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Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing: what you need to keep in mind

Permission marketing. If you want to be noticed and listened to by your market, remember that a person’s attention is not free. It must be earned.

But how do you do it? That’s what Seth Godin teaches us in Permission marketing.

In his book “Permission marketing” Seth Godin highlights two forms of marketing: interruption marketing and permission marketing. The first has prevailed until today (and still prevails especially for major consumer goods brands), and the second according to the author is more effective.

The problem is, traditional marketing constantly interrupts the consumer to offer him products that do not necessarily interest him. Older marketers or marketers of another generation had it all easy. All they had to do was create an advertisement in which they encouraged people to buy, and the sales curve began to rise. However, standardized advertising messages in the mass media, “interruption marketing,” are a thing of the past.

Faced with interruption marketing, which is less and less effective, permission marketing should be more easily imposed.

Why is that?

New marketing for new consumers

Advertising is everywhere, yet no human being can pay attention to the hundreds of messages he is exposed to every day. This makes it increasingly difficult for companies to reach consumers who are saturated with commercial offers.

For 90 years, interruption marketing, which interrupts consumers to promote a product, has been successful in capturing their attention. This is no longer the case today. Conventional marketing methods are outdated. The era is permission marketing. A marketing campaign will be better perceived by the consumer if you ask permission to present it.

Indeed, most of us have the same problem: lack of time, which translates into a lack of attention for marketing.

But while interruption marketing wastes the prospect’s time, permission marketing asks the prospect first if he or she has time to pay attention. By only addressing volunteers afterwards, permission marketing delivers a message that hits the mark. A message that is both expected by the consumer, personal and relevant, since it is addressed to subjects who want to listen to them, who feel concerned and interested.

Our attention is a limited resource

Because people’s attention is a resource that has become scarce and all the more valuable. If you think about it, paying attention requires a conscious effort.

That’s why Seth Godin proposes another approach, one that’s much more effective. Permission marketing.

The goal of permission marketing is to turn a stranger into a friend, then into a customer and ultimately into a loyal customer. Rather than interrupting people and making them swallow a message in the form of an advertisement, you start by getting agreement to communicate with the person you are targeting.

This process quickly turns qualified strangers into prospects.

The Internet is the tool par excellence of permission marketing since it represents the largest direct marketing medium, wrongly considered and used as a broadcast medium.


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Permission marketing: The example of a marriage

Imagine two marketers looking to get married. One uses interruption marketing and the other uses permission marketing.

The interruption marketer

Let’s start with the interruption marketer. After getting dressed nice and elegantly, he goes around town asking each girl if she wants to get married while waiting for a “yes”. If he doesn’t get one, he will blame his clothes.

The permission marketer

The permission marketer has another approach. He gets a first date with a girl he has targeted, then a second date before asking her for a greater commitment to the relationship.

Permission marketing is about turning a stranger into a friend and a friend into a customer for life. Permission marketing is slower but offers measurable results. Interruption marketing is faster, but the results are less obvious.

The five steps to dating your customer

It is a five-step process, with the goal of gaining an ever-increasing level of permission.

In short, the five steps are:

1. Offer the prospect an incentive to volunteer.

2. Using the attention offered by the prospect, offer a curriculum over time, teaching the consumer about your product or service.

3. Reinforce the incentive to guarantee that the prospect maintains the permission.

4. Offer additional incentives to get even more permission from the consumer.

5. Over time, leverage the permission to change consumer behavior toward profits.

Step One

We offer the prospect the opportunity to volunteer to be talked to (as a brand or company) in exchange for a reward. What kind of reward? Rewards can take many forms, such as a free report, a sample, or a list of “common mistakes not to make in this or that area. And when you send them your information, you’re asking for their permission to send you more messages. To do so, you will still have to interrupt the prospect to make the proposal but this is the only time when it is necessary to do so.

Step Two

Since the prospect has accepted the dialogue, we can provide him/her with information and teach him/her about our services.

Third step

We reinforce the reward so that the prospect maintains his attention to our communications. We will use the targeted data at our disposal to personalize the reward.

Step Four

It is a question of increasing the level of permission one grants oneself, because one has previously (in the third step) offered more reward. For example, more personal data is requested in order to make a specific offer.

Fifth step

This is the stage of lead-to-customer conversion. It consists in offering a targeted, quality product that brings real benefits to the prospect, and in making a profit in return.

Permission marketing has several advantages

– It is anticipated: prospects expect to hear from us.

– It is personal: the messages are directly addressed to the right person; there is no wastage that one finds with the mass media.

– It is relevant: the subject is bound to interest prospects who have “raised their hand” to obtain information.

The Four Principles of Permission

1) It cannot be transferred (you cannot transfer customer data to third parties, as these third parties have not obtained the customer’s permission)

2) It is selfish (it is based on an explicit reward for the client to pay attention)

3) It is a process (it is a dialogue that takes place over time, not a single event).

4) It can be cancelled at any time (the customer can cancel his permission whenever he wants)

There are five phases in the life cycle of a client: strangers, friends, customers, loyal customers, former customers.

Interruption marketing does not develop a relationship with a customer until the customer is in the “customer” or even “loyal customer” phase.

Seth Godin makes the link in his book with Don Peppers and Martha Rogers’ One to One Future, which seeks to extract the most profit per customer (on a reduced number of customers) explaining that permission marketing is an evolution of it.

Once you get their permission, you can build a relationship with your prospects and, when the time is right, start selling your products to them.


permission marketing cycle


Seven levels of permission marketing

Seth Godin also describes 7 levels of permission marketing

From the most important to the least favorable:

1) The intravenous permission level

Imagine a doctor saving your life. Aren’t you going to listen to him? Your doctor has permission to put what he or she thinks is best inside your veins. When it comes to marketing, it’s when a customer trusts you so much that they let you buy for them. This could be a subscription to a book of the month like the Book of the Month Club in the United States. By subscribing, customers give you permission to send them a book every month that they will be happy to read. Another example is a subscription to a magazine. Customers pay for each new issue without knowing what’s in it. Why would they do that? To save time and money (the subscription costs less than the price per magazine) and the customer doesn’t waste time looking for a book or magazine on the newsstand. And finally, he avoids the constraint of having to choose. How can you apply this idea to create a recurring offer for your business?

2) Purchase on approval

Slightly similar to the previous level, except that the customer does not abandon all control. The company needs authorization to be able to invoice. In the United States, there was a CD Club of the Month. Every month they offered a CD. And if customers didn’t want that month’s CD, all they had to do was return it.

3) The points permission level

These are the loyalty points that exist in traditional shops, airlines and that allow to maintain the conversation with the customer, offering him a reward. Each point must have a real value. Seth Godin advises using a steep reward curve to maintain the loyalty of participating customers. Customers will appreciate it because they can measure how far they have to go before they get to the (next) reward.

4) The personal relationship level

Creating a personal relationship is slow and difficult to establish. It depends on the individual and it works particularly well for the professions: lawyer, doctor, etc. The problem is that it is difficult to apply it on a large scale.

5) The brand trust level

This is the mantra of marketers who interrupt the prospect to tell him about their message. According to Seth Godin, brand trust is overrated. It’s extremely expensive and time-consuming. It’s also difficult to measure the results of a campaign.

6) The situation level

Often it is a salesperson who asks “can you help? “and gives himself permission to do so. This is a situational permission because the customer is just walking around the store. It appears when the prospect calls a voice service, when he goes into a store or even when he is consuming, like the salesperson in a store who asks if he can help you or the restaurant owner who offers to add a dish, making an additional sale (McDonald’s has generated billions of dollars in incremental revenue with this technique).


As soon as you don’t have permission to communicate with someone, what you are doing is SPAM.

SPAM is also when you interrupt a consumer without their consent.

In this sense, an advertisement on TV or radio is considered SPAM, as is any unsolicited communication.

Evaluating a permission marketing program

Seth Godin identifies 10 things to consider when evaluating a permission marketing program.

1) The quality of the hook and bait. The greater the benefit, the better the customer response.

2) The cost of a higher level of permission. How much does it cost to have one more person participate?

3) The depth of permission given to us by the client.

4) The cost of increasing the frequency of sending, the frequency of dialogue with the prospect.

5) The response rate to the messages we send is the absolute number of sendings divided by the number of people who respond.

6) When compression occurs. Compression is defined as the point at which a client loses interest when the same rewards are provided over and over again. In other words, how much does it cost to keep a customer?

7) If the company in question considers the database obtained through permission as an asset.

8) The use of the permission as leverage in the business.

 9) How the level of permission can be improved. The question is to see how the company increases the confidence of its customers to move towards an ever-increasing level of permission.

10) The life span of a permission. The longer the better. In advertising, Seth Godin praises frequency, demonstrating that it is much more effective than reach: if the frequency of an ad doubles, its effectiveness increases by 300%. He advises repeating a message more often on a small number of prospects rather than sprinkling broadly once. Frequency is so effective because it generates notoriety. Repetition also creates familiarity. And that familiarity is the seed of trust, so important for a consumer to buy a product.

Permission marketing: Rules to be respected

The permission you get from the prospect obeys 4 strict rules:

1) This permission is non-transferable: you cannot give or sell to another sales person the permission, i.e. the trust that a customer grants you. Permission marketing never reserves unpleasant surprises for its customers.

2) This permission is selfish: your prospect is the master of your marketing program. He doesn’t care about your products, your career, your problems… The only question he asks himself is: “What are you offering me that I’m interested in? Don’t forget this and reward him every step of the way.

3) Authorization is part of a long-term process. Permission marketing allows you to engage in a dialogue with the customer: if it is nurtured, it thrives, if not, it stops.

4) The permission can be taken back at any time by the customer who granted it.

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