This blog has discussed various aspects of Permission Marketing at (see here or here) however there has been a recent trend of Participatory or “opt-in” marketing. This post explains a few techniques that two firms (with very different products) are using. Both of these companies have fulfilled five of the steps we outlined previously to generate prospective clients and along the way used several key attributes required in a participatory community:

1. Low Barrier to Entry

2. Support for creating and sharing ideas

3. Informal Mentorship

4. Participants feel their contributions matter

5. Participants engage in a community

These two particular companies are being exemplified because they both fulfill the requirements of inbound content: Entertain and Educate.

E*Trade Babymail: Entertain

The E*Trade baby has reached meme status after his debut during Super Bowl XLII and has been parodied by a few comedy talk shows and a headlining sit-com. In addition to this year’s Super Bowl Ad, the E*Trade baby has also been launched in a write-your-own-skit via The website allows visitors to create their own talking baby segments which, naturally depending on the comedic prowess of the user, can be hilarious. While the actual use of the tool has nothing to do with E*Trade’s core business, website and email of the clip sent to the user’s friends is peppered with implicit advertising.

More importantly, E*Trade’s main marketing vehicle becomes participatory. The simplicity of the website all but removes the barrier of entry for the user both to the tool and the brand. The dual effect of this is to increase civic engagement and provide strong support for creating and sharing the creations with others. The first increases brand engagement while the second increased brand exposure to the user’s friends. E*Trade has provided the tool to create a participatory culture which shifts the focus from individual expression and consumption to community involvement.

Zacks Investment Research: Educate

The day after initiating coverage of Trius Therapeutics (TSRX), Zacks Investment Research published an article on explaining the analysis behind the firm’s initiation of coverage with an outperform rating. The forum is as important as the content for this example.

Seeking Alpha self-describes as “the premier website for actionable stock market opinion and analysis, and vibrant, intelligent finance discussion.” The model of the website is simple: Unpaid authors contribute, editors cull, readers read and the platform collects revenues from advertising. An important structural feature of the website is that it is made clear that anyone can submit an article for publication. This enables participation of members who believe that their contributions matter and who feel some degree of social connection with each other. Zacks released their report on this particular website because of the single biggest thing they and Seeking Alpha have in common is audience: individual investors looking to for an edge.

Zacks’ poster, Jason Napodano, comments on his own article first – with an offer of the 20 page Initiation Report for free (!) if you email him. He also provides thoughtful responses to the community’s questions and critiques. The entire dialogue is available for public consumption and comment.


Reviewing the points we outlined in our discussion of constructive content marketing, both of these firms selected their vehicles and content to be relevant, integrated, aligned, “peanut butter” (sticky and spreadable) and – most importantly – free. Let’s run through the list of attributes (and their manifestations) that a healthy participatory community has once again:

1. Low Barrier to Entry – Free internet sites

2. Support for creating and sharing ideas – The tool to create a presentation or post a comment

3. Informal Mentorship – Watch other user’s clips and forum postings

4. Participants feel their contributions matter, or at least are seen – See above

5. Participants engage in a community and therefore create a social connection – The Result

It is useful to note the specificity of both advertising methods: A Super Bowl ad exposes about as broad a spectrum of possible clients as a single thirty second spot can get while posting a (what is normally paid content) article on a website for readers with specific interest exposes a narrow band of possible consumers. These are two very different methods, both in audience and cost, to produce audience engagement. Both of these cases have the requisite value exchange for this Permission marketing to be consumed, enjoyed and passed along.

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