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Marketing partnerships that every small business should build

Marketing and building partnerships for small businessPartnerships and alliances are good for business. Big business has always known this — from McDonald’s building global co-promotions with Coca-Cola and Walt Disney, to Nike building trainers that talk to your iPhone. But alliances can bring significant benefits for small firms too as Andrew Armour explains

Laptops are bundled with anti-virus software. The local gym membership gives you discount vouchers for a sports store when you join. And more simply, the pub working with the local sports clubs so that the after match drink is always held in the right bar. Partnerships. Alliances. Collaboration. Building smart relationships has always made good business sense but now it’s more important than ever and the opportunities are everywhere — if you look for and manage them properly.

So what is a marketing partner? Partnerships are unique and often high risk and high value relationships. Quite simply, they can be difficult and expensive to replicate, not least for your competitors. And because they are different from the normal customer and supplier relationships, they need boutique plans and strong relationships. You can always win new customers and find new suppliers but partners are high value — and high risk too.

Here are the marketing partnerships that every small business can look to build. Get them right and you get the same collaborative advantage over your competition that big business has used for years.

Revenue partners

These could simply be the critical A1 customers, the ones that demand specialist services and need 'business unusual' rather than 'business as usual'. They may justify a tailored package or their very own account manager. A revenue partner may also be a valuable re-seller or maybe a key sales channel (say a specialist retail chain), or a vital sponsor. If you have referrers (affiliates) then make sure you reward them for passing trade your way and look to explore how they can send even more business to your checkout.

Think: Are you really looking after your most valuable (and hard to replace) revenue streams as partners. Why don't you now build special plans for managing them better?

Product partners

Essential suppliers are also, like vital revenue partners, difficult to replace. It could be a key product that you distribute exclusively or a vital component — such as technology or packaging. If it is truly critical then you need specialist relationship management. Consider building a Service Level Agreement (SLA) scheduling stock calls, regular monthly reports and quarterly reviews. Alternatively, consider bundling, a tactic that has been at the heart of the PC and software business marketing, adding something that fits perfectly with your product to add value to your end consumer.

Think: Can you build joint plans and encourage a better flow of communication with your key suppliers — to make sure you avoid nasty stock surprises and maximise new opportunities before your competition does?

Alliances

These allow partners to collaborate and exchange value, building and sharing plenty of smart marketing benefits. A group of retailers who get together to build a late night Christmas shopping promotion is an alliance. It needs collaboration, it's simple and effective. Who is a good fit with your business? What service is the next along from yours that is a natural add on?   This can be as simple as a hairdressers knowing local wedding planners and nail bars and building a joint offer for brides.

Think: Who are the local market or service allies that you can build a smart relationship with?

Promotional and PR partnerships

These enable you to leverage additional value by tailoring your marketing activities to fit with those from another business. Remember: cash is not the only currency. Your marketing value could be free product, access to your database or your event. At best, you can get a lot from doing something very simple, such as swapping coupons or allowing some links from your website to your partners. And remember, offering your product or service for free is an easy way to leverage and negotiate publicity in local media promotions and at local events. Smart brands don't pay cash — they offer promotional support or product in return for the same type of package that you would normally pay for.

Think: What can you offer and leverage with a promotional partner?

Finally, remember that these tactics are used by big brands because they are cost effective, add value and they work. Isn't it time you added them to your marketing mix too?

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media partnerships specialist and founder of Benchstone Marketing.

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