January 30, 2013 5:35 PM

The End Of Permission

Thankfully, Seth Godin is alive and well, otherwise, he'd be rolling over in his grave.

In 1999, Godin wrote the seminal marketing business book, Permission Marketing. In short, don't assume that your consumers want your marketing pap, get their permission first. And, with that little step, you build the relationship where loyalty, trust and credibility act as a pillar and not a beacon off in the distant on a foggy night. For years, the evolution took hold. If you look at best practices in email marketing, the main foundation is based on opt-in (where consumers are opting in for your marketing messages). In many countries, the government has stepped in and created laws that force companies to get permission before sending off any kind of messaging (anti-spam laws). Is the situation perfect? Hardly. We've seen instances where marketers didn't just cross the line, but completely disregarded the existence of said line. With that, we've seen consumers cry foul when companies they are customers of have reached out to them in an effort to fix a problem or notify them of a change in business only to get hit with a formal complaint of spamming, because there was ambiguity surrounding the formality of opting in. Lately, it seems like the bigger companies have found a solid base from which to gather permission, while entrepreneurs and solopreneurs are in a brutal tailspin of assuming a relationship and (sometimes) offering an opt-out.

It's become a daily deluge of automatic permission assumed.

"Hey Mitch, please check out my new portfolio of photographs!," read a recent email (with no opt-out). From there, it's been a daily spamming of massive-sized emails with photos, PDF attachments and the like. Or emails that read, "Hey, Mitch... I thought our product might be of interest to you. If you don't want to receive updates like this, please opt out by clicking here." If it were the occasional email or faux-pas, such is life. I'm sensing a trend. And, in speaking to some of my peers, I am not alone. Now, some might come down hard on this commentary as me being offended by potential vendors or business opportunities for reaching out. This is not the case. A personalized email that said, "Hey Mitch, I'm a photographer and thought I would introduce myself to you and Twist Image about the potential of selling you some of my work," is fine (and, to be expected). These are not pitches or email introductions to sell me something. These are e-newsletters that are not personalized, that are clearly being sent to a larger audience, and that are being delivered with a frequency that matches any other traditional email marketing campaign that one might see in market (in fact, the ones that I am citing above are being sent by a e-newsletter technology).

Permission first.

It's a busy world. It's a busy inbox. It's not easy. Email (and other channels, because this sort of stuff is ever-present on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and beyond) allow people to write something quickly, push one button and not have to deal with the ramifications. As a marketing professional (and someone who cares deeply about this industry), I'm hopeful that you and I can both get back to the good fight of helping these brands and individuals better understand that while spamming may be easy and building a true relationship may be more challenging, the new media is about quality, not quantity. Why? Because after two decades of digital commercialization, we've also learned another fascinating thing about marketing in these connected channels: those who spend the early days connecting to the right people (the quality) tend to build a substantive and valuable database (quantity). Who knew?

Permission means you connect to the right people. The right people become a lot of right people. Sounds like the best kind of marketing. What do you think?