Understanding & Applying Permission Marketing

Permission Marketing is in essence the crux of success for B2B marketers. And likely, even if you haven't heard this exact phrase, you understand the reasoning and the meaning. After all, if you remove your marketing hat for a moment, you can truly understand the customer's point of view. 

Seth Godin is the godfather of permission marketing. He's the one that originally penned the phrase, and has (quite literally) written books about this topic. Seth Godin is a marketer extrordinaire that's been around for 10+ years and continues to be a trusted thought leader for marketers - especially in the B2B space. If you don't follow Seth, I recommend doing so immediately. You can find him on twitter at: @thisissethsblog, at his blog, watch one of his many TED talks, or buy his original book "Permission Marketing" (published way back in 1999 on the topic.) People originally thought Seth Godin was crazy. Get permission to market to someone? That's insane. Isn't the goal of marketing to get your idea plastered all over as much as possible, wherever you can, and in front of any audience possible? Well sure, you can do that, but it won't be successful.

Enter the concept of permission marketing - still going strong (and even stronger) some 12.5 years later. Let's let Seth define it before we go any further:

Permission marketing is a term popularized by Seth Godin used in marketer in general and e-marketing specifically. The undesirable opposite of permission marketing is interruption marketing. Marketers obtain permission before advancing to the next step in the purchasing process. For example, they ask permission to send email newsletters to prospective customers. It is mostly used by online marketers, notably email marketers and search marketers, as well as certain direct marketers who send a catalog in response to a request."

If you're like most human beings, you get really annoyed when a store starts sending you coupons or emails you didn't ask for. And you get really annoyed when telemarketers interrupt your dinner by calling to sell you insurance. You didn't ask for the service or the advertisement, so hard selling will probably deter them rather than get them excited. The same concept holds true for B2B marketers. If you give gifts (as Seth Godin would say) in the form of content, RFP templates, how-to guides, services, free product trials... your prospects will be knocking at your door, rather than you knocking at theirs.  

At the end of the day, permission marketing is a really simple concept. Godin may have dedicated an entire book to it (and it really is worth a read), but let me boil it down for you: make your prospects want to do business with you by giving meaningful gifts, and your product or service will sell itself. If you burn relationships by forcing your product or service or acting desperate, you'll do much more harm than good. 

How do you get started? Start by giving gifts. By gifts I mean create something unique and special that others want and will come to you for. Godin wrote another great book entitled Linchpin (watch for my book review) about this concept. Which companies do gift giving well? 

  • Nordstrom: Ever stepped foot in a Nordstrom? They arguably have the best service in the world. Wore a pair of jeans and they ripped a year later? Replaced. Free.
  • Zappos: Same story. Unparalleled customer service. 
  • Salesforce.com: Treat their customers like heroes. CEO Marc Benioff will call any customer directly that has an issue. 
  • Uber: You never know if you'll get a stretch limo, an entourage of black cars, or a "secret service" dressed driver. But you do know you'll always get incredibly fast service and a great experience. 

What kind of stories do you want your prospects and customers telling about you? Annoying spammer or incredible gift giver? It's your choice to make.