193. How to Grow Your Business: Turning Strangers Into Friends & Friends Into Customers

Permission Marketing by Seth GodinPublished in 1999, Seth Godin’s book Permission Marketing explains how to grow your business by turning “strangers into friends, and friends into customers.”

If you’re selling a one-time product with no intention of building your product line or launching future projects, and if a customer relationship isn’t important to the success of your business, then advertising is your best bet. But if your success depends on your reputation and/or repeat customers, then your priority is getting the contact details from customers along with permission to keep them up-to-date on what you are doing. If you have to start from scratch on your marketing and promotional endeavours everytime you launch a new product or project, you’re not using your resources to their fullest.

Strangers could care less about the ad you created and are paying to have show up in front of their face on every website they visit; they are too busy living their own lives and dealing with their problems to care about your interrupting them with whatever it is you HAVE TO tell them about. You increase your annual advertising budget, and they download free Ad Blocking software to avoid you.

So you continually increase the quality of your product. Good! But so are your competitors. So much so that most products today are pretty much the same quality, leaving little to differenciation other than branding, and perhaps after-sales support. So again, why buy your product when the product I always buy is pretty much as good as yours, as far as I can tell?

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For strategies on advertising generic products and identifying your unique selling proposition (USP) read my interview with Art Director Julien Hérisson.

For more on finding the idea for quality products, watch the Y combinator lectures The importance of finding your idea and product and How to build products your users will love at Stanford University.

Lastly, for more on managing your career as a serial entrepreneur, watch the talk Managing your professional and private life by Oussama Ammar at The Family.]

So now your advertising budget is ever increasing, yet ignored, and yours’ and your competitor’s products are becoming more and more homogeneous. Why? Because, as Permission Marketing defines the catch-22 outlined in chapter 1 that:

Humans are limited in both their attention span and the amount of money they have. Therefore, every penny they spend elsewhere is a penny that will never go to you (unless the human goes into debt). But the more you spend to reach them, the more they ignore you.

So what’s a brand to do?

You could resort to manipulative UX/UI design and other dark patterns to boost conversion and trick strangers into giving you money, thus destroying your reputation in the long run…

…or you could convince humans to give you their personal contact information along with permission to contact them on a regular, ongoing basis with quality information and news.

Godin’s Five Steps to ‘Dating’ Your Customer:

  1. Stranger > Acquaintance. Provide strangers an incentive in exchange for giving you their personal contact information – and thus permission – to contact them in the future; incentives such as free downloads and the assurance of quality, information relevant and useful to them in the future.
  2. Acquaintance > Friend. Use that established permission to teach your friend about your product or service.
  3. Friend > Trusted Friend. Continually provide quality so that the person continues to give you permission to contact them.
  4. Trusted Friend > Paying customer. Offer paid quality products or services above and beyond the free version, and those who trust you and know your reputation will have no qualms about paying you, knowing that they will get much more than their money’s worth, or feel comfortable contacting you in case they don’t.