Selling is easier if you gain permission

You're more likely to hit the target if you aim for it. And you're more likely to sell to someone if you've convinced them to ask...

You're more likely to hit the target if you aim for it. And you're more likely to sell to someone if you've convinced them to ask about it

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."

  • Further reading: "Permission Marketing" by Seth Godin,1999, ISBN 0-684-85636-0.

    Web sites adopting permission marketing

  • - You say what subjects you're interested in - family, entertainment, personal finance etc - and the site markets to you. So far, 12.5m consumers have signed up.

  • - Within months of launching this service the airline had the personal permission of millions of potential customers to sell to them once a week - a marketeer's dream!

  • - Launching soon, it will offer money - thousands of dollars - in return for finding job candidates. Simply, if you can suggest a friend for a job vacancy and that friend gets hired, you get paid.

    Examples of permission marketing

    Gain permission to send marketing e-mails and letters and they are far more likely to be read.

  • Or "Send me the date of renewal of your mobile phone contract and I'll e-mail you our best offer at that time", instead of trying to sell every day through an ignored newspaper ad.

  • Give free valuable information. "Buy plants from us and we'll remind you how to care for them by e-mail at appropriate times of the year and include our latest offerings". The new UK garden shop site at offers this garden service.

  • Give away money. "£500 if someone you know sells their life assurance policy to us".

  • Identify people in financial trouble. Invite them to, "Call this number - we'll help you out of debt".

    Seth Gogin - CV

  • Vice president of direct marketing for Yahoo!

  • Professor at New York University.

  • Founded Yoyodyne, the first company to create promotions and direct mail campaigns online and the pioneer of permission marketing, before selling it to Yahoo! in 1998.

  • Graduated from Tufts University in 1982 with a degree in computer science and philosophy.

  • MBA in marketing from Stanford Business School.

  • From 1983 to 1986, he worked as a brand manager at Spinnaker Software where he led the team that developed the first generation of multimedia products, working with forward-thinking authors such as Arthur C Clarke and Michael Crichton.

  • Recipient of the US 1998 Momentum Award, which honours outstanding Internet industry accomplishments.
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