Permission Shmarketing – The Concept

Listen to me and Helen talk about Permission Shmarketing: 

I worship the ground Seth Godin walks on, just like everybody else. Godin’s Permission Marketing was the first marketing book I ever read. I loved it.

Godin wrote Permission Marketing in 1999. 

It’s just not relevant anymore. 

Sorry, Seth. 

What happened over the past 21 years that changed this paradigm? 

A little company started in Palo Alto in 1998 (one short year before Seth wrote the book) has completely changed this notion of “permission,” “privacy,” the best practices of marketing, and life online as we know it.

That company should change how you think about Permission Marketing completely, and forever.

Google knows (and monetizes) everything. Period.

Fast forward to 2020. 

That little Palo Alto company called Google has slowly, over the last 21 years, become intertwined with the way we do everything. 

They have collected the equivalent of 5 million one-page word documents of data about each one of us.

Want to see the data they have collected about you? Click here.

Guess what…they’re analyzing all of that data using artificial intelligence, and monetizing that data in the most efficient way possible. Their market cap is $900bn as of this writing.

Here’s what Google can access and monetize*:

  • Your camera and microphone, at any point
  • Every photo or video you’ve ever taken; processed with AI
  • Every physical place you’ve ever been and will ever go
  • Every search you’ve ever run and/or deleted
  • An advertising profile about you
  • Every app or extension you’ve ever used, when and how often you use them, and who you communicate on them with
  • Your entire YouTube history
  • Your bookmarks
  • Your emails
  • Your contacts
  • Your entire Google Drive
  • Photos you’ve taken on your phone
  • Businesses you’ve purchased from
  • Music you listen to
  • Your calendar
  • Your Hangout sessions
  • Websites you’ve created
  • Phones you have owned
  • Pages you’ve shared
  • Phone calls you’ve made
  • Messages left for you
  • How many steps you take in a day

Permission Marketing: Seth’s (now irrelevant) definition

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

Real permission is different from presumed 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.

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

That makes sense…but what does Google think about what Seth has to say?

Gmail Ads – Not “permission,” but definitely marketing…and sounds eerily like Email-Based Retargeting

Gmail serves you ads in your Gmail inbox based on your web browsing history and other activity, while you’re signed into Google. Check out how they target here

They serve you ads that you didn’t ask for. If they stopped showing up, you wouldn’t ask where they went.

Yet, they are in your inbox, and everybody seems to be fine with them. We still see ads, years after the program started, which means it’s working.

Google doesn’t buy this notion of “Permission Marketing” and they’re making piles of money by doing what they can with the technology they have. 

My argument is that you should be doing the exact same thing. But until now, you couldn’t.

There hasn’t been a way to monetize web behavior in the same way Google does, and target people that aren’t yet on your email list. 

You used to have to buy a list, which almost always got you in trouble with the Email Marketing companies and torched your deliverability.

Fortunately, in 2019, invented Email-Based Retargeting.

Email-Based Retargeting: Giving Every Business Google’s Superpower

What is Email-Based Retargeting (EBR)?

EBR identifies up to 35% of the anonymous traffic on your website.

When a user hits a page of your website, we use cookies and cross-device ID to match that user to a 3rd party opt-in, and pass you an email address, first name, last name, postal record, and the landing page the user landed on. 

You pay for the record once, and own it forever, and you can contact them however you’d like (we recommend a welcome series). 

We sell monthly subscriptions starting at around 25c per record and scale down in price with volume. We have customers that range in size from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies.

It’s 100% legal in the US, and CAN-SPAM compliant. It’s not GDPR compliant, though, so doesn’t work in Europe. For more information on the legality of EBR, click here.

I’m sure Seth is rolling his eyes right now, saying we’re helping people send spam. I’d just encourage you to look at the similarities between EBR and Gmail ads: 

  • Both allow targeting via email based off of prior web browsing behavior
  • Businesses can send advertisements to people who didn’t explicitly opt-in to the advertising website
  • Both are legal and CAN-SPAM compliant

There are two critical differences that we would argue make EBR superior to Gmail Ads:

  • With Email-Based Retargeting, you pay once and own the record forever. With Gmail Ads, you keep paying google for clicks from the same people
  • You can market to the other 70% of the internet who are not on Gmail (yet)

Engagement = The New Permission

I have owned and operated an Email Service Provider called Robly (like Mailchimp, or Salesforce Marketing Cloud) since 2013. 

I can tell you that one thing matters today more in Email Marketing than ANYTHING else:


We care about it engagement more than anything. We build things that monitor engagement and lock people who send to lists without high enough engagement, forcing them to take action. 


Because people who send to unengaged lists mess up delivery across our entire system.

Speaking for the Email Marketing industry, we really don’t care where you got your emails, so long as people are opening and clicking them. The more opens and clicks, the better (as long as complaints aren’t over 1/1,000 at any given Internet Service Provider).

We aren’t the only people that look at Email Marketing this way.

All the major ISPs (Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) also evaluate senders based on engagement over a long time horizon, more than any other metric. Read more about it here.

What’s the easiest way to have all your email go directly to the spam folder and cause yourself a deliverability issue? 

Send to an old, unengaged list. I’ve done it, it’s horrible, and if you’ve done it too, you know the deliverability pain I’m talking about.

What’s the easiest way (and most important habit to have) to ensure you absolutely never have a delivery problem?

Sunset your list regularly, and only send to engaged contacts.

Where does permission fit in to all this? 

The ISP’s assume that if your list is engaged, they gave you permission to send to them. But now, that isn’t necessarily true.

I can give you emails that will have strong engagement without an opt-in to your own website – through Email-Based Retargeting, with

In today’s world, engagement far more important than permission.

You should absolutely email people who were on your website using legal and available technologies. But don’t SPAM them.

Times have changed since 1999. 

We live in a world where data is available about everything you do every second of the day, and the largest companies in the world are collecting and monetizing that data. 

You should be doing the same thing.

The technology is inexpensive and available to you … go ahead and sign up at and get your first 25 emails for free. 

I’m not saying you should SPAM people. Don’t start blasting someone 10x per day in an untargeted and unpersonalized way just because we gave you their email address. 

You absolutely should take advantage of an available technology that will open up a new monetization channel, send them targeted and personalized messages, and drive traffic back to your website.

Here are some tips on how to be successful with EBR

You can’t treat EBR emails like all of the rest of your subscribers. They are lower intent and higher up the funnel. If you’re going to do EBR, make sure to do it right, or you’ll just be wasting time and money. 

Email Marketing Has Moved Up the Funnel

Email Marketing is about more today than a very narrow band of extremely high-intent potential customers in your marketing funnel. Thanks to Email-Based Retargeting, it’s for warming up colder traffic from your website, too.

Permission Marketing, as Seth defines, it is simply a thing of the past. 

In today’s world, engagement is everything. 

Sorry, Seth.

*courtesy of Dylan Curran at The Guardian

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