciting and unprecedented opportunity for marketers. I would be interested in your opinions, and views on this new arena.

You have my permission to email me at: fleming@the-ema.com just don't, please, send me any offers for mortgages, credit cards or porn.


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