What Small Businesses Need to Know About Permission Marketing

Focus your efforts by marketing to consumers who want to be marketed to.
Show respect to your customers and get their permission before marketing to them. (Photo: areebarbar/Shutterstock)

Every day, consumers are inundated with advertising and marketing — on every website they visit, in their mailboxes, even on their mobile phones. Most people would like to be able to filter out the most annoying ads (which include pop-ups and auto-play videos according to a HubSpot survey), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t receptive to receiving messages from companies they want to do business with.

An approach called permission marketing can help you develop better relationships with your customers, saving you money by narrowing your marketing focus to a more receptive audience.

Here’s what you should know about permission marketing as a small business owner.

It’s a privilege, not a right

Introduced by Seth Godin in his 1999 book “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers,” permission marketing asks consumers for their consent before engaging them in a marketing campaign.

“Permission marketing is the idea that marketing to someone is a privilege, not a right,” explained Mandy McEwen, owner of Mod Girl Marketing.

Asking a consumer to opt in to receive marketing info from your company may seem counterintuitive, as it limits your marketing reach. But it can be a more effective way to connect with potential customers.

It goes above and beyond minimum legal requirements

With legislation like the CAN-SPAM Act, which sets rules for advertising emails, consumers now have more protection against unwanted marketing communications. Permission marketing, however, goes beyond legal minimums.

According to Laurie Aquilante, senior manager of the North American funnel at HubSpot, there are a lot of sneaky ways businesses can get “permission” from consumers. Slipping permission clauses into the fine print of the terms and conditions on your website or landing page may cover you legally, but it’s not real permission marketing, she said. “[It’s] not the way to grow your company — especially if you are a small business.”


Instead of slipping permission clauses into the fine print, be direct when asking for permission to market to consumers, suggests Laurie Aquilante, senior manager at HubSpot. (Photo: Laurie Aquilante)

In a 2016 study by the Social Science Research Center, 98 percent of participants unwittingly agreed to provide their firstborn child as payment for a service because they failed to read the terms. Permission marketing skips the stealth; customers knows they are granting a business permission to market to them.

It shows respect

“Asking someone’s permission shows respect,” said McEwen. “And if they choose to give you their attention, then you have a valuable recipient for whatever it is you’re sending out or marketing.”

It’s more likely to be noticed by consumers

“By asking permission, you separate yourself from the other businesses that are shouting above one another to be heard,” said McEwen.


“Asking someone’s permission shows respect and if they choose to give you their attention, then you have a valuable recipient for whatever it is you’re sending out or marketing.” -Mandy McEwen (Photo: Mandy McEwen)

Consumers who give permission are far more likely to engage with your brand — to open your email newsletter or promotion or flip through your direct mail catalog instead of immediately tossing it in the trash — which helps you achieve a higher return on your investment.

“With permission marketing you know you’re marketing to people who are interested in you and your business” said McEwen.

It’s easy

For small businesses with limited marketing resources, permission marketing is cost effective and easy to implement: All you have to do is ask.

Aquilante said to first determine what you can provide of value to the consumer to make giving permission worthwhile. As customers check out at the register, causally ask, “Would you like to sign up for our mailing list? We send coupons and fashion tips.” It’s that simple, she said.

To grow your recipient list, McEwen suggested also reaching out to customers directly by email or social media. “Share what you and your company are doing and ask people to opt in if they are interested in being kept up to date and learning more.”

When seeking permission to send marketing, be specific in your ask. Granting permission to be added to an e-newsletter list is different from agreeing to receive text message marketing. The most important thing, said McEwen, is making sure consumers really understand what they are agreeing to, which builds rapport and strengthens their relationship with your brand.

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