Use Permission Assets Now ... Or Else

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What are you waiting for? Christmas is over and so is Y2K. In fact, Valentine's Day is even out of the way. So what's your reason for delaying the leveraging of your permission assets?


One of the problems facing marketers is that there's always a crisis, always a quarterly report, always something to postpone the dusty and dirty (but very profitable) work of collecting and using permission assets. After all, if a marketing project takes a few weeks or months or years to pay off, surely you can think of something better to do.


You've got plenty of cool things you can do. Shoot next year's Super Bowl commercial in Miami Beach (hey, it's snowing out). Work on the next untested graphic redesign of your site. Stay up all night nursing your server. But all these are short-term thrills. What about laying the groundwork for a permission asset and then taking advantage of it?


Let's take a specific example: How much longer is Amazon going to wait before it starts publishing the books it sells?


Now, this isn't a new idea. Barnes & Noble uses its stores as an outlet for hundreds of books it publishes under its own imprint, from Moby Dick to The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense.


Barnes & Noble learned a really important lesson about the book business. When a book sells for $15 and it costs $1 to print, someone's making $14 along the way.


Now, if you're an online retailer selling things at cost or just a few cents above, most of that $14 sure isn't going to you. But if the author's dead or eager, and the middleman (that's you, Amazon) has a permission asset, then most of the profits rightly belong to the person who's doing the really hard work - selling something.


How would it work at Amazon? Let's take a look:


According to recent media reports, more than 12 million people recently purchased at least one book from Amazon. And thanks to tremendous customer service and a huge investment in infrastructure, a huge percentage of those folks are quite happy with the experience. I know that when I give talks around the world, the vast majority of people polled raise their hand when I say, "Who buys books from Amazon?"


So if Amazon has this huge following and they know everything people buy, and they have permission to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to their customers, why not find an author with a following and persuade her to fire her publisher and start writing books for Amazon?


Imagine that you're a happy Amazon customer and you get a note informing you that Sue Blank's next novel is available exclusively from Amazon, and that all you have to do to buy it is click "reply." And imagine that the only people who got this anticipated, personal and relevant note are people who have bought one of Sue's previous books, or perhaps (Amazon would need to test this) people who have bought books with a very similar tone.


Now, there are certainly more elegant and more subtle ways to launch this program, but I think you get the idea. If Amazon could sell just 9,000 copies of Sue's book, at say $22 in hardcover, they could pay Sue $50,000 in royalties, pay the printer $18,000 and earn $130,000 in profit. In one day. For free. And it's only Monday!


What happens if they do the same thing and sell 90,000 copies? They make nearly $2 million in profit.


What happens the day after that? And the day after that? The power in permission comes from being able to do what's been hard for so long - introducing people to new products, or to products that they didn't know existed.


After Amazon figures out how to make $1 million a week selling books, what's to keep them from going into recorded music? Better still, once they figure out how to do the traditional thing (take people who already write books and make records and bring them to their audience using traditional packaging and formats), imagine the results when they start commissioning works for an audience they already know exists.


If the audience is ready for an album with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett doing duets, then Amazon can get the two of them into a recording studio without worrying about whether it will fly in the marketplace. Want to do a live album and have it sold within two weeks? No problem. It's presold, and all the wasteful risk and insecurity usually associated with launching intellectual property goes away along with the millions of bucks that consumers are overcharged to make up for it.


So what is Amazon waiting for? Well, last year,the company's goal was to build out the landscape, get new customers, add gifts and electronics and other stuff. And, of course, it didn't want to spook the publishers too early.


But now, Amazon has critical mass. It has crossed a major threshold. It's time, because if Amazon doesn't do it soon, someone else will.


And, you guessed it, the same thing goes for you. Figure out how to acquire and leverage permission now, or your competition will.


Every time someone leaves your site without giving you permission, you've wasted an asset. And every week that you don't deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to your core constituency, you've wasted an opportunity.


Personal aside: You may have noticed that my bio has changed. As of last month, I'm no longer at Yahoo. After more than a year of working with some of the smartest, coolest people I've ever met, I'm on to newer and smaller things. My company, Do You Zoom, Inc. (okay, it's just me-I like it that way-but humor me while I call it a company) is focused on writing and speaking about change and marketing. At the same time, I'm busy concocting some brand new business models, which I'll sell or license to companies that can execute them.


I think we've seen just the first chapter in the long history of the Net and it's total makeover of our planet. The opportunities are far bigger than they ever were before.
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