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.


  1. The marketer offers the prospect an incentive for volunteering.

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