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Selfish Reasons Not to Sell Your Customers' Information
Excerpts from Permission Marketing

Book CoverThese four rules go a long way to help marketers understand permission:

  1. Permission is nontransferable.
  2. Permission is selfish.
  3. Permission is a process, not a moment.
  4. Permission can be canceled at any time.

The rules cause direct marketers the biggest fits because in traditional marketing: it is totally okay to rent or sell or transfer data about your customers secretly without their permission.

Permission Marketing is at odds with the secret sorting and evaluation of data. Why? Because it takes consumers by surprise. And when you surprise a consumer, not only do you void permission, you increase fear. More than 80% of all consumers polled indicated that they're afraid of the data being collected about them. Far worse (from a marketer's point of view) is that this same fear is the single greatest impediment to consumers shopping online.

The morality of gathering information isn't as important for this discussion as the effectiveness of it. Even relevant advertising when directed to recipients without their permission cannot be as effective as that same advertising with permission attached. Contact the great Permission Marketers and ask to rent their list. They'll all turn you down. The reason is simple: Permission rented is permission lost. They can make far more money by protecting this asset than they can by destroying it.

One of the reasons marketers are so quick to buy and sell data is that they love to be in control. A list that can be bought can be mailed to -- whether or not the consumer wants to receive it. The law of large numbers means that sooner or later a sale is going to happen, and if the cost is low enough and the list is targeted enough, many marketers feel it's worth a try.

But Permission Marketing embraces the opposite approach. The marketer is not in control, the consumer is. And the consumer is selfish. Consumers care very little about you, your company, your products, your career, or your family. They're not likely to spend time trying to discover how you can help them solve their problems. The heart of Permission Marketing is giving the stranger a reason to pay attention, while Interruption Marketers hold people hostage. Occasionally they resort to entertainment, and sometimes even information, but more often than not the goal is to use the "commercial break" to drill a message into the prospect's subconscious.

In today's infoglut, people are most selfish about their time and attention. Permission Marketers make every single interaction selfish for the consumer. "What's in it for me?" is the question that must be answered at every step. That's why affinity programs and other promotions are such an effective overlay for many marketing campaigns. If you have a device that automatically rewards consumers for paying attention, you can allow the messages to develop more slowly and effectively over time.

At Yoyodyne, we focus on sweepstakes because the very obvious rewards we offer make it easier to get people to opt in. But other techniques work well, too. You can offer up-to-the-minute sports scores. Or an ongoing education on a topic of mutual interest. Making the information itself a reward works quite well.

A free report on salaries offered by a recruiting firm is a great way to begin a permission relationship. Robert Half (a recruiting firm) starts the permission process by running ads in local and regional publications with a few attractive job listings in the area. The call to action is to contact Robert Half for a complimentary copy of their current salary guide, which you can also get through their Web site. Almost everybody wants to know if they're underpaid, overpaid, or in the middle. When the customer phones in to request the free salary guide (or fills out an online application), Robert Half obtains permission to establish a mutually beneficial exchange of information.

To continue the permission exchange, their Web site features something they call My Job Agent, which allows you to search for jobs using characteristics you define. If you provide your E-mail address, they automatically send you job updates as they come in, as well as the latest industry news if you want (their Web site includes links to Reuters Business and Technology News). From the perspective of the job seeker, immediate access to a potential gold mine of job opportunities is all the self-serving incentive required. Permission Marketing is under way.

On the other side of the spectrum, marketers who have earned permission often take it for granted. They cease to consider the selfish needs of the consumer and begin to use the permission in their own interest, not in the consumer's interest. This leads to a dramatic drop in the effectiveness of the campaign and to the eventual dissolution of the permission altogether.

Seth Godin is vice-president for permission marketing at Yahoo! He founded Yoyodyne, an online promotion and direct-marketing company, and helped build it into a Permission Marketing pioneer before selling it to Yahoo! in 1998. Godin is a recipient of the 1998 Momentum Award honoring outstanding Internet industry accomplishments. He can be reached at

Reprinted and excerpted with permission from
Permission Marketing
By Seth Godin,
Copyright 1999, Seth Godin
Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster
All rights reserved.
Available at the McGraw-Hill Bookstore and online bookstores



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