Permission Is Dead – Long Live Permission

Thanks, in large part, to Seth Godin’s book, “Permission Marketing,” smart business people online have come to recognize that they need to ask for permission before they start sending email to prospects and customers.

Ironically, many people who did pick up Seth’s book appear to have read no further than the dust jacket. “Hmm. If I ask permission first, then everything’s cool. Right?”

This is a bad thing. Because there’s a lot more to permission marketing than that. It’s no longer enough just to ask for permission and then turn on the marketing faucet wide open.

That’s what most companies have done. So as a consumer I’m bombarded with promotional messages from numerous sources. Most of the time I’ve forgotten if and when I actually gave anyone ‘permission’ to send the stuff.

Worst of all, if I challenge a company about its email practices, I’ll often be told that they are completely within their rights, because I gave them ‘permission.’

Suddenly, ‘permission’ is being used as a justification. Almost a threat. “Hey buddy, back off. You gave us permission and that’s the end of it. So quit your whining!”

Well, no. You lose.

Permission is not about justification.

Permission is step one in creating a relationship. It’s just step one. And that first level of permission will last you a very short period of time.

Permission expires. And it expires for a number of reasons:

  1. Permission expires because customers are flooded with permission-based emails. For any one marketer, that first ‘permission given’ soon gets lost in the crowd.

  2. Permission expires when you change the rules. If a customer gives you permission to do ‘A’ and you then add in ‘B,’ you’re breaking the rules and your permission just died.
  3. Permission expires when you push too hard. Remember, permission simply opens the door to a relationship. It isn’t a contract that binds anyone to anyone else.
  4. Permission expires when the relationship is more to the benefit of your company than it is to the benefit of the customer.

This last observation also holds an important key to getting noticed in a crowded inbox.

If you want your ‘permission’ to survive you need to reward it, renew it and, above all, make it all about your customer. And not about you.

Here’s a small example. Over a year ago I filled in a form at asking them to alert me to low air fares to Vancouver in BC (where I have family) and to London, England (where I also have family).

Travelocity now sends me an email whenever such a fare becomes available.

And that’s all they do. They don’t ‘leverage’ the permission by trying to cross-sell me and upsell me. They don’t give me offers on cruises or specials on tours. And they don’t send me email at regular intervals. (That would be a dead giveaway. How could the best fares to two different destinations magically become available once every week?)

With a little self-restraint, they send me exactly, and only the one thing I asked for. News of low fares to specific places.

As a result, I always open their emails.

It’s a perfect relationship. They asked for permission to do just one thing. And, with permission granted, they have stuck to the letter of that permission for over a year.

That’s very smart and very unusual. And yes, I do buy most of my airline tickets through Travelocity.

In conclusion, the concept of ‘permission marketing’ is widely misunderstood. And the online landscape is changing very quickly as well.

Permission, as perceived by many, is dead.

Over the weeks to come, I’ll be looking at ways to build permission that survives and actually works.

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