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Permission Marketing: In or Out?

Of All the Nerve!

I was attending a networking event and handed out my business card to another attendee who had asked for it. No problem. We said good bye and went our separate ways.

Two days later I was receiving emails from that very person – and they were the kind that I didn’t need – or want. Feeling angry, and slightly violated, I sent a polite email asking to be removed from the list.

Why? It wasn’t the quality or the marketing tactics of that business, it was because the content, product or service didn’t meet my needs.

(Truth be told, I sometimes stay on these types of mailing lists because promote services or products I do use. It’s an inherent risk with interruption marketing tactics.)

New Rules Needed

Permission based marketing has become extremely commonplace, thanks mostly to social networking and the ease of finding information about potential clients on the internet. Growth is good, but as the way we market changes, so do the rules.

But what are those rules?

How do you receive permission from new contacts so you can send them marketing emails or place them on your newsletter list?

What should you include, and not include, in these messages?

Where are the boundaries?

Image: Roo Reynolds, Creative Commons

Permission Granted

The great guru of marketing, Seth Godin, coined the phrase permission marketing to describe the new age of electronic advertising. This simple term defined an entirely new method of marketing: consumers chose the advertisers, not the other way around.

Permission based marketing can be an excellent tool for conducting a campaign designed to target one specific audience.

The problem, and annoyance, occurs when permission-based marketers forget that one tiny detail: the consumer’s permission!

Getting this permission has become easier with the advent of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter – and businesses of all shapes and sizes have taken notice. Ford Motor Company kicked off a campaign that asked interested consumers to click the “Like” button on the company’s Facebook page for the chance to win a new car.

Talk about incentive.

Doing It the Right Way

So how can you use permission marketing to build an audience while not annoying anyone? The first thing you have to consider, whether you’re handing someone a business card or creating a website, is that you have to ask their permission.

It doesn’t have to be awkward or tense, a simple question will suffice. “Thanks for the card. Do you mind if I send you a link to my [insert marketing tool here]?” or “I think my website could help you out, would you mind if I send you a link?”

What Is Your Message Worth?

Once you receive their permission, there’s another hurdle: what you send to that audience has to have some kind of value to it. That’s the least we can do as marketers.

Coupons and giveaways are one form of value, but audiences expect to receive information that can help them in their daily lives.

They want to know “What’s in it for me?” Blogs, white papers, links to reliable resources – this is the type of value that audiences appreciate.

In order for that information to be valuable, you have to know that you’ve earned the attention and consent of your audience.

You need to learn what their hot buttons are – and how to push them correctly. Otherwise, you’re left with a database full of people who will completely ignore your marketing message.

Talk About It

So what do you prefer: a message blasted out to millions of potential consumers who receive it whether they like it or not? Or, a permission-based campaign that speaks to a smaller audience who has opted in?

What has worked for your business?

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Regular contributor Terri Holley is the owner of Creative Blog Solutions and a social media strategist, plus a certified life/business coach. A forward-thinker and relationship-centric gal, Terri supports small businesses who understand the value of using social technologies to build deeper relationships with prospects and customers.


    1. Ladies, first let me say the same thing happens to me and it can be irritating, but to reflect upon it:

      While the recipient of a business card would be practicing wonderful businesss etiquette to ask for your permission, the fact that a business card that probably had a mailing address, phone number, email address and maybe even a Twitter name was voluntarily handed over during an event with a business context could reasonably imply permission.

      Would you have been upset if they snail-mailed your something? Would you have rolled your eyes if they had phoned you? Would you have Blocked them if they started following you on Twitter?

      Obviously the seemingly swift appearance of unwanted, impersonal email makes you feel like you've fallen into a trap that will never end, but here are some tips that will help mitigate this situation:

      1. Don't hand out business cards to anybody just for the sake of handing out business cards; this will eliminate the need for any of the other tips below.

      2. Keep a set of “personal calling cards” for social contacts with limited contact information

      3. If they're using an ESP like ExactTarget or Constant Contact, click the “unsubscribe” button/link at the bottom of the email. It's not that hard.

      4. Before handing over a business card to someone who you would never buy from or have need for their solution, grab a pen, cross out the email and say you're swamped with emails or your spam filter is very tight, so that's not a good way to get through to you.

      5. Tell them while you would never have a reason to buy from them, you will keep their card and pass it along to someone who has and you would hope they would do the same for you. – and more direct…

      6. Tell them up front please don't email you anything and to call you first. Perhaps you can say you'd love to refer people to them but you personally don't need their products/services. If they have a legitimate reason, hopefully they would remember that. If they do email you, you can contact them and remind them of your request and put them on the spot.

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    2. Terri,

      You are so correct. Getting permission is so important when marketing online. I get annoyed. Just because we've spoken at (insert location/event), it doesn't give them a right to “spam” me with their emails, tweets, or snail mail selling me their wares. And often, it is a product I have no use for. That isn't a way to build a meaningful relationship with me. Don't sell, build relationships.

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    3. When I give out my business card, it's because I would like to have some business interactions with the person. That could mean a follow-up email or maybe even hearing one of their pitches via a one-to-one email.

      But unless they ask for permission, I don't expect or want to be put on an e-blast list.

      However, if a brick-n-mortar business uses the old “fish bowl” approach (to enter a store raffle like a free lunch), then I expect that they will put me on an email list. If I don't like the business enough to receive emails from them, then I don't drop a card.

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    4. Joe – those are all very good points.

      However, I don't think that exchanging business cards implies one's willingness to be put on a mailing list. What it says – at least to me – is that you're willing to give the recipient a way to contact you personally. Not, at least in the beginning, to market to you, especially if you've just met them. It doesn't take any great understanding of etiquette, business or otherwise, to treat others as you would like to be be treated.

      Also, while I think in theory it's a good idea to tell people what kinds of communication you do/don't want from them, it's a little tough to put that into practice and not come off as a jerk, especially if you're meeting someone for the first time.

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    5. Thank you for the comments. As evidenced by my post, I, too, agree that permission should be granted explicitly. After you receive a business card, it only takes a second to ask ” I would like to send you information about my business, would that be okay?”. Rejection is never fun but that is part of owning a business and the person who says “no” is actually doing me a favor. The simple and courteous act of asking leaves a great first impression. I'll remember the time you took to ask, and if I can't benefit from your services, you'll be top of mind when I encounter someone that does.

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