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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Affinity marketing -- Can you find the association?

Members of the Society for Marketing Professional Services in Washington, D.C. gather in December for their annual Christmas networking event Most architectural, engineering and construction businesses in the commercial, industrial and institutional markets would benefit from SMPS membership where you can learn industry-relevant marketing approaches even as you develop relationships that create lasting and powerful business opportunities.

Real estate broker Martin Bertrand explains in a guest posting in Bruce Firestone's EQ Journal Blog how he leveraged his experience with a credit card company to develop a powerful affinity marketing relationship with his university's alumni association.

I knew I had developed the ability to establish and nurture meaningful business relationships and the skills to negotiate contracts and manage them too.

So I got in touch with my University of Ottawa Alumni Association contact (the same person I knew while I was at MBNA) to discuss how we could structure an affinity program and provide services to uOttawa Alumni. The idea was simple but had never been done before in Real Estate (at least as far as I can tell.)

After much discussion, we had an Agreement—it is a great value proposition both for students and for members of the alumni. The Plan for the Alumni was to provide a rebate on each Real Estate commission AND provide cash back when buying a property. Both are terrific incentives.

The Alumni Association would benefit as well. We developed a scholarship fund whereby we would make a donation for every successful real estate transaction by an alumnus.

For me, it provided a fantastic, and unique way to generate leads, thus enabling me to meet more potential Alumni clients and to provide services in the Real Estate industry, an industry I truly enjoy.

As it stands now, I am one of the uOttawa Alumni Association’s partners. My name and logo is right beside MBNA’s name and logo on the Partnership website! Something I am truly proud of.

Bertrand, of course, has captured one of the most effective marketing ideas anyone in the architectural, engineering, and construction business should apply. Leveraging key relationships through associations where members are likely to benefit from your service or trade takes you places much more effectively than banging on doors or sending in responses to dozens of RFPs once they go public. As well, association affinity marketing is usually inexpensive when you contribute in time, shared services, and rebates to the association only when you acquire new business from the relationship.

For our business, association relationships are our single most effective marketing methodology (outside of nurturing and encouraging repeat and referral business, of course, but even these correlate, because our clients are often really connected with their associations).

How do you determine which association with whom you should connect? Here are some ideas.

Who do you know, who respects you, now?

Clearly, Bertrand parlayed his previous relationships with the University of Ottawa association to build his marketing. You may have friends and existing connections who you can simply call to start the ball rolling.

Which associations and groups do your current clients belong to? Can you connect to their groups, with referrals from them?

By nature, your existing clients can be powerful guides. If the associations or groups are important to them, you will deepen your connections with current clients by connecting to their associations, and find like-minded colleagues.

Is there strong mutual benefit?

Here, the services and resources you can provide the association result in real value for the group. We, for example, work closely with construction and specialty trade associations whose members can benefit from advertising in our publications. This benefit often as great for the associations themselves -- support with free advertising services saves the association money, and really helps their cause.

Can you be creative?

Say, you are a general contractor and sense you can get much business with a property-owners association? Can you ally with others to produce services of value to the association and jointly prepare your program? You may build relationships and bonds on even greater and deeper levels.

Finally, here are a few words of warning about association-related marketing. This approach is rarely if ever a quick fix to your problems. You need to put immediate gratification aside, and focus on your sharing and giving, rather than on the business you can hope to build from the relationship. However, when you think longer-term, you will reap rewards that transcend your efforts, and achieve profitable, durable, results.

2 comments:

Seth Holdren said...

Excellent post Mark! You offer specific examples and real practical strategy here.

I am constantly on the lookout for great "joint venture"-type ideas, and "affinity marketing" is a great twist on that theme.

Thanks for this post, and if you come across any new stuff on affinity marketing, I will be among those who will eagerly gobble it up! ;)

Mark Buckshon said...

I suppose the easiest way to start an affinity marketing program is to work where you already have an affinity -- in other words, your associations, community groups, and the like (you can also parlay the affinites of your clients and suppliers). This is one place where cold calling (to develop the affinity relationship) will likely be less effective.