Month: June, 2012

Permission Marketing Gone Too Far?

English: A business ideally is continually see...

English: A business ideally is continually seeking feedback from customers: are the products helpful? are their needs being met? Constructive criticism helps marketers adjust offerings to meet customer needs. Source of diagram: here (see public domain declaration at top). Questions: write me at my Wikipedia talk page (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember when the Web first hit the business world in the mid to late-1990’s, marketers saw a goldmine of customer contacts and information. If you contacted a company and sent your email address, you soon received multiple solicitations, often not from that company.

Legally, companies had a right to do this. When you visit a Web site, you are tacitly, and often unknowingly, entering the company’s property. When you’re on someone else’s property, you lose some rights, like the right not to be tracked.

Customers pushed back hard and marketers responded with “permission marketing.” Now when we contact a Web site, we are either told that our information will be kept only for basic business purposes or we have checkboxes for additional contacts. We even have to request electronic statements for online bank accounts, which I, for one, assume would be a given.

The question that faces marketers today is when is permission required, and when might a customer desire contact without request for permission. It’s sort of like asking your mom if she wants a card for Mother’s Day. Some things you should take for granted.

Recently, a friend of mine was charged an insufficient funds fee on his small business checking account. Due to a problem with his accounting software, he’d lost track of some payments and his balance dipped below zero. The bank did notify him of the charge, three days later via hardcopy mail. He would have preferred a contact, even a request, at the time: “You have insufficient funds. Do you want us to process payment and charge your account $35?” He’s cancelling his overdraft protection and he’s not too pleased that his bank automatically enrolled him (via the small print that he didn’t read).

Sometimes, it’s best for marketers to assume the right to contact a customer. Everything can’t be explicit and overly obvious.

Look better. Feel better.

Barber pole, ca. 1938. Before barbers limited ...

Barber pole, ca. 1938. Before barbers limited themselves to cutting hair and shaving beards, they performed surgery. Since the 1700s, the spiraling red and white stripes of the barber pole have symbolized the blood and bandages that were once part of the barber’s trade. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A barbershop that I went to as a kid had the words, “Look Better. Feel Better.” on the barber pole out front. Jesse the barber had cut hair for over fifty-years. There’s some truth to what Jesse posted on his sign, both for individuals and for businesses.

Jesse understood that a new hair style, a new outfit, a new look does affect not only how one is treated, but also how one feels. In business speak, we’re talking about branding.

Small to medium sized businesses struggle with branding the most. They often have hard-working owners who understand the business model, but don’t have the marketing savvy to create an effective image. Also, they lack the resources for professional marketing help.

Just as for people, first impressions count for companies, and if subsequent impressions reinforce that first impression, a brand is born and strengthened. In econ speak, with a strong brand, be it personal or company, the risk that “what you see is what you get” is lowered. When we see a McDonald’s sign, we know what we are going to get at the restaurant, even if we choose not to buy.

Notice, I’m not saying that a brand has to be a certain way, have a certain message, and so on. I’m only saying that a brand lets the world know who you or your company are. Better yet, it lets you and your employees know who you are.

Jesse understood that. The fashionistas understand that. Business owners need to understand that, too.

Learn to Love Disorientation

Travel Guides

Travel Guides (Photo credit: Vanessa (EY))

The current business world is a lot like traveling, especially world travelling.

Travel requires a certain ease with disorientation. The street names differ. Food is different. Ways of doing things are different. And if you go to another country, not only the language, but nearly every part of the culture can be different. It’s confusing. And even a bit unpleasant.

But traveling is also rewarding. There is the given phrase that travel broadens your horizons, and even though this phrase is trite, it’s true. It is hard to come back to the farm after you’ve seen the lights of Paris.

In today’s business world, an ability to travel is a metaphor for an ability to survive. We don’t need to go to a different part of the globe to experience great changes anymore. The changes come to us. Company names change. Offices disappear and appear seemingly overnight. Even the language of the top officials may be different.

Some of us can go with this flow better than others. All of us must. We know that there are no 30-year, gold-watch jobs out there, though many of us  are still shocked when that fact confronts us.

I need to change jobs? My company is closing? I haven’t had a raise in five years? My family-owned employer was  just sold to a corporation? Yes, it happens. Often.

To experience change, we no longer have to buy a ticket. The changing world comes directly to us via the global economy. Learn to enjoy, or at least tolerate, disorientation. It’s the only way to know where you’re at.