Seth Godin's book, “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers” has revolutionized the way marketers perceive their customers, allowing them to “get in front of the digital revolution.”
As Godin defined it, permission marketing refers to a form of marketing where consumers are given the choice of opting in to receive promotional messages. You have probably seen it multiple times already, with companies offering incentives for following them on social media or subscribing to an email list for coupons. It’s highly entrenched in our society.
What sets permission marketing apart from other strategies for reaching consumers is that it’s characterized as already having an engaged audience. Users wouldn't choose to subscribe to your business's newsletters, emails or social media unless they had a prior interest in your goods. It also has the benefit of being a low-cost way to create personal and relevant relationships due to it usually being done via digital communication tools.
Essentially, it’s the opposite of direct marketing, aka blind marketing, where sometimes the only thing consumers have in common is a zip code.
While Godin's book is an essential item for every marketer’s toolkit, there's no denying it was released quite a while ago — 23 years, to be exact.
During that time, a technological explosion — unimaginable in the era of Y2K — rocked our world. While marketers have generally kept abreast of these rapid changes, the landscape around them, including social media and data privacy laws, is going to change even more.
Still, the idea of allowing consumers to consent to be subjected to marketing, aka permission marketing, is more relevant than ever in this age. By enacting and adapting permission marketing to today's challenges, brands can stay on top of these constant changes while catering to their number one priority: the customer.
Below we’ll take a look at some of the predicted challenges ahead for the industry, along with some best practices on how to tackle them with permission marketing.
Social Data Collection and the Privacy Uprising
Every marketer will say that the more details they have on potential customers, the more likely they will be successful in sales. For the last decade, a great deal of marketers have gotten the specifics on customers via data on social media.
Brands primarily used this data to create a synergistic relationship between their marketing efforts and their customers. People used social media, and companies could see what customers liked and disliked, which allowed those companies to fine-tune their ads.
Meta — arguably the largest social media company due to its ownership of WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram — suffered a huge data leak in 2019, prompting a mass exodus of users and new concerns about data privacy.
To further complicate things, Apple saw two ways to gain from Meta's loss. First, they launched a new marketing campaign with one major selling point — privacy. Users gained more control over how their data was tracked and used, a change that made a major impact on other companies and slashed ad return on investment by 38%, according to Forbes.
The second gain for Apple was to partner with other companies, like Singular, to tap into ways to model and analyze this newly missing data — something that sequestered other brands from the advertising game.
Keeping an Eye out for New Tools
Not every company can afford to use these now necessary data collection technologies. As such, when seeking out new tools for permission marketing, Annie Wissner, CMO at Avenue 10 and VP of marketing at High Level Marketing, said "the best…tactics are those that help your audience go faster, reduce costs, solve business problems or gain a competitive advantage. Any form of content, from a blog post to a podcast to a webinar to a newsletter, is good as long as it offers value, is fun to consume and is highly relevant to your audience."
If any of your company’s current strategies don't fulfill those metrics, it might be time to change where you're spending your time and money.
One tried and true application for permission marketing is email subscriptions. Email marketers have to seriously compete for the attention of younger generations. On average, Millennials receive 6–50 emails per day, and Gen Z sees anywhere from one to 20. And the chances of getting them to open an email are low.
But that doesn't mean these groups don’t like getting email, and companies shouldn't abandon the communication medium. According to MediaPost, more than 66% of Millennials and 53% of Gen Zers want to receive email marketing at least once per week.
Wissner said email is a nice tool because it offers the ability to organize and search through content — something that’s necessary with the growing need to keep content structured across multiple communication channels.
She claimed that while email has its advantages, other channels might be a little more attractive for younger audiences, such as Slack and social media, as it offers the ability to get an immediate response to a question, concern or comment.
For instance, some companies use Facebook Messenger to send ads directly to consumers and keep it as a place where customers can reach out if they need help with an order. Slack, on the other hand, has recently been used at digital conferences as a way to communicate the logistics of the event and award prizes based on participation in the chat channels.
Related Article: 5 Ways to Generate More Loyalty and Email Signups
Be Mindful of Where Your Customers Are
Permission marketing is often the way companies can start and recircle clients into their sales funnels. But in the age where digital and physical are starting to blur, omnichannel marketing efforts will help consumers complete the sales funnel.
Wissner had another bit of advice for marketers on this subject: use an omnichannel strategy with your permission marketing. In many ways, permission marketing is the base concept of omnichannel — meeting the customer where they’re at.
John McClymont, who has 15 years of experience in distribution, agreed with this sentiment. "Giving a great and consistent customer experience is essential,” he said.
For instance, many of today’s younger customers spend a lot of time on social media. And after social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter released ecommerce functionality, Forrester reported that 61% of US adults under 25 purchased something on a social media app.
"Today, customers interact across multiple channels, and companies need to ensure consistent experiences at every interaction,” Wissner said. “Therefore, an omnichannel communication strategy is essential."
Companies looking to utilize permission marketing to start their sales funnel have another logistic to consider: adhering to data regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR, covering Europe), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and others.
With how interconnected we all are globally and the potentiality for a product to go viral, long gone are the days when your marketing materials will only be seen in your locale.
According to Wissner, this is especially critical for small businesses to think about. Under GDPR, companies can face fines of up to €20 million for failure to comply — regardless of whether you’re a US-based company.
Ethical Concerns and New Ways to Gather Data
With permission marketing, you obviously want to make your messages as personalized as possible, and that is usually done via data. But when talking to Wissner and McClymont — and just looking at the new digital landscape — it’s clear that the ways we used to gather data are changing.
On the one hand, consumers are becoming more tech-savvy, wanting to keep their information private. And some companies, like Apple, are trying to meet that need via their new privacy-focused ad campaigns and device user interfaces.
On the other hand, data gathering is so ingrained in all of our technologies that, as McClymont said, it’s almost impossible for the average consumer not to have some data being given away simply by being on the internet.
Going forward, this dichotomy is only going to get worse. But companies can prepare themselves in two ways.
The first is to invest in zero-party data or blockchain technologies as a way to keep company and customer data safe. The second is to start laying the groundwork to allow customers to give or sell their data to you — through surveys, interviews, zoom focus groups, etc.
In true permission marketing spirit, customers appreciate honesty and transparency. In most cases, if a customer likes your company and product, they'd rather give you their data directly instead of to a third party (who might sell that data over and over again).
Overall it seems like a win-win: the customer gets control and compensation for their data, and companies get quick feedback from their customers and potentially save money in doing so.
Related Article: Is It Possible to Have Both Privacy and Personalization?
The digital landscape is rapidly changing. Consumers are becoming more tech-savvy, searching for new ways to protect their data, while regulations — and some brands — are adapting to meet these new wants.
Despite its age, Godin’s concept of permission marketing can help marketers create a roadmap to successfully navigate these changes — through email, social media and beyond.