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I learned in grade school never to ask the teacher, "Can I go to the bathroom?"

I asked my teacher this once, in front of the whole class. "I don't know," she said. "Can you?" That day I learned the difference between asking if I was able to do something and requesting permission.

We can directly apply this concept to marketing. Seth Godin, in his seminal 1999 book Permission Marketing, argues that most marketing these days is interruption marketing. Commercials interrupt our TV and radio programs. Telemarketers interrupt our dinners. Even billboards and bus stops fight for our attention as we drive through our cities.

In other words, marketers typically compete with each other to force their messages on us. Think about it. We only have so much attention to give, but the number of new and existing products always seems to be on the upswing.

In contrast, permission marketing is pre-approved marketing. At its extreme, imagine selecting every commercial that would be shown during your TV favorite program. Imagine that your friend across the street could select a different mix of commercials.

The basic premise behind permission marketing, which Godin refers to as a cousin of one-to-one marketing, is that people simply pay more attention to marketing messages they have consciously requested, as opposed to those that are forced upon them when they would rather be doing something else. (for another view on permission-based marketing, see our opinion column)

While this approach didn't use to be realistic on a large scale, it now is by using the Internet. Godin lists six benefits the Internet provides marketers. 1) Stamps are free. 2) The speed of testing is 100 times faster. 3) Response rates are 15 times higher. 4) You can implement curriculum marketing in text and on the web. 5) Frequency is free – you can identify and talk with individuals over and over again. 6) Printing is free.

FIVE SIMPLE STEPS TO INTERNET-BASED PERMISSION MARKETING

  1. The marketer offers the prospect an incentive for volunteering.
  2. People don't want to do anything unless they're going to get something out of it. As with any relationship, the party attempting to initiate the relationship is going to have to offer something to motivate the prospect to agree to the first interaction. This can be information, a small gift, or the chance to win a large gift. It can be almost anything, but there has to be something.

    This is a necessary step that a lot of marketers skip because it takes extra time and money. Most people would rather just buy a list from someone else, but that's not permission marketing. In addition, just because someone gave permission to one company does not mean that permission is transferable. Each relationship must start with its own permission.

  3. Using the attention offered by the consumer, the marketer offers a curriculum over time, teaching the consumer about the product or service.
  4. This is the get-to-know-you stage. Once marketers have the attention of consumers, they need to have a plan. What information would they like? How should they get it? How much do people know about the product or service being marketed? For instance, the person who just heard about a product and the person who has been using it for three years need to receive a different message.

  5. The incentive is reinforced to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission.
  6. People in relationships need to be reminded why they are in that relationship. If they aren't, well, it's highly likely they won't stay around. This is especially true with permission marketing. The lure to get the person involved may not be strong enough to keep them involved. Marketers need to be able to make this call and come up with the proper incentives to keep people involved.

  7. The marketer offers additional incentives to get even more permission from the consumer.
  8. Think back to relationships again. We all meet new people every day. Some of those relationships deepen, others never get started. Why? Well, in every case, we either have an incentive to take the relationship farther, or we don't. The same applies to permission marketing. If marketers want to deepen their relationships with consumers they must offer continuously more attractive incentives.

  9. Over time, the marketer leverages the permission to change consumer behavior and turn it into profits.

Most marketing people now acknowledge that databases play a valuable role in their profession. But let's take a closer look. Do most people know they are on a certain database? Moreover, how many actually volunteered to be in the database and supplied or confirmed key, factual information about themselves?

Imagine how much more effective a database would be if the people in it were partners rather than targets.

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