It's not an offer you see every day: "Buy a House, Get a Free Electric Car." But that's exactly why Chris Schneider, owner of Honda Motorwerks, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, decided to use such an attention-grabbing sales tactic.
Schneider, 51, has been selling environmentally friendly cars for 30 years, but it hasn't been easy to persuade people to make the switch to alternative-fueled vehicles. Over the years, Schneider has tried many tactics to woo more people into buying energy-efficient cars, but it was teaming up with the real estate agent for his "free car" stunt in July that made the biggest impact.
"It certainly gained a great deal of attention. We did this on a Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon I had already received three messages from people interested in the car," he says. So far, no one has purchased the house, but foot traffic at Schneider's dealership has noticeably increased.
Schneider has learned what many business owners have: Horizontal marketing--two businesses with different products but similar clientele join marketing efforts--is a smart way to increase your customer base without increasing your marketing budget.
"Horizontal marketing is easier and cheaper than just about any other form of marketing," says Shel Horowitz, author of Principled Profit. According to Horowitz, competitors can become some of your best allies.
"In the case of horizontal marketing, a competitor might be someone who overlaps with you but doesn't duplicate your offering exactly," Horowitz says. "Both of you benefit by being able to offer a wider range of services and by pleasing clients who might otherwise have felt a need to go elsewhere."
Of course, you don't have to give away an expensive product like Schneider did to please your customers. There are many innovative ways to market your products and services by getting together with another business. Here are three more creative and cheap ways to jump-start your own horizontal marketing campaign.
Cross-endorsement. "If you're a small company without much brand identity, you can ride the coattails of a stronger brand by offering them some type of promotion for their customers, whether that be a product, coupon, etc.," says Denise Patrick, vice president of creative services for Pierpont Communications. "For example, let's say you own the local miniature golf park. Offer the big movie theater in your neighborhood a ton of 'Buy One, Get One Free' tickets. It's a free gift for the movie theater, credibility for you and access to all the teenagers looking for a fun place to take their dates."
Dr. Desiree Edlund, founder of OC Back & Body Doctors, a chiropractic office based in Irvine, California, that offers acupuncture and physical therapy, has been cross-endorsing with a neighboring gym for seven years. Edlund, 37, offers gym members discounts on services and periodically stations a representative in the gym offering free on-site body fat analyses with the results written on her business card.
"Working with the gym has worked out very, very well because the type of people who work out are people who care about their health and wellness, which is exactly the type of customers we like and who like us," Edlund says. "The discounts pay for themselves in repeat business."
Spread out the cost. Patrick encourages neighboring businesses to "think mall" by turning your businesses into a destination "buying experience."
"For example, say you're a bookstore owner located in a strip center along with a children's clothing store and a discount linens store," she says. Together, you can create 'Build a Fort' afternoon for children. The linens store provides the sheets for the forts, the children's store provides costumes and you host a reading."
Offer a full-service brand experience without increasing your overhead. What other services would your clients like to receive? Michael Hart, a small-business marketing consultant for over 20 years, helped one of his clients reach a wider range of customers through a simple horizontal marketing tactic that any business can use. Hart helped a heating and air conditioning company recruit eight other businesses that had similar clientele to be featured in a full-color, 10-page home services coupon catalog. The businesses in the catalog all offered different services--termite and pest control, lawn care, carpet cleaning--but they all marketed to the same type of customers.
"Each vendor increased sales by 20 percent or more, reduced their advertising and mailing costs, and expanded their client base eight-fold," Hart says about the catalog's success.
No matter what type of business you have, there are creative ways to increase your clientele through horizontal marketing. From product giveaways to coupons and discounts, you'll be able to stretch your marketing dollars further by forming a friendly alliance with other businesses in your area.