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Why partnership marketing is worth the effort

The subject of partnership marketing can seem a little opaque to the small business. When you’re focused growing your brand within a target market, why think about some other company’s brand? Isn’t that just a distraction? It can be, but it certainly doesn’t have to be if you approach it the right way. You need to think about mapping out an ecosystem of companies that you can partner with. Companies you can get in step with to create a marketing collaboration that delivers mutual benefit and makes sense to the customer. This last bit is crucial. Making sense can mean that there’s compatibility between what both businesses sell. Or compatibility in their culture, ethics and beliefs.

If the collaboration adds value to your customer base, beyond the core product or service you sell, this can really help provide a point of difference. So how do you get rolling with this?

Using email to reach a captive audience

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to get customers to buy. It gets the reader’s undivided attention. The beauty of using email within partnership marketing is in the numbers. It is highly measureable and you know exactly how many people you can reach. This makes setting up fair, reciprocal agreements easier. Also, when you’re stumped for something to tell your email list, having partners to talk about helps with ideas for email content.

The goal is to get your brand in front of a new audience. It needs to be done legally. Don’t think about swapping consumer email lists with partners. It’s about getting each partner to send a message to their own email list in a socially intelligent way that introduces the recipients to other partner’s brand.

Let’s break down the types of email activity you could execute:

The “look what I found” email:

Perhaps the simplest message to deliver. It involves telling the reader how you’ve recently discovered this fantastic new brand you wanted to share with them. In the same way you might tell a friend about a great new store you’ve discovered or a film you enjoyed. The value in this is in you telling the reader something that they didn’t already know about the partner’s brand. So you need to go beyond simply introducing the partner’s brand and tell a story about why the brand is interesting.

The “competition” email

This communication goes a step further and also offers the chance for the reader to experience the partner’s products/services for free if they enter and win a competition.

Here’s an example from UK furniture retailer Sofa.com, who teamed up with subscription flower delivery service Bloom & Wild as well as Roberts Radio for their partnership.

sofa com email image
sofa com email image

What I like about this example is what I don’t like about it! There are two partners featured, which dilutes the impact either partner has with Sofa.com’s email recipients. My tip: stick to one partner at a time. Keep the email message focused on a simple, single call to action and in doing so, give your partner the chance to shine.

The “special offer” email

Similar to the competition this activity involves providing the email reader with a special offer that you have secured just for them, from the partner brand. Like the competition activity before, it’s still important to communicate the value of the partner brand to the reader. Providing an offer alone won’t work nearly as well. Tell the reader why you’ve teamed up with the partner and let them in on the deal.

Here’s an example from Secretlinenstore.com who teamed up with Cheerz. They actually offered a competition and a discount.

secretlinenstore email image
secretlinenstore email image

If I were to critique this example, I’d say that the reference to the special offer should come much higher up the page. Our attention span when reading an email is dropping so the higher up the page the better, when communicating the most important messages.

The “freebie” email

This is a neat one, but can be hard to execute depending on the type of business you run. It works in two ways. The first way is simply telling the reader to visit the partner’s website or physical store or to phone them with a special code in order to enjoy a freebie. The second way involves telling the reader they will get a freebie for anyone who buys from them e.g. “place an order with us in the next 5 days and we’ll give you a free X”.

The “random act of kindness” follow up email

This is almost identical to the second freebie example, except you don’t communicate anything over email initially. For a select group of customers, you automatically give them a freebie as a random act of kindness, when they order. Then you follow up with those customers via email and ask what they thought of the freebie, to get the email recipient thinking about the partner brand and encouraging them to go on and buy or subscriber to the partner’s email newsletter.

Putting this into practice

Follow these steps and you’ll be collaborating in no time:

  1. Identify 6 businesses that offer compatible products/services to your business.
  2. Identify 6 businesses that share your business mindset, ethics and culture.
  3. Come up with two or three activities you could do with each business, which would involve emailing both your and their list of subscribers
  4. Plan your partner emails. You might send one every two months in order to blend partner messages into your own brand messages, offers etc.
  5. Be clear on your partner agreement. Fair collaboration doesn’t need to involve paying each other, but it does require being fair. So if you think you’ll be taken for a ride then walk away.
  6. Approach the partners with your ideas and see how many you can get on board.

Good luck!

photo credit: Kistelek WDSF Open 2012 - Sunday via photopin(license)