GUEST COLUMNIST : Permission key to successful marketing

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Too bad advertising doesn't work like it used to.

In the past, running a full slate of advertising pretty much guaranteed marketers national attention, full-range retail distribution and the sales that came with it. Virtually all of the great brands--from Kodak to Tide to Nike--were built with traditional advertising.

But in the new world of clutter--of 100 TV channels, 1 million Web sites and 3,000 marketing messages per day per consumer--the rules have changed dramatically.

Consumers are far more likely to purposely ignore your message than remember it.

A new axis to the advertising equation has emerged.

WINNING PERMISSION

Impact isn't as important as permission. And permission marketing is the new science of extracting permission from prospects, which leads to attention, which leads to brand building, which ultimately may lead to purchase.

Think about it. You can't get someone to read your direct mail piece without his permission. It goes in the trash. People will no longer watch your TV commercial just because there's nothing else on. Your ad in The New Yorker won't get read unless the reader decides it's worth reading.

There's a finite amount of time in everyone's day; even Bill Gates can't buy a minute more. And if you want a slice of a consumer's day, you'd better get permission.

If you want to get married, you don't go to a singles bar and propose to each person you meet. Instead, you date for an extended period of time. And then you propose. Dating is another word for permission. Both sides agree to participate. And over time, each side uses opportunities to learn about the other and create a mutual dialogue.

Using permission marketing, you can begin the process of dating your prospects and slowly turning them into committed customers.

There are five basic rules of permission:

1. Permission must be granted; it cannot be presumed. Buying a mailing label for a direct marketing campaign is not permission--it's spam, and it will likely be ignored.

2. Consumers only grant permission if they perceive that there's something in it for them. And you've got only about 2 seconds to communicate what that something is.

3. Once you get permission, you must take care of it. If you cross a boundary or do something that offends the consumer, he can instantly revoke the permission.

4. You can't transfer permission from marketer to marketer. Remember, if you're dating someone, you can't just give someone else authority to go on the date in your place.

5. Measuring permission is the first step to forging a strong relationship. If you track permission levels instead of reach or hits, you're far more likely to build this incredibly valuable asset.

STRANGERS BECOME FRIENDS

Here are some questions to help evaluate your performance on the permission marketing scale:

nDoes every single marketing piece you create invite consumers to contact you to begin dating?

nIs a top-level executive in charge of your active permission database? If not, you're not serious about the effort.

nAre there programs in place to turn strangers into friends?

nIs there a curriculum you can easily walk someone through to learn about your products?

nAfter someone becomes a customer, does your company actively work to expand the permission and make each customer more profitable?

We've already seen a handful of marketers reap the benefits of effectively executing permission marketing. Using permission marketing, H&R Block delivered 18 timed, ordered messages to 50,000 consumers over 90 days. The response rate to the campaign was more than 35%, and brand awareness increased 54% among participants. How did it get permission? By offering to pay the taxes of one lucky winner.

American Airlines sends you and millions of other travelers a piece of direct mail every month, and you read it. And you eagerly give American permission to talk to you, to track your behavior, to alert you to new opportunities.

Permission marketing demands that you invest in individuals, using marketing smarts to capture permission and convert it to trust. Start by auditing your marketing and eliminating immeasurable "branding" efforts that are a pale stand-in for the real thing--actual permission to market to people who choose to pay attention.M

Mr. Godin is founder and president of Yoyodyne Entertainment and co-author of "Guerrilla Marketing Handbook" and other titles. He can be reached at sethg@yoyo.com.

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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