Budgets are shrinking: Try partnership marketing

Posted on Written by Wanda Kenton Smith
Wanda Kenton Smith

Those of us in today’s marine industry should be analyzing every option that allows us to maximize our marketing reach at minimal cost. We are living at a time when budgets have been shrinking faster than voodoo heads, yet marketers are still expected somehow to make magic happen. And so we look into our crystal balls and try to figure out ways to creatively conjure up sales.

One strategy I have championed for more than 30 years is what some call “crossover” or “cross marketing” or “alliance marketing.” I personally prefer the term “partnership marketing” because that’s what I think it should be: a partnership. This involves a minimum of two companies or entities that serve similar demographic audiences working together to mutual benefit.

Some examples: I once partnered Regal Boats on a national level with GMC, giving away a boat/trailer package as part of an $8 million multimedia advertising promotion. I also worked with Pepsi on an Eastern Seaboard promotion that included a boat/trailer giveaway advertised prominently on 22 million cases of soda. It, too, was supported by a multimedia campaign, and select boats were showcased at Pepsi special events. We leveraged PR in our industry, with resulting consumer editorial valued at more than $100,000. Articles and photos of the Regal/Pepsi boat appeared in all of the major marine publications.

Both of these efforts were part of a brand awareness initiative in the earlier days of the company that helped to position it alongside major brands at minimal cost.

On a regional basis, I partnered a local dealer with a major grocery chain and had 15 boats positioned as part of a large in-store July 4 display. Boats were positioned in stores for three weeks and each featured promotional pricing. We tracked seven sales directly from the promotion.

My former agency represented a boat show for several years, and we created joint promotions with local companies. In one instance, we gave the Chick-fil-A franchisee in our market a free booth at the boat show, where it offered giveaways. In exchange, our show was featured in all of the local restaurants, including point-of-sale and tray liners with show discount coupons, which we were able to track.

This year, I worked with a local retailer of a marine chain that doesn’t sell boats. The dealership I represented wanted to showcase boats on the marine retailer’s site. I pitched the idea of hosting a boat show in its parking lot, with both parties advertising and marketing the event. It worked. We drove traffic to the retailer. We sold boats. The retailer saw a spike in business. We plan to repeat it next year.

More recently, I worked with a marine dealership client on an event partnership in which luxury cars — Porsche, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW — were showcased during a yacht product launch. We plan to follow up and position our products at their locations in the slower fall and winter seasons. Having these vehicles on site created excitement and helped emphasize the high-end nature of the yachts we were featuring.

We repeated this program with a second dealership location involving other auto partners and charged them a minimal participation fee to cover the costs of catering and joint advertising. In both instances, our respective goals were achieved. Products were sold by all.

I recently launched a military marketing program at four different dealership locations that included a military storage discount. Two of the dealership sites have dry storage facilities; the other two do not. So we invited a marina management company to co-promote with us. It’s a win-win proposition — we can market the promotion and, as our partner, the marina group reaps the benefits of our publicity and advertising collateral.

Right now, I’m working on a program with a restaurant to co-host an event in late fall at its facility that would involve my client’s boats, coupled with RVs, cars, trucks and motorcycles. This will be a mid-November event to help open the holiday shopping season with a “toys for big boys and girls” theme. We also will include a charitable aspect to the promotion.

The restaurant is eager to draw traffic during this slower season and likes the concept of hosting an event in its parking lot. We’ll look to co-promote it in our advertising while pulling on the combined marketing horsepower and advertising of the restaurant and all event participants.

These partnership marketing efforts were designed to achieve extended brand and product exposure while ultimately driving traffic and generating sales. Successful partnership marketing efforts allow both parties to effectively tap audiences outside their own.

We’re not the only industry facing tough times. For every marine business trying to figure out how to grow sales, there are hundreds in other fields trying to do the same thing. So why not partner?

How to choose

How do you analyze partnership potential? Based on my experiences, I’ve identified seven keys for success.

First, identify your goals. What is it you want to achieve? Equally important: How will you measure your success?

Second, while analyzing your prospective marketing partner, be certain that the partner’s audience has a demographic similar to your own. Do the people who buy your prospective partner’s products match or closely resemble your buyers? Does this company enjoy a positive reputation?

Third — and you absolutely must ask yourself this question before pitching your prospective partner — What’s in it for them? Sure, you want access to your prospect’s audience, but what’s in it for them? It cannot be a one-sided proposition or you’ll get nowhere with your pitch. What’s in it for them needs to be fully considered and fleshed out before you ever make the first call. Be prepared to clearly identify exactly how the prospect will benefit. Spell it out. Think as they think, or as you would if you were being pitched by an outside organization. Get your act together.

Fourth, what is your expectation? Be clear about what is required for participation. Explain your concept and what you seek in exchange. If there are costs involved, communicate accordingly in writing. Nothing spoils a partnership initiative faster than unexpected fees or requirements.

Fifth, enter your discussion with an open mind. Your potential partner may have ideas you haven’t even considered that could really add extra dimension and horsepower. Eagerly listen and consider new concepts.

Sixth, besides your traditional marketing and advertising efforts, be sure to consider Web-based and social media opportunities. Partnership marketing, by definition, allows each party to expand its audience. This might include reciprocal website links, a joint e-blast with shared logos, and Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

Although you may be the “smaller” partner, as we were in the case of GMC and Pepsi years ago, we had a product that created sizzle. Just imagine how such a promotion could play out on today’s popular social platforms.

Seventh, make sure the partnership delivers not only for the partners, but for the consumer base as well. The best marketing partnerships deliver a home run for all.

Once you’ve staged your marketing initiative, objectively measure your success. Be sure to follow up with your partners immediately after the event and thank them for their participation. Solicit their feedback and ideas for improvement. Some marketing partnerships will yield greater results than others, but treat each as a worthwhile learning experience and build on it for the future.

I’ve given you the fairy dust. Now go out there and create some partnership marketing magic.

Wanda Kenton Smith is an award-winning, 31-year marine industry marketing veteran based in Destin, Fla. She is president of Kenton Smith Marketing (www.kentonsmithmarketing.com) and president of Marine Marketers of America. She also edits two online sailing publications.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.

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