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Co-Marketing: Twice as Nice or Double the Trouble? From co-branding to cross promotions to marketing partnerships, small businesses are reaching out to complementary businesses to split costs and increase marketing reach, frequency and effectiveness. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.

This story originally appeared on Business on Main

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Whether they reach across the globe or just down the street, co-marketing campaigns unite businesses in partnerships that, when the stars align, deliver all participants greater visibility, credibility, market reach and sales success than they could have achieved independently.

Leading most lists of co-marketing home runs is the 21-year-old Intel Inside partnership. The innovative campaign moved the microprocessor manufacturer into the top 10 list of best-known brands while simultaneously building value for thousands of licensed PC makers. But other co-marketing efforts have delivered less stellar results, usually because they involve partnerships that compete with, confuse or complicate brand images in their customers' minds.

Successful co-promotion often hinges on the issue of compatibility. So before you team up with another business to share customer lists, website links, business referrals or promotion planning, tip the balance in your favor by following these simple rules.

Form the right partnership
"The key to running a successful cross promotion is to partner with a business that targets a similar customer as you do but that offers a product or service that doesn't compete with yours,"says Carmen Sognonvi, co-owner of Urban Martial Arts in the New York City borough of Brooklyn and author of the blog "Your Guide to Local Success." "For example, if you own a ballet school you could partner with a children's hair salon. You're both targeting kids, but your service offerings are totally different."

Other examples of good synergy include a ski resort that teams with a car dealership to offer those who are test-driving four-wheel-drive vehicles the chance to win a season pass. Or a bookstore that partners with a publisher to host author readings. On a larger scale, 150 merchants in Portland, Oregon, recently banded together in a "Little Boxes" promotion that offered prizes and discounts to those who shopped small and local businesses on Black Friday. Watch the News on Main segment about "Little Boxes" for more information.

Avoid cross-promotion traps
When cross promotions combine businesses with complementary products and similar but not identical client lists, each business gets a boost -- access to an expanded target audience, an increase in esteem from associating with well-regarded business partners, shared marketing costs and the opportunity to make appealing offers that build enthusiasm, business and loyalty.

Danger arises, though, when partners have very different products, client lists, marketing approaches or reputations. To protect your business, put each cross-promotion proposal through a five-question test:

  • Do the partner businesses complement and not compete with each other?
  • Do they appeal to similar but not identical customers?
  • Will the partnership enhance the reputation of all partners?
  • Are the reputations, marketing styles and promotion goals of all partners a good match?
  • Do all partners agree to a promotion plan, a budget, a timeline and responsibilities?

Then answer one final, all-important question: Can you explain the promotion in a single sentence, and do all partners describe it in exactly the same way? If not, it's too complicated to succeed.

Ready, set, launch -- a cross promotion that works
In a cross-promotion video produced by Sognonvi, she says, "Hands-down, the easiest way to start a cross promotion is for two businesses to display each other's fliers prominently." Online, this promotional partnership can take place in the form of a link exchange.

Another easy approach is to reward customers who buy from one business with a certificate for savings at a partner business. "I know that certificates are essentially coupons," says Sognonvi, "but sometimes calling them gift certificates gives a bit of a higher-end feel."

Moving up the complexity ladder, Sognonvi recommends that cross-promotion partners invite customers to jointly sponsored events that feature product samples, guest speakers, celebrity presenters or special offerings. Or, if both marketing partners have good customer mailing lists, each can send a mailer introducing the other's business, or they can split expenses to jointly deliver a promotional offer to the combined list.

No matter how you approach co-marketing, be clear about the objective you're working to achieve, know how you'll measure success, and be certain that the incentive you're offering is sufficient to motivate your target audience. Then include and train your staff so they're enthusiastic about promoting the offer.

After that, it's a matter of staging a great co-promotion, measuring response, assessing success and fine-tuning before gearing up for your next budget-leveraging, business-building, market-expanding co-marketing success.

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and the co-author of Branding for Dummies, Selling Your Business for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

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