If the last recession did one good thing, it was to prompt many small business collaborations. These businesses joined forces to create more substantial and attractive offerings to rival the bigger players.
Collaboration with another business certainly brings many great benefits to a small company. These include accessing a bigger customer pot and pooling resources to secure greater buying power for marketing elements such as advertising.
It also enables small businesses to combine forces to create broader and more attractive product or service packages, offers or promotions. These help them to compete more effectively in their marketplace, but without requiring a sizeable investment in their infrastructure.
There are many great examples such as web design companies combining forces with SEO specialists, personal trainers doing promotions with independent sport shops and retailers offering joint loyalty card schemes. Sometimes a collaboration is just a one-off involvement, say around a specific event (eg a hair stylist and a beautician sharing the cost of a stand at a wedding fair), or it can be more involved with a close tie-up over time to offer a distinct suite of services, products or customer experience to the market (eg an IFA working closely with an accountancy practice).
There are different motivations for business collaboration but, essentially, each party wants to gain something positive from the experience. This doesn’t always happen. In some cases one half benefits more than the other, in others disappointing sales volumes, few new customers or deviations to the results originally envisaged is the upshot of joining forces.
When it comes to collaboration with another business for a marketing campaign or promotion, we have devised this checklist to ensure the planning around the venture produces a result that’s pleasing to all.
Considering the customer…
Have we clarified who our target market is for this project? Whether you both work in the same market, or a similar market, it is good to articulate who the target customer is for the collaboration. There may be subtle points of differences between your two customer bases and any campaign should reflect this. It may be that the collaboration brings you into a completely new market – say with a bigger spend and different priorities. In which case it’s important to be clear what the motivations are for this new customer profile and how your combined offer needs to be communicated to them.
Have we got an obvious synergy? It’s important both business offerings complement each other for this campaign and that your synergy is obvious and attractive to the target audience. If one side is perceived to be weaker, or the combined offering is hard to grasp, the collaborative promotion will be less effective.
Are we clear what our combined offer rivals? It may be that your combined offer brings you new competitors. If so it’s important to be clear what their competitive advantage and price is in comparison to your collaborative approach – as that will be what the potential customers compare you to.
Have we planned the customer experience for this collaborative offer or promotion? This means being clear about which business does what and when, to ensure customers gain a smooth and seamless experience. Be clear who ‘owns’ the customers at which point to avoid any confusion. If for whatever reason something feels disjointed or disappointing, the customer will walk away or may complain very vocally.
Have we identified how our branding will apply here? The collaboration may require a merging of the two brand identities and values; it may be that one brand is consciously selected to be more visible than the other or a hybrid/ new brand emerges for this venture. Whatever the decision, it is important that the visual representation of the brand(s) and their value(s) is thought-through to avoid any being weakened or damaged by the collaboration. Again, think of your joint approach from the point of view of the target customers. Will they be pleasantly interested in this campaign? Or will they be baffled or put off?
How we are going to make it work…
Do we both agree why we are doing this? If there are mixed or conflicting expectations on what the desired outcome of the collaboration is, then the parties may be disappointed with the outcome, or the collaboration may not work as effectively as it could. Compare also how you complement each other through your internal systems, processes and general approach. The more ‘harmony’ there is across the two businesses, the easier it will be to work together to the customers’ benefit.
Have we established communication points between ourselves? Both during the preparation phases and as the campaign rolls out, it is good to have established regular points of communication. This will enable both businesses to discuss the effects of the campaign and any issues which arise.
Does our campaign have a clear call to action and we know who is doing what in converting enquiries into sales? Clarity is essential here to avoid any duplication of effort between the two of you, or delays and missed opportunities because both of you think the other is ‘handling it’.
Are we clear what data and insight we are both capturing to evaluate the success of the campaign? The more consistent the approach to the metrics across both businesses, the easier it will be to pool the results and make realistic conclusions.
Have we established our review points? It is important to plan the points when you’ll both take stock and evaluate whether the collaboration has achieved what you set out to. Of course, you will be communicating along the way but it is also good to pencil in points when you review (as objectively as you can) how it’s going from both sides.
Collaborations, especially when it comes to devising a broader or more attractive offering or marketing promotion can really help to grow small businesses.
To ensure your collaboration is a success and serves both businesses well, invest time in planning the initiative together and have frank and open communications throughout. Also evaluate how the collaboration is likely to be viewed by the customers. Which competitors, for example, will they be likely to compare you to? Is your price, offer components and added value competitive against these?
If you are going to rival a bigger player, you need to offer something distinctive but also seamless. If the experience remains one of two mismatched halves, it’s unlikely the customers will return.
In contrast, and to end on a positive note, your business size and combined resources may in fact give you a versatility, flexibility and responsiveness that puts the bigger businesses to shame… and gets customers queuing up with you for more.
For more marketing and business development tips contact Michelle Daniels, Extended Thinking