Seth Godin, Yahoo!'s Internet marketing pioneer and the inventor of "permission marketing", is no fan of his profession. He preaches that much advertising today is unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant junk. He wants to change the way almost everything is marketed so that the consumer is put in control of what they see and hear.
Godin feels that he has a right to take issue with his peers. He calculates that every day he has just 17 minutes that's not occupied by either his young family or his demanding job. That's why he despises marketeers who track down something he's interested in and then interrupt his enjoyment with an ad - in newspapers and magazines, on the radio and TV, by post and e-mail, and on the Web. He hates it, and refers to it disparagingly as "interruptive marketing".
Is the Net a marketing saviour? Not when you consider that there are 40 million commercial Web sites out there, only 125m people surfing on a regular basis, and the average consumer sees 3,000 marketing messages every day. As Godin says, if you put an ad on a Web site exactly where you hope it will interrupt someone, it's still like walking into a bar and propositioning a total stranger.
"Marketeers have a lot of homework to do if we're to start making Web advertising pay," says the marketing heretic. "Web advertising is in big trouble because two things are true of consumers today - very few life or death purchasing decisions remain because everything is good enough, and people are too busy to research everything.
"Somehow, marketeers have to break through the clutter. One way is to organise your company so you can date your prospects. This will turn them from strangers into friends and eventually from friends into customers."
That's what Godin's Grandpa did. He sold things. He met people, learned what they wanted to buy, understood their problems, crafted a solution, and they bought it. This marketing model, says Godin, is returning today.
"It's 'permission marketing'," he says. "Permission is the right and privilege to market and sell to people who want to be marketed and sold to. This way you will always be the yellow box." Gaining prospects' permission to market to them isn't rocket science. Just make sure there's something in it for them. Make them a personalised offer they can't resist and which makes them contact you.
Godin concludes, "To the consumer, everything on the Web is another pumpkin in a big pumpkin patch. Marketing's job is to make sure a customer always picks the same pumpkin - the yellow box. Only permission marketing can achieve that.
"That's why permission is the only asset worth building on the Web."
Web sites adopting permission marketing
Examples of permission marketing
Gain permission to send marketing e-mails and letters and they are far more likely to be read.
Seth Gogin - CV
This was first published in May 2000