Coalition Marketing for the Common Good

Image by jdhilger

Just as individual web site owners use affiliate marketing, small and large companies and nonprofits are engaging in teams — coalition marketing — to reach common stakeholder groups. Modern Internet tools have made coalition marketing incredibly simple. It’s easy as setting up a web site and providing the common offering or cobranding.

Coalitions take several forms. Often joint marketing initiatives are fielded where both or a group of brands are co-promoted (almost like a large summer music festival with multiple headliners). For example, consider how your grocery store may be affiliating with a gas company to provide loyalty programs. Also consider how Zoetica and RAD Campaign co-market the Nonprofit 2.0 Conference.

Another form is traditional channel sales, where a brand builds a great product or service and the other markets it to its customers. Cause marketing relationships take this form, with the nonprofit offering the service and the consumer facing business selling it as part of a package to its customers. And of course, many parts of the technology industry are driven off the channel model.

In fact, if you consider the Google-Motorola acquisition this week and the issue of patents, Google acquired one of its Android coalition partners to protect itself from lawsuits. The intellectual property had become too distributed. In marketing “Droids,” Google was both using Motorola as a channel partner and co-marketing within a coalition.

Given how companies and nonprofits increasingly fill niches, and customers need more than just one product or service type, this trend of partnering will continue. There simply isn’t enough individual brand capital to grow in a desired fashion. Teaming provides the collective might needed to succeed in broad marketing initiatives. This is particularly true of smaller players competing with large established companies. So partners who naturally operate in the same space, but don’t necessarily compete head on will start gravitating towards each other naturally.

There are strengths and weakness to coalitions. Some considerations for partnering are mutual benefit to both organizations without costing or sacrificing too much capital on one side or another. When business relationships become lopsided, they tend to disintegrate or become one-off opportunities. In addition, trial deals are helpful, too, to see if the chemistry works between brands.

Obvious Bonds Are Needed

An Enemy of the People
Image by Shehal

Finally, a word on authenticity. Consumers are not stupid (see forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research article), and they know when a brand is faking it, or partners with another entity that seems out of sorts with its core mission. This is almost always true with cause marketing and the marriage between corporation and nonprofit. There needs to be obvious synergies.

But it is also true of corporate partnerships, too. The primary criticism of Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility is the unnatural tie forged with an Internet company owning a mobile phone manufacturer. The stretch is too much. Similarly, if Warner Brothers were to suddenly co-market Bugs Bunny with Playboy, there would be obvious issues in spite of the common rabbit icons.

Some marketers will tell you authenticity does not exist, that customers don’t want it. While this may be true for your worst individual personality defects, customers have expectations of behavior and delivery for a corporate brand. Note the difference. Frankly, personal identities that have evolved into real going concerns online need to adjust to this reality, too. When a brand is in place — regardless if it is named after a person — people have expectations of what the brand stands for, and the product/service that they will receive.

When you supersede those brand expectations in a partnering stretch to make money or paint a better brand image, customers balk. This rejection takes the form of less or no sales! It is important to be mindful in your marketing actions, and to be true to your brand’s core identity. That is authenticity, and practicing conscious awareness in business. Choose your partners well.


  • It’s not that authenticity doesn’t exist, it’s that authenticity is determined by the audience, not the person delivering the message.

    You said “people have expectations of what the brand stands for, and the product/service that they will receive…” Exactly. It’s about them, not us.

    • Yes and no. IF you let your community define you. I think that’s a good thing to do if you’re marketing a brand.  However, as an individual to somewhat counter your original post, Manny can be Manny (so to speak), it may not sell well, though.  This is a personal choice, a decision to sell more, or to maintain personality in spite of, simply because that’s who they are. I recommend that this is a conscious decision, though.

      Good comment, thank you.

      • Authenticity is determined by the audience, but it’s usually a function of action/inaction by the brand. I’ll take “Cognitive Dissonance for $100,” Alex.

        And, with absolutely zero clue who this Manny character is, if who he is doesn’t sell well, why not? Is he selling himself out? I think Manny would be smart to get to know the people who “get” him, find out their needs, and develop new ventures around serving those needs.

        Life is too short for hucksterism, imo. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Geoff.

        • LOL< I'd agree with that hucksterism thing.

          Manny was Manny Ramirez who no one liked, but he won a couple of awards in his years at MLB. His Red Sox team mate would simply blow him off as Manny being Manny. They needed him. His latter years were tarnished by steroids.

          To some extent I'd agree with the audience thing, but again, we've seen cases where brands transitioned these brands. IBM from mainframes to services for example. On a personal level, Madonna was known for constantly shifting images.  So I'd say there is no iron rule on this.

          • Good point. I don’t think it’s black and white either, but did think it was worth mentioning. Still, your IBM example makes me wonder, why did they shift from mainframes to services and how much of that was based on listening to their audience versus a desire to seek a new one?

            Food for thought. Thanks for clearing up the Manny Ramirez thing, sir.

      • My job is to help people sell well, hence, my position. ;)

        Otherwise, it’s a purely academic debate. Do watcha like, as they say.

  •  Great post. You are right. Social Media is not a platform to deliver sales pitch. It’s not about talking about yourself. Listening to the audience to find out their needs and then responding to them to fulfill those can result in a healthy relationship in between the business and its customers. And Social Media is the right place to practice that.

  • That’s interesting.. After reading this article I’ve started thinking about cooperating with other companies. This may be benefitial for both companies as I understood from this post. Thanks.

Comments are closed