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The Art of Permission in Inbound Marketing & Why it Works

Last year, we here at 41 Orange were lucky enough to attend Hubspot’s annual INBOUND conference in Boston, Mass. It was a three-day whirlwind of learning, listening and sifting through it all at the end. But one keynote really resonated with me, personally, and it was Seth Godin’s talk on permission marketing. If you’re not familiar with Godin, he’s the godfather of permission marketing and coined the term in 1999. In fact, he literally wrote the book on it, “Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends, and Friends Into Customers,” a winning must-read to enhance your permission marketing knowledge.

But back to that keynote. Godin opened with,

“What we do for a living now, is not assault strangers with our latest widget hoping that they’ll turnaround and buy it from us. What we do for a living now [...] is find little bits of threads, little threads of interest, little separated pockets of people who are interested and then we connect with them and amplify them and take them to the next level.”

And this is the basis of permission marketing, and the ethos of Inbound marketing. It’s also the delineating factor that divides it from outbound marketing tactics.

But how does it work?

And how can you use it to improve your business?

By understanding the psychology of permission marketing, and then experiencing the fruits of its labors, you just might find that it’s easier to have your business come to you, versus running around trying to force it.

Here’s five ways that permission-based, inbound marketing enhances your customer relationships, improves sales, and increases acquisition and retention.

Using Seth Godin’s extensive research on the topic, as well as several other experts, we’ll dive into the art of this (newer) marketing technique that’s making waves and breaking molds to show you how and why inbound just works better than outbound.

Reason No. 1: Numbers Don’t Lie

The beautiful thing about quantitative data is that it doesn’t (usually) lie.

Could there be misnomers that skew your data? Sure.

Could there be errors in your reporting? You betcha.

But the data, the numbers, they’re usually pretty cut-n-dry. Now, how does that apply to permission marketing?

According to a study by ExactTarget: “77 percent of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email.” And this gets at the heart of the matter. As Godin notes on his blog, “Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them. It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention."

This is backed up by more data. In 2012, Adestra, a digital marketing automation provider, reported that personalized subject lines (meaning you know your subscriber’s name and spell it right) are 22.2 percent more likely to be opened. When you deliver marketing collateral that people actually request and value, your customers rejoice by coming back (willingly) for more.

WHO KNEW? CRM Daily reports, "Nearly half of the companies that implement inbound marketing efforts see a 25 percent greater return on investment (ROI) on those programs than companies that do not. The survey found that inbound marketing channels can deliver up to 30 times the campaign conversion rate of traditional outbound direct-mail campaigns."

Reason No. 2: Words, Words, Words...

The essence of inbound is grounded in the science behind permission marketing psychology.

But the manner in which inbound is executed is based largely on content. Inbound has truly changed the face of marketing content. What was once shoved in your inbox, you mailbox, your voicemail box is now content that’s willingly requested by your customers. What was once jammed with keywords that made content sound ridiculously robotic is now being penalized by Google’s smart lil’ bots that crawl your content. Content, under the inbound model, answers questions that your customers are seeking using long-tail search terms via Google.

For instance, your customers may ask, “How do I make my call-to-action buttons more effective?” You swiftly write up a great post that outlines succinctly how to do so, and perhaps you even add a free template or eBook that strengthens the usefulness of your content for your customers or potential ones—and boom, they’re coming back for more of YOUR useful stuff. They subscribe to your blog, they give you their personal information for that eBook and then, you have their anonymity. They’re yours. What’s special about the way the content is created, is that it’s geared specifically for your users, customers, etc. Words matter more than ever. And the reason they work is psychology: you’re giving them what they’re asking for.

PRO ADVICE: Rick Burnes, VP of content products at BookBub, smartly advise in a Hubspot blog post: “[I]f you invest your resources in creating quality content that ranks in Google's organic results, you'll be there until somebody displaces you.”

Reason No. 3: Permission Marketing Generates Leads

Oh, I bet you’re thinking this should be No. 1 on our list, huh? And yes, that’s true, but I put it at No. 3 because it won’t happen unless you successfully achieve No. 1 and 2. Inbound is more than just getting your name out there. It’s crafting a strategy to not only ‘get your name and brand out there,’ but it’s far more effective at generating leads through awareness.

That’s where blogging comes in (pesky No. 2) and your content. Hubspot notes on its blog, “Each new blog post that you write generates a new indexable page for the search engines to crawl. So by blogging frequently you exponentially increase your visibility in Google, Yahoo and Bing.” As you begin to create content that your potential customers need, you bring them in closer and closer to becoming a prospect.

Generating leads is also a new metric that can really quantify your department’s success, which is a common lament of many CMOs and marketing managers alike: how do you prove the ROI of your existence? Well, if you’re reeling in 158 top-of-the-funnel leads monthly: that’s a dang-good metric to hinge your team’s success to.

PRO ADVICE: Godin writes on his blog:

“Subscriptions are an overt act of permission. That's why home delivery newspaper readers are so valuable, and why magazine subscribers are worth more than newsstand ones. In order to get permission, you make a promise. You say, ‘I will do x, y and z, I hope you will give me permission by listening.’ And then, this is the hard part, that's all you do. You don't assume you can do more. You don't sell the list or rent the list or demand more attention.”

Reason No. 4: Tons of Opportunity to Automate

One of my favorite aspects of Inbound, permission-based marketing, is that you have tons of opportunity to put many of your tasks on autopilot. Especially social sharing. We use HubSpot or Buffer to help us automate our LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and Twitter accounts. It simply allows us to put all our tweets, posts and shares in a queue and set the date/time/medium for its posting. It’s pretty awesome if you can’t afford a social media manager or the like.

Also, another important aspect of permission that we’ve touched on is SEO and keyword planning. Every piece of content you toss out into the wild Web must have a question that it answers or a problem it solves, but how do you know this question or problem? You could ask your customers by creating a survey using MailChimp automation, or you could use Google’s Keyword Planner tool.

The point being, the three most important components of permission—content creation, SEO and social sharing—have innumerable products and services available to help you manage it more successfully. Not only does this save you time, it saves you cash. And that’s just one more reason permission works.

WHO KNEW? According to Hubspot’s 2015 State of Inbound report, “Inbound campaigns achieve higher ROI than outbound. This holds true across different company sizes and budgets.”


Courtesy of

Reason No. 5: Improves Traditional Marketing Outcomes

One of the best outcomes of utilizing permission marketing techniques is that the fruits of your labor cost far less than outbound methods. In fact, Hubspot reports, yet again, more amazing evidence of its fruitfulness...

Here’s a few standouts:

  • Inbound marketing costs 62 percent less per lead than traditional outbound marketing.
  • 3 out of 4 inbound marketing channels cost less than any outbound channel.
  • 47 percent of companies who use social media reported leads from social media were “below average” in cost.
  • 39 percent of companies who leverage SEO reported leads from SEO were “below average” in cost.


And what’s important to always remember, is that it takes time for Inbound, permission-inspired strategies to build and become profitable. But through patience and, more importantly, diligence, your new-and-improved marketing program will yield better leads, more qualified leads and more profitable outcomes that are far less expensive to support than traditional outbound methods.

Want to learn more about how inbound marketing can help you generate more leads? Download our quick inbound checklist and let us know what you think!

feature image credit: Sarah Joy


About the Author: Lauren Ventura

Lauren Ventura

Lauren is a Boston, Mass. transplant, loving the California sunshine since she headed out here to attend UC-San Diego. After sticking’ around to head to San Diego State for graduate school, she was hooked on that sunshine. Now Lauren helps build brands with her writing chops for everything from magical yoga pants, running shoes, marathons, pet food and pet furniture and hundreds of other brands that are too far-out to remember. Hundreds. She has a beautiful daughter that inspires her to work hard to live the Cali dream. Catch her on Twitter @DoItWriteNow!