The Power of Permission Marketing

By Noah Rue

Is there anything more annoying and invasive (digital marketing-wise, at least) than a newsletter you didn’t sign up for? Not only does this go against anti-SPAM guidelines, but it’s just plain annoying. With all of the advertising that bombards us every day, customers are carefully choosing what they want to hear about – and ignoring the rest.

If you want your small business to succeed, permission marketing may be the key.

What Is Permission Marketing?

Permission marketing is when a customer opts to receive promotional messages from a brand – for example, when they sign up for a newsletter or “like” a business page on Facebook. The idea of permission marketing was popularized by Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers, which came out in 1999.

Permission marketing delivers personal and relevant content to the customer, and the customer anticipates receiving it. As digital marketing has grown, so has the desire for permission marketing – audiences are so overwhelmed with advertising today that they’re most interested (or sometimes only interested) in the content they’ve already decided they want.

There are a number of benefits of permission marketing for small businesses. The most obvious is its low cost. Digital platforms, including email marketing and social media, can cost nothing to utilize; even paid tiers are generally affordable and may only increase in price along with audience base, like with MailChimp. This is a huge cost-saver when compared to traditional ad channels like print advertisements and mass direct mailings.

The biggest benefit of permission marketing, though, is that when a customer opts in to receive your content, it’s like you’re pre-vetting them – you know they’re interested in your business and that your content will make more of an impact than it would on any ol’ consumer on the street.

Permission Marketing vs. Interruption Marketing

Permission marketing is the opposite of interruption marketing. To understand why permission marketing works as well as it does, it helps to also understand interruption marketing:

  • Any type of ad or marketing that customers do not ask to receive. It “interrupts” the customer’s activities.
  • Includes direct mail, phone calls, radio ads, TV commercials, newsletters that you didn’t sign up for or social media ads from accounts you’re not following.
  • The purpose is to invade a person’s activities or thoughts in order to distract them and get them interested in the product or service being sold.
  • Audience targeting is wide, and return-on-investment (ROI) is low.

While interruption marketing can sometimes be successful in getting a lot of sales quickly, it has a major downside: annoying customers to the point where they never buy from the company, even if what’s being sold will benefit their lives. Permission marketing costs less, targets a more focused audience and has a greater ROI than interruption marketing.

How Co-Creation Builds Relationships

Many of today’s modern brands are participation brands in order to appeal to millennials and other modern consumers. Participation brands have opted to let their customers get involved in the company in some way. They often ask for user-generated content (UGC) to use in their social media or marketing campaigns.

For example, the brand may run a graphic design competition to find their next marketing poster or share Instagram posts from customers. Brands can also send or post surveys, polls, and quizzes to learn more about their customers and collect feedback. Not only do customers feel like they’re part of the process, but companies can also glean valuable insight that will direct their future products, services, and marketing efforts. When a brand becomes part of a consumer’s life, here’s what happens:

  • The brand is visible in the individual’s life, whether in real life or online (or both). They may be more likely to wear branded clothing or use branded gear, and they may post on social media about the brand or with branded items in view.
  • Real customers and influencers will endorse and promote the brand even if they’re not part of a brand advocate program.
  • Brands that have affiliate marketing or brand advocate programs set up can use their loyal customers as a sort of sales team – one that’s dispersed all around the globe.
  • Customers answer questions that brands will use to guide their creative and business processes, such as what’s wrong with their customer service or which news products customers are most interested in buying.

The way you let your audience participate will depend on their demographics. A younger audience will be more willing and able to participate on social media. An older audience may respond better to email surveys about their experience with a product.

SEO and Permission Marketing

Inbound marketing plays a large role in permission marketing – think of it as the step prior to your audience giving you permission to market to them. In order for potential followers and customers to opt-in to what you offer, they have to find you – if you found them, that could be considered interruption marketing. SEO is one of the many strategies used for inbound marketing.

While your SEO strategy shouldn’t be limited to one technique, this is a great place to start: uncover your audience’s pain points. Knowing the topics your audience wants to learn more about and how they’re searching online for answers to their questions will guide the content you create. From there, you can use the keywords that people are searching for, link to other related articles you published on the topic, and create thorough content that competes with the other, less-thorough content that’s out there.

Final Thoughts

Since permission marketing means you can’t go straight to any and all consumers, audience insights are going to be highly valuable to your strategy. Creating customers personas and forming a marketing strategy that appeals to them isn’t as easy as paying for a commercial spot, but it is much more effective. When it comes to marketing, quality is more important than quantity – a smaller base of a highly engaged audience is better than a huge audience that’s filled with people who don’t care about your business.

Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t frantically updating his news feeds, Noah likes to shut off his devices, head to the beach and read detective novels from the 1930s.

Permission marketing stock photo By iQoncept/Shutterstock