Permission Marketing

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow - April 5, 2017


  • The Problem
  • Introductions
  • What is (and isn’t) Permission Marketing?
  • Identifying your audiences
  • Break
  • Choosing the right medium (and what to avoid doing)
  • Aligning your messages
  • Content creation
  • Audience relationship building


  • I want your real-world issues
  • What to do with your questions
  • How I use the “Parking Lot”
  • Loss of nouns

Permission marketing resources

I have compiled a resource list of online links that Pillar will make available to workshop participants (along with this slide deck) after the workshop.

You will also be able to find the resources, slide deck, and further exploration of issues raised during the workshop on my website,

The problem

  • We’d rather communicate with our audiences by email or social media, because regular mail and paid advertising are expensive and we don’t have the marketing budget.
  • We don’t have the email addresses of the people we’d like to send emails to, and we don’t know how to get them.
  • We ask people to sign up for our emails, but few people actually do.
  • We’re worried about the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation rules, and whether or not we’re following all the rules.

The problem (cont’d)

  • We have several email lists in individual Excel spreadsheets throughout our organization, and no centralized database that everyone can access.
  • We send out emails from our business accounts rather than an email service platform (like MailChimp), and it takes a long time because we send them to 20 email addresses at a time.
  • We don’t know who is actually reading our emails.
  • Our “open rates” for our e-newsletters are really low (less than 20%).

The problem (cont’d)

  • We keep people on our email list forever, even if they’re not opening our emails.
  • We don’t seem to get good results with our e-newsletters or social media (audiences aren’t responding to calls to action)
  • Nobody at our organization really likes writing / formatting our newsletters.
  • We don’t have enough staff / volunteers to write / format our newsletters.
  • We know our content is really boring, but we’re not sure how to make it better.

The problem (cont’d)

  • There are too many other fires to put out at our organization; we just don’t have time to communicate with our database the way we’d like to.
  • Several different staff at our organization are sending out communications or doing social media, and different departments don’t know what the others are doing.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

  • Fine art, film, design and classical music training
  • Freelance writer
  • Manager for classical musicians
  • Business owner and entrepreneur
  • Blogger
  • Nonprofit and public sector administration, communications and fundraising
  • Nonprofit volunteer work
  • Marketing and communications consulting
  • Retail sales and network marketing
  • Custom clothing design and illustration

Exercise: Which e-newsletters don’t i open?

If you have your personal smartphone with you, take a moment right now to open up your personal email, and make note of how many e-newsletters you have in your inbox. Which ones do you never read? Why not?

(If you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t have an Internet connection, try to remember what your email inbox looks like. Which e-newsletters to do you remember getting, that you never read? Why not?)

Then take a moment to write down your reasons.


  • What’s your name?
  • Which organization are you from?
  • What do you do there?
  • Why don’t you open e-newsletters? (Or, why don’t you “like” or comment on Facebook posts, or share Twitter tweets, or like/comment/share on [insert the social medium of your choice]?)

Reasons not to open emails

  • Don’t like content, haven’t gotten around to unsubscribing.
  • Like the sender (felt obliged to subscribe), don’t care about the content.
  • Some of what they send is good (or important to me) - don’t want to lose access to that information by unsubscribing.
  • They send WAY too many emails - don’t have time to read everything.
  • Their emails are very spammy - lots of hard-sell marketing techniques that turn me off.

Exercise: Why *do* i open e-newsletters?

When you open (and actually read) e-newsletters, why do you do it?

What about Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram / Snapchat / name your favourite social medium of choice) posts? Why do you like / share / comment on others posts?

Take a moment to think about the kinds of things that you really enjoy reading and sharing.

MLG’s examples

Always open every email from these subscriptions:

  • Derek Sivers
  • BookBub*
  • Mandala Book Shop
  • Seth Godin
  • Karen Walrond
  • Jo Bradshaw
  • Gwen Bell*

* No longer subscribe to these

MLG’s examples

Open most emails from these subscriptions:

  • Tim Ferriss
  • Mike Dooley (Notes from the Universe)
  • Mark Sisson (Mark’s Daily Apple)

Reasons to open emails

  • I really love the content, it’s very meaningful to me.
  • Reading their emails makes me feel good.
  • I learn a lot from the emails, receive information that’s valuable to me.
  • I really like the sender.
  • I really like the way they write.
  • I don’t want to miss out on whatever they’re writing about.
  • They don’t send very many emails, so I know that when they do, it’s worth my attention.

What is permission marketing?

“Permission Marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”

~Seth Godin

permission marketing

“Real permission is different from assumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either.”

Other kinds of marketing

  • Interruption Marketing
    • Unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant
  • Direct Marketing
  • Network Marketing
  • Content Marketing

For more examples of different kinds of marketing see this blog post:

Interruption marketing

Interruption Marketing is the opposite of Permission Marketing. It’s delivering unanticipated, impersonal, irrelevant messages to people who don’t want to hear them.

How many kinds of interruption marketing can you think of?

Permission marketing

“‘Pay attention’ is a key phrase here, because Permission Marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way you can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.”

What could you do with that attention, once you’ve earned your audience’s trust?

Exercise: What do we want to say?

There are all sorts of things that we want to tell our audiences. The most compelling things are “calls to action” (a piece of content that persuades the audience to do something).

  • Sign up for...
  • Learn about...
  • Share this (news, information, email, post)...
  • Buy this...
  • Donate to...

Exercise: What kinds of messages do we send?

Take a moment to list all the kinds of marketing and communications media that your organization uses to market to its audiences. Examples: emails, e-newsletters, snail mail, social media posts, posters, radio and newspaper ads, presentations...

Now think about all the kinds of content that you communicate through those channels. Examples: updates, reports, events, success stories, requests, tax receipts...

Now ask yourself: which of the above are ignored more than they’re paid attention to?

How are we getting people’s attention?

Think about the ways your organization tries to get people to pay attention to you.

  • Do you have their permission to contact them?
  • Are they expecting and eagerly waiting to hear from you, or are you interrupting them?
  • Are your messages impersonal, or personalized?
  • Are your messages relevant to them, or irrelevant?
  • If you stopped contacting them, would they miss your messages?

Exercise: Our audiences

To send people messages they want to hear, you need to know what they want.

Who are your audiences? What do you know about them? How would you segment (subdivide) them into groups that share traits in common?

Exercise: Audience Needs

What are the different needs of your audiences? Which ones are you meeting, either explicitly (as part of your stated mission) or implicitly (as part of your organization’s brand, or the way you do your work)?

Permission marketing

“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...[The] promise is the promise until both sides agree to change it.”

What promises are we making to our list?

Take a moment to consider the promises you’re making to the people who sign up for your contact lists, or “like” your social media profiles. This could be wording you actually use, or implied promises.

Permission marketing

“Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask you where you went.”

Permission marketing

“If it sounds like you need humility and patience to do Permission Marketing, you’re right. That’s why so few companies do it properly. The best shortcut, in this case, is no shortcut at all.”


See you back here in 10 minutes.

Which medium should we use?

Email isn’t the only medium for Permission Marketing.

There are also:

  • Presentations
  • Snail mail
  • Social media

The special case of social media

Can you do Permission Marketing with social media? Yes!

The same criteria apply: Deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

But… realize that on some platforms, the deck is stacked against you in terms of audience reach (the number of people who’ve opted in to your page or account, who actually see your posts).

Pros & cons - Snail mail



reach is nearly 100%

need mailing addresses

can be personalized

time intensive, slow delivery

expensive for large lists

negative associations with junk mail

don’t know how many people opened the mailing


  • Fundraising campaign mailings
  • Classical music subscription season mailings
  • Income tax receipt mailings
  • Alumni magazines

Snail mail - Avoid doing these things

  • Sending the same messages to your entire list (not segmenting your audiences / messages)
  • Sending too many campaigns per year
  • Not sending integrated communications based on well-thought-out communications strategies and plans
  • Sending out poorly written messages

Pros & cons - Email marketing




need email addresses

reach is nearly 100%

CASL caveats

quick to receive

writing and formatting can be time intensive

easy to reply, forward

low open rates*


need provider


  • The Nathaniel Dett Chorale
  • Karen Schuessler Singers
  • London and Middlesex Housing Corporation
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • London Homeless Coalition

Email - Avoid doing these things

  • Violating CASL
  • Sending too many emails for your audience
  • Sending e-newsletters through regular email account
  • Boring subject headings (do A/B testing)
  • Direct mail tactics (blanket, impersonal messages to strangers, not segmenting your lists)
  • Keeping people on your list if they never open your emails

Legal permission and CASL*

*Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

What are some best practices when communicating with your audiences over the internet?

Legal permission and CASL*

*Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

  • Get people’s express consent (or be able to demonstrate implied consent under some circumstances), and keep a record of it.
  • Identify yourself on the email.
  • Provide an unsubscribe mechanism.
  • Don’t send false or misleading information.

Legal permission and CASL


  • Add people you don’t know to your email list without their permission.
  • Ask for someone’s email address without telling them how you will use it.
  • Use someone’s email address for communications to which they haven’t given implied or express consent.
  • Abuse implied consent.
  • Neglect to remove someone from your contact list if requested.

What’s our policy?

Does your organization have policies that clearly describe how you use people’s email addresses, or connect with them online?

Does your organization track the implied and express consent of your contact lists?

Take a moment to make note of the issues that need clear understanding.

Learn more about Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation here:

Pros & cons - Facebook




need to be on Facebook

quick to receive

writing and formatting can be time intensive

easy to reply, comment, share

low reach rates (Facebook algorithm)

can engage individuals

low engagement rates


  • The Nathaniel Dett Chorale
  • Karen Schuessler Singers
  • London Homeless Coalition

Facebook - Avoid doing these things

  • Not having a policy on organization brand / social media engagement
  • Continuing to spend a lot of time on content that gets little engagement
  • Continuing to spend a lot of time on content that gets high engagement, but few results (increased donations, event attendance, awareness / education)
  • Tagging people who don’t want to be tagged

Pros & cons - Twitter




need to be on Twitter

quick to receive

writing and formatting can be time intensive

easy to @reply, retweet

low reach rates

can engage individuals

low engagement rates


  • London and Middlesex Housing Corporation
  • London Homeless Coalition

Twitter - Avoid doing these things

  • Not having a policy on organization brand / social media engagement
  • Continuing to spend a lot of time on content that gets little engagement
  • Continuing to spend a lot of time on content that gets high engagement, but few results (i.e. increased donations, event attendance, awareness / education)
  • Not responding to audience complaints and public relations issues

Other social media

  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat
  • Tumblr
  • Flickr

Aligning our messages

  • With organizational strategic objectives
  • With communications strategies and plans
  • Between departments, services and projects


  • Western University Faculty of Science

Content creation

How do we craft communications that people will actually read and act on?

  • Build trust
  • Meet a need or solve a problem
  • Entertain
  • Move people

permission marketing review

  • Anticipated
    • Be transparent about what they can expect
    • Get their permission
  • Personal
    • Segment your audiences, and personalize your messages whenever possible
  • Relevant
    • Send messages that are meaningful and relevant to your audience - that they actually want to get
    • Meet their needs, provide value, be remarkable


  • Derek Sivers and Gwen Bell (email)
  • BookBub and Amazon (email)
  • Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Facebook page)
  • Fit is a Feminist Issue (Facebook page)

Permission marketing

“Permission marketing doesn’t have to be a one-way broadcast medium. The internet means you can treat different people differently, and it demands that you figure out how to let your permission base choose what they hear and in what format.”

Audience relationship-building

  • “People like us do things like this”
  • Network marketing and the power of word of mouth
  • Being authentic
  • Having personal conversations
  • Listening first
  • Tracking “touch points” with database


  • Nicole Tilde dream group (Facebook group)
  • Hol:Fit Essential Oil Community (Facebook group)
  • Flat & Fabulous (Facebook group)

Exercise: Remarkable content

Remarkable doesn’t mean remarkable to you. It means remarkable to your audiences. Will they remark about it? If not, it’s not remarkable.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow contact info

Permission Marketing - Pillar Nonprofit Network Workshop - April 5, 2017 - Google Slides