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Permission Marketing by Seth Godin Summary

“Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin is a book advocating for a shift away from traditional, disruptive advertising like pop-up ads or telemarketing. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of obtaining a customer’s consent before marketing to them. This builds trust and nurtures a mutually beneficial relationship

Godin envisions marketing evolving into anticipated, personal, and relevant communication, fostering long-term relationships with customers rather than just interrupting them to get attention.


The Problem with Interruption Marketing

Seth Godin opens his book by declaring “interruption marketing” to be a failing model. Traditional advertising, where marketers “interrupt” consumers with unwanted TV ads, billboards, or telemarketing calls, is becoming less effective. 

Consumers are tired of being bombarded with unsolicited messages – it’s costly for the marketer, annoying for the consumer, and ultimately leads to diminishing returns.

The Principle of Permission

The core idea of “Permission Marketing” is simple: focus on obtaining consent from individuals before sending them marketing messages. This flips the old, disruptive model on its head. 

By getting a consumer’s permission to engage, a company establishes a relationship based on respect and anticipation. 

The marketing messages are no longer intrusive but rather welcomed.

Why Permission Works


Permission marketing drastically improves efficiency by focusing your time, energy, and resources on a receptive audience. 

Unlike traditional interruption marketing where messages fall on countless uninterested ears, permission marketing ensures that every person you target has already expressed some level of interest. 

This dramatically reduces wasted effort and translates to a better return on your investment. 

Time and money that would have been lost chasing indifferent prospects can now be invested in cultivating a relationship with people who are interested in what you have to offer.

Trust and Loyalty 

When a consumer feels like their attention has been earned and not demanded, it establishes an underlying sense of respect. 

This respect forms the foundation for a trusting relationship with your brand. Permission signals to customers that their time and choices are valued – rather than making them feel like targets, it positions you as a partner. Trust and loyalty are the core components of any successful long-term customer relationship, leading to repeat business, positive word-of-mouth, and higher customer lifetime value.

Personalization and Relevance 

Permission marketing opens a two-way dialogue between a company and its consumers. With consent to engage, you gain valuable insights into what truly interests them. 

This allows you to tailor your messaging accordingly. Instead of blasting out generic promotions, you can provide information, offers, or content that aligns directly with a customer’s specific needs and preferences. 

Personalized, relevant communication is much more likely to resonate. 

This creates a stronger emotional connection and increases the likelihood of conversion and brand loyalty.

The Process of Permission Marketing

Godin outlines a process for implementing permission marketing – 

1. The Stranger Stage

The first step in permission marketing is to transform a stranger into a potential friend. This is initiated by offering something of value, a tempting incentive that provides a reason for a consumer to engage. 

The incentive should be low-risk and enticing enough to pique their curiosity. It could take the form of a free trial, an exclusive discount, access to insightful content relevant to their interests, or even a simple entertaining newsletter. 

The goal is to create a reason for people to want to open the door to a conversation.

2. The Friend Stage

Once you have a potential lead’s attention, the focus shifts to nurturing the budding relationship. 

This is the “friend” stage where the emphasis is on building trust and demonstrating value. Don’t rush for a sale at this point. Instead, focus on regularly delivering insightful content, educational material, or useful solutions tailored to the needs or interests expressed by the consumer. 

The key here is consistency and relevance; create the anticipation of helpful communication arriving in their inbox or feed. 

With each interaction, you further establish yourself as a knowledgeable source and gain credibility with your potential “friend”.

3. The Customer Stage

As your nurtured “friend” grows more engaged and continues to grant permission for ongoing communication, the relationship deepens. 

This is when you can begin to make more direct offers for your products or services. However, it’s crucial to align those offers with their previously demonstrated interests. 

Don’t betray the trust you’ve built by suddenly shifting to hard-sell tactics. Showcase the value your product or service brings by seamlessly connecting it to the journey you’ve been on together. 

This is the stage where, with the right approach, the relationship blossoms into a loyal customer who sees the benefits of choosing your brand.

Levels of Permission

Godin makes it clear that permission doesn’t exist as a binary “yes” or “no”. 

Instead, it lies on a spectrum of engagement, shaped by the actions a consumer takes. Receiving a one-time free sample demonstrates a lower level of commitment than opting into a recurring email newsletter where a consumer expects regular contact. 

A skillful marketer understands these nuances and tailors their communication accordingly. Pushing promotional content constantly to someone who’s only agreed to a single sample quickly undermines trust, as it exceeds the agreed-upon level of permission. 

Respecting these boundaries is crucial to maintaining the relationship that permission marketing seeks to build.

Beyond Marketing

Godin views the philosophy of permission as extending beyond traditional sales tactics. 

He argues that obtaining consent and fostering genuine connections benefit other aspects of a business. 

Customer feedback becomes more insightful when people feel their input is valued and not extracted without permission. Personalized service improves as a business understands individual needs, something that comes from a relationship built on respect. 

Even community building thrives because a sense of consent establishes a positive, welcoming space where participants feel ownership rather than feeling like they’re being talked at or exploited.

The Power of the Internet

While “Permission Marketing” was written in 1999, Godin was remarkably ahead of his time in recognizing the internet’s potential for this type of marketing. 

The internet dramatically reduces the cost and logistical barriers to personalized communication. Email newsletters, targeted social media interactions, and online forums all create avenues for fostering two-way conversations with consumers on a global scale. 

These digital tools facilitate the type of ongoing, trusted relationship at the heart of Godin’s permission marketing vision.

Final Thoughts

“Permission Marketing” fundamentally challenges businesses to rethink their relationship with consumers. By focusing on building trust, providing value, and seeking consent, a paradigm shift occurs. 

Instead of chasing unwilling consumers with disruptive tactics, marketers actively attract and nurture their audience. This, Godin posits, is the future of successful and sustainable marketing.

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