What Is Permission Marketing?

June 25, 2019 4 min read

Permission marketing is a method of communicating with prospects and customers first popularized by New York Times best-selling author and marketing expert Seth Godin in his 1999 book “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers.”Far from being defined by one specific tactic, permission marketing represents a holistic approach towards customer engagement that provides a host of benefits for modern marketers, including the ability to address high value consumers with targeted, relevant messaging.

Below, you’ll learn what permission marketing is, how it compares to other marketing philosophies, and a set of best practices to apply to your next program activation to improve user experience and increase your return on investment.


What Is Permission Marketing?

Permission marketing refers to any kind of advertising that asks for and respects a customer’s explicit consent when sending marketing information. In his aforementioned book, Seth Godin defines it as “...the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

The basic mechanism of permission marketing involves offering something of value to potential customers in exchange for their information or attention, and then delivering what was promised without asking for anything else. This means no selling email addresses after they opt-in to your list, or using underhanded methods to acquire customer data.


Permission Marketing vs. Interruption Marketing

The basic concept of permission marketing is often seen as being at odds with traditional marketing methods, like television, print, or out-of-home media, because they deliver advertisements to customers without explicit consent.  

For example, when you sign up for TV service, there is no form asking for permission to show ads. There’s an unsaid agreement that if you want to watch TV through conventional channels, you must pause for commercial interruptions. This approach to advertising has led to the wide use of DVR technology with the ability to skip advertising as the content has little value to the majority of the exposed audience.

While some methods fall neatly under the labels of interruption or permission marketing, most advertisements exist somewhere on the continuum between the two.

This poor user experience is also part of the reason on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are becoming more popular as ads are nonexistent on these platforms. You have also seen a rise in consumers “cutting the cord” from traditional cable services and moving to digital streaming alternatives like Hulu, YouTube TV, and Sling TV. These providers operate at a lower cost to consumers and focus on leveraging data to serve more relevant ads to individuals instead of displaying the same messages to all viewers.

While some methods fall neatly under the labels of interruption or permission marketing, most advertisements exist somewhere on the continuum between the two. It’s often how a medium is used that determines which category is most accurate.

For example, direct mail marketing can be sent to a database of customers who have signed up for new promos, or to a cold, pre-made list purchased from a list broker. Similarly, emails can be sent to a cold audience, or to people who have specifically opted in to get your messages.


Permission Marketing Allows for Consumer Addressability

While permission marketing refers to a holistic mindset—not a list of tactics—there are some specific use cases where this philosophy can be applied to boost marketing performance. For example, brands can use Personally Identifiable Information (PII) to customize ads for each consumer in their CRM (Customer Relationship Management system). 

Before you can use PII, you have to acquire it. This is where permission marketing comes into play. Using modern digital ad platforms—like AdQuire Media’s opt-in ads—marketers can get a consumer’s PII and permission to market to them. 

Then, through the use of a data onboarder like LiveRamp, marketers can resolve consumer identity and reach out to them across multiple marketing channels, such as social, programmatic, email, and advanced TV. 

At this point, the brand knows who the individual is and has permission to market to them, and so can customize ads to improve relevance. A few examples include showing different messages to customers and prospects, customizing based on past purchases, or providing a promotion for someone who hasn’t purchased in a defined time period. 

At this point users have raised their hand to enter into a dialogue and hear from the specific brand. This interest coupled with highly targeted ads has a positive impact on campaign performance and results in more prospects becoming customers. 


Permission Marketing Best Practices for Customer Acquisition

In addition to using the right strategies to acquire consumer data, there are some universal best practices that should be employed by anyone running customer acquisition or email nurturing campaigns. Here are the top five to keep in mind:

Clearly Define How the Consumer’s Data Will Be Used

Permission marketing requires explicit consent from prospects—no pre-checked opt-in boxes or fine print giving you the right to resell someone’s email address if they subscribe to your list. Consent must be clear, explicit, and voluntary.

As with any conversation, email affords marketers the ability to build credibility, share the brand’s story, nurture the prospective customer, and show the value of the product offering.

Set Expectations

Send a welcome email, telling your subscribers what kind of content to expect from you, and how often they’ll get it. This helps add more context to your agreement, so recipients are fully aware of what they’re agreeing to. 

Provide Value in Marketing Messages

Make sure to consistently deliver on your sign-up promise. If you offered a coupon in exchange for an email, send the voucher, but if someone signed up for informational products, like a newsletter, send the defined newsletter content. As with any conversation, email affords marketers the ability to build credibility, share the brand’s story, nurture the prospective customer, and show the value of the product offering. This allows marketers to walk customers through the purchase journey without the transactional approach of each interaction being a generic call to action.   

Make It Easy to Unsubscribe or Manage Preferences

Best practices include adding an unsubscribe link in the header, in addition to the requisite one in the footer of each email, to make opting out easy.  Ensure the unsubscribe process is quick and hassle-free to the consumer. Give subscribers the option to change the frequency at which they receive messaging to customize the ad experience.


Following these best practices helps ensure that consumers understand how their data is being used, and what to expect at every stage of communication from the brand. This will help improve engagement rates, boost the quality of your interactions with these subscribers, and give you the ability to build a long-term relationship and have an ongoing dialogue with a highly targeted audience.

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