Intravenous Permission

Consumers presented with six choices on an item were twice as likely to buy as consumers overwhelmed with 24 varieties of the same item.” – Sheena Iyengar S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School


I learned the term intravenous permission from one of the must-read books for every marketer that I have finished reading recently, “Permission Marketing” by Seth Godin (this is an affiliate link to Amazon) and must say I regret it took me that long to get it. Even though it has been 20 years since it first came out, it is still relevant and eye-opening.

In one of the chapters, Godin talks about intravenous permission. Just by the way it sounds you already know it’s going to be something great. Sounds like something Wesley Snipes, would use in Blade if he was a marketer. This according to the author is the highest level of permission a consumer can give to the supplier. The permission is in the form of a subscription. I talked about subscriptions benefits in a previous post that you can visit by clicking here.

In the case here Seth Godin talks about not an online newsletter subscription which is free (even I have one so please subscribe 😉) but a subscription that gives permission to the seller to send products to their customers on a monthly/weekly basis for an already agreed fee. Magazines and newspapers subscriptions are probably one of the first examples of that form of marketing that comes up to mind. Now we have all sorts of subscriptions like one of my favourites that involves whiskey for example, where products are sent to you every first week of the month. I will come back to that at the end of this article.

Seth Godin gives us three reasons why the customers are giving such level of permission. The first two are saving time and money about which I will not get into detail. You can read more about them in the book. The one that really grabbed my attention was the third one, which is that people don’t like to make choices.

Many consumers sign up for intravenous permission because they don’t like to make a choice, Seth Godin quote from Permission Marketing

I just love how laziness has helped humanity shaping the world we live in. For me, it is just mindblowing how bad we are with making choices when we have a lot of options. The lesser the options the easier the decision making is.

Here is an example from the pub I work at, The Brazen Head which is an amazing spot with a lot of history. It is one of the busiest places in Dublin and as you can imagine it is often hard to get a spot to sit at. From years of observations while it is busy, and someone leaves a table, even the darkest and smallest one, that is far from the bar and surrounded by a loud crowd of visiting stag party from a neighbouring country who are dressed and act like clowns, people would not think twice and just barge and take that seat instead of waiting another few minutes for a better one to get available. For them, that is the only option they have at the moment.

The other case is when it is early in the morning and there is nobody in the place. The same people that we’re happy with their choice of the worst spot in the pub from the night before, now have the whole place for themselves. What do you think they do? They panic! They want to sit everywhere, but they can’t, only because the laws of physics do not allow them to. I’ve witnessed examples of let’s say a family of six sitting down and getting up on six different tables until they settle down. Six different tables and the worst part is, they were still not as happy as they were on the night before.

What would the solution to the problem in The Brazen Head be then? A hostess that will sit them down. Someone else to make that decision for the customers. Unfortunately, in this case, it is not possible due to the nature of the business (traditional pubs like the one I work in are not custom to hostesses), but you get the point.

If you think about it our lives are full of examples like that. Henry Ford had it right, back in the days when he said, ‘Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black’. Now you go to a Ford dealership, you get dozens of models and dozens of colours and modifications to choose from and by the time you make up your mind you buy a Tesla. Having to choose from a lot of choices of the same product it means that the customer has to take time in which they could make up their mind and go ahead with a whole different product. Or not buy any at all.

All these examples and much more are proving Seth Godin’s theory that consumers don’t like to make choices and make intravenous permission a convenience. The guy is a genius! He basically discovered that people’s lives can be made easier by not making them choose. Just ask them to pay you a fee every month and you make the choice for them and send them the products you think they want. It is what I imagine Amazon in the future will be. The path getting there though is not so simple. The marketer must do the hard work first and make them give you that permission. If you are honest, consistent and gain your customers’ trust, then they will give you that intravenous permission.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll tell you about my favourite example of intravenous permission. It comes from a small company that had just started their business and I really hope and believe they will have great success. I met them at Dublin Whiskey Live, a whiskey tasting event (gotta love Ireland) that took place a couple of months back. The company is called WhiskyDan. Other than that they spell whiskey wrong, I think it’s just brilliant what they do. For a subscription (you can choose from monthly or every two months payments), they select one of the worlds finest whiskeys, including rare and exclusive bottles, along with a number of surprises including delicious food pairings and will deliver it straight to your door. If I wasn’t the poor student that I am, I would be a sworn customer.

Whisky Dan intravenous permission subscription model
Whisky Dan intravenous permission subscription model

There you have it. Marketing is done right. Good idea, good product, clarity and transparency delivered to the customers and they will let you use their money whatever way you think is better for them. I can hear Jeff Bezos knocking on the door now. Do you?

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