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Cross-Promotions: Do's and Don'ts

  |  May 5, 2010   |  Comments

Is there enough crossover among your market niches to justify cross-brand promotions? Consider these best practices.

Cross-brand promotion is one of the thorniest issues in e-mail marketing, mainly because many marketers don't see the potential traps.

When you promote your other brands to your customers the right way, you build a strong list of subscribers who are fans already of your other brands or sister companies or who found your Brand B a better fit than Brand A.

But you invite trouble when you assume that your Brand A subscribers automatically want messages about Brand B. Adding newsletters without getting explicit permission first is an opt-out strategy and forces your subscribers to say "Stop!" to you.

That's not a growth strategy. Instead, you set yourself up for more unsubscribes and spam complaints, which hurt your deliverability and can lower your overall marketing performance.

Wrong and Right Ways to Cross-Promote

I'm not saying you shouldn't cross-promote. Your current customers are your best resource, after all, since they already know you and, presumably, like the products you offer.

However, you get the best results - both in ROI (define) and deliverability - when you let your subscribers decide for themselves which e-mail messages they want to receive.

  1. Don't start sending other newsletters to your primary audience and then require them to opt out if they don't want to receive them. Suppose you market for a company with three retail divisions: a sportswear chain, a general-merchandise department store, and a hardware outlet.

    You probably have enough crossover among your market niches to justify cross-brand promotion, but not enough to start sending hardware deals to your sportswear shoppers.

    Even if your company's divisions are complementary - flowers, gifts, and specialty foods, for example - you still shouldn't assume that your flower buyers also want your fruitcakes.

  2. Don't share names between companies or divisions. When you promise subscribers that you'll never share their information with "third-party vendors," are you including your other companies, divisions, or departments in that proviso?

    This problem goes beyond permission transfer or assuming interest. What if someone on the Brand A newsletter list previously opted out of Brand B e-mail or opts out of Brand A e-mail and expects all communication to cease?

    Even scrubbing the list against Brand B's do-not-e-mail list doesn't solve the problem when people opt out of one list but continue to receive e-mail from others at the same company.

  3. Don't relegate permission explanations to the fine print in your privacy policy. Some marketers write a "gotcha" clause into their permission policies or word them vaguely and then say nothing specific on the opt-in page. Subscribers who think they're opting in to the Brand A newsletter don't realize they're actually agreeing to receive whatever the company sends.

    Legalities aside, this is underhanded and certain to backfire on you through unsubscribes, inactivity, and spam complaints.

    Be sure what the permission subscribers agree to at opt-in matches what you explain in your privacy policy, and that a reasonable person would feel they understand what messages they will receive. Any ambiguity or questions mean you haven't set proper expectations and should revise your opt-in statement.

Cross-Promote Through High Visibility

So, now that I established a strong stand against cross-promoting without permission, here's how to do it right.

  1. Attract attention with high visibility. Promote your other brands, newsletters, or message streams in all of your publications.

    Without detracting from your primary message, keep your other options in front of subscribers, either to expand their subscriptions or as alternatives:

    • List all your brand communications on your preference page or on an opt-down page when someone is considering leaving your program.
    • List related brands in each newsletter. Some newsletters list other brands or publications in tabs or a top navigation bar, while others run lists along the side or in a bottom navbar.
    • Suggest related newsletter titles in your transactional messages and on your website, in addition to your opt-in and unsubscribe pages.
  2. Include all brand logos in cross-promotional messages. This includes both the brand logo of your present newsletter as well as the logos of the newsletters you want to promote to your current subscribers.

    This increases visibility and also creates an atmosphere of credibility. If subscribers like your publications and want more of them, connecting the brands together will make them more likely to sign up.

    You can even send a sample of another newsletter to your subscribers as part of your regular messaging schedule, with these safeguards:

    • Send it under your present newsletter banner.
    • Include the new brand logos to establish the separate content.
    • Be clear that the new newsletter content is only a sample, and subscribers must sign up to receive future newsletters.
    • Link directly to the opt-in page.
  3. Use calls to action that will inspire subscribers to sign up. Be clear that subscribers must sign up to receive the newsletters. Link each brand logo or newsletter name to the preference or "About" page (which, ideally, also links to the preference page).

    Most likely, the content of each alternative newsletter will be somewhat different from your current one. The call to action should reflect this difference (for example, a bargain version of an upscale retail newsletter, or a men's version of a newsletter focused on women's interests).

One Last Thought

Go ahead and cross-promote your newsletters among your various audiences. Just be sure the registration reins remain in your subscribers' hands.

Until next time, keep on deliverin'!

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Stefan Pollard

Stefan Pollard, who started his career in online marketing in 1999, was considered a selfless mentor and champion of best practices in e-mail marketing. He held the position of senior strategic consultant at Responsys where he was responsible for developing e-mail marketing and lifecycle messaging strategies to increase clients' ROI. Before that, Stefan led the e-mail consulting program for Lyris clients, frequently speaking at industry events on best practices. Prior to that, he managed the audit process and consulted with clients to improve their e-mail delivery challenges for Habeas. As an e-mail marketer, he spent several years building and executing acquisition and retention campaigns at E-Loan and Cybergold.com. He died May 14, 2010.

In Memoriam: Stefan Pollard
E-mail marketing community mourns the loss of a marketing pro dedicated to helping his peers and clients and working to improve an industry. Here are their tributes celebrating his life.

E-mail Marketing Expert Stefan Pollard Dies
An expert in deliverability is remembered as a champion of best practices and someone who selflessly gave of his time to others.

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