Cross-Promotions Generate Goodwill, Sales & More

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Cross-promotions are great vehicles for reaching new customers and spreading the Buy Local message and goodwill, both with fellow merchants and customers. And costs are usually shared, if not minimal or nonexistent. BTW spoke with Susan Weis of breathe books; Cindy Dach of Changing Hands Bookstore; Heather Duncan of Tattered Cover Book Store; and Kerry Slattery of Skylight Books about one of the most cost-effective ways to promote their indie businesses.

Why and how

One of the biggest advantages of cross-promotions is that they are no-risk and can be tailored for just about any combination of businesses. At Baltimore's breathe books, owner Susan Weis and two neighboring merchants -- a wine shop and a BYOB restaurant -- needed to let their customers know they were open on Monday nights, when many area businesses were closed. "So we did a coupon that was good on Monday only," said Weiss. It gave customers 10 percent off a bottle of wine, a book, and dinner. "My store is between the wine shop and the restaurant, so we thought while they were on their way to get a bottle of wine they could pick up a book!"

While only a few coupons have been redeemed, "I think we got out the word that we are all open so that was good!" she said, adding, "It's more PR than anything else."

breathe books also barters with other local merchants. "For our books and bagels book club, we thank the cafe across the street for providing coffee and bagels, and he sells them to me at cost, then takes payment in books!" Weis said. "It's great."

Changing Hands in Tempe, Arizona, cross-promotes with nonprofits, schools, performing arts venues, museums, and concert venues, as well as cultural festivals, including craft fairs and arts events.

For a recent conference on innovative ideas sponsored by the nonprofit TED, the Changing Hands logo was projected on the conference video screen and a store ad appeared in the event program in exchange for a solo e-mail blast in the Changing Hands "recommends" template and a listing in its events calendar in print and on the web, said Dach. Event tickets were used as giveaways to the store's Facebook fans.

In another, simpler cross-promotion, Changing Hands offered attendees of a teacher education conference a 15 percent-off coupon in swag bags in exchange for providing information about their educational programs and newsletters.

Denver's Tattered Cover generally works with its locally owned business neighbors Twist & Shout Records, Encore Restaurant, and others, said Heather Duncan.

The bookstore has also teamed up with area nonprofits, including a local animal shelter. "We asked the Denver Dumb Friends League to help us promote an author event featuring veterinarian Nick Trout. They helped us promote the event to their supporters, and in return, we did a "Double Up Donation Day" as part of our Tattered Cover Gives Back program (an extra one percent of sales was donated to the DDFL on purchases at the event)."

Other Tattered Cover cross-promotions have included a page of book reviews in Twist & Shout's printed 'zine; a Double Up Donation Day on Earth Day in conjunction with the Colorado Environmental Coalition; co-sponsorship of a June book drive with Colorado State Bank and Trust in support of Reach Out and Read Colorado; and hosting previews of upcoming shows at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

At Skylight Books in Los Angeles, "one thing we're doing currently, said Kerry Slattery, "is working with a small theater next door." Theatergoers get a Skylight coupon for $5 off purchases of $25 or more, and $25 off $100 or more. Bookstore customers get a twofer coupon for theater tickets with any purchase. "We just started the promotion, and we've already seen some coupons turned in," she said.

But Skylight's cross-promotions aren't always customer-focused. The store has worked with a local museum for the benefit of their staff members. The Autry Museum of Western Heritage issued one-year memberships to all Skylight staffers, and the museum employees get 10 percent off at Skylight Books.

Making connections

To coordinate the cross-promotions at breathe books, Weis said, "I've approached businesses -- and we all see each other all the time. So it's been pretty casual, like, 'Hey, do you want to do a coupon together?'"

At Changing Hands, they're often approached to sponsor events, said Dach. "In almost every case, the organization really wants our solo e-mail blast offer." The store recently started selling solo e-mail blasts to concert and performance venues, and gives a discount to partners in exchange for promotion of the bookstore.

"I generally work with organizations and businesses that I have long-term relationships and regular conversations with," Duncan explained. "When that is not the case, it has worked both ways: I've been approached by someone with an idea for a cross-promotion, or I've searched out a good partner for something I've wanted to do. The majority of our cross-promotions are non-book specific. They are often events, or special sales, and rarely use coupons. We prefer to offer incentives to shop that aren't discounts whenever we can.

Developing cross-promotional marketing campaigns "sounds like one of those things you've got to sit down and think about," said Slattery. "But often the best things happen organically. We just talk to each other and ask, 'What can we do together?' and 'How can we support each other?'"

Is it worth the effort?

The bottom line at breathe books is that running cross-promotions is "more about exposure and marketing than an immediate return on the dollar," said Weis. "It shows how cohesive we are here in Hampden and how well we all work together. I think people like the feeling of local businesses pulling together to make them an offer even if they don't take you up on it."

Dach considers Changing Hands' cross-promotions a great success. "We get to attach our name to community-minded organizations," she said. "We also secure tickets to use in giveaways to our customers and as perks for our staff. We have discovered that new people hear about us from these events. It's a very inexpensive way to get your name attached to a great program or event, without spending any payroll. When our logo is projected on the stage of a cultural event it brands our name to the attendees."

The primary benefits of running cross-promotions are driving traffic to the bookstore, as well as building awareness of Tattered Cover and its community efforts, said Duncan. "The advantages are in being able to spread the word to possible 'non-customers' through the customers or supporters of other organizations. Also, any expenses are generally shared by both organizations."

"One obvious advantage is all the good will generated among merchants," said Slattery. "And customers appreciate knowing about a new business in the community and finding out that we support other local businesses." --Karen Schechner

Tips for cross-promotions:

  • Pair with a business that complements your bookstore
  • Choose a partner that is located relatively close to your store and that will be engaged in the effort as much as you are
  • Give yourself enough lead-time to fully develop details of the promotion
  • Become familiar with the goods and services at your partner store
  • Provide staff training regarding all aspects of the promotion
  • Consider a value-added offer instead of a discount
  • Post signage throughout the store to boost awareness of the promotion
  • Simplify flier designs