Permission Marketing

Direct marketing is one of the least glamorous segments of the advertising profession. Yet its practitioners are doing very well because conventional advertising is not as effective as it used to be.

In the old days it was easy. There were three television networks, and if you wanted to build product awareness, you bought advertising time on a couple of big name shows. Today audiences are so fragmented, that few programs are able to deliver that kind of reach.

When Seinfeld, went off the air a couple of years ago, its final episode was one of the year's most watched shows. Yet 30 years ago Seinfeld's ratings would not have made Nielsen's top twenty-five list.

Today's consumers are saturated with advertising. Along with television and radio ads, they see billboards on the drive in to work, banner ads, pop-up menus and spam E-mail when they log on to the Net, as well as a truckload of signs and merchandizing when they visit the local mall.

You can now even find ads on the pump handle at the local gas station, and signs over the urinals in many public restrooms. Seth Godin, vice-president in charge of marketing at Yahoo! and author or Permission Marketing estimates that the average consumer sees about one million ads a year - about 3,000 a day.

A vast majority of these ads are ineffective at cutting through the clutter writes Godin. In fact, as advertisers try harder to be heard above the media noise, those that succeed often do so because they make their ads louder and more outrageous than the competition. The net effect is that they "interrupt" the consumer's passivity, and Godin has baptized this kind of advertising as "Interruption Marketing."

To cut through the clutter Godin advocates a form of relationship marketing that he calls "Permission Marketing," which offers consumers an opportunity to volunteer to be marketed to.

This is not as strange a concept as it may seem at first glance. Think of someone who buys a software package, whose manufacturer later puts out an upgrade, which improves functionality. If the consumer likes the product, there is a good chance he will want to be kept up to date with improvements that made to it.

Godin advocates building a database of consumers by getting their permission to market to them. They do this in exchange for some form of reward. For example the New York Times asks visitors for their E-mail address, in exchange for access to content on its Web-site. By marketing only to customers that are interested, companies can generate higher response rates by better targeting their message.

But many of Godin's suggestions are problematic. Although Godin hates spam, many of his suggestions themselves border on junk E-mail. His assumption that a consumer divulging his E-mail address means that he consents to receiving monthly E-mail is particularly questionable.

In an evolving marketing environment nobody has all the solutions. But Permission Marketing is a good discussion of many contemporary issues. The book is thin, easy to read, and worth a look.

Permission Marketing, Seth Godin, 255 pages Simon & Shuster

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