There’s a marketing tactic you’ve never heard of. It barely has a name yet. But, many of the best marketers are already practicing it.
It’s called Permissionless Co-Marketing. It is the deliberate effort of aligning yourself with other brands by promoting them in your work. It’s the inverse of earned media — where you’re the one organically mentioning someone else. The payoff is earning goodwill and potential reciprocation. For example:
- During a podcast interview, you shout out an up-and-coming SaaS tool that listeners would find useful.
- When writing a blog post, you explain why another B2C brand’s email marketing strategy is successful.
- While presenting at a conference (or on a webinar), you include slides with examples from a brand with affinity to your own target audience (and the event’s).
We do permissionless co-marketing all the time at SparkToro. We gave love to some of our favorite local or small businesses in our recent food & drink gift guide — and no, there was no formal application process beyond Rand’s tweet. Nearly every time Rand or I host an Office Hours or speak on a podcast, we’re all too happy to name drop the various agencies, SaaS companies, and other brands that we admire.
For marketers already doing this, permissionless co-marketing may seem obvious. It’s just citing sources in a friendly way.
But for the marketers who have been trained (or instructed) to never give other companies free press, it’s a hard sell. Having worked in public relations for years, I empathize. We’re all competing for attention. Mentioning another source dilutes branding, memorability, and clickthroughs. There’s even the risk that the other brand has done something awful (or will in the future) and your association could look bad.
Are there risks if you never do permissionless co-marketing?
- If you’re reluctant to name relevant brands, you risk sounding overly self-promotional.
- Worse, you appear untrustworthy within your field because you’re unwilling to give credit when it’s due.
- When you fail to mention others, those others usually fail to mention you. Reciprocity is a basic principle of human psychology, and if you’re intentionally staying silent when credit could be given, you’re disinviting yourself from big-picture conversations.
- Last, your brand (personal or company) may look ignorant—unaware of what’s happening in your space, and therefore unworthy of further attention.
When you recognize brands who share your audience but are also not direct competitors, you’re showing that you pay attention to trends, and that you’re open to collaboration. It’s a low-effort way to set the foundation for formalized co-marketing efforts. It’s also an efficient way to ensure your message resonates with your audience.
Here are three use cases for permissionless co-marketing, with examples for each:
1. Elevate your brand.
My friend Corey Haines, founder of marketing resource and community Swipe Files, is the master of permissionless co-marketing, and it’s a phrase we coined together on his podcast, Everything Is Marketing.
In his own words, Corey defines it as:
“Permissionless co-marketing is having a ‘give first’ approach to the way that you interact with people you eventually want to collaborate with in the future.”Corey Haines, Founder, Swipe Files
Here are some examples:
- Amplify others and give free advice to build relationships: Corey has regularly engaged with Rand’s content on Twitter — liking and amplifying his tweets, replying with valuable insights, etc — and even replied to one of the SparkToro beta test emails to give his recommendations on pricing structure. So when Corey launched Everything Is Marketing and invited Rand to be his first guest, it was an easy yes from Rand.
- Post a review before pitching yourself as a guest on a podcast: Rather than cold messaging Jay Clouse, host of the Creative Elements podcast, Corey wrote a positive review of the show and sent Jay a screenshot. (Of course, he also follows Jay on Twitter and regularly engages with his content.) Later, when he wrote out a thoughtful pitch to join the show, Jay remembered him and happily signed on Corey.
- Give links as an introduction to potential collaborations: For meeting scheduling tool SavvyCal, where Corey advises on marketing, shouting out and linking to brands they admire is baked into their content marketing strategy. In this blog post, Asynchronous Communication: How to Rescue Your Time and Avoid the Chaos of “Always On,” Claire Emerson wrote a detailed guide to asynchronous work, incorporating other SaaS tools and their value propositions in a way that was relevant and helpful to the reader. She mentioned several companies, and now some of them — ZipMessage, Yac, and Notion — are going to partner with SavvyCal on marketing campaigns.
The beauty of all these examples is that they require zero budget. They’re successful because of the thought and timing put into each effort.
A gentle word of caution when name-dropping: To do this right, make sure your efforts are relevant to the topic and that you don’t falsely imply a prior agreement. Linking to SaaS brands in the SavvyCal blog post works because all the organic mentions were highly relevant to asynchronous communication, and thus, served the reader.
2. Demonstrate the value of your product.
You don’t need a case study to show the value of your product or service (it’s better if you do, of course). What you need are clear examples that demonstrate your value in the most relevant context possible. And whenever you’re explaining a new concept — be it a software functionality, B2B outcome, or how a physical product works — citing a well-known product or brand helps to clearly paint the picture.
Last fall, I spoke on a media panel at Demand Curve’s Growth Summit. In preparation for this session with Shopify Lead Writer Fadeke Adegbuyi and Morning Brew Co-founder and Executive Chairman Alex Lieberman, I ran multiple SparkToro queries for Shopify’s and Morning Brew’s audiences. I took notes on the data, and even used some of the insights on Morning Brew to promote the event itself. This instance of permissionless co-marketing fueled my talking points and gave me promotional materials.
Not me doing last-minute prep for my Growth Summit session. Talking media growth with @businessbarista and @fadeke_adegbuyi.— Amanda Natividad (@amandanat) November 4, 2021
For my talking points: researching @MorningBrew‘s audience in SparkToro. Cool to see some of their top words in bios and what they talk about online. pic.twitter.com/Xsv26yUGWM
During the panel, the speakers and I discussed how we would design a media company — from pinpointing a niche, to creating content, to managing growth and distribution — I employed data from SparkToro to illustrate my ideas.
Using Morning Brew as an example, I noted that people who follow this business publication tend to self-identify as founders and alums, and frequently use web3-related hashtags like #nft, #ethereum and #defi. Then I gave an example of using SparkToro to inform content strategy: Morning Brew could consider more closely following the business of web3.
When I sat down to write this post, I wondered if their blockchain-related content was well-read by their audience. So I pinged Neal Freyman at Morning Brew and sure enough, he said that two of their 10 most trafficked articles last year were about NFTs.
3. Define yourself as a category creator. (If you are actually creating a new category!)
If your company is creating a category (think: Gong.io and AI listening for sales calls) instead of competing with direct competitors (think: Lyft vs. Uber), it’s advantageous for you to mention non-competing companies who serve your same niche. You align with familiar names, anchoring yourself within the context of your industry.
For instance, Rand creates content about how SparkToro can be used alongside other marketing software. In this 90-second video, Rand explains how to build a competitive comparison report using both SparkToro and SimilarWeb:
Step 1: Search for your company’s website in SimilarWeb. Scroll down and click on Competitors, and take note of the websites that are frequented by people who also visit your website.
Step 2: Go to SparkToro, and run searches for each of those competitors: My Audience frequently visits the website: <insert competitor URL>
Step 3: Click into the Social results and look at the social accounts that are followed by the people who go to your competitor’s website.
Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 for your own website as well.
Step 5: Then export the .CSV files of each of these Social audiences and run your own comparison reports. Look at the sources that are amplifying your competitors, where you might have overlap, and what’s missing.
I spell this out because it’s a truly useful example of permissionless co-marketing in B2B SaaS. It illustrates how you as a marketer can quickly run a competitive analysis for your own brand. It sets the stage for the context in which we, SparkToro, the category creator of audience research, play a role in the broader web analytics industry. And, when published in a high-engagement tweet, it shows how permissionless co-marketing creates the opportunity for SimilarWeb to amplify, appreciate, and reciprocate.
The Rising Tide Lifts All Ships
In permissionless co-marketing, the key performance indicators are a long game. You can track engagement metrics and look for word of mouth mentions, but it’s hard to connect the dots to business growth. But like any truly great marketing strategy, you’ll know when you’re onto something. As you amplify others, your work gets amplified more. Your profile rises in your niche. Meeting potential collaborators gets easier.
So give it a try. You just might find that the rising tide you create lifts all ships.