What Is Permission Marketing?

Permission marketing refers to a form of advertising where the intended audience is given the choice of receiving promotional messages. The concept of permission marketing has been popularized by Seth Godin, an entrepreneur and author, in his book published in 1999, "Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends, And Friends Into Customers." Permission marketing is characterized as anticipated, personal and relevant. It is often positioned as the opposite of direct marketing where promotional material is traditionally sent to a wide customer population without their consent.

Understanding Permission Marketing

Permission marketing has increased in popularity, particularly with respect to digital marketing. Subscription email updates are a good example of permission marketing. Users opt-in to receive periodic emails with updates and offers based on the interests they expressed when they registered on a website or other consumer touch point. Subscribing, in this case, is the act of giving permission. 

Benefits of Permission Marketing

Permission marketing is a low-cost and effective way to create a relationship with a potential customer. The use of digital platforms with direct access to consumers, such as email or social media, removes many of the overhead costs that traditional channels such as mass mailing and print ads must assume. More importantly, the opt-in from the potential customer makes it more likely that they will read the content and absorb the marketing messages.

Permission Marketing vs. Traditional Direct Marketing

Direct marketing in the traditional sense is often blind marketing — little is known about the target audience other than the postal code. For example, a real estate agent might send a postcard with their details to every home that has a particular ZIP code in a certain area.

A permission marketing approach would involve a real estate agent using a blog to share content about home prices, mortgage rates, and tips on selling a home specific to that same area. The blog might show a link to an email newsletter opt-in that prompts the user to answer basic questions that help the real estate agent determine what services they might need. For example, "When did you purchase your current home?” or “Do you intend to buy a home in the next year?” This information can be used to segment emails into different lists and further personalize the content. This type of communication builds a relationship with subscribers. When the time comes for them to sell or buy property, they will be likely to contact the real estate agent who is already communicating with them and with whom they have a relationship.