One to One Interactive tackles question "Is permission marketing dead?" during AIM panel discussion in Boston, MA
June 26th | 2002 By
Michael Donnelly, EVP and Founder of One to One Interactive, spokeat the June 25, 2002 Association of Interactive Marketing’s (AIM)Dinner and Deal program in Boston, MA on the topic of PermissionMarketing.
The title of the series, “Is Permission Marketing Dead?”,sparked engaged debate among the attendees. The consensus appearedto be that Permission Marketing had the promise to deliver greatvalue and far from dead was in its early stages of development asan approach to marketing through electronic channels.
Below are Michael’s remarks:
“Good evening. My name is Michael Donnelly and I am a founder ofOne to One Interactive, an Internet Marketing Services Firm.
Before I start, I have to warn you that I am a member of the Barof Massachusetts. By that, I mean I am an attorney, not a drunk. Idid graduate from BUSL, and I also am bound to tell you that what Iam about to say should not be construed as legal advice. If youneed legal advice, please go find yourself a competentattorney.
Well, there has been a lot going on in the permission marketingand privacy areas these past few months. While I’ve been followingand advising my firm’s marketing clients on privacy and permissionmarketing issues for years, the first time I really felt the bonechilling reality that there was real money at stake was back inApril of this year when I read the report of a CA Law Firm (thelargest Law firm in CA by the way, www.mofo.com) going after eTrack, an e-mailmarketing firm, for sending spam to their employees. The complaint,under a CA Statute, alleges that eTrack sent up to 6500 offendinge-mails to the firm’s employees. At $25 per message, up to $25,000PER DAY, WE ARE TALKING ABOUT REAL MONEY: $162,500 or 1campaign.
Perhaps more important, I think this suit marks the beginning ofa new age in Internet communications, one characterized byaccountability and responsibility. Since the commercial birth ofthe Internet, we have witnessed the use of the Internet for thecommunication of anything to anyone. For many would-be marketerswho grew up with somewhat looser expectations in physical mail andtelephone, the only thing that mattered was that you had an e-mailaddress and e-mail transmission program.
It’s hard to untangle permission and privacy completely for oneanother. Particularly in light of Minnesota law just passed a fewweeks ago that prohibits Internet businesses from disclosingpersonal information (presumably including e-mail addresses) to 3rdparties for marketing purpose, unless they obtain consent. Thiswould be known as the opt-in position. That is where you do notsend communications to people who have not explicitly consented toreceiving those communications. The counter approach is opt-out,where you assume that because you have an e-mail address andprovide a mechanism for allowing people to unsubscribe, you assumea target has consented to receiving the communication. A dangerousposition, in my opinion.
This is a real problem for large companies, and it requirescareful attention to strategy, infrastructure, and marketingprocess. My firm and I have been involved with the development ofpermission marketing strategy for several Fortune 500 companies andhave witnessed first hand the complexity involved in coordinatingpolicy and practice across what are often fragmented and changeresistant companies. For example, one of the consistent issues wehave seen, (surprise) is how difficult it is for large companies tomove with the speed necessary to take a leadership position. Thisoften results from the fact that the companies do not, or areunwilling to, create the necessary authority structures to policee-mail marketing at the enterprise level and continue to conductsiloed marketing programs. This is exacerbated by the speed ofe-mail and the fact that, in these cases, you might have multiplee-mails from the same company, albeit different divisions. Onecompany that appears to have gotten it in this area is IBM’si-Source e-mail program, which allows for a single point ofprofiling and permission for those interested in IBM products andservices.
But the question was, “Is permission marketing dead?” First, wemust answer the question, “What is permission marketing?” And Iwant to answer that question clearly, succinctly, and without anyambiguity. And since you know that I am a lawyer and, of course,you know that all lawyers give succinct, clear and unambiguousanswers, I think I am equipped to do. So, what is permissionmarketing? Well, it depends. Well, at least that was clear andsuccinct. From a legal point of view, it depends on the applicablelegislation and regulations of physical location of the e-mailaddress of the actual recipient of the communication. From moste-mail users’ point of view, it depends on whether, in their mind,they actually gave you permission or not.
These two perspectives on permission marketing must beconsidered by all e-mail marketers and will prove particularlytricky for firms like mine and others in this room, perhaps thatrepresent national companies trying to market products and servicesglobally. For in the former case, the risk is liability for civillaw violations, and in the latter case, the risk is lost revenuefrom damaged customer relationships over failure to respect yourcustomers and prospects privacy/permission. You can’t ignoreeither; they are both are important. And it can be easy to losesight of one at the expense of the other.
Our firm believes that all e-mail marketing should be permissionbased — by that, I mean opt-in. We have demonstrated over and overagain the value of developing a strong permission marketingprogram. It just makes sense — when you communicate with people whohave already expressed interest in what you have to say, you willsee a higher response rate and return on your investment. We arenot naive on this point, however, and we realize that to move largecorporations along this continuum of opt-in vs. opt-out takes time.However, there are now real risks of legal liability with realmoney attached to it and the real risk of irritating your currentand prospective customers, so careful and deliberate planning isrequired.
I hope I have framed the debate in such a way as to acknowledgethe challenges associated with navigating the many oftenconflicting requirements of e-mail marketing. Let me say this inconclusion: As marketers, we have an opportunity and aresponsibility to husband e-mail as a channel of communication withenormous potential. E-mail is a channel of communication thatallows for acceleration of all kinds of processes for thebetterment of all people, from sales to product development toimproved health to better government. Unless we, those of us inthis room and our peers, adhere to the highest standard ofintegrity when it comes to communicating with the e-mail public, werisk losing e-mail. It would be a shame to lose what Forrestercalled “The Killer App”. Lest you accuse me of being ChickenLittle, let me clarify. While no one is going to “take away” thee-mail channel, it is already becoming difficult to navigate themaze of regulatory and legislative structures in place, and itcould become cost prohibitive to use e-mail as we use it today.Let’s see if we can work together to see that this doesn’thappen.