Travel is the best education. As Saint Augustine says, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”
In October 2010, I traveled to Egypt, the land of the pharaohs. When I arrived in Cairo and walked to Tahrir Square for the first time, I realized I was not in Kansas anymore. (I’m not actually from Kansas, by the way.)
As an independent traveler, I prefer to maintain a low profile and experience the culture by blending in as much as possible. But on this particular trip, I stood out like a Klingon at a Star Wars Convention.
I had a grand adventure. I saw the pyramids, the sphinx, and the tomb of Tutankhamun. Like the archaeologist Howard Carter before me, I saw wonderful things.
Unfortunately, my romantic vision of Egypt was quickly dispelled by the reality of a developing country struggling to survive in the modern world.
A fact of life that I learned soon enough was the constant onslaught of touts trying to get hapless tourists to part with their money.
The word “tout” refers to the foreign equivalent of a pushy salesman. The touts in Egypt, however, with their aggressive sales tactics, make the overbearing salesman appear modest by comparison.
Eventually, you start to ignore them after saying “no thank you” a hundred times. All you want to do is enjoy the sights of an ancient and fascinating civilization. But these persistent fellows won’t take no for an answer.
This is interruption marketing at its worst. And it serves as an object lesson for smart online marketers seeking to reach their buyers directly without annoying the hell out of them.
Why interruption marketing doesn’t work (most of the time)
The reality is that interruption marketing does work — sometimes. Think about the advertising you see on websites. Like the touts in Egypt, the Internet is fraught with advertisements or aggressive sales tactics that interrupt readers.
Some of the worst offenders are annoying pop up boxes asking you to sign up for a newsletter, banner ads that scream “Click me!” Or unsolicited emails promoting products you have no interest in. The response rate for these tactics is a dismal 1 percent or less.
If you happen to land on a sales page promoting a product or service, the response rate is not much better. Direct-response messages usually pull about a 2 percent conversion.
Aside from the intrusive nature of these tactics, there two other disadvantages: (1) They are aimed at an untargeted, mass audience. (2) Advertisers have only one shot at catching the reader’s attention and getting him to click through.
Online advertising is like a crap shoot. Lay you money on the table, roll the dice, and hope you win big.
There must be a better way. And there is. Digital content marketers must learn to get permission from readers to send them marketing or sales messages.
Why permission is important for content marketers
My trip to Egypt brought me face to face with aggressive touts who excelled in the art of interruptive marketing. Contrast that experience with the hotels I stayed in.
The hotels in Egypt were like an oasis for parched travelers weary of constant hassling. They got my permission to market to me when I booked my room.
When I arrived and checked in, they offered tours and special services. But they weren’t pushy or aggressive. They were simply there to help me have a pleasant visit in their wonderful country.
Likewise, when people visit your website, your marketing efforts must be based on permission to be effective. Your content should engage them and help them have a pleasant visit.
Once you have their permission, you can send targeted messages that address their needs at various stages of the conversation.
With this approach, conversion rates of 25 to 30 percent or more are not unheard of. But higher conversion rates is just one advantage of permission-based content marketing.
Advantages of permission-based content marketing
Here are five advantages of permission-based content marketing that come to mind.
- Save money: less expensive than traditional marketing tactics; lowers marketing costs by communicating with people who have expressed an interest in your product or service
- Save time: more efficient than traditional marketing tactics; targeting specific audiences means you’re not wasting time on people who are not interested in what you offer
- Increase conversion rate: easier to convert prospects to customers because you are targeting people who have expressed an interest in your product or service
- Build customer loyalty: establish a long-term relationship with customers who buy more from you and make referrals
- Improve your reputation: sending valuable information to people who are anticipating it will help them view you as a trusted resource
Now that you know how permission can enhance your content marketing efforts, it’s time to learn how to get that permission in the first place.
How to get permission from your website visitors
“This sounds all well and good,” you say, “but how do I get my website visitors to give me their permission to market to them?”
You earn it by creating engaging content. I bet you didn’t see that coming.
Once you have them hooked with your engaging content, your next step is to convert them to long-term readers. In other words, ask them for their email address. That should be one of the primary goals of your website.
The reason this is important is because most people who visit your website at any given time are not ready to buy. If you don’t capture their email address, you will likely lose them forever.
Use a clearly stated value proposition and call to action that tells them to sign up for a newsletter, for example, or download a free report.
When you communicate your value proposition, you are asking your readers for permission to deliver the value you are promising. If they agree to receive further communication from you, they are giving you their tacit permission to send them more messages.
Like the hotels I stayed at while traveling in Egypt, you can send your readers information and offers at the appropriate time.
The lesson of not interrupting your audience is an extension of the previous lesson on manners.
In a face-to-face conversation, interrupting someone is considered rude and ill mannered. Think of yourself as a concierge at a high-class hotel who serves your visitors with courtesy.
Remember, the goal of engaging web content is to build a relationship with your audience. This business relationship begins with permission.
Further reading on marketing with permission
Godin, Seth. Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.