Table of contents
- Four small business owners say “co-marketing” has helped them grow new audiences and boost sales.
- Co-marketing — where multiple companies market their products together — is a low-cost strategy that can be even more effective than traditional marketing.
- For both companies to benefit equally, the campaign should be authentic and not appear too promotional.
When Talia Boone launched her fresh-flower delivery service, Postal Petals, in 2020, she didn’t have a marketing budget. So to spread the word about her company, she partnered with other small businesses to “co-market.”
“Just the nature of being small, we have to be creative about the ways we introduce our products and services to new audiences,” Boone told Insider. By co-marketing, she’s also able to support other small businesses. “We start to grow natively by collaborating and working together.”
Co-marketing refers to two or more businesses “collaborating on a joint promotional campaign,” according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This might include cobranded content marketing campaigns, collaborative social media posts, event or content sponsorships, or affiliate marketing.
Boone, who’s based in Los Angeles, works with “up-and-coming small minority- and women-centered businesses” on cobranded events and social media giveaways, such as a recent wellness workshop with the nursery The Plant Chica and the Black Women’s Yoga Collective.
“It’s thinking about ways that we can collaborate with other small business owners who have similar offerings and figuring out ways to package our services or products to amplify our collective and respective messages,” she said, adding that co-marketing had helped her increase her social media following and engagement.
Co-marketing offers many benefits to small businesses
Co-marketing can help small businesses save money, stretch their marketing budgets, build a stronger brand identity, and grow customer awareness.
“We’ve found it to be valuable to us, to our retailers, and to our customers,” Charles Negaro Jr., the CEO of Chabaso Bakery, a wholesale bakery in New Haven, Connecticut, told Insider. “It’s a smart use of our time, and it works with our budget.”
Chabaso has partnered with cheese companies and olive-oil brands on in-store displays and Instagram recipe campaigns.
“Employees contribute to the co-marketing campaign with recipe development and social media posts. Then the company hires a photographer,” Negaro said. “Our marketing dollars are human-labor dollars, so we try to find creative ways to collaborate with people,” he said.
Co-marketing also enables businesses to help each other. Emily Merrell, the founder of the networking company Six Degrees Society, and Lexie Smith, the founder of the public-relations agency ThePRBar, met at a conference in 2020 and decided to collaborate on training programs for coaching businesses, which they cross-promoted on their own social media channels.
This eventually led the pair to start a company, Ready Set Coach, focused on coaching people with coaching businesses. Now the three organizations market collaboratively by amplifying one another’s messaging and hosting social media events.
Co-marketing is “one of the most important things that small businesses should be doing,” Merrell said, adding “You grow so much faster. Rising tides raise all ships.”
4 ways to make co-marketing work for your small business
1. Set goals for your co-marketing effort
“Successful co-marketing depends on businesses knowing what they want to get out of the partnership,” Boone said. For instance, businesses might center their efforts on increasing social media followers, driving sales, or reaching new customers.
“It’s important to be really thoughtful, intentional, in identifying what our ROI is, and then essentially crafting the campaign around that so that we’re able to realize those goals,” she said, referring to a return on investment. “It’s effective from a financial standpoint.”
From hosting cobranded giveaways, Postal Petals has increased newsletter sign-ups and gained customers. Besides the time and effort it takes to create campaigns, Boone said, the only costs she incurs are the items she gives away.
2. Connect with like-minded small businesses
“Alignment is crucial when choosing other small businesses to partner with,” Smith said. Businesses should co-market when they have similar audiences, coordinating products, or comparable missions.
Since their audiences overlap, Smith said working with Merrell has helped them expand their “top funnel.”
“There are now three entry points and three different categories that can funnel people into our brands,” she said, referring to their individual businesses and Ready Set Coach, the one they started together.
“Small businesses should start with their existing networks and ask for recommendations,” Boone said. She’s also reached out directly to brands that she wants to work with and had companies reach out to her with partnership proposals.
“You’re really coming to them and saying, ‘Hey, how can we explore opportunities to support each other?'” she said. Postal Petals often themes their social media collaborations and has worked with skincare and candle companies for self-care giveaways, for instance.
Boone declines co-marketing requests from other small businesses when they don’t make sense, like when a company’s products or mission don’t align with hers.
3. Make sure everyone is on board with the campaign
Small businesses should work together on creating co-marketing campaigns. Smith said it’s a good idea to put responsibilities, duties, and deliverables in writing “so there are clear expectations.”
When working with other businesses on social media marketing, Boone said everyone agrees on a timeframe. They contribute photos and product information and then create posts that align the companies’ assets and messaging.
“We typically work together to build it out,” she said. Then, the organizations approve posts before they go live. Each company posts the content on its channels.
Chabaso handles many aspects of co-marketing in-house. Negaro said his company comes up with recipes using other brands’ items, photographs them, and creates recipe cards with QR codes to place on supermarket shelves. The recipes and photos are also posted on social media.
4. Create campaigns that resonate with audiences
Smith said small businesses should focus on being authentic, offering value to audiences, and not appearing too promotional in co-marketing campaigns.
She and Merrell do this by sharing similar topics across their brands’ social media channels, but slightly tweaking the messaging to appeal to each audience.
“We’ve just learned to be flexible,” Boone said. “It can’t be all the things that work best for us. It has to be what’s best for all the brands involved.”
Successful co-marketing sometimes takes experimentation and trial and error. Still, Boone said it’s an effective way for small businesses to expand their marketing reach, even when they don’t have a big budget.
“Most small businesses just can’t afford traditional marketing,” she said. “So, we have to be very creative about growing our audiences and our networks. Collaborating with other brands is a really efficient and effective way to do it.”
Editor’s note: The original instance of this article spells co-marketing as comarketing.