What Does It Mean to Get Permissions?

Trust and respect are at the core of strong customer/brand relationships

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What’s the difference between receiving junk mail from a company you’ve never heard of and getting direct mail after signing up for a brand’s mailing list? Permission.

That’s the main factor that makes “permissions marketing” preferable to its alternative, old-fashioned “interruption marketing.” Even if the look, copy, and format of the outreach is the same, a message from out of the blue can feel invasive, off-putting, while a requested message is far more likely to be welcomed. And as technology makes it easier for brands to engage with customers on their terms (and to build strong, mutually beneficial relationships), understanding permissions and permissions marketing is becoming increasingly important for forward-looking marketers.

Let’s dig a little deeper into permissions and what they can mean for your marketing strategy.

Interruption marketing vs. permission marketing

Interruption marketing is any marketing effort that interrupts what a customer is doing in a given moment. Traditional interruption marketing methods can include things like telemarketing or a snail mail campaign. (Email campaigns sometimes fall into this category, too, though the rise of anti-spam legislation has cut down on the use of email for uninvited outreach). These campaigns tend to be hard to personalize. They’re expensive, and—not for nothing—they can be really annoying to the recipient. Plus, there’s too much noise in this style of marketing, and the efforts are pretty easy for customers to ignore.

But while certain outreach channels—particularly direct mail and telemarketing—are strongly associated with interruption marketing, the thing that separates them from permissions marketing is what happens before those channels are used. With permissions marketing, potential customers have to grant permission to be contacted first—before any potentially interruptive messages are actually sent.

At its core, permissions marketing is about trust and relationship building. A user might agree to share their email address, but before you sign them up for every newsletter and coupon club you offer, it’s a good idea to first get their permission, so that you’re only ever sending them the things they’ve explicitly asked for.

Permissions (and how to get them)

With the rise of mobile, getting consumers to grant permission has increasingly gone from optional to essential. On iOS smartphones and tablets, if you want to send users push notifications, access their contacts or camera, or carry out a number of other actions that can be necessary to provide a positive user experience and demonstrate your brand’s value, you have to get those users to agree on a case-by-case basis. And with Android making it easier to opt out of push, brands that want to build strong relationships with their customers can’t ignore permissions.

Here are a couple common permissions that marketers need to consider on mobile, and how to nudge customers to grant them:

Priming for push

Many users are reluctant to enable  push notifications. They can be invasive, annoying, and overwhelming. But priming users for push is different than just straight-up asking if they’ll grant those permissions at the first opportunity. By walking new users through the value that they’ll see if they enable push, choosing the right moment to ask them, and, and leaving yourself room for a re-permissions campaign, you can increase the odds that users opt in for push while also supporting stronger customer/brand relationships. With push notifications becoming an increasingly important channel (that can be irritating for customers if used thoughtlessly), using them to their full potential—on iOS devices, at least—inherently means embracing a permissions marketing approach.

Getting access to a customer’s camera

If access to a customer’s camera is essential to the function of your app, you’ll probably need to ask for permission the first time they use the app (on iOS, anyway). Most users are savvy enough, at this point, to understand that if they’ve downloaded a barcode-scanning app, for example, camera access is imperative. They’re bound to say yes if they want to utilize the app. If access to the user’s camera will improve the user experience but the need isn’t obvious for most users, you should approach requesting camera access the same way you ask users to enable push—by clearly conveying the value that it will provide them, and asking for their permission only when granting it will add real value for them.

The upsides and pitfalls of permissions-based marketing

As mobile has become a central part of how customers engage with brands, it’s become harder and harder to get around the need to receive permissions from your audience. It’s hard coded now into the fabric of what it means to market to a mobile-based audience. That said, there are still advantages and pitfalls to be aware of.

When you have permission to access a customer via certain channels, you’re more readily able to personalize your messages to users, sending relevant, contextual messages their way. Permissions-based marketing efforts are focused on engaging with people you have some sort of relationship with—they’ve downloaded your app, signed up for you email list, or made purchases in the past—and the customer data that those relationships produce make it easier to personalize the outreach you send them, increasing the chances that the messages engage them and motivate action. Finally, as marketing becomes more human, and more relationship-driven, permissions-based marketing activities are only going to get more important.

The biggest pitfalls for permissions marketing efforts have to do with user comfort and privacy. If there’s a lag between being granted permissions and your brand taking advantage of them—for instance, asking users to enable push, but not sending any messages in that channel for months—users may well forget that they agreed to grant permissions and resent the actions your brand is taking.  They might also find the way you’re using their information to be overly personal, so take measures to keep boundaries comfortable. None of these issues are insurmountable, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go away on their own. Being thoughtful in how you handle permissions is an essential part of a successful permissions marketing strategy.

Mitigating the creep factor

Remember, customers want to feel understood. Not watched.

Personalization increases conversions, and customers have come to expect it. Still, it can be a little creepy when your phone knows more than you’re comfortable with about your day-to-day. So, how do you get it right when asking for permissions? And how do you stay within bounds when utilizing those permissions to communicate with users?

The goal is to provide a relevant experience and still make sure your users feel in control of their experience of your brand and messaging. The best way to do that is to have a strong plan regarding how to ask for their permission, and how to stay within the bounds of permissions granted.

Honesty is the best policy

We’re all a bit overwhelmed, at times, by today’s endless digital distractions. With the average iPhone user installing 119 apps, that can mean a lot of outreach from a lot of marketers—too much, at times. A lot of users have had bad experiences in the past with apps that send too-frequent, irrelevant messages, for instance, so it’s to be expected that some of them will be a bit more circumspect about granting permissions. Some permissions are a bit more fraught than others: opting in for push and email can be tough, as can anything that requires the user to share personal data.

If you’re only able to provide a certain value to the user by getting access to certain information, share your reasons for asking. Be clear, honest, and concise when explaining. Don’t promise value that you can’t provide—that sort of overpromising can seriously undermine the customer/brand relationship.

Get the timing right

If you need to ask early, so be it. Figure out ahead of time when the request is best proffered. Is opting in during onboarding essential to a good user experience? If not, maybe wait until the user has had a chance to engage more with your app and see its value before asking them to grant permissions.

Keep your promises

Requesting permissions can be difficult—and users aren’t always going to go along with what you want. But you can increase the chances that they grant your requests by being clear about what you’re asking permission for. By being clear up front, the recipient can make an informed decision about whether what you’re offering has real value to them. But once they’ve agreed,  it becomes your responsibility to not exceed what you have permission to do.

Permissions are not a foot in the door. They’re explicit. They grant access only to what you’ve asked for, and nothing more. So make sure you know what permissions you really need to support better user experiences before you start requesting them. That’s going to help you reach your brand’s business goals and build stronger customer/brand relationships over the long haul.

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