When Permission Smells Bad

Last week I mentioned how sweepstakes sites manage to vacuum up permission from folks at a rate of knots and for a very small investment.

Soon after, I received an email from my friend, Kathy Henning, who reminded me that when permission comes that easy, “it smells bad and has the head of a chicken.”

“I’ll give you the chance to win a few bucks if I can send you emails from time to time. OK?”

“Yeah, whatever. How much can I win?”

I need to speak with Kathy about the chicken-head thing, but she’s right. The vast majority of “permission” that comes that easy is completely worthless.

So, what’s a person to do?

Well, take a step or two back and remind yourself that getting permission is simply the first step toward building a relationship. (In my youth, I was a pretty desperate figure on the dating scene but not even I stooped to, “Go out with me now, and you could win a prize of $25 or more.”)

If building lasting relationships with your customers is what it’s really all about, try this for a plan…

Institute a visitor advisory board at your site. It’s like a board of directors or an advisory board of professional experts but a whole lot more valuable.

With a visitor advisory board or VAB, for short you invite your visitors and customers to take a real part in the development and improvement of your online business.

Imagine a small area on your home page devoted to a message like this:

    Sign up to be a member of our visitor advisory board.

  • Tell us what products (or information) you’d like to find here.
  • Tell us how to make this site more the way you’d like it to be.
  • Speak with our CEO when we implement one of your ideas.
  • Get password access to a private, VAB area of the store, which carries great products (or reports, etc.) at specially discounted prices.
  • Receive a monthly VAB newsletter with discount alerts and a summary of great ideas from VAB members.

Get the idea? Instead of just soliciting permissions and then emailing your list to death, how about building genuine relationships? By building a large VAB, you’ll get invaluable input on usability, customer experience, and merchandising issues.

In addition, you’ll get a core group of customers who will support you as you grow because they’ll know and feel that they played a part in that growth.

Plus, of course, once you have this group of enthusiasts helping you out, you can be sure that they’ll help spread the word. After all, if they’ve been part of the process, they’ll want others to see what they’ve been involved with.

Will this replace all your other permission-based marketing tools? Of course not. But if you interact with members of your VAB on a daily basis, you’ll be constantly reminded that all marketing initiatives should focus on building relationships and not simply capturing permissions – with or without chicken heads.

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