Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

The Reason Your Marketing Is Utterly Failing

There’s a reason people aren’t paying attention to your message, why they won’t give your blog or business the time of day. There’s a simple cause for why others aren’t listening to what you’re saying.

You’re missing a crucial ingredient to all effective marketing, to getting your ideas to spread. In fact, it’s the ingredient. What is it?

One simple word: Permission.

Marketing failure

Photo credit: Greg Habermann (Creative Commons)

It’s how blogger Seth Godin builds a powerful tribe of followers for every project he launches — with nothing but a blog and a great idea.

It’s how the nonprofit charity:water gets thousands of people to promote their cause every year, voluntarily raising millions of dollars for clean water wells in the developing world.

No coercing. No advertising. Just permission.

What is this permission you speak of?

Permission is the formal consent to do something (duh). If you have it, you never have to apologize for interrupting someone or promoting something that’s important to you. You’re already “in”; you’re allowed.

It’s the equivalent of waiting your turn at dinner to say something. You know you’ll get your chance, because you’ve been invited to the table.

Permission is polite. It’s courteous. It’s what every customer dreams of, what every reader of your writing is expecting. It is the #1 most-neglected discipline in most mass communication.

And it could be the reason why your marketing is awash.

How does this apply to you and your message?

There are two ways to get your voice heard:

  1. Interrupt people (90% of the advertising messages you encounter today will be guilty of this).
  2. Earn permission.

The first is typical. It’s anticipated. You see it all around you every day. It’s the reason we walk into a store and tell the saleswoman, “No thanks, I’m just looking” when she asks if we need help.

Of course, we’re usually lying. We are looking for something. We just don’t want to be sold something; we want to discover it for ourselves. Permission-based marketing lets you do just that.

The second (earning permission) is rare and unexpected. It’s the reason we love Amazon and use iTunes. These virtual environments of choice allow us to browse on our own agendas.

Because we’ve given them permission, they quietly suggest titles to us as we shop. And we don’t mind one bit.

How to get permission to do anything

Permission is about trust. Everybody wants it, but few are willing to work for it. Here are two ways to get permission:

  1. Ask for it.
  2. Earn it.

Doing the first is obvious and often necessary, but what you want is the second route. This is where lifelong fans are made.

You want to create something so compelling, so cool, that people are willing to beat your door down to see and share it with others.

Permission is valuable; that’s why it takes hard work. If you don’t have it, you’ll never grow. Your brand, business, blog, whatever will stagnate and die. You’ll always struggle and feel flustered — and it doesn’t have to be that way.

How to tell if you don’t have permission

  • If you open up every blog post with an apology…
  • If you know you’re interrupting and do it anyway…
  • If your marketing plan is a math equation instead of a simple strategy to help people…
  • If you say, “It’s a numbers game,” at least once a day…

…Then you probably don’t have permission. And that’s exactly what you need if you don’t want to get lumped with all the other self-promoting sleaze bags.

So it’s time to start: to do the work and build one loyal fan after another. It will take time and effort. It will be exhausting and frustrating.

You’ll take two steps forward and three back. You’ll want to quit or get fired. You’ll beg for an easier way. But there isn’t one.

This is why permission is so valuable. Sure, there are more expedient ways to spread a message, but none more effective or sustainable. It makes sense that the marketing you don’t have to apologize for — the kind your followers will thank you for — is the hardest to come by.

It’s because it’s worth it.

Want to get started?

If you’re ready to do marketing differently, you should start by reading the book Permission Marketing by Seth Godin. Everything I learned about this topic I owe to him. (If you don’t want to pay for it, you can get the first third of the book for free here.)

Whatever you do, don’t file this in the “nice to know” category and go back to your spammy email blasts and fearful ad campaigns. Do something unique. Do something remarkable. And do it with permission.

Your fans, friends, and customers will thank you. (Oh, and just for fun, here’s a list of hilarious marketing fails.)

What’s an example of permission marketing that you like or use? Share in the comments.

Disclosure: The above book link is an affiliate link, which means I literally make pennies off your purchase.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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