Alliance marketing: The million dollar strategy that costs almost nothing

Are you familiar with alliance marketing? Thousands of smart and wildly successful companies do it, and it’s a strategy that costs almost nothing but can increase your revenue dramatically.

My pilgrimage to Costco last weekend reminded me how powerful (and seamless) this strategy can be. If you’ve been to your local Costco lately, you’ve likely seen signs plastered all over encouraging you to pick up an American Express card. In fact, you get quite a deal if you do. But the pièce de résistance really happens when you reach the cashier.

“We take only American Express credit cards,” the cashier explained to me after I dutifully handed over a working piece of plastic. They’ll gladly take your cash or check, but if you want to use plastic, it has to be AmX. So, digging into my wallet, out came big blue. Not just any American Express card, but the one giving me cash back at Costco. They’d hooked me a long time ago.

So, what does this have to do with alliance marketing and, more importantly, what does it have to do with you? Alliance marketing takes you where you can’t go alone – or it at least makes it a lot easier to get there. It’s a strategy that works well in businesses of all sizes and is especially important for small companies wanting to get bigger without spending a fortune on marketing.

The following steps will help you implement your own alliance marketing strategy quickly and easily:

  1. Identify companies having a vested interest in the same audience you are targeting. However, I’m talking about companies selling or promoting a different product or service than you offer. The common denominator is audience, not widget. Show a potential alliance partner that you can help them tap into their target audience and you’re 90 percent closer to having them on your team. Just be sure they can do the same thing for you!
  2. Look for companies that have access to your target audience. Think about Costco and American Express. Their products are completely different, but they both covet the same audience. Most of all, each has a different access to the mutually desired customer base. This is a really important point. You want to identify companies that already have a system in place to help you get where you want to go faster.
  3. If you don’t already have an impressive access system in place, don’t fret. Just make sure your partner does. “But,” you may ask, “If I don’t have a sophisticated system in place to reach my audience, or if my current customer base is very small, why would any company want to partner with me?” The answer is simple. Your mantra has become “win-win.” Think about how what you’re doing can help another business achieve its goals of reaching their audience better, faster, deeper. Maybe what you offer can add value to your potential alliance partner’s widgets or services. After all, today it’s not enough to just give value. Successful companies are perceived as giving added value. You may well be that added value.

One of my favorite “added value” examples was the alliance of kings – Burger and Lion, that is. By joining forces, Disney and Burger King enjoyed a run of the most spectacularly profitable years in their history. In essence, Burger King began packing its “Kids Meals” with toy characters from Disney’s “The Lion King.” With their parents in tow, literally millions of kids made Burger King’s cash registers go off the charts and Disney’s stock reached new heights.

The morals of the alliance marketing story are very clear. They are also very powerful. In today’s fiercely competitive environment, it’s simply foolish to go it alone. By identifying and working closely with the right alliance partners, you harness energies not possible to create when working alone and in a vacuum. So, who are your alliance partners going to be?

Dr. Lynda Falkenstein is a business consultant and author of NICHECRAFT: Using Your Specialness to Focus Your Business, Corner Your Market, and Make Customers Seek You Out. To contact her with questions or comments, email or call 503.781.0966. Please note that the Vancouver Business Journal and Dr. Niche reserve the right to publish your letter or an edited version in all print and electronic media.

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