Permission Marketing Gone Too Far?

by Richard C. Stimac

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.