Co-op marketing: Firms employ buddy system to cut costs

TRAVERSE CITY – Sometimes two is better than one. When it comes to getting the word out about your business, partnering up with another organization in your marketing efforts can be a refreshing take on traditional promotions.

Karl Bastian, partner and co-creative director for Greenlight Marketing, said he's noticed an increase in what he describes as "co-op marketing" both locally and nationally. When the partnerships create mutually beneficial relationships, they often make sense budget-wise and, furthermore, they offer more to the customer.

Northwestern Bank has been partnering with Grand Traverse Pie Co. for the last four years for its "easy switch" program targeted at getting customers of other banks to make the switch to Northwestern. The campaign touts that it's as easy as pie, and you get some, too.

"It's a gesture to the customer that says we appreciate your inconvenience and your willingness to give us a try," said Doug Zernow, Northwestern's head of marketing and communications. During the annual promotion, new Northwestern Bank customers get a gift certificate for a fresh-baked pie.

Zernow said the partnership is not only about good business, as the pie company is a customer, it also delivers the perfect message.

"Pie is a warm, old-fashioned, down-home treat," Zernow said. "It's a good fit for our community bank focused on local people. The two things fit well together."

Zernow said both organizations benefit from the high value each places on customer service and added that the reputation Grand Traverse Pie has in the community adds further leverage to the relationship.

"I feel it is successful," said Zernow of the partnership. "It's a connotation that's real positive."

Another partnership that proved beneficial was between Tamarack Lodge, a condominium resort on East Bay, and area wineries. They teamed up to create a wine weekend for potential buyers of resort property that showcased the beauty of the area along with tours and tastings of local vineyards and wines, explained Bastian. Tamarack Lodge is a client of Greenlight Marketing.

"There is a lot of natural tie-in," he said, adding that such partnerships "really help to build sales."

Bastian cautions, however, that when partnering to make sure the arrangement is building the kind of traffic that is desired and to review it on a regular basis to make sure both entities are benefiting from it.

"I believe 'the right' promotional partnerships are extremely beneficial," said Kim St. Mary, creative services director for WPBN/WTOM TV 7&4. "WPBN partners with a number of local businesses. Most of the partnerships are designed to increase the level of awareness for a specific subject matter, and the parties involved."

St. Mary cited the station's Buddy Check partnership with Munson Medical Center designed to raise the awareness level of monthly self-breast exams, adding that the station receives frequent viewer feedback about its breast health programming.

"Broadcast television is a powerful and cost-saving tool, especially for partnerships," added St. Mary.

During last fall's sports season, Zeal International, a business development and marketing firm in Traverse City, partnered with Burritt's Market in a campaign that rewarded "teaming" with Zeal with a Burritt's gift certificate for game gatherings.

Not an obvious partnership, perhaps, but one that grew out of respect for how Burritt's does business and investing in marketing strategies that look outside of the ordinary, explained Wendy Nienhouse of Zeal.

It's a marketing strategy that "may reach those who aren't necessarily going to walk through our door," she said, noting that the firm received a few calls in response to the ad.

Nienhouse said local partnerships like this also show the "attitude of a small community and recognition of other businesses."

While the partnership with Burritt's is its first, Zeal, a relative newcomer to the area's business community may be looking at more relationships in the future as it works to expand its client base.

"It has to make sense to us and provide exposure to those who may not know us," she said. "It has to be a sensible fit." BN