If you know someone -- friend, colleague or co-worker -- you are privy to information about them that stems from your conversation and interaction with them. You use that information to connect with them and continue your relationship. The use of that information is considered “polite.’ This is analogous to marketers using first-party data.
If you have a friend who is friends with your first friend or acquaintance, you will chat about your friendships in common, and you may learn something that you didn’t previously know about that first friend. Assuming that the information was acquired through an established relationship, when you see that friend you may reference that information in conversation. This is analogous to second-party data usage.
If your friend is a social media poster or engages in other public exchanges, he or she makes personal information freely available, ranging from where she went on vacation down to the kind of jeans and sneakers she likes to wear. That publicly available information is analogous to third-party data, available to you when you engage in conversation with your friend.
These are all fair uses of information in a personal relationship. Marketers are simply finding ways to engage in more personal relationships with their customers. Polite marketing means the relationship between a brand and a consumer should be governed by the same rules of decorum that govern interpersonal relationships and can be deemed “polite." If that standard is applied, then privacy considerations are being taken into account, and brands and their consumers are being accounted for.
Of course there are examples of brands not being polite. The oft-discussed example
was when Target started sending coupons for diapers and other baby-related products to a teenager who did not inform her parents she was pregnant. That kind of assumption, although it turned out
to be valid and accurate, was not polite. In personal conversation you would rarely, if ever, make an assumption about the teenage daughter of your friend being pregnant, unless the parent (who is in
this case a legal guardian) first addressed the topic.
In general, you would not raise questions or topics that make the other party uncomfortable; that is the standard to be applied to marketing. Make sure you are not creating an uncomfortable feeling on the part of the consumer.
Being polite is different from getting permission. When Seth Godin published his influential book about permission marketing, he was taking on a topic that, while valuable, disempowered brand marketers by not allowing them to make assumptions. Polite marketing still enables the marketer to make assumptions based on data, but governs how far those assumptions should go without permission. Polite marketing is a safer alternative and one that data-driven marketers could, and should, be widely adopting.
The question for 2014 remains how marketers will adopt polite marketing globally. Will the industry look to regulate marketers and establish guidelines for the use of data? I personally feel that if the industry takes on its own crusade to be polite, then government won’t need to get involved.
Do you agree? What do you think about the concept of polite marketing?