Today it’s another one of my marketing seminars adapted into a Blog post. This one explains the concepts behind Seth Godin’s idea of Permission Marketing. We start with the acknowledgement that almost all marketing done up until now has been interruption marketing. The marketer interrupts whatever it is you’re doing (reading a newspaper, watching a TV show, visiting a Web site or even idly glancing at the back of the car in front of you at the red light) and shows you their message (print ad, TV commercial, pop-up or banner ad, the car company’s logo).
This is not sustainable. As the interruptions grow in number, we begin to tune them out. So they get louder, sexier, funnier, viralier (that’s more viral), bigger - to try and get our attention back. But then they’re all louder, so nothing stands out except the overwhelming cacophony. And it fails.
So what’s the alternative? Send personal, relevant, anticipated messages to people who want to get them and have given you permission to send them. The most prevalent current examples are RSS feeds and opt-in newsletters. There’s another technology-based concept that I love that never really got off the ground before the tech-stock bubble burst, but I hope it makes a comeback: WebGrocer. The idea is that you place your grocery order and pay online, and someone packs it all up and delivers it to your door. So far, no magic. But what if I gave them permission to keep track of my order patterns? After a while, a sufficiently smart database application could begin to predict what I’ll be needing and when I’ll be needing it. They might send me an email saying, “Dear Stephen, we think you are going to need one 4L Tide with Bleach and a dozen eggs tomorrow. Shall we add it to your next order?” I would go check my supply, and seeing that they were right, I would agree. After a few times, I wouldn’t even check, I’d just assume they were right. After a sufficiently long string of accurate predictions, I’d want to give them even more permission: I’d say, “Hey, if you think I need something, just send it. Don’t bother asking.” It would be like having a valet or personal shopper.
You might think that vast amounts of technology like Amazon’s recommendation engine or Google’s search algorithm would be required to achieve that kind of trust and permission. I’ll give you a couple of examples from the past, then: every autumn of my childhood, we gave Sears permission to send us 300 pages of advertising. In fact, we welcomed it. It was the Sears Christmas Wish Book. A catalog that both I and my parents welcomed. I could pick what I wanted, and my parents could see what it cost. Sears was doing us a service.
The other example was our home heating oil. I don’t believe we ever actually ordered any; some guy would just show up periodically with his big smelly truck and hose, and dump a bunch of dead dinosaurs into a pipe on the side of our house. And send us a bill. We trusted him to give us oil when he knew (or guessed) we would need it. We gave him permission.