Permission vs. Interruption Marketing

Mobile digital advertising is interruption marketing. That’s why consumers have begun turning on ad blockers. It’s because as an industry we forgot that the game has changed, and interruption marketing is no longer permissible.

Seth Godin coined the term “permission marketing” in 1999, and in 2008 he wrote a famous blog post about it:

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

With permission marketing, you don’t just show up with your brand on a user’s mobile phone; you establish a relationship first. That relationship can begin with geography (you are already in the neighborhood of the store), with brand trust (you are already a customer, perhaps a repeat customer), or with some kind of incentive (you traded your email address for early access to special deals.) The reason Facebook ads work better than most other ads is that a relationship already exists between Facebook and its users; they may not want ads, but they understand they must look at them to support a service they love.

Agencies and brands have supposedly known about permission marketing for almost two decades, and they had gone a long way to better email targeting, interactive TV infomercials, loyalty programs, and other methods of forming a relationship with consumers.

And then came programmatic advertising with its promise of immediate global scale. Suddenly, marketers forgot they had to ask permission, and began buying for the greatest reach they could achieve with the available spend.

Unfortunately, no one remembered that we now live in the era of permission marketing, and that just because you can reach millions of consumers in real time doesn’t mean they want to be reached.

So how do you get permission?

In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, “I will do x, y and z, I hope you will give me permission by listening.” And then, this is the hard part, that’s all you do. You don’t assume you can do more. You don’t sell the list or rent the list or demand more attention. You can promise a newsletter and talk to me for years, you can promise a daily RSS feed and talk to me every three minutes, you can promise a sales pitch every day (the way Woot does). But the promise is the promise until both sides agree to change it. You don’t assume that just because you’re running for President or coming to the end of the quarter or launching a new product that you have the right to break the deal. You don’t.

Permission doesn’t have to be a one-way broadcast medium. The internet means you can treat different people differently, and it demands that you figure out how to let your permission base choose what they hear and in what format.

The people formerly known as the audience are now known as “the permission base,” and the permission base has spoken by turning on ad blockers. It may just be that before we simply buy advertising, we develop some sort of relationship to the people we want to advertise to, and make advertising one of the last, not one of the first weapons in the marketing arsenal.