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2 Businesses, 1 Marketing Plan

Combining your marketing with another business's can produce results greater than the sum of the parts.

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Can you imagine bringing together two different businesses for a single advertisement? Say Bud Light and GEICO create a ad together, or a local clothing retailer and a delicatessen join up to co-invest in a Yellow Pages ad. It's a strange idea, but it's not so unusual in a world in which marketing is more about adding value to customers' lives. Many businesses are discovering a way to drive efficiency, and happier customers by joining with other businesses around their common interests. This is one example of how the future of marketing will look a lot different--and a lot better--than the past.

Success with marketing increasingly does not lie in crafting new and better ways of placing advertisements in front of a customer. That traditional model is falling apart thanks to people's growing use of digital technology. In a world of growing customer control, the only thing we as businesses can do to attract people and grow sales is to create that people choose to engage with and marketing that itself improves people's lives; a concept I call "Marketing with Meaning."

When you think about how your marketing can add value, seemingly strange ideas like partnering with another suddenly make sense. Two businesses working together can create a better, combined solution or experience that benefits their joint customers and bottom lines.

For example, each year my suburban township holds a "Daddy-Daughter Dance." The dance is such a big event that it actually stretches over two nights to accommodate all of the demand. Herein lays an opportunity for relevant local businesses to band together, making the experience even greater for all and to sell heaps in the process. A children's clothing store and men's clothier could combine to host a fashion show for mothers and daughters to pick out dresses and ties.

The core idea of marketing with meaning is that businesses must take a step back and consider the higher level needs of your customers. People don't visit a restaurant for a meal--they actually want to have a lovely night out. Therefore a restaurant owner might partner with local theaters and babysitting services to help deliver on this need. People trust their accountant with their taxes, but they have higher level needs for income security and professional advice on life changes. Therefore an accountant might team up with a personal attorney to offer a seminar on retirement planning and living wills.

Before moving forward with a partnership, make sure both your target customer base and business cultures overlap. Building a strong, personal relationship with your partner business is crucial--so if you don't feel trust, back away quickly.

And don't limit yourself to other small businesses. Even large companies and brands may be willing to partner. Specifically look for those with a strong local presence and desire to bond with the community. For example, recently at my neighborhood the store allowed a personal trainer to hand out fliers offering a free class.

Whether it's a Starbucks store manager or a fellow entrepreneur at a community luncheon, it costs nothing to reach out and pitch the possibility of partnership. Just make sure you know what's in it for them, for you and for your joint customer. You just might reach a new audience, lower your marketing costs and create something that customers rave about.

Bob Gilbreath is Chief Marketing Strategist of Bridge Worldwide, a WPP digital and relationship marketing agency, and author of the new book, The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with your Customers by Marketing with Meaning. The Next Evolution of Marketing can be applied to billion-dollar brands or small businesses, to consumer marketers and B2B firms, in both highly developed markets and developing nations around the world. He blogs regularly at and can be found on at @mktwithmeaning .

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