According to eMarketer, in 2012, online advertising hit and surpassed the $100 billion mark. Online ads are expected to account for “one-quarter of all ad spending by 2016”. As most small business owners know, there is never enough money in the budget for advertising and advertising is expensive. Enter collaborative marketing ventures.
When companies come together with a common audience, or goal, or a common mission or interest, they can band together in any number of ways to create an influence and a presence that is greater than the sum of its parts. Internet exposure for the joint endeavor can create leverage that leads to higher Google rankings and stronger SEO for all of the companies involved. Businesses don’t even need a common audience to benefit from collaborative marketing, though it is particularly beneficial when they do. – David K. Williams, Forbes
What Is Collaborative Marketing?
Collaborative marketing is quite simply teaming up with like-minded individuals and pooling financial and time resources to create more buzz and interest than you could likely generate on your own. Some collaborative marketing ventures are a one-time event and other ventures are like-minded companies teaming up for a long period of time.
Christian Flea over at Successful Office also describes these collaborations as Strategic Alliances (SA). The concept of an SA works well for newer business owners in particular. Let's say you just started an online company selling software that helps people organize their closets. You have checked out the competition and you know what they are selling their software for and why your software not only works better but is a better value. However, you have no idea how you will reach people to actually sell this software when your advertising budget is very limited.
In an SA, you would contact several website owners that have complimentary business that are not in competition with you. Let's say you've networked locally and met a man who owns a website that sells specialty clothes hangers. You also have networked on social media and made connections with a woman who runs a housekeeping tips blog and a couple who offer seminars on getting rid of the clutter in your life.
Your next step is to contact these people and ask them if they would be willing to introduce your new software to their customers. You may even want to provide them with a letter to send out. In exchange, once your business is up and running and your newsletter is in full force, you will send out a similar letter for each of them telling your customers about their wonderful product or service.
This type of alliance works because the other company already has clients who trust it and your product compliments what they do, so the clients will be interested. It is very targeted, free advertising for your business.
My Early Experiments with Collaborative Ventures
Back in 1997, I branched out from my other writing and started a website geared for novelists called Word Museum. The site was aimed at writers who weren't New York Times bestsellers, so were on a budget, but still wanted to promote their novels. The concept of the site was to pool our financial resources and gain exposure for everyone involved in the site.
Over the years, I've branched out into collaborative marketing for other business ventures, but through each campaign or strategic alliance, I have learned new things about collaborations. Here are the main things I've learned in the last 17 years that may help you should you decide to try a marketing collaboration:
- Put the agreement in writing and be detailed. If the agreement for the collaboration is in writing, then there is no confusion about which roles each person will play in the project or what exactly any pooled resources will be used for.
- Make sure everyone gets an equal voice. If you are collaborating with more than one person to create a series of ads for an event, then make sure everyone gets equal space or exposure in the advertising.
- By the same token, make sure everyone puts in equal funds and/or time. For example, I created one collaboration for some local businesses that involved an online scavenger hunt. Because the other businesses did not have the technical savvy to put this event together, we agreed that they would put in funds for the ads but I would not since I would be devoting all the time to creating the project.
- Have a backup plan. Things will go wrong. Ads won't go up on time. Someone will back out at the last minute or be unhappy with some portion of the campaign. Have a backup plan and know which ads you'll cut if people back out and don't pay their portion, etc.
- Create landing pages. Each business should have a landing page for the ad campaign so that you can track how successful different ads are. If you plan to repeat the collaborations in the future, you'll want to tweak each campaign to get rid of ads that aren't working and add new ones that might gain you more exposure as a group.
- Continue your individual promotions. Although group collaborations and strategic alliances are a great way to reach new customers and very cost effective, you also want to continue your other marketing efforts to reach customers as an individual business. Remember, that small things that don't cost money can make a big difference, such as getting involved on Wikipedia or guest blogging.
Christina Richardson, a business marketing specialist, wrote on Marketing Donut:
Brands are beginning to think more creatively when it comes to finding new customers. There are brands out there that already have a huge number of the people you may want to reach — not competing brands of course, but ones that you can collaborate with. The likelihood is if you want to talk to their customers, they’ll probably want to speak to yours too. Marketing collaboration helps you reach new customers — whether you have a marketing budget or not.
A Guide to Your First Collaboration
That first marketing experiment where you team up with other businesses can be a challenge. However, if you follow the steps below, it will be much easier to navigate your first attempt at co-marketing.
Step 1 – Set a Goal
What do you want to accomplish from this collaboration? Is your goal to gain new customers? Sell more products? Collect names for your newsletter? Simply get your brand in front of people in a basic Rule of 7 saturation campaign?
Step 2 – Choose a Theme
Before you invite others to join you, it is important to come up with a plan. Once you have a goal in mind, you'll have a better understanding if you simply want to place ads on various websites or you want an online event, such as a blog tour. Having a plan in place makes it easier to present your proposal to a fellow business owner. Here are some ideas for marketing themes:
- Online chat event with prize giveaways. Each business owner presents a portion of the event and offers a prize. All pool funds to advertise the event as a whole on agreed upon sites/newsletters.
- Teleconference on a topic that relates to all the businesses. Current customers are invited and given the chance to invite one friend.
- Online scavenger hunt where the site visitors go to each of the sites involved, find a clue and enter to win a grand prize.
- Sending out letters for one another promoting the other businesses' services.
Step 3 – Identify Co-Marketers
Your next step is to choose the best co-marketers to work with you on this project. You want businesses that are not competition but that relate to your business. For example, if you run a wedding planning business, you might team up with a florist, a bakery and a DJ. You would not team up with another wedding planner in your area.
Step 4 – Host a Meeting
Once you identify your co-marketers, host a meeting. If everyone is local, you can meet in person and designate one person to take notes, type them up and send them to everyone. However, if your group of collaborators is global, which is more and more often the case in this global economy, then you can use a service like Free Conference Calling. Each person phones into the session at a set time and you can even record the meeting for future reference. Brainstorm, bounce around ideas, agree to terms. You could also meet in an online chat room and log the chat or chat via an e-mail loop or private message board. Whichever method you use, it is important that you have the ability to log the meeting so you can refer back to it later.
Step 5 – Write an Agreement
It is important to put everything in writing so there is no confusion later. The last thing you want to do is create animosity with other business owners who can help (or hurt) your business, especially with their own clients. Using the notes from the meeting, write up a plan and the terms. Be very specific and cover:
- Who is involved in the project
- How much time/money each business puts in
- The exact exposure each business receives
- The exact advertising/events the project will involve
- What the contingency plan is if something goes wrong
- When money is due
- When the project will be completed, even if it is an estimated date
While there are times you simply can't avoid conflict, planning ahead and putting everything in writing minimizes the chances of a misunderstanding.
Step 6 – A Successful Alliance
Your final step is to enact the terms of the alliance as outlined above. However, you also need to keep notes, get feedback from the other participants about their landing page stats and meet a final time to decide how you might do things differently on the next collaboration.
As we've talked about in our articles about Google's algorithm changes, which are ongoing, the Internet is a beast that changes on a weekly basis. The marketing venture that worked yesterday may not work today. You must be prepared to think outside the box and change your collaborations as needed to fit today's marketing models.
The Future of Marketing
Although marketing with others is important, in the future, of equal importance will be collaborating with the consumer instead of marketing “at” the consumer.
In the white paper “The Collaborative Marketing Future: How Co-Creation and Advocacy Will Drive Winning Companies”, Crowd Tap explains that services such as theirs allows companies to provide “consumers with a seat at the table with their favorite brands…Consumers will generate an endless supply of insight, ideas and content on the brands' behalf. Perhaps even more importantly, these customers will serve as a core media channel for delivering a brand's message to relevant audiences.”