May I...?

Getting permission to market to new prospects could snag you more customers.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the December 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

One of the biggest problems with mass-market advertising is that it vies for the attention of prospects by interrupting them. That's why TV commercials have been called "dream interrupters"-the TV show is your dream; the commercials interrupt that dream. That's not so good.

On the other hand, if nobody else is interrupting the audience, the interruption is effective for you. Unfortunately, that never happens-and there are so many interruptions these days that people have learned to ignore them. Television is cluttered with commercial messages, and the Web is even worse. That's why guerrillas are rapidly warming up to "permission marketing" on the Internet.

Why does permission marketing work? These days, people have the money to spend on products or services, but they don't have time to evaluate your offerings and learn why you're trustworthy. That's one reason online marketing is so powerful. You can use e-mail to communicate with people frequently, quickly and unobtrusively-if they've given you permission.

The name of this new game is to get people to point to themselves as hot prospects. With permission marketing, people agree to learn more about your company and its benefits, usually by registering their e-mail addresses on your company's or a related organization's Web site.

Your challenge is to persuade consumers to volunteer their attention. Tell them about your company and how your offerings can benefit them. Then let them tell you a bit about themselves. Over time, you create a mutually beneficial relationship. They want to know what you have to say. Once they know more and trust you, they can buy what you sell.

Seth Godin, author of Permission Marketing (Simon & Schuster) and owner of Yoyodyne, an e-mail and Internet marketing company in Irvington, New York, says there are four rules of permission marketing:

1. Permission must be granted. Buying names and addresses and then sending direct mail to these prospects is not permission. It's spamming, and guerrillas know spamming litters the marketing scene and is usually ignored.

2. Permission is selfish. Your prospects will grant you permission only if they clearly see there's something in it for them. You've got about three seconds to tell them what that something is.

3. Permission can be revoked. As easily as permission is granted, it can be withdrawn. On the other hand, it can also intensify over time. The intensity depends on the quality of the interaction between you and your customers.

4. Permission can't be transferred. Think of marketing as dating. You can't give a friend authority to go out on a date in your place.

Once people give you permission to market to them, then what? They want to get to know you better. They want you to solve their problems. This is your chance to show and tell them how your company can do that.

Interruption marketing is coming to a dead end, and the future will belong to those companies that take advantage of permission marketing. Will yours be one of them?

For more about permission marketing, see "Net Profits".

Jay Conrad Levinson is the author of the internationally bestselling Guerrilla Marketing series of books and The Guerrilla Marketing Newsletter. For information, call (800) 748-6444, write to Guerrilla Marketing, P.O. Box 1336, Mill Valley, CA 94942, or e-mail

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