Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $24.

Author Godin identifies two basic types of marketing: interruption marketing, in which the marketer interrupts the consumers in what they are doing to attract their attention to the product (think TV commercial); and permission marketing, in which the marketer asks the consumer permission to be marketed to.

For example, Hooked on Phonics grew from zero to $100 million in revenues based on a nationwide radio campaign. The radio ads didn't pitch the product; they just offered a toll-free number for parents to call for free information on how to help their kids.

Only when parents called the number were they sent marketing materials on Hooked on Phonics' educational products. In other words, the parents had given the company permission to market to them.

Interruption Marketing

Interruption marketing worked in the past but is inadequate in the information age, according to Godin. The reason: Today, consumers are constantly being interrupted by marketers with thousands of marketing messages. The result is that consumers have less time to pay attention to one marketer's message, a message that is lost in the overwhelming clutter of messages anyway.

In response, marketers begin a vicious cycle in which they spend more money in order to be heard above the clutter--increased spending which, in turn, creates even more clutter which, in turn, demands more spending and so on.

Permission marketing breaks through the clutter with a simple tactic: It doesn't try to make a sale. It tries to get permission.

Getting Permission

Why would consumers give permission to be marketed to? The answer: If they receive something in return.

Hooked on Phonics received permission by promising (and delivering) information. Other companies have other ways.

For example, a super-premium ice cream company asked a list of prospects (drawn from databases of previous promotions and other sources) to enroll in an ice cream club. Twenty-four percent of the respondents targeted by the mailing, which included a survey asking questions about favorite flavors, dessert habits and other personal information, responded favorably--in the process giving the company permission to contact them with regular updates about recipes, new products and more.

A crib manufacturer surveyed chief pediatric nurses at hospitals about what they wanted to see in cribs. Asked for their opinions, the nurses were happy to respond, thereby launching relationships with the manufacturer that have resulted in numerous sales.

Personal, Anticipated, Relevant

Paraphrasing the permission marketing concept may oversimplify the process. Godin, vice president of direct marketing for Yahoo! not only makes a compelling case for replacing interruption with permission marketing, he offers sound advice on how to get it done.

For example, Godin explains that the goal of permission marketing must be to offer advertising that is anticipated, personal and relevant to customers' needs. Hooked on Phonics sent material that, based on the parents' requests, it knew was personal and relevant--since it addressed the specific educational needs of the children--as well as anticipated. That is why the campaign worked.

Copyright 1999, Executive Book Summaries.