Brand Building

Strong Partnerships Can Drive Sales

by Susan Zweibaum on January 11, 2012

Yesterday, while reading my New York Times I came across an offer that just blew my socks off and made me wonder if it wasn’t almost too extreme.  However, upon further thought I realized that this promotion was perfect for a few reasons that I will get to shortly.

So, what is this amazing offer?  How about a free Nook?  Seriously.  It was a full-page ad offering a free Nook Simple Touch (the basic, not color) with a full-year Nook subscription to the New York Times.   The offer also showed up in an email offer from Barnes & Noble.   And for those wanting the more tablet style product, you could also get $99 off a Nook Color instead.   What made this offer so interesting was the partnership between the New York Times and Barnes & Noble and the way that the New York Times was leveraging their digital assets, something that has been key to their recent success in the marketplace. 

Truthfully, this isn’t anything new.  Think of getting discounted or free phones when you sign up for mobile phone service.  However, this is the first time an e-reader and a digital content provider have linked together to create such an offer.

Let’s take a closer look at the offer and why it makes sense from both the Barnes & Noble and the New York Times standpoints.

ROI

This is the key to the whole story, and while I still want to talk about the marketing side, none of that matters if the ROI isn’t there.  A Nook Simple Touch costs $99.  A one-year Nook subscription to the NY Times is $239.88.  It is likely that the cost of the Nook is being funded by the New York Times and likely at a discounted rate, but I don’t know this for a fact.  I can also tell you that People Magazine is doing a similar offer, but their subscription is only $119.88 and I read that People and B&N are sharing the cost.  This makes sense as the ROI wouldn’t be there for People if it hadn’t shared the expense of the e-readers.   No matter how you slice it, this becomes a win-win for both parties, although an expensive initial outlay for the New York Times.  While not knowing the costs associated with the digital subscription, I am venturing that the New York Times is still making money.  Additionally, most people will likely renew their subscription once they have it, leading to a more long-term proposition and repeat sales (the key to any promotion).  From the B&N standpoint, a person who has an e-reader is going to continue to buy books and other subscriptions, which in turn drives their revenue up as well.

 The Buzz

Somewhat surprisingly, B&N beat Amazon to this kind of offer.  The reason I see this as surprising is that Amazon has historically been the innovator in this market and has the greater marketshare.  How likely do you think Amazon will construct a copycat deal?  Fairly likely, especially if they see it working in terms of an increase in Nook sales.  They will do anything to make sure they continue to be the leader.  Nook is behind in overall e-reader sales, but the kind of buzz this offer generates can only help them grow sales and market share.  Combine that with the good reviews the Nook has gotten and you have a winning formula.   Let me state, however, that there are some blog posts and news items taking a slightly cynical approach to the offer.  For instance, they suggest you would only take advantage of this offer if you were already thinking about a New York Times e-reader subscription.  Others have pointed to the fact that B&N has hinted of spinning off the Nook to a separate group citing lower than expected sales.  They all may have a point, but the partnership is the key here and it is a good strategy for both to attempt this kind of promotion.  Brands in second place often need to step out of the box to generate attention and sales when they are competing with such a behemoth as Amazon.

Let’s not forget the buzz this offer is creating for the New York TimesThis offer is another example of how they are utilizing their digital content to reach more customers and in a different way.  What’s more, there are a myriad number of stories on the Net talking about this offer.  It is all positive buzz for B&N and the New York Times.

 Partnership

Good partnerships drive good promotions.  Why do you think companies sponsor events and teams and have endorsement deals?  In this case, the New York Times is looking to grow their digital subscribership and need a partner to deliver it.  You can get the NYTimes.com on any computer, but an e-reader is different; you need a subscription.  Giving the consumer the reader if they get a subscription is a great way to drive subscriptions.  Sort of like when razor companies give away the razor handle in order to drive razor blade sales (which is where they make all their money anyway).    

Only time will tell if this is successful and if Amazon will follow suit.  In the meantime, I hope the winning formula proves itself to be a way to drive long-term sales for both B&N and the New York Times.

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 This is Part Two of a two-part post.

Last week I issued the first half of this post where I spoke to how best to position your property with a potential sponsor and how to identify your prospective sponsor targets.  This second part addresses the actual sponsorship presentation and ways to make your presentation and initial introduction to the potential sponsor more productive.   If you haven’t read Part 1 or would like a refresher click here.

Take a Multipronged Approach to Selling

The obvious targets for selling properties are the brands themselves, but there are many other important influencers that you should consider talking to.  It all comes down to who is helping the brand teams make their plans.  These other constituents include the promotions or integrated marketing team and the brand’s promotion agency.  More often than not, the brand team provides the integrated marketing agency team with the creative brief to develop the big idea and execution elements.  If they have fallen in love with a sponsorship opportunity for some reason, they will then direct the agency towards that opportunity.  However, the more likely scenario is for the agency to present a sponsorship as part of a fully integrated plan.  If you haven’t spoken to the agency, then you’ll never be included.  Additionally, the alternative scenario is that you contact the brand manager and he passes you over to the internal promotions manager or the agency to filter and evaluate the opportunity.  In this case, be prepared to follow up with additional phone calls, especially with the agency as you are not their priority.  Persistence does pay off.

 Generic Presentations Are a Turnoff

This has to be one of my biggest pet peeves, second only to receiving sponsorship packages that have no relevance to my target audience.  As I mentioned previously, you must do your research and have an awareness of what the brand is doing in the marketplace.  Your sponsorship presentation should reflect that research.  Why is this sponsorship a good match for my target audience?  How could we activate it at retail?  Did you look at the website, and if so, how could it be integrated into the website activity?  Similar to resumes, you need something that is going to get my attention and help me connect how the property is going to resonate with my audience and help me sell product.  I have had people representing properties tell me they don’t want to waste their time doing this until they know the brand might be interested.  I totally get that, but a little personalization goes a long way to a brand considering your property.  Don’t forget to use my logo and spell my brand name correctly.   Managers don’t want to receive a proposal as part of a mass mailing.  It says you aren’t doing your homework and that just doesn’t sit right when most of the time the brand manager is spending a lot of money on the potential sponsorship.

 Don’t Ask What Our Plans Are or Who Our Target Audience Is

The phone conversation goes something like this:  “Hi, I am Joe Brown and I represent the “fill in the blank” tour.  Do you have a few minutes to discuss this opportunity?  So, could you tell me who you are targeting and the kinds of plans you have for this year?”  The answer will be that we don’t share our plans unless you are a partner.  I might tell them our target audience, but he/she has already lost me.  It’s a perfect example of a property not doing its research and being a weak salesperson.  One could argue that the salesperson is looking to engage me in conversation, but with limited time to talk, the conversation has to be a productive one, and this type of conversation will be more productive for the salesperson than me.

A Professional-looking Proposal is Important

You would think this is a no-brainer, but it isn’t.  For big properties and the agencies who represent them, this is second nature.  Then there are the others.  I have received two-page printed documents selling a car-racing team.  I have received emails with basic attachments for a beach volleyball tournament and a presentation that was nothing but a bunch of photos and some basic descriptions, but very little that told me what the benefits of the sponsorship were.  In truth, many of these small properties would benefit from a seasoned marketer to provide them with some guidance.  At times, I have provided them with feedback when they actually got me on the phone. Most of the time, these poor proposals end up in the circular file.  These smaller guys are really appreciative of the feedback as I get the feeling they are not experienced in getting national sponsors.

 No matter what you are selling, it takes perseverance and professionalism.  Selling sponsorships isn’t any different.  The reality is that those selling these properties have rarely, if ever, been on the other side of the desk and don’t have a real idea of what motivates the client.  Hopefully, this post provides some much needed insights that will result in a higher success rate.  Don’t throw the spaghetti at the wall because it really won’t stick.  Use a methodical and researched approach, and you will have a higher success rate with the results reflecting the effort exerted for each sponsor target.

If you are a property looking for some help or guidance, please do not hesitate to contact me at szweibaum@marketing-smith.com.

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