First published Nov. 16, 2016. Updated Feb. 9, 2018.

Imagine a world without pop-ups, junk mail or blaring commercials in between your every waking breath, calming, quiet and peaceful. Lofty as it may sound, many of us are already pretty close to that vision, as we go through extensive lengths to avoid advertisement through subscriptions and services that offer ad-free experiences. However, as a consumer, there’s going to be some point where you want information about products and services that you’re considering purchasing and, as a business owner, you may be wondering how to capture the attention of an audience that’s making an increasing effort to block you out. As it would be, there happens to be a middle ground where consumers and businesses can willfully exchange valuable information to direct purchases: inbound marketing.


Hubspot has recently been making waves on the scene with what it calls inbound strategies. We’ll get to their methods in a bit, but a lot of the basis of inbound marketing goes back to an earlier chapter in the saga, back when dinosaurs roamed the internet and your modem sounded like a fax machine preparing for lift off.

The Digital Primordial Soup

Seth Godin is a marketer and entrepreneur who started his career in the nineties during the early development of e-commerce. Like many others at the time, Godin noticed a wealth of untapped and unprecedented potential in the Internet. Businesses could now reach out to their consumers, without respect to borders or boundaries, and develop personal relationships on a massive scale. Unlike many others, however, Godin realized that for any of it to work, something big had to change.

Marketing efforts up to that point had been characterized by what Godin called “interruption-based” tactics. Advertising revolved around TV commercials, billboards, radio ads, flyers and junk mail. All of these mediums sought to interrupt the daily activities of a consumer and demand their attention. In the past, we’ve talked about how hard it is to break through that sense of fatigue, simply because people are, quite frankly, fed up. Godin realized this back in the early days of the web and he also knew that none of it was going to work in the information age. Surfing the internet was about personal control and discovery. The hassle of constant interruption would scare off customers who could take their business elsewhere with the stroke of a key, and so was born a new concept.

May I have Your Attention Please? Interruption Marketing vs. Permission Marketing

Godin conceived the concept of permission marketing (the basis of inbound marketing). The most succinct description of permission marketing is summed up in Seth’s blog:

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

The emphasis on a privilege versus a right is to point out that permission isn’t granted in a legal or technical sense. It’s not the fine print of Terms of Service or the legislation surrounding advertising. It’s not your iTunes subscription. Permission is conscious consent and active interest, inspired through the three key elements of good content:

  • Anticipated – People should look forward to what you have to say. At its best, an interruption-based ad subverts an expectation of annoyance. A permission-based ad, on the other hand, is a source of legitimate information or entertainment. People are relieved when an interruption based ad is over; people are upset when their permission-based ad is absent.
  • Personal – Your message needs to relate to your target personas as individuals. The goal isn’t simply to package a product with the broadest appeal possible. The internet facilitates custom-tailored messages. Ad experiences need to be targeted towards specific demographics.
  • Relevant – Your content needs to be targeted towards people who are actually interested in it. Aside from avoiding broad appeal, you’re also not going for the farthest reach.

In short, permission based marketing proceeds from targeted, remarkable content. Permission throughout the lead nurturing process is usually granted in the form of voluntary subscriptions. In the nineties, Godin employed text messages and newsletters, which were then a viable medium for permission-based advertisements. In the present day, new opportunities have presented themselves in social media, blogging, podcasts and other online media.

Evolution of Permission-Based Marketing

Inbound marketing is in many ways, the modern iteration of permission-based marketing. Championed by Hubspot, inbound marketing is divided into four phases:

  • Attract – Use a combination of SEO, blogging and social media to make your content visible and attractive to your target audience
  • Convert – Turn visitors into leads through a tangible exchange: contact information for continued quality content, such as through email
  • Close – Use email and CRM to close your lead with good timing, in other words, when they’re ready for the sale
  • Delight – Continue to deliver the type of content that gets your consumers talking about your brand

The major innovations of inbound marketing strategies are in the tools it uses. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essentially the permission-based alternative to paid links. When conducted in accordance with Google’s policies, SEO is about matching your content to a user who is actually seeking it out through the effective use of keywords and website optimization. Contact Resource Management (CRM) and automation tools are simply effective ways to keep track of your consumers. Other than that, inbound marketing is really just permission marketing in a hip new jacket. However, inbound marketing and permission marketing are more than just buzz words used to describe general trends in market direction. Permission based advertisement and inbound marketing seek to proceed from transparent and authentic exchanges: to inform, to educate and to entertain.

By proceeding into the future with some sense of integrity in the way we conduct business, through consent and transparency, we are able to form relationships with our consumers that revolve around trust.

Mehran is a copywriter for Words by a Pro with a background in the hard sciences and an emphasis in health and technology.