09/12/2012 09:41 am ET Updated Nov 12, 2012

Permission Marketing: Facebook's Cash Cow and a Marketer's Dream

"They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission." - Banksy, British street artist, on interruptive advertisers

Marketers buy Facebook ads hoping to drive sales but most are simply building awareness. We're on Facebook to connect with friends, not brands, and advertising is an uninvited interruption. Enter permission marketing, the vehicle to build profitable consumer-brand connections and get the FB stock back in black. Here's how it works.

Give To Get
Our attention isn't free. We rarely give it so marketers have tried for centuries to steal it. They jump in our paths with their messages, interrupting whatever we're doing. If we acknowledge them, they win. But do they? Attention isn't measured in seconds or clicks. It isn't measured in distribution or volume. Even brand recall means nothing if we haven't created an emotion for the brand beyond passive acceptance.

Marketers confuse awareness with attention. I may be aware of the ad or sponsored story but I don't have to pay attention. And since I'm not paying anything, the brand isn't getting anything. At best they've given me a coupon or moment of entertainment but that doesn't build a profitable connection.

What if brands give me something I really value? Now we're talking. A lifestyle brand could give an invitation to members-only group activities. They could show me the popular running clubs in my social network. And thanks to the affordability of storing and processing data plus the integration of social and product graphs, brands can now build recommendation engines along the same lines as Amazon's Betterizer, Netflix's Movies Recommended For You and Apple's iTunes Genius. Promise me relevant, useful info and you've got more than just my awareness: you've earned my attention and my auth-in.

Auth-In For the Good Stuff
The problem with permission marketing's early days was the cost of opting in: it simply wasn't high enough. People could check "yes" to receive ongoing emails but they weren't giving much. Many used their junk email addresses or a fake profile so in fact, it cost them nothing. They would take what they wanted -- maybe a coupon or a whitepaper -- and leave.

The auth-in is changing the permission game and it promises to yield billions for Facebook. Social networks contain a wealth of personal behavioral data but it can't be scraped or bought: it needs to be user-authorized. With a compelling carrot smart brands can successfully earn email addresses, likes, friends lists, and wall posts. That's the real authentic stuff marketers dream about.

You might think it's crazy to give a business your personal details but if you collect frequent flyer points, you're already doing it. You're letting an airline put a virtual homing device on you in exchange for a price discount. If you have a loyalty card then you're exposing that retailer to your full purchase history. It doesn't get much more personal than that.

Don't Be Greedy
A direct connection to your consumer is the Holy Grail of marketing but it isn't always treasured. Here are just a few ways brands are breaching trust with the people who mean the most to them.

  • Not Reciprocating. Brands must initially give to get and they must keep on giving.
  • Being Greedy. Ask only for permissions you need. Writing on a consumer's wall isn't one of them.
  • Snooping. Every interaction must be transparent and expected.
  • Being Misleading. Ongoing interactions must be exactly as promised.
  • Reselling. To quote Seth Godin, "Permission rented is permission lost."

How does permission marketing save Facebook? Auth-in campaigns aren't free to the marketers; they need to be jump-started and maintained with ongoing awareness ads. The network effect of a successful campaign is tremendous but ongoing budgets are required and targeted Facebook ads work. Even marketers like GM, suspicious of the value of awareness ads, will agree that the net present value of an ongoing connection exceeds the cost of a sponsored story. And guess what, stock analysts? That's worth billions.

Disclosure: the author is CEO of Authintic, an analytics technology company enabling permission marketing.