The Power of Partnerships: Productive Methods to Leveraging Like Brands

By Lanny Grossman President, EM50 Communications | January 01, 2012

As resources become scarcer for marketing departments across various industries, marketers need to start finding more creative ways to reach target customers. Businesses need to now drive sales by building brand awareness with the constraints of markedly decreased budgets. This can be achieved through strategic promotional partnerships with non-competing, complementary brands looking to reach a similar audience. The "Power of We," as Jonathan Tisch, Chairman of Loews Hotels, describes the practice, is essential to growing a business and maximizing marketing reach.

The first step in the process is to identify two things: what assets you have to leverage and what types of companies you would ideally like to work with in order to achieve your stated goals. Each party needs to bring something to the table in order for the partnership to be balanced and successful so you must determine what you have that can be of value not only to you but to somebody else in the absence of cash. It could be a database of qualified customers, hotel room nights or even meals at a restaurant. Once you identify what assets you have to work with, you then need to determine to whom it will be offered. When choosing potential promotional partners, it is important to select companies or brands that make sense; other operations that align with yours as far as target consumer but one that exists in another industry or non-competing manner to which you do business. I suggest making a 'Wish List' of potential partners by category - travel, retail, media, non-profit, credit cards, etc. - and then developing those strategic partnerships one at a time.

As mentioned above, in order for a partnership to be successful, it needs to be mutually beneficial. It is first advantageous to understand who their customers are, how their business functions and what programs have they implemented in the past to achieve similar results, if any.

Additionally, having an understanding of what your goals are, as well as the partners', is helpful to create the right program moving forward so both parties are successful. Is it simply an exercise in raising brand awareness? Are you trying to get people to attend an event? Is your potential partner trying to drive sales or raise their brand profile or both? Once all of these questions are answered you can develop the appropriate plan. Create a dialog between parties that shows the other side that you are truly interested in a positive outcome for both sides.

For example, if you operate a hotel and you are looking to raise your brand awareness and reach a new group of potential customers, first establish what your currency is going to be; which in most cases for a hotel is a number room nights. As an example, if your goal is to raise your name recognition across the country, you may partner with a national retail chain and offer them room nights as an incentive for their customers to purchase more in-store or to simply sign up online for a prize giveaway building each of your databases, which we will come to in a bit. So right away, you have created a balance between the partners. Retail partner X now has something of value to offer its customers, which in turn has the potential to build brand loyalty and/or drive sales for them (depending how the giveaway is structured). On the flip side, you get your name, logo and hopefully website in front of a plethora of new, targeted customers at a very minimal cost.

It's all about the database. One of the most successful scenarios of a marketing partnership is when two brands can come together and reach out to their respective customers with a cooperative message and/or offer. Keep this in mind as you develop any kind of online or offline business, since collecting customers' names and information will later equal a valuable currency both in your direct to consumer marketing efforts and also in your partnership possibilities. The first scenario we explored was an in-store promotional opportunity with a retail brand, but the more you can hone in on a targeted audience the better. Let's say you are a hotel chain with properties in Washington, DC and you want to increase your weekend business from within driving distance. You can look to partner with AAA(R) for example and extend a unique, exclusive offer to all AAA(R) members. AAA(R) can then communicate that information to members within a four hour drive from Washington, DC. Alternatively, you can reach out to all of your previous guests who live within driving distance as well with information on the benefits of AAA(R) including the exclusive offer you created. The benefits MUST flow in both directions.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.