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Seven secrets to unlocking the power of permission marketing


Seven secrets to unlocking the power of permission marketing


The power of a customer’s permission is a fundamental, but all too often poorly understood, element of how a brand can best build a relationship with its customers. Permission is like an iceberg… on the surface it’s often seen as just an opt in, but in truth the real value of permission runs much deeper.

Applying the seven secrets will unlock the power of permission for profitable long-term customer relationships, grow the value in your customer database, enhance brand equity and help accelerate sales.

Secret #1: It’s okay to leverage trust and respect to make sales

If brands are not seeking higher and more comprehensive levels of permission from their customers, then they are skipping a fundamental business opportunity.

For instance, when entering a department store you will (hopefully) be approached by a sales assistant:

  • He or she enquires what you are looking for and what factors are influencing your search,
  • you answer, effectively giving permission for information to be gathered and a relationship to be established,
  • as the conversation proceeds more information is shared and a deeper understanding of your preferences and needs are considered, and
  • with this knowledge and permission recommendations can be suggested, building engagement, rapport and a desire to return to the store.

Successful marketing, like dating, is founded on a mutually beneficial relationship. Both are characterised by the same two fundamental elements: trust and respect. And, from a marketing perspective, the granting of a person’s permission to begin and build a relationship with a brand is the first and most important step in a constantly evolving process. It is a process that needs to be customised to the sweet spot of where the needs and wants of the individual and the brand conjugate in marital bliss.

When a brand begins a relationship with a customer, just like when you meet someone new that you like, a rush to move forward quickly will likely end in disaster.

The alternative is to get to know each other, empathise, court and bond.

As the relationship evolves, you build understanding and insight about the way each other thinks and behaves. You learn about each other’s needs and wants; you learn what ‘turns each other on’.

These insights, gained of course with permission, can be used to influence an individual’s purchase decisions, matching products and services with needs and wants. By increasing the level of permission and gaining deeper mutual understanding, a potential customer (suspect) progresses along the journey to becoming a customer, then a fan and, ultimately, an advocate for the brand.

Secret #2: Using implicit permission can help increase sales

Importantly, the actual asking of permission generates trust, value and a point of difference in itself. People are often taken aback when asked their permission: to find out more about them, to listen to them, to deliver offers and information that may be of use. This seeking of permission actually has a novelty value, especially when it is done in an upfront, transparent manner.

But the initial granting of permission by a customer is also doing something else: it is implicitly articulating that it is okay to seek further permission and provide customised offers and information to deepen the relationship.

Importantly, implicit permission necessitates brands understanding when a person’s behaviour and activity demonstrates they are ready for, and interested in, continued brand interaction.

But beware… permission is quite fragile. If you don’t have a good read on the level of permission you can easily lose it. To avoid this, customer behaviour should be continually assessed and analysed (eg. what can we understand about someone’s level of permission from poll results, purchases or website behaviour?). Insights should then be applied to individual customer relationships.

Secret #3: A customer’s ‘yes’ is not permission to spam

The granting of permission does not equate to an all-encompassing, old school ‘opt in’. Ticking a box is not consent for being sent non-relevant marketing. The recipient will still call it spam even if it is not technically deemed as such.

Sustainable respect for, and emotional engagement with, a brand will only truly materialise when the promise to deliver value and relevance is consistently and repeatedly kept over the longer term – and we all know what happens when wedding vows aren’t kept…

Secret #4: Focus on the emotional to enhance brand and increase sales

There are both emotional and rational dimensions to the process of giving permission, just like making a purchase. It is rational to ask permission when beginning a relationship and to determine a potential customer’s needs and wants. But it is also emotionally compelling to be asked permission in the first place. This generates emotional bonding with the brand because of the respect shown to the individual.

Unlocking the emotional dimension is more important than appealing to the rational. Emotions resonate more deeply within people and are more likely to stimulate engagement and purchase.

The psychological power of emotion in marketing is what differentiates competitive brands which may be quite similar from a rational or functional perspective. Therefore, a customer making a rationally-based decision may struggle to find a point of difference and make a purchase. Bringing in emotional considerations will help the brand differentiate. So, investing in the emotional from the moment of asking permission could make all the difference.

Manifestations of brands having a stronger emotional dimension include:

  • Their actual visual brand (eg. colours, iconography such as animals),
  • sponsorship (eg. children’s hospital, women’s health research),
  • the sort of information they provide customers with (eg. stories of people whose lives have been positively impacted on by the brand), and
  • making sure that their businesses operate in a manner morally consistent with their customers (e.g. no sweatshop labour, using products that do not damage the environment).

Secret #5: One-night stands don’t lead to marriage

Many marketers fall victim to a one-night stand methodology.

A customer is gained, then an immediate attempt to up-sell occurs (ie. we know you bought this house insurance product, so take a look at this travel insurance product). Taking an in-bound marketing approach, however, where information and resources are provided that are not inherently designed to make a sale, is more likely to lead to an optimal outcome – for both the person and the brand.

It is a more effective approach to ease the person through stages based on their needs and wants before getting down on ‘bended knee’. Extending this metaphor, ask what destinations they are interested in next, provide travel tips on the destination, build the trust up before putting a tactical, sales-driven option in front of them. Do not seek immediate consummation.

Even short-term – consummated – success is unlikely to lead to long-term (morning after) respect, or a relationship that delivers continual brand buy-in and sales.

Secret #6: Define your relationships as more than just the sale

Thought leadership is an approach that supplies ideas, insights and assistance to customers whilst not trying to sell to them. It fosters perceptions of value and empathy towards the brand. In turn, this increases the level of permission and prompts further openness from the customer to share their thoughts, feelings and needs – thus increasing the level of permission they grant the brand. With more permission comes more insight, value and an opportunity to strengthen the bond with the customer.

This value-adding, in-bound marketing approach is exemplified by the Huggies approach to unlocking the power of permission.

The nappies brand focuses on a mum’s journey through pregnancy from conception through the early years of child rearing. It goes on the roller coaster ride with them. Content is delivered to mums through email, website, forums and blogs that serves their needs and interests to enrich their journey (eg. information on bed wetting, toilet training and nutrition). At certain key points, sales-oriented communication is integrated into the process.

Huggies approach elevates perceptions of it being a brand that views the customer relationship as a partnership. The journey helps characterise the sales relationship as one more influenced by the quality of the relationship (emotional) than by price (rational).

Secret #7: Cherish digital data to help advance customer-brand relationships

The Huggies example is an illustration of the importance of data to unlocking the power of permission and strengthening customer relationships. Small pieces of information can lead to matching even ‘guarded individuals’ to where they are positioned on their journey with the brand.

If a brand takes enough care to ask about what’s important to a person, and if it asks for permission to gain more information, it can lead to a more efficient and accurate identification of when to trigger key consumer lifecycle questions and make customised sales offers. Identifying a person’s propensity to act and/or buy is critical in the process.

The advances digital technology has made to the tracking and analysis (analogous to the effective department store experience I noted earlier) make the permission marketing process discussed here achievable on a large scale. This helps deliver excellent ROI.

When setup correctly, everything in digital can be tracked and analysed, providing clear evidence to brands of what works best. Business bottom lines are matched with hard evidence, rationalising why taking a comprehensive permission-based approach to marketing can lead to a range of happy-ever-after commercial outcomes.

Applying the seven secrets for permission to market

When you combine the seven secrets, the keys to unlocking customers’ permission to market to them are in your hands. The secrets are built around understanding and stimulating – with customised, relevant and engaging content – permission-based trigger points that traverse a customer lifecycle.

Customers will give their permission, but they will do it carefully and they will do it with an expectation that brands won’t betray their trust. Customers expect value. They expect their wants to be satisfied and their preferences acknowledged. Sales, like the respect that is the non-negotiable foundation of lifelong relationship happiness, need to be earned. One night stands provide a thrill, but they won’t show you the money.


Jeremy Glass

Jeremy Glass is the managing director of Permission, a digital marketing agency that unlocks the value in customer databases to generate higher sales conversion and repeat purchase. Since 2000, Permission has delivered targeted digital campaigns for some of Australia's leading brands, helping them attain higher levels of customer permission to deliver enduring customer relationships and value.

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