Marketers Need To Be 'Polite'

I don’t think anyone can argue with what marketing's overwhelming topic of the day is: data, data everywhere!  Marketers are overwhelmed by all the discussion about data because no one is offering up a simple explanation for how to use it in the right way.

I’d say that in order to utilize data properly, you simply need to implement a policy of polite marketing. Polite marketing refers to the common use of information or data you would reference in a polite conversation with someone you know.  Polite is defined as “having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people.”   If you apply that standard to marketing, you come up with some clear definitions for how to use data!

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?

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3 comments about "Marketers Need To Be 'Polite'".
  1. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , January 16, 2014 at 5:49 a.m.
    +1 for interest and a good objective, but not strictly true because so much successful marketing is not polite. For example, all TV and video advertising is impolite, because it interrupts the viewer and takes their time.
  2. Cory Treffiletti from Oracle , January 16, 2014 at 7:46 a.m.
    i dont disagree with your comment, but i think you are missing the point. tv and video advertising are not data driven marketing tools. they are not audience based buys. they are standard interruptions. the polite concept is based on using data to inform an interaction.
  3. Al DiGuido from Optimus Publishing , January 16, 2014 at 1:46 p.m.
    Cory...let's agree that relevancy is critical to building a "polite" conversation. We can all remember conversations that we have had with people that we know...where the other party went on a rant...that was totally disrespectful and irrelevant to a meaningful and polite conversation. Marketers have been doing that for a long time. Shouting at customers indesriminately. How about the fact that most have all of the personalization data that they can store in their databases and STILL don't use proper first name personalization in their emails etc. I am still getting emails from magazine publishers that read.."Dear Suzy". Talk about impolite ! How do we all feel when someone we know calls us be the wrong name ? In the new digital age, marketers need to be reminded that relevancy in content assembly ( the essence of the conversation) isn't an option to building affinity and loyalty amongst followers and customers. In the real world..NONE of us wants to deal with impolite people and/or companies. We simply move on and find new friends and new commerce partners.