Cross-promotion is a marketing strategy in which two noncompetitive but similar businesses advertise for each other. A cross-promotion campaign can be as automated or as hands-off as you and your partner deem necessary.
Thanks to the numerous marketing tools, channels and tactics available, there are virtually limitless options for cobranding or cross-marketing. For example, you can swap guest posts with other bloggers and mention each other's websites and social networks, or you can cohost a podcast with the co-founder of another company. If you don't have time for a lot of content marketing, consider setting up a "related product" suggestion on your e-commerce site linking to your partner's product.
The goal is to create a marketing campaign that ends up being a win-win for both companies. With access to a new audience, you should both be able to turn potential customers into loyal brand followers. However, like all other marketing efforts, a cross-promotion campaign needs to be set up for success and closely analyzed. To start, you have to pick the right potential partners.
Who Are Your Potential Partners?
The key to successful cross-promotion lies in finding a noncompetitive but relevant business with which to partner. Your goal is to find a business whose audience shares some characteristics with yours but hasn't yet heard about your company. The target audience should never feel like it has to decide between the two businesses. Instead, the audience will ideally make purchases from both companies because the services or products aren't exactly the same, but rather complement each other.
For example, veterinarians can set up cross-promotions with pet groomers, dog trainers and dog walkers. Veterinarians rarely offer these services themselves, but many of their clients are interested in them. In addition, a pet groomer doesn't offer veterinary care but may often get asked for vet recommendations. By partnering with complementary (but noncompetitive) pet businesses for a cross-promotion campaign, each group can expand its audience.
Home service providers also have numerous opportunities for cross-promotion. For example, roofers serve a specific niche: homeowners who need roof repair. At the same time, HVAC professionals serve homeowners who need heating, ventilation or cooling repair. Because the target audience overlaps to a degree (the common denominator being that each customer is a homeowner), they can easily create a cross-promotion campaign to build their customer base without creating a turf war.
Avoid Too Much Audience Overlap
Take care to avoid a common pitfall with cross-promotional campaigns: too much audience overlap. If the only gym in town partners with the only day spa in town, chances are they'll already share many of the same customers. The goal of cross-promoting is to attract new customers. Ideally, the people who frequent your partner's business haven't really heard of your company but will be interested once they do.
Consider doing some market research to determine if your audience already buys from your partner and vice versa. A simple survey can help you avoid assumptions and create a smart partnership.
Types of Cross-Promotion
You can also identify potential partners for promotional marketing by thinking about the types of cross-promotion you'd like to try. Digital marketing, for example, offers plenty of opportunities to partner with companies headquartered thousands of miles away. Do a quick web search for a complementary niche and see who shows up on the first page. You can bet that they get a lot of traffic from their search engine marketing efforts, and maybe you can benefit from that traffic through cross-promotion.
Social media cross-promotion is popular among influencers as a way to attract a new audience or grow their customer base. Just make sure your social media posts appear where your target audience likes to hang out. Depending on your industry, that could mean LinkedIn, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and more.
Promotional marketing can also have a physical presence. If you've ever received coupons, pamphlets or catalogs for related businesses inside a delivery box, you've experienced delivery cross-promotion. Don't forget the timeless strategy of showcasing a partner's products in your brick-and-mortar store. Prominently displaying brochures and business cards can work well too.
Approaching Business Owners About Cross-Promotion
Before you send an introductory email, make a phone call or pop in for a visit, take some time to create a mini business plan or case study. You need to convince the other business owner that partnering with you could improve his bottom line. He'll want to see some evidence of that, so let him know the size of your mailing list, how much engagement you typically get on social media, how much foot traffic you see at your store, the success of your previous marketing campaigns, etc.
Some small-business owners don't want to add anything to their plate if they don't have to, so they might be reluctant to agree to a cross-promotion if it makes them feel overwhelmed. Can you afford to create all the promotional materials for this campaign if needed? The easier you can make the process for the other business owner, the more likely he is to say yes. However, you should feel confident that your efforts will be worthwhile, so don't hesitate to ask business owners for some hard numbers, like the conversion rate of their previous newsletter campaigns.
You'll appear more professional if you prepare some visual materials. Put a packet together that clearly explains what you bring to the table, what kind of information you expect from the partnering business and how the duties will be shared. Then, treat the entire agreement like the formal business deal it is by creating and signing a contract. Don't rely on good faith.
Measuring the Results of Cross-Promotion
The ultimate goal of any promotion is to increase sales. However, simply looking at your sales numbers won't give you a good idea of whether or not the cross-promotion campaign is working. For example, it's possible that plenty of new users are visiting your website but aren't making purchases once there. This demonstrates that something about your site isn't compelling.
On the other hand, maybe most people who visit your brick-and-mortar store or call your company end up making a purchase, but the doorbell isn't tinkling and the phone isn't ringing. What is it about the promotion itself that isn't convincing people to take action? Tracking, measuring and analyzing data at every stage of a campaign gives you the opportunity to know what's working or not working and why.
If you conduct a lot of business online, be sure to use Google Analytics to its full potential, setting up goals and tracking traffic sources. Social media networks, newsletter platforms, form-fill tools and survey sites typically have their own built-in analytics to help you see whether your contacts are opening emails, clicking on links or taking any other action. You can also measure the results of a cross-promotion campaign by simply tallying how many people mention an exclusive discount at checkout that was only offered to your partner's customers. Did you lure as many new customers as you hoped?
Cathy Habas specializes in marketing, customer experiences, and behind-the-scenes management. Cathy has contributed to sites like Business and Finance, Business 2 Community, and Inside Small Business. She served as the managing editor for a small content marketing agency before continuing with her writing career.