Permission Marketing – the Evolution of Content

Content marketing isn’t a new kid in town by a long way – but have you heard about its cool daughter?

Permission marketing is a new way of thinking about content in an era of GDPR and inboxes full of junky email no one wants.

Hopefully, the difference is that your audience only receives content they’ll like and engage with, meaning way more focused and efficient marketing for you.

How content marketing has evolved:

The quantity content era

I hold my hands up: I wrote for a content mill-type operation when I was a baby copywriter. The concept of content marketing (this wave of it anyway – Ogilvy was doing it in the 50s) was still quite new and agencies were desperate for cheap word soup to post on their clients’ blogs.

It didn’t matter too much if it was good or even relevant (though I flatter myself that my content was better than most); quantity was the name of the game, not quality.

And guess what? Google saw what was happening and shut it down. Those random websites that existed just to post people’s nonsense blogs and link back to their site – gone. And with it, some rather good articles of mine. Shame.

The quality content era

Well, so-called quality. Content mills were dead, so content became a much more specialised craft. Spelling improved, relevance improved and Google’s ability to penalise those doing a poor job improved.

If you were producing nicely designed and well-researched content over the last few years, chances are it worked for you. But it still wasn’t perfect.

You had to do a lot of promotion, didn’t you? Content had to be kept updated to keep ranking. You were posting your blogs on social media ALL THE TIME. Bounce rates were high because people clicked on your link from social and then decided they couldn’t be bothered. It was just an awful lot of work and most of the time, it felt like you were chucking spaghetti at a wall, hoping your new rug wouldn’t get all starchy.

The quiet content era

OK, I just wanted another q. But I can make it work.

The next phase in content marketing is about letting people see content when THEY want, not shoving it in their face every time they go on Facebook. Permission marketing is a quiet, clever way to provide answers as and when the customer needs them.

Permission marketing is much more about learning your customer journeys, anticipating issues and designing content that answers questions in the best way. It also depends on data-led triggers, like emailing customers about an upcoming an upcoming product launch because they bought something similar recently.

You can still post content on social media – but don’t rely on that as your only source of traffic. It’s not the best place to stand out and you’re invading people’s personal spaces. With Facebook’s new algorithm, which favours family and friends, your content has never been more ignorable.

If you can get your (wonderfully crafted) content to the people who need it, at the time they need it, your chance of success is vastly increased.

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.

Seth Godin

Permission marketing is:

1. Data-driven

It’s led by patterns in customer behaviour – like ‘We get 23% of our calls from customers who have just received their confirmation email but don’t understand it’. This could be your signal to produce a video that answers these customers’ questions. They’re calling you, so you KNOW this is information they want.

2. Personalised

With all the data we collect on our customers now, there’s no excuse to not personalise everything. Not just their name; their birthday, their hometown, their favourite products.

Send early sale access codes to people who never miss a sale. Pitch a meal with a free glass of prosecco around their birthday. Invite locals to a store opening in their town. The more precise the targeting, the more engaging the content.

3. Contextual

Not all content has to be a blog or even a video. If the place that triggers questions is your quote form, that’s where your content needs to be. That sounds hard but it’s not – check out Habito’s mobile mortgage application form for an example.

Another good example of in-situ content is Moneybox.

Moneybox’s in-app chat is where I get notifications about my investments.

I can get help setting up an ISA or new account right when I actually want to do it. I don’t have to search – I just ask my question and get it answered instantly. Yes, that sounds like customer service (in your dreams!) but it’s actually an always-on form of content. It’s in the customer’s own app; they didn’t have to leave their space or do any work to get what they needed.

This method of providing answers cuts down on emails and gives customers exactly what they need when they need it. And either Moneybox has an endless stream of lovely, smart customer service peeps or their bots are BLOODY good.

4. High-quality

After all that, it’s got to deliver.

I know this was an article about content marketing, but I have a new proposal for you: content design. Let’s stop thinking about content as a marketing tool (it is, but try to forget that) and approach it in the way GOV.UK does. Every page is an answer to a question; its only purpose is to answer questions well. The way the page is built, the way content is laid out – every decision has been made to help people find the exact thing they needed for their individual problem.

If we design our content to meet the needs of people with questions, it will succeed. If we design our content to meet the needs of ourselves with sales targets, it won’t.