Customer Permission: Get It Right to Protect Goodwill - and Your Sanity
Monday, September 25, 2006
The quotes have been polished, the benefits highlighted, the messaging aligned. And now your customer has given you the go-ahead to publish. Sounds like a happy ending, but as you know, publishing a success story - or other original customer evidence - is just the beginning. Soon your sales force will want to put a quote from the story on a big presentation. You marketing colleagues will want to splash that logo on a mailer and call out those benefits in a new product brochure. Maybe your executives will feature highlights of the story when they keynote at your user conference. Hopefully, they're calling you to see if that's OK. Here's how to make sure you're ready with a good answer rather than embarking on a round of customer calls.
First of all, become a well-known authority. Do internal consumers of customer evidence look to you and your team as the arbiters of permissible re-uses of customer logos, names, quotes, and facts? If not, reach out to them to educate them on your policies and explain the importance of caution when publicizing customer information. Misuse can mean angry customer executives, withdrawals from upcoming reference activities, or even scuttled upsell deals. Explain to your stakeholders that they are helping to protect your company's irreplaceable customer goodwill by following your policies on re-use. Go grass-roots and go executive with your message, and be sure to make allies of the teams that create the marketing deliverables, like designers and editors - they'll be your right hand when you put policy into practice.
Next, be a stickler for the basics: An authorized permission-granter, and written documentation of permission. Most of your customer contacts likely aren't authorized to give a vendor permission to use their employer's brand in an endorsement. Even if it means foregoing some "yeses," remind your customer contacts to be sure they've gone through proper channels, like communications and legal. And get it in writing - no exceptions. Get help from your legal department on a form.
Before you finalize that form, get specific and think ahead. Ask for permission to publish, of course, but also get the nod for specific re-use. Collaborate with stakeholders to compile a list of likely re-uses, and distill that into a brief taxonomy of re-use categories that customers will understand, such as "in written materials like brochures and white papers," "in direct mail pieces," "in presentations," etc. Give your customers choices: permission for all kinds of re-use, selective permission each category you've identified, and ask-me-first permission. Specify that the content might be re-used in whole or in part.
Finally, make it easy for everyone to find out what's OK and what's not when it comes to re-use. Keep careful track of permissible types of re-use for each piece of evidence and make it easy for stakeholders to access that information by including it in your reference management system. Encourage - or better yet, require - others to use your permission form and your taxonomy of uses if they gather customer evidence outside your program. Make it a requirement for publication in any venue, and even the reluctant will soon comply.
Whitney Wood, Consultant firstname.lastname@example.org