It's the perfect storm for affinity marketing

You offer an essential service, and if you're feeling the effects of an economic slowdown, imagine the impact to charities and non-profits. Some are borderline desperate, which means this is the best time in a decade to launch an affinity marketing program. Affinity marketing is the partnership of your company with a group sharing an such as parents with kids attending a certain school. The affinity

You offer an essential service, and if you're feeling the effects of an economic slowdown, imagine the impact to charities and non-profits. Some are borderline desperate, which means this is the best time in a decade to launch an affinity marketing program.

Affinity marketing is the partnership of your company with a group sharing an “affinity,” such as parents with kids attending a certain school. The affinity is often a charitable organization, though there are no hard and fast rules. In an affinity marketing program, the organization promotes your business to its members in return for financial support. For example, you pay $10 for every service call to a homeowners association if the HOA promotes your business to its members.

Affinity marketing is not new. There are many industries that have implemented this type of marketing program: Certain credit card companies offer credit cards where a percent of the purchases is donated to a specific college. The college promotes the credit cards in alumni magazines, Web sites, meetings and mailings. A grocery store chain donates a percentage of any customer's purchases to any charity that registers with it. Customers registered with the store present an identification card or phone number at the time the purchase is made. A pizza restaurant holds school promotions where, once a month, a portion of the evening's proceeds is given to a school when school supporters identify themselves. The school promotes the pizza night in newsletters, meetings and flyers. A home security company offers a small discount and cash contribution to a HOA when someone in the neighborhood switches home security monitoring. In return, the HOA promotes the security company to everyone in the neighborhood. An ice cream parlor donates a small percent of purchases on a particular Sunday to a church. The minister stands in front of the congregation and asks everyone to eat ice cream after church. As you can see, affinity marketing occurs every day, in every community, with every size and type of business.

Everyone wins with affinity marketing

Affinity marketing is so attractive because everyone wins. Companies that participate in affinity marketing programs attract new business and improve customer retention for a relatively low investment. Plus, beneficiary groups receive needed revenue. Moreover, the revenue comes without the need to ask for donations or conduct fundraisers. A supporter of the beneficiary group does not need to spend more than he or she is already spending. The affinity program merely requires that buyers shift from one company to another. Purchasing and behavior is not changed.

Consumers also win with affinity marketing. Depending on the promotion, the consumer may or may not receive a discount or special offer from the company. Regardless of any personal benefit, the consumer does help the beneficiary group, which is intrinsically rewarding.

It's pay as you go

Affinity marketing programs are as different from traditional charitable support programs as Internet marketing differs from traditional advertising. In traditional advertising, companies pay media and hope to generate enough sales to cover the cost of the advertising. Internet marketing changed the landscape by charging per click. Internet advertisers now pay for performance rather than pay by the half or quarter minute. Like Internet marketers, affinity marketers pay commission for sales rather than salaries. They practice “pay as you go” rather than pay and pay and pay.

Most charitable company donations involve blanket gifts, in which the charity benefits. Maybe even the company benefits. With affinity marketing programs, the beneficiary benefits whenever the company does and not otherwise. If this seems tawdry, it's not. Only companies that benefit from the community can afford to support the community.

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he wrote, “God loves a cheerful giver.” With affinity marketing, companies can be cheerful givers to the community. Giving to the community through an affinity marketing program means growth for the company, protection for the company's employees and returns for the company's investors.

How to create an affinity marketing program

Affinity marketing is simple in concept, but can be challenging to execute. Because it takes extra effort to set up, few contractors bother. It's simpler to buy bigger yellow page ads with more color in more books. Even though sticking to the same advertising is simpler, it is not nearly as beneficial.

The following are seven steps to take when creating an affinity marketing program:

  1. Select an affinity group: Groups should be large, include a high incidence of good prospects (e.g., homeowners), have members or patrons with an emotional connection to the group, and possess the ability to communicate information about the program to group members.

  2. Create a program: Programs should be simple, involving a percent donation or fixed dollar donation per use (e.g., $10 per service call) with simple tracking mechanisms.

  3. Identify the decision makers: Finding the group's decision maker is often the trickiest part. Start with individuals you know personally, even if it's not the ideal group.

  4. Approach them: The best method for approaching decision makers is to send a personal letter, followed by a phone call to suggest a one-on-one meeting to go over the program.

  5. Present the program: The presentation should review the affinity organization's background, program and characteristics for the affinity group in question, and conclude with a summary of action steps, followed by closing the sale.

  6. Execute: Create an internal term sheet to keep the different affinity programs straight, announce the program to your team, identify the collateral that must be prepared in support of the program, set dates for the completion of the collateral, assign responsibility and, last but not least, launch the program.

  7. Repeat: Once you have one successful affinity marketing program under your belt, repeat the process with other affinity groups, using the first program as a case study.

The current economy has created the perfect storm for affinity marketing. These programs can help you generate sales now. Plus, it will propel your business forward when the economy kicks back into gear.

Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com). The Service Roundtable provides contractors with a huge arsenal of sales and marketing tools, including a step-by-step guide to affinity marketing and all of the supporting literature and forms needed to launch an affinity marketing program. Contact Matt by email at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com, by mobile at 214-995-8889, or subscribe to his FREE marketing newsletter at www.ComancheMarketing.com.