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Permission Marketing—Geniuses or Yoyos?
By John L. Cimino

His name is Seth Godin. His company is called Yoyodyne Entertainment. He says, “We are entering an era that’s going to change the way almost everything is marketed to almost everybody.”

His revolutionary concept is called Permission Marketing. Here’s an excerpt from the April-May issue of Fast Company magazine in which Godin outlines his model for the new form of marketing:

“The biggest problem with mass-market advertising is that it fights for people’s attention by interrupting them. A 30-second spot interrupts a Seinfeld episode. A telemarketing call interrupts a family dinner. A print ad interrupts this article. The interruption model is extremely effective when there’s not an overflow of interruptions. But there’s too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted anymore.”

Can’t argue with that. So what’s the solution?

Says Godin, “the challenge for companies is to persuade consumers to raise their hands—to volunteer their attention. You tell consumers a little something about your company and its products, they tell you a little something about themselves, you tell them a little more, they tell you a little more—and over time, you create a mutually beneficial learning relation-ship. Permission marketing is marketing without interruptions.”

Pretty solid thinking from someone who got the name of his company from the movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai! (A cult movie from the 70s which launched the careers of actors like Peter Weiler, John Lithgow and Jeff Goldblum.)

Yoyodyne is headquartered outside New York City. The company works with clients like AT&T, H&R Block, MCI, and Volvo. All of its campaigns use the Web, email, and other online media. All of them are built around game shows, contests, or sweepstakes.

Apparently, Yoyodyne’s offbeat techniques are catching on. The company has about 1 million active participants in its games database, and has sent more than 110 million E-mail messages to influence consumer behavior.

If you buy into the age of relationship marketing—and what direct marketer doesn’t—you’ve got to admit that this is pretty good stuff.

Permission Marketing even has its own rules already.

Here they are:
1. Permission must be granted—it can’t be presumed. Buying addresses and sending direct mail is not permission—it’s spam, and it’s likely to be ignored. Customers don’t want to be bought and sold and then marketed to.

2. Permission is selfish. People grant their permission only when they see that there’s something in it for them. And you’ve got about two seconds to communicate that something.

3. Permission can be revoked as easily as it’s granted. It can also deepen over time. The depth of permission depends on the quality of interaction between you and your customers.

4. Permission can’t be transferred. It’s a lot like dating. You can’t give a friend the authority to go out on a date in your place.

So what do you think? Is Permission Marketing just the latest hype in a never-ending progression of buzz-words—from database marketing to relationship marketing to one-to-one marketing?

It’s too soon to tell. Obviously, what allows this concept to work is how incredibly cheap it is to use email to send millions of messages. I can’t imagine the mathematical consequences of using direct mail to get people’s permission to sell them something—it’d be financially catastrophic.

But doesn’t human nature exhibit the tendency to devalue what’s cheap and easy—to eventually place less and less emphasis and value on that which is so omnipresent.
Whenever I get E-mail from a friend, the thought always crosses my mind that they didn’t want to—or didn’t have the time to—talk to me.

But Permission Marketing contains some powerful ideas. I think I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

©2001 , John L. Cimino

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