The concept of permission marketing has been made popular by Seth Godin in his aptly named book Permission Marketing. It’s considered a classic in marketing circles and I highly recommend it.
The easiest way to describe permission marketing is to describe what it isn’t. When we think of advertising, we immediately think of all the radio, television, banner, and print ads that we’re bombarded with daily. This is an interruption marketing. The goal of these campaigns is to interrupt what we’re doing, perk our interest, and compel us to take action. While they aren’t that great at getting people interested and motivated, they do an excellent job at gaining our attention, even if only momentarily.
The advertising industry has been built on a foundation of interruption marketing and heavily relies on it.
Permission marketing takes the opposite approach.
Instead of constantly trying to interrupt the attention of everybody, permission marketing seeks to find people that already care and then ask for permission to market to them.
As Godin explains, permission marketing consists of three characteristics:
- Anticipated: People want to hear your message.
- Personal: Your message is targeted to specific people.
- Relevant: People are interested in the topic you’re talking about.
As you build a relationship with your customer, you’ll be able to ask for more permission. And as you build permission and trust with your prospects, you’ll be able to close sales at a much higher success rate than interruption marketing. It’s exactly like dating.
Seth Godin’s Five Steps to Dating Your Customers
Step 1: Offer an Incentive. Your goal is to broadcast your message and make it easy for people in your target market to tell you that they’re interested. You’ll usually need to do this with some form of interruption marketing like Google AdWords, banners, print ads, etc. You’re goal isn’t to ask for the sale though, it’s to generate leads. You’re simply trying to figure out who’s interested.
This is much easier to do if you offer an incentive. Don’t just tell people to email or call you, offer them something for free like a white paper or ebook. Offer them something of value that allows them to get to know you and trust you. You’re offering something that can help solve their problems and they’re giving you the ability (permission) to keep marketing to them.
Step 2: Teach the Prospect Over Time. You’re not going to build enough trust after the first interaction. You need to keep offering information that your prospects value a great deal. As they see you fulfill your promises and provide genuine value, they’ll trust your brand even more.
This information should focus on the types of problems that your product or service solves. If you sell pool supplies, teach people how to take care of their pool.
Step 3: Reinforce the Incentive. People become bored incredibly quickly. To avoid this and keep your prospects engaged, you’l want to mix things up. Don’t simply give out the same type of material in the same format. By offering a video or a free consultation instead of an ebook, you’ll make sure you still have their attention.
Step 4: Increase the Level of Permission. Usually, this involves asking for more information about your prospect through surveys, phone calls, or consultations. Your goal is to convince your prospects to allow you to become more involved with their businesses or lifestyles.
Step 5: Ask for the Sale. Now that you’ve proven your worth and have established a deep reservoir of trust with your prospect, close the sale. Your products will practically sell themselves because you’ve already demonstrated that you follow through on your promises. This entire process also filters out prospects that will never be interested in what you have to say. Everyone that you pitch to will be highly qualified and much more likely to buy.
What’s the Downside?
Permission marketing takes time. The initial investment isn’t nearly as high as interruption marketing but it’s also not going to deliver dramatic growth overnight. It’s something you’ll have to nurture over months if not years.
The Permission Marketing Tools
For a small business, it has never been easier to build a permission marketing platform. Here’s some of the more popular tools:
- Email Lists
My favorite tool for permission marketing is the email list. Email is the most reliable way to provide information to prospects. You’ll always be able to reach them at an exceptionally low cost to yourself. Just remember to respect the level of permission someone has already given you. They may have given you permission to reach out to them through email but that doesn’t mean you should spam their inbox with unrelated offers.