Marketing guru Seth Godin wants your permission to send you a portion of his new book by e-mail for free. He hopes you'll like the first 85 pages so much that you'll want to buy the entire 255-page book for $24. Godin, vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo, talked his publisher into allowing the deal to demonstrate the principles espoused in his book, "Permission Marketing" (Simon & Schuster, 1999). Thanks in part to the giveaway, the book is among Amazon.com's best-selling marketing tomes. Times staff writer Jennifer Oldham recently interviewed Godin. What follows is an edited transcript.
Question: What do you mean when you say there is an "attention crisis" in America?
Answer: Ninety years ago if the average person saw 10, 20 or 30 ads a day, that was a big number. Today the average person sees 3,000 marketing messages a day. A human being is ill-equipped to deal with that, so their response is to just shut it out. What marketers are doing to make up for this problem is running more ads. Everything marketers are doing is making it worse.
Q: It seems like there are ads everywhere today, including on buses, parking meters and even in bathroom stalls in restaurants.
A: I got a pitch last week from a guy who wants us [Yahoo] to buy ads on his new service, which uses talking gas nozzles. So you're at the gas station and you have to stand there for three minutes and the nozzle talks to you with advertising. The movie studios have whole departments busy trying to get advertising to go inside movies. TV commercials that used to be two minutes went to 60 seconds and then to 30 seconds and then to 15 seconds and now we're starting to see five-second TV commercials. The reason to do that is to get more interruptions per dollar.
Q: Is all interruption marketing, as you call it, bad?
A: Two kinds of companies need interruption marketing: brand marketers like Nike--nothing replaces the quality of a TV commercial for getting you excited about buying two pieces of leather, rubber and fabric--and permission marketers, who need to get that first piece of permission from you. They need to run a banner ad that says, "Click here to get a free book" or a newspaper ad that says, "Send us an e-mail and we'll send you a free quote on life insurance."
Q: What is permission marketing?
A: Marketing that is the result of a consensual dialogue. The word permission clearly explains how the dynamic has shifted--that the power is now with the consumer, not with marketer. Having a word to describe it helps a corporation to talk about it properly, measure it properly and invest in it properly.
Q: Is permission marketing good for some industries but not others? A: I say to marketers if you can have an uninterrupted conversation with a prospect for a minute, a week or an hour, are you going to sell more stuff? If the answer to that question is yes, that prospect is prime target. The challenge is not how do you get through to the prospect and get permission. It's how you keep [the relationship] going over time and make it profitable.
Q: How do you do that?
A: The marketer has to create an ongoing series of incentives for the consumer to continue the dialogue. Good customers need to be treated better. Rewards have to increase.
Q: Are there examples of companies that do permission marketing well?
A: There is no perfect poster child. The frequent flier program at American Airlines is certainly a great example. On the Internet I see plenty of examples of companies that are investing money to start a dialogue with people. The Catholic Church clearly has permission to hit people up for money, and they do, and it's extremely profitable.
Q: Do you see this as another marketing fad?
A: First of all, permission is not a new idea. It's been around a long time, and it clearly works. Secondly, it's self-regulating. Consumers aren't going to give permission to people they don't want to hear from. I can't understand how it's going to go away because the world's . . . only going to get more cluttered. And as the world gets more cluttered, you're only going to listen to the people you want to listen to.