Three Unexpected Side Effects of Permission

Permission marketing represents a watershed change in the way products are marketed and sold. And we’re just scratching the surface. A year from now, the repercussions will be clearer. In the meantime, here are three sites that already reflect some of the big ideas we’ll soon see over and over again.

The first is Believe it or not, the guy who runs it, Raymond Lemire, has the following title: The Big Parmesan. Lemire’s big idea is that you can make a commitment once, and he’ll send you a jar of sauce and some pasta every month – forever. While it’s just a variation on the Book of the Month club, it has important implications.

The first is that many things are going to be sold by subscription in the future. It saves me time to make a decision once and then get goods and services delivered on a regular basis. But more important, it changes the supplier dynamic forever. Instead of spending all his time finding customers for his products, Lemire gets to spend all his time finding products for his customers.

This shift in the power structure of product development is critical. It means merchants will eliminate enormous amounts of risk and waste from their systems, saving time and money along the way. It means consumers will get better stuff, faster. When the merchant knows what users want and then goes out and gets it, everyone wins.

Is there someone in your company devoted to finding products for your customers? Are you working to build tighter and tighter relationships, eliminating risk and increasing the speed of your product- selection and delivery systems?

The second site is Toni Sikes has built one of the most beautiful sites on the Web – but it’s not for everyone. In fact, that’s the magical insight of No town can support a craft gallery filled to the brim with fantastic furniture, art and glass – at prices that range from $300 to $15,000. But the Web can. By realizing that she can acquire a niche, and then insisting that the site isn’t for everyone, Sikes has grabbed a real truth from permission – a mass market can be created by pursuing a niche around the world.

Is it difficult and expensive to acquire permission from people ready to spend $8,400 on a cabinet? Yep. But it’s worth it because The Guild is now leveraging that permission over time, delivering relevant and anticipated news and updates to people who want to hear from Sikes.

The Guild doesn’t have to worry about being Amazoned. All it has to do is keep focusing on its niche, building a permission relationship and letting great service and word of mouth build its business. This site isn’t going to change the world, nor will it change the way most people buy.

But the Guild does generate a loyal, profitable business based on acquiring permission to market a select group of items to a small group of people. Everybody wins.

The third site is Yahoo. A few years ago, I denigrated brand as a poor substitute for permission. I was wrong. A strong brand goes a long, long way to getting you more and more permission from the people you want to talk with.

Ask a stranger for permission to market to them, and you’ll likely hear a “no.” Yet that’s what so many sites try to do. Flush with venture money and a spanking new server, they’re trying to steal third without even getting into the batter’s box.

Yahoo’s brand is known around the world. And, much to my surprise, the brand makes all aspects of permission easier to acquire and leverage. Basically, if people know and like your brand, they’re more likely to opt in and interact with you. It’s pretty obvious, but you wouldn’t know it from the things some online marketers do.

Here are three brand imperatives:

• Without a media footprint, you’re invisible. This means that you’ve got to invest in online and offline messaging that’s not designed to generate permission; it’s just designed to build a layer of brand awareness and trust. It doesn’t cost a lot to buy a ton of online media, and that media, with or without clicks, goes a long way to building a brand.

• Awareness is not the same as brand. Dissecting animals during the Super Bowl might get you attention, but it won’t build a brand relationship that’s likely to lead to permission. You need a message and a way to get that message across.

• It all has to fuse together. You’ve got to have your brand campaign feed your permission campaign and vice versa.

Remember, brand and permission both bring with them huge responsibility. You’ve built an asset. Don’t waste it!

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