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Permissions Are Not All Created Equal

  |  June 26, 2000   |  Comments

Permission is a particularly dangerous label. It gives the impression of a depth of consent and relationship that rarely exists except in the mind of the hopeful marketer. Worse still, overusage of the term has given the impression that there is somehowa constant attached to the term, as if all "permissions" are created equal. They are not. Don't kid yourself into believing you have a "constant level of permission" that's more valuable than it really is.

Labels are dangerous.

Take the word permission. It is a particularly dangerous label.

"Permission" gives the impression of a depth of consent and relationship that rarely exists except in the mind of the hopeful marketer.

Worse still, overusage of the term has given the impression that there is somehow a constant attached to the term as if all "permissions" are created equal. They are not.

Here's an example to illustrate my point.

Some of you may remember my fantasy online store nicksButtons.com. At this site, I sell buttons of all sizes and descriptions both to consumers and to professionals such as tailors, seamstresses, etc.

Let's imagine that I want to increase the number of visitors to my site who actually take the trouble to register. The bigger my in-house list, the better the return I'll get from my mailings and newsletters.

So I'll create a "Get-a-100-Buttons-FREE" program.

Come to the site, sign up and I'll send you a pouch of 100 mixed buttons absolutely free (shipping included).

The program works wonderfully. I add another 4,000 names to my list, and because I'm sending them a gift, I'll get a pretty complete profile of every participant, including their default delivery address. For sure, this will help me "upsell" them later.

Also, within my registration form, I'll include an opt-out box so I can solicit permission to send them my monthly newsletter.

(Why opt-out? Because I'll get a lot more names that way. But never fear, the option to unsubscribe with a single click will always be displayed prominently for those who don't want to hear from me again.)

Out of the 4,000 who register for the gift, only 1,000 opt out of receiving my newsletter.

So now I have a list of 3,000 prospects, all of whom have given me the same permission.

Right? Nope. Not necessarily.

Just because those 3,000 people registered at the site as part of the same program doesn't mean that each and every "permission" is of equal value.

Here's why.

One day into the nicksButtons.com program (which I promoted modestly with a few newsletter text ads), a couple of people saw the deal at my site and decided to share the news with their "friends."

Person "A" posted a few words at alt.sewing.

Person "B" posted a few words at myCoupons.com.

One hundred people from alt.sewing and a few other highly relevant newsgroups took me up on the offer, got their 100 free buttons and looked forward to my newsletter.

One thousand people from myCoupons.com signed up for the free buttons because that's what they do scout the Internet for freebies. None of them are really in the market for buttons and none will have any interest in my newsletters.

Which is why when considering the value of the "permission" you receive, you have to look carefully at how that "permission" was solicited and from where your visitors came.

Now, the example of nicksButtons.com probably won't match your business.

However, if you think about the nature of your promotions and the sources of traffic to your site, I bet you can figure out some likely differences in the value of permissions received.

If you get a high number of low-value permissions, you don't necessarily need to discard them. But you should be aware of them.

If you can, separate them out.

That way you can apply most of your resources to those "permissions" that are more likely to yield future sales.

But most off all, be realistic.

Don't kid yourself and your colleagues into believing you have a "constant level of permission" that is more valuable than it really is.

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Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.

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