This month's article was contributed by Tony Dubitsky, Senior Consultant with Nykamp Consulting Group.

In his recent book Permission Marketing, Seth Godin lumps together most mass-marketing approaches into the category of interruption marketing in which advertising and promotion messages are unanticipated, impersonal and largely irrelevant. Instead, permission marketing is built around getting the recipient's buy-in before proceeding with further messages. At each successive stage of this relationship, the customer or prospect is enticed to reveal more and more relevant information used by the provider to fine-tune and optimize service or product offerings.

For many, the distinction between permission and interruption marketing can be fuzzy at best and misleading at worst. Indeed, under the right conditions, even so-called interruption marketing can be highly appropriate and effective. In fact, interruption marketing almost always must be used to get people interested in the first place! While viral marketing is often touted as the new economy way of first capturing customers' attention, traditional mass advertising or direct mail is usually more effective in capturing consumer awareness. For example, at, traditional broadcast advertising was used to drive prospects to download and install their software. After the customer base had grown sufficiently large, a viral marketing program involving a giveaway computer game was used to generate even more buzz about the product and service offerings. Once the customer is on board, marketers can begin to nurture and grow the relationship through a combination of permission and interruption tactics.

For example, most days, my retired Aunt Marilyn can be found caressing her piano keyboard for hours; but she recently was at a PC keyboard typing in replies to her music avatar (Naomi), who had just asked her in a warm, mellifluous voice about the Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg concert she attended the previous night at Lincoln Center: "You'd think she was taught to play by Joe Cocker! The only piece I truly enjoyed was her performance of Bach's Chaconne."

Naomi smiles kindly and provides Marilyn with a "hyperlist" of all of the existing recordings of Bach's Chaconne. With a few mouse clicks, Marilyn adroitly drills down to get sound bites, performer biographies, a .pdf file of the actual sheet music and links to for direct ordering of recordings, books and videos.

Naomi then asks Marilyn to check off her favorite composers from a list and asks Marilyn if she's ever heard of Joshua Bell, one of the new generation of violinists who is more introspective and sticks to the standard repertory ­ pieces written by a group of romantic composers very similar to ones Marilyn just picked as her favorites.

Marilyn comments that she's never heard of Bell. Naomi presents some promotional Bell videos and lists upcoming concert dates and venues. Many of the venues happen to be in upper Westchester county and the Berkshires. Naomi knows that Marilyn has difficulty walking (due to a recent hip replacement), and she provides standard tourist information on handicap- accessible accommodations and offers to book tickets and accommodations for both concerts for her. With a few more clicks, Marilyn is all set to see Joshua Bell at Caramoor, a palatial Westchester county estate. Throughout this entire session, Naomi has been extracting both general and specific preference information and preparing herself to collect more data about Marilyn's experiences after she has returned.

Of course, Naomi, the music avatar, is fictitious; my Aunt Marilyn is alive and well in a suburb of Long Island (and can still make both types of keyboards rock). But what's happening here is that Marilyn sees Naomi's promotional and advertising communications as anticipated, personal and relevant services rather than in-your-face propaganda. In other words, this is true CRM ­ messages that would otherwise be perceived as intrusive attempts to "sell" are in fact perceived as extraordinary "service." With the right systems and processes in place, key data can be extracted from each interaction to provide the hints that will allow the next interaction to be further customized.

Much of the key data or preference information we've been alluding to is really what linguists define as "pragmatics" ­ shared knowledge about the world that provides a context for those who are communicating. Naomi has been continually accumulating pragmatic knowledge of Marilyn's entire universe (e.g., Marilyn's fondness for Romantic composers, her passion for Bach's Chaconne, her difficulty in getting around) and uses that knowledge to customize offers.

Any adequate CRM system should be accumulating and learning from pragmatic data. For example, in today's online marketplace, many Web sites are leveraging the analytic power of on-the-fly data mining procedures by collecting preference information from their prospects and customers.

We believe that there will always be a place for traditional intrusive communications. Of course, we assume that such messages will occur in the context of a well- developed and managed customer relationship that has been nurtured through the strategic use of pragmatic information. Also, at least for the time being, we cannot walk away from intrusive marketing communications that will break through the clutter for us when launching new product or service offerings.

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