Blame it on the Jubilee, the Olympics, the recession or even on the boogie but more so than usual, I have gained a heightened sense of community spirit… or perhaps awareness.
And it’s not just restricted to my personal life. For those that don’t know, we are in the business of partnership marketing (a sector that could also be likened to hostage negotiation) and it’s becoming a common request from clients to source local partnerships for promotional activity, to drill down to high street level and find independent businesses willing to offer compelling discounts that can be passed on to their customers.
But there are very high expectations from our clients (I won’t name names) and I do rather feel a polite reality check might be in order. So here I am, flying the flag of independent businesses everywhere…after all, I work for one myself.
Local promotional partnerships should be about enabling the promoting brand to offer something that’s relevant, understanding your audience, tapping into their community and finding deals at the local butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. A brand that’s dug a little deeper for their customers creates a warm and fluffy feeling – perhaps they know you after all. Seek out the everyday deals that people want and will find useful, whilst remembering the dreaded R word hangs ominously above all our heads.
Because there are so many deals popping up all over the place, it’s a competitive environment. As someone who has to negotiate such deals, I’ve seen the industry become more challenging and the demands from clients are laden with words like ‘exclusive’, ‘free’ and ‘no exclusions please’. And of course as the promoting brand that’s what you want. After all, that’s what will set you apart. I get it.
But what of the retailers that are targeted to come up with these deals and have to receive calls from the likes of yours truly asking for exclusive deals? The benefits of partnering up with a better known brand are obvious: new customers, increased footfall, free brand exposure, additional spend and standing out against your local competitor. All in exchange for an exclusive offer that must meet XYZ criteria.
The (somewhat obvious) word on the high street is: it’s tough out there for small businesses. In many cases the margins are simply not there and a mere 10% discount will mean they are making a loss. The XYZ criteria are not realistic. Do they really want to be marketing to their existing client base – a classic danger of customer cannibalisation? A little loyalty goes a long way, of course, but sustaining long-term offers can be difficult for some.
It has been argued that a good strategy to get the best deals would be to hit the streets and locate the businesses that are quiet at key times; but you have to then question why they are quiet in the first place. You don’t want to compromise the quality of a campaign by offering deals at restaurants with poor hygiene and anaemic chips – cue risk department panic.
It’s perhaps at this point that my sense of community spirit kicks in and tells me we should be supporting all our local businesses (but those anaemic chips are still unacceptable!).
I’m not saying that localised promotional activity is not achievable, because it’s obvious it is. But it can come with some compromise. Asking the right partner the right questions leads to a unique offer with real appeal. Everyone wants a freebie and there are ways to get it. The secret is a (preferably low) initial spend. My favourite example of this is spending £2.50 to get a free loaf of bread. Strong enough to drive footfall, low spend, desirable freebie that customers will appreciate. It works.
True partnership marketing relies on a balanced relationship. It requires the promoting brand to consider their partner’s strategy and not bully them into submission to get the best deal. In some cases there will need to be some offer exclusions – you don’t want them to get out of hand of course – but you should want the businesses to do well out of a campaign. It’s about offering the retailer something compelling that is sympathetic to their business needs to drive custom when it’s needed most.
There are passionate independent local business people out there who are set apart from the rest, ready to give a first class, personal service which is sometimes missing with the bigger multiples. In a time when customers and businesses alike are suffering, it’s time to celebrate the independent high street. With a little compromise localised partnership marketing can bring so much to all involved and there are some great offers out there waiting to be discovered.