Permission marketing

Permission Marketing is a book (and an idea) by Seth Godin that is 20 years old this year. And yet, its message is still so powerful and actual.

Permission is the opposite of interruption.

With traditional media, people’s attention is constantly interrupted with an advertisement, that basically asks them to focus on something they did not want to focus on in the first place. It is an invasive form of doing marketing, and the customer is powerless as the choice is little: whether you are watching television, listening to the radio, driving home after work, your entertainment and train of thoughts is subjected to messages that are short, catchy and completely not requested.

With the Internet and the multiplication of information (and of promotional messages), Godin argues that there is a new possible way to do marketing. A way that aims at establishing a long term relationship with your target audience. A way that is respectful of and empowering for the customer. A way that is possible because, after all, the Internet is not a mass media, but a niche media, “the biggest direct marketing platform that ever exhisted”.

This is permission marketing. Instead of running ads to the mass, you seek to craft a message that resonates with some people (your audience), so that they consent to hear from you again. Permission marketing has three key characteristics.

  • It is anticipated, as people long for it, they want more. They ask “what happened?” if you stop sending them messages.
  • It is personal, or at least it reflects a need for self-identification, and as such it resonates deeply with the wanted identity of the receiver.
  • It is relevant, as it is supposed to be just what the receiver was looking for.

The message is still relevant, as the way we use the Internet today as marketers is much more similar to the way you would use a mass media.

Our inherent laziness makes us believe that by running ads, everywhere, to everyone, and by scaling them when our budget increases, we can actually be successful. And sometimes, that is the case. Yet more often than not, we end up being ignored.

The ironic thing is that marketers have responded to this problem with the single worst cure possible. To deal with the clutter and the diminished effectiveness of Interruption Marketing, they’re interrupting us even more!

Seth Godin

Permission marketing is a long-term effort (Godin compares it to dating to find a life-time partner, while interruption marketing would be more like clubbing) and it consumes one of the scarcest resources in a world that lives at the speed of life: patience. The final result, though, is the creation of a tribe, a passionate relationship with our people that can last forever. Or at least, until we end up betraying the trust we have been given.



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