Feb 5, 2008

Permission Marketing, An Introduction

What is it?

Permission Marketing is a type marketing campaign where an individual has given a company their consent to market to them, usually through email.


The term was first defined by Seth Godin in an article for Fast Company in March 1998, and later a book titled Permission Marketing. Godin’s argument is that traditional marketing is loosing effectiveness and that permission marketing is and will continue to increase in value.

Basic Premise

Godin described permission marketing as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” He goes on to note “It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention”

Permission Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising

The antithesis of permission marketing is interruption marketing, also known as traditional advertising. Interruption marketing aims to interrupt potential customers with a message, T.V. commercials are interruption marketing, so are magazine ads.

The problem with interruption marketing is that consumers have stopped paying attention. It was at its greatest when communication channels were limited. In the 1950’s most households had a choice of 3 to 6 TV channels, all without remotes. Advertisers could expect to impact a large portion of consumers with a standard T.V. commercial.

In recent years, the number of communication channels has exploded. Consumers have the choice of hundreds of T.V. or Radio channels and millions of websites. In order to compete, traditional interruption marketers have increased the frequency and loudness of marketing messages, creating a cluttered marketing landscape that consumers have become experts at ignoring.

According to estimates, consumers targeted with between 3000 and 5000 advertisements a day, though these numbers are rough estimates at best.

General Rules of Successful Permission Marketing


Opt-in means that the prospect is given the choice to be apart of the marketing campaign. Permission marketers usually ask consumers to enter their email address and then confirm that they had given the email address prior to their entrance in the marketing program.

Real Permission vs. Permission

The difference between real and not so real permission is an important concept for would be permission marketers. As Godin notes on his blog,

“Just because you somehow get my email address doesn't mean you have permission. Just because I don't complain doesn't mean you have permission. Just because it's in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn't mean it's permission either.”

Permission marketing requires an authentic desire by the consumer to be engaged in a marketing campaign for it to work. In essence, the consumer exchanges his or her attention for something of value, usually a personal, relevant and anticipated message from a company.

Keep your Promises

Trust is the cornerstone of any permission marketing campaign. This means that marketers must treat the information they collect like gold. This means no selling, renting or giving away of emails or personal information. Further, marketers must stay true to the initial promise they made to the consumer. Consumers granting permission to send them information on cat health may not want to hear about child health care. Messages must be relevant to the initial deal.

Give Them a Reason

Permission marketers and consumers should see themselves as entering into a direct bargain. In exchange for value, be it information, a chance to win, a discount, entertainment etc, the consumer is willing to give permission for a company to engage in communication with them. To be successful, marketers must make overt and valuable reasons for consumers to partake in the campaign.

The First Date: Get to Know the Permission Granter

Permission marketing is a long term process. As Godin writes, “Permission is like dating. You don't start by asking for the sale at first impression. You earn the right, over time, bit by bit”.

The value in having a long term connection with a consumer is two fold. First, the longer the connection between consumer and company, the stronger the relationship becomes. Second, marketers are able to learn more and more about consumers through the communications. Through gaining information, communications can be personalized to the individual thus adding value to the relationship and increasing the potential for earnings.

Interruption Marketing on it’s Death Bed?

Interruption marketing is not going anywhere soon, in fact is will become more and more prevalent. With the increased prevalence will come higher customer acquisition costs and decreasing effectiveness. This trend should lead more companies to drive value out of every customer inquiry, something permission based marketing has at its’ core.

Tools of the Trade

The internet is the great enabler of permission marketing. The drastic reduction in costs of communication from technologies such as website and email allow permission marketers to prosper. The key technology in use in online permission marketing is know and the Auto-Responder.

Real World Examples


Yoyodyne, worked with clients - which include AT&T, H&R Block, MCI, and Volvo - to create these new relationships. All of its campaigns used the Web, email, and other online media. All of them are built around game shows, contests, or sweepstakes. What do game shows have to do with permission marketing? Consumers give a company permission to send them messages in return for the chance to win prizes they care about. Godin sold this company for $29.6 million worth of Yahoo stock in October, 1998.

Permission Marketing Blog- Godin offered customers 1/3 of his book, Permission Marketing, for free in exchange for their email address. Sales soared. You can still get part of the book here.

Off line

Save on More Card – Offers discounts in store in exchange for allowing Save-on Foods to track and data mine consumer spending habits. Promotions are then geared towards customers in a personal way

The Milk Man – You agree to pay the bill, the milk man agrees to put milk on your stoop every few days.

Further Reading

Seth Godin’s Blog

Fast Company Article

Overview of Permission Marketing


  1. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/permission-mark.html
  2. http://www.waller.co.uk/permission.htm
  3. Wikipedia - Permission Marketing
This post was written for your enjoyment, as well as course credit for Marketing Projects in Industry at Capilano College.

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