Getting a marketing message across is getting harder, particularly for anyone trying to do business on the Internet, the concept of permission marketing could be the solution to the dreams of every online marketer.
According to researchers the average consumer receives in excess of one million marketing messages in a year, indeed he or she will probably be exposed to over 10,000 messages in a single trip to the supermarket. However, despite the fact that we are subconsciously exposed to such a flood of marketing messages very few get head above the general background noise of information input which fills all our lives. This makes the life of someone trying to market products or services very difficult, a difficulty which is compounded by the fact that today’s brands typically deliver high levels of quality and satisfaction, so consumers are less interested in messages about competing brands.
The result is that mass marketers are scrambling to find ways to get through this cloud of competing messages, they attempt to do this in a range of different ways, such as:
- Simply shouting louder is one way, bigger ads, brighter ads, strange ads
- Finding new channels for presenting their messages is another, such as advertising on parking meters, on the back of bus tickets and grocery receipts etc.
- Ad messages can also be made more controversial – like the series of ads run by Benneton, or humorous
- Another way is to change ad campaigns frequently
- Alternatively the advertiser can abandon traditional mass media in favour of direct mail and promotions
All of these techniques work to a degree but all are eventually self defeating. However, there is another way to improve the effectiveness of a mass market campaign, not by making it louder or more expensive or more unusual, but by using a concept called “permission marketing”.
The concept of permission marketing, as opposed to the more conventional forms of marketing, which are known as “interruption marketing” capitalises on the glut of marketing messages by allowing consumers to select what messages they want to receive. It is called permission marketing because it depends upon the concept that a potential customer will not have a marketing message forced in front of them unless he or she gives their permission to be exposed to that message. (If you are interested in the concept of permission marketing then do try and read Seth Godin’s highly influential book “Permission Marketing”)
The theory of permission marketing is already used in mass market campaigns where consumers are given the opportunity to show their interest, perhaps by calling a 1-800 number, or sending email to request something of value to them. In doing so, they grant you permission for the marketer to engage in a dialogue with them, and explain the benefits of the marketer’s product or service over time.
Since the marketing messages are now both anticipated, personalised, and relevant, the consumer is far more likely to favourably receive the message and far more likely to respond in a positive way. By asking permission the marketing message can also be delivered over a longer time span, and in a series of logical steps, selling a product is now replaced by a process of building a relationship with the potential customer.
This is a process for which Internet technologies are ideally suited, and we can break down the permission marketing process into a sequence of five steps, these are:
Offer the customer an incentive to participate. (e.g. cash, information, reward points, sweepstakes, contest, etc.)
Use each communication with the customer as an opportunity to incrementally explain the benefits of your product or service.
Reinforce the incentive. As the customer begins to lose interest, offer tailored incremental incentives to keep your best customers in relationship.
Increase the level of permission the customer grants you. Encourage customers to provide more data about their life and their interests, or get permission to present information about other products or services.
Use the permission you have obtained to get the customer to buy your product or service
How to get Permission?
The hardest part of this process is the first step, getting the potential customer to give his or her permission and it is one that permission marketing guru Seth Godin has addressed in his new book “Unleashing The Ideavirus”, here he contends that marketers can gain the attention of consumers by getting them to market to each other. Godin suggests that marketers develop a marketable idea, then persuade consumers to pass it on to other consumers. Hopefully, before long, your “ideavirus” will become so infectious that it has spread to the whole world. A concept which has led to a big boom in the use of viral marketing techniques on the Internet.
Building customer relationships
Once the marketer has gained the permission of the potential customer the marketing process then focuses upon building one to one relationships designed to increase the amount of business the marketer does with each customers, and getting new customers to become repeat customers. This emphasis upon customer loyalty and on building an ongoing relationship between marketer and customer is in direct opposition to the traditional mass-market approaches that focus on increasing the number of consumers who purchase your product, and an attitude that “there is one born every minute”.
What permission marketing does is extend this concept by focusing on turning existing prospects into customers, rather than trying to acquire the maximum number of prospects, the permission marketer tries to turn a greater proportion of prospects into customers. The permission granted when the prospect becomes a customer can then be leveraged to increased sales over the long term.
With permission marketing the return on an initial mass-market campaign can be maximised by getting prospects to sign up for a free offer in exchange for a brief message rather than by trying to get them to buy right away. Since they have already given you permission using this approach, they will pay more attention to your subsequent communications and thus will be more likely to respond to whatever you offer. Permission marketing can be described as a process of turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers.
However, this is a process which will only take place when a level of trust is built up between the marketer and the customer, building this level of trust takes time and frequent interaction. This is another area where the Internet is the ideal permission marketing medium since it allows this type of frequent interaction to take place without incurring the cost of a conventional media campaign. The benefits of frequency in a permission-based interaction are also further enhanced because the prospect anticipates your message and is interested in the information you provide.
To help ensure that this level of trust is built up between customer and marketer there are four rules that must be obeyed in a permission marketing campaign.
- Permission cannot be transferred – if you sell or exchange the information a customer has given you, you betray the trust they have given you, and you risk losing the permission you have been granted.
- Permission is selfish – it requires you to offer a consumer an explicit reward for granting you permission. Unlike mass market campaigns which frequently interrupt you with a message, hoping that at some point you will pay attention, permission marketing gives the consumer a selfish reason to listen.
- Permission is a process – it is about evolving a relationship with your customer over time.
- Permission can be cancelled – with permission marketing, the customer is in control and can end the relationship at any time, a fact which motivates the marketer to do a better job of managing the relationship.
Different types of permission
One thing to be noted, however, is that there are several different types, or levels, of permission which a customer can grant a marketer, and each has a different use and a different approach. At the highest level, the customer will give the marketer permission to sell him products without explicit authorisation being given on every occasion. This is the kind of permission granted to a utility company to keep on supplying electricity or telecommunications services until specifically told to stop doing so. Customers grant this so called “intravenous” level of permission for a variety of reasons, they may want to save time and money, or avoid making decisions, or avoid being out of stock.
Purchase on approval
The next level of permission involves purchase on approval, in this situation a consumer agrees to receive a regular supply of products as long as they have the opportunity to refuse any one of them at any time. This is the sort of permission which is implicit in an operation like a book club, where books are sent to the customer without being ordered, but with the customer having the right to return any one and not pay for it.
At a slightly lower level there is the system known as points permission, which involves rewarding a prospect or customer with some form of controlled-use currency, like frequent flyer points. Points permission techniques are used to encourage customer loyalty, and are particularly useful for permission marketing because they can be allocated in a flexible way. The one major drawback with a points permission program is the potential downstream cost. One way to limit this liability is to ensure that points can only be used against future purchases that still generate a profit. A variation on the points permission concept is the points chance model, where instead of earning a guaranteed reward, the marketer offers the consumer more chances to win a reward.
Personal relationship permission is a very effective way to modify consumer behaviour, but difficult to scale. Personal permission is the best way to move people to an “intravenous” level of permission, or to sell expensive products. Consumers are not likely to buy a diamond necklace simply because of a points program.
Brand trust is the permission level at which consumers choose a product because they trust your brand. But brand trust is expensive, slow to develop, hard to measure, and almost impossible to manipulate.
Situational permission occurs when the consumer reaches out for assistance, perhaps by asking a shop assistant for advice, or looking up a FAQ page on the Internet. This is a very effective opportunity to initiate a permission based relationship which can be used to get the customer to sign up for a rewards program, or some other relationship in which you have permission to contact them on an ongoing basis.
Evaluating a Permission Marketing Program
As a conclusion to this article we will just look at a few points which should be considered before embarking on any permission marketing based advertising campaign.
- What is the reward? How attractive is the reward to your target market group?
- How much does it cost to sign up each additional prospect?
- What is the permission that is granted in exchange for this reward?
- How much does it cost to send each additional message to each prospect?
- What is the response rate to each communication?
- How will you identify prospect’s whose interest is waning, and how will you encourage them to stay in the program?
- How will you ensure that the permission you receive is treated with the respect it deserves – as an asset of the company?
- How will you leverage the permission you receive to increase your share of the customer’s wallet?
- How will you encourage the customer to give you more permission?
- How long will the permission a prospect or customer grants you continue?