How to Cross-Promote Without Selling Out

Joining marketing forces with another business can result in a sales boom. Just make sure you're compatible.
February 25, 2012

When done right, cross-promotion can result in a big marketing payday. Joining forces with another company that has a similar clientele and reputation for stellar quality is akin to having that other business personally vouch for you. And teaming up is likely to be less expensive and more efficient, and generate more exposure than solo methods of networking and advertising.

Ideally, you slash your marketing budget in half and achieve double the impact.

Examples of effective cross-promotional campaigns include printing joint promotional messages on your receipts, offering discounts to customers who buy products from you or your partner, co-producing in-store events, pooling mailing lists, or sharing ad space (or even office space).

Visa has perfected this marketing strategy. The credit card behemoth often uses television ads to partner with merchants and products that accept Visa as a preferred method of payment.

Sadly, when a cross-promotion goes awry, it is not easily forgotten. Take the Hoover free flights promotion begun in 1992, when the British division of Hoover sent free airline tickets to customers who met a certain purchase threshold. The company quickly became overwhelmed by hordes of customers demanding vacuums, after they reasonably calculated that the flights were worth more than the actual merchandise.

In 2008, NBC Universal insulted athletes worldwide by trying to plug the movie, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," in an ad for the Beijing Olympics. More recently, Time Magazine called into question its journalistic integrity when it lent its cover to promote Activision’s upcoming Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, in a mock poster targeting young males.

In any cross-promotional campaign, concerns about preserving the company’s core philosophy, brand image, and customer loyalty should be paramount. Follow these tips to avoid the above mishaps.

Choose wisely

Both companies’ reputations are riding on this, so be sure to link up with a trustworthy business that offers something your business lacks, such as different or better resources or promising new markets.

Construct a super niche market

In an effort to build broader awareness and explore creative ways to get noticed, ask yourself: “What type of client do I want to attract? Where does this person spend his or her time and money?”

After determining what percentage of your target market frequents a prospective partner’s brick-and-mortar or online storefront, dig deeper to find out where they live, what they like to eat for breakfast, etc. A new profile will emerge for this shared target market.

Limit the number of partners

When it comes to potentially diluting your brand, you can afford to be picky. Consider testing the waters with a small, short-term cross-promotion, such as by offering incentives for customers to shop at both businesses during a peak sales period.

Track success

Establish some measurement tools to gauge success. Add a special code to each coupon passed out in a partner’s store or include a line in a flyer that says, “mention that you saw this in X store, and receive a free gift.” As always, be sure that the customers referred by your partner are the customers you actually want to reach.

Margie Fishman has worked as a professional journalist for a dozen years, contributing to National Geographic, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, Atlanta Business Chronicle, and many other media outlets.

Photo credit: iStock