A late 2001 survey by direct marketing agency Brann Worldwide confirmed that marketers should get permission before sharing customer information. Of the 400 respondents polled, 92 percent felt positively toward companies that ask permission and 81 percent would be more willing to respond if permission were sought beforehand. Eighty-seven percent said being able to choose how they were contacted had a positive effect on their decision to grant permission and 42 percent felt strongly that they would give permission in exchange for timely news of holiday promotions.
How much is too much when it comes to permission e-mails? James Rosenfeld gives us these statistics from FloNetwork, Inc. and NFO Interactive regarding how frequently Americans would accept permission e-mails:
12 percent, daily e-mails
18 percent, several times a week
31 percent, once a week
10 percent, every other week
18 percent, once a month
6 percent, less than once a month
5 percent, don’t know
Although it appears that most companies and customers seem relatively comfortable with once a week, this preference may well change as the total volume of permission e-mail increases. In January 2002, 550 million e-mails were sent in the United Kingdom in comparison to 285 million domestic letters handled by Britain’s postal service. Worldwide e-mail volume was projected to reach over a trillion messages annually in 2003. E-mail advertising will be a big portion of this volume, with e-mail advertising revenue projected to have reached $1.26 billion in 2002. By 2005 revenue is expected to total $1.5 billion.
Seth Godin, in his wonderful book Permission Marketing— Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers (Simon & Schuster, 1999), calls permission marketing “anticipated, personal and relevant”: anticipated because people look forward to hearing from you; personal because the messages are directly related to the individual; and relevant because the message is about something the prospect is interested in. He equates permission marketing to farming: “Farming involves hoeing, planting, watering, and harvesting. It takes regular effort and focus. If you take a month off you might lose your whole crop. On the other hand, farming is scalable. Once you get good at it, you can plant ever more seeds and harvest ever more crops.”
I keep an old editorial pinned to my wall. It was written in August 2000 by Nick Usborne of ClickZ. He confirms Godin’s belief that permission marketing takes regular effort and focus. He says in part, “If you really want to practice permission marketing, change the name to ‘trust marketing.’ Call it trust marketing and everything changes. If you have to earn and maintain the trust of your customers, you have an ongoing task. You can’t assume it. You can’t hide behind it. You have to earn it, again and again. Tell everyone that they have to gain each customer’s trust. Each day. Every day. With each visit. Every transaction. Every customer service call. Every outbound promotional e-mail. Because if you don’t have your customer’s trust, their permission is worthless.”
John Day, of ClickZ, says, “If a company takes time to ask for permission on an ongoing basis, they will retain the people who value their message and will gain a customer for life.” He says, “Make it easy for those not interested in your message to opt out and concentrate on the people who look forward to your message.”
Yes, but CMR must go beyond the opt-out option. In Wireless Rules: New Strategies for Customer Relationship Management Anytime, Anywhere (McGraw-Hill, 2001), my coauthor Professor Katherine Lemon and I take up the issue of “opting.” We make the point that in the wireless world, we have the ability to invade the personal privacy of customers as never before, and customers don’t want to be interrupted—unless they want to be interrupted.
We suggest that the new permission marketing is all about opting in, only it’s not just about opting in. “It’s also about opting on, opting when, opting where, opting how, and, most important, opting now.” The six-step opting program goes like this:
Opting in: Can I send you stuff? Making sure the customer wants to hear from you in the first place.
Opting on: Will you agree to listen? It’s not enough for customers to opt in. They have to listen to your message.
Opting when: Will you tell me when you’d like to listen?
Opting where: Will you tell me the locations in which you’d like to hear or not hear from me?
Opting how: Will you tell me how (by what means) you’d like me to reach you?
Opting now: Would you like me to be “always on” for you—whenever you need me?
Customers will pay attention to your communications only when, where, and how they want to. They have to tune in and turn on, on their terms.
 “Permission Boosts Consumer Response, Study Finds,” DM News, December 17, 2001, p. 2.
James R. Rosenfeld, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Internet Statistics,” Direct Marketing, November 2001, p. 62.
 “E-Mail to Beat Out Direct Mail: Study,” Direct Newsline, March 20, 2002, p. 3.
Nick Usborne, “It’s Not About Permission, It’s About Trust,” ClickZ, August 14, 2000, p. 2.