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Affiliation and Collaboration

A friend recently moved into a house near me. The idiot neighbour next door to him has a flag pole in the middle of his front garden from which he proudly hangs a Chelsea football flag. We joke about it (well, I do), but I bet that’s a noisy bugger on a windy day. He’s not alone, of course. At the end of my road, someone has a Liverpool flag flying above a Ukrainian flag.

Everywhere you look, you’ll see people aligning themselves with an interest group. Whether it’s a sports team, a music group, a political party, or even to announce to the world that they’ve got a “Baby On Board” on their car window.

Tribes

Of course, it’s human nature to want to belong to a group, and you can read all about Seth Godin’s overview of TRIBES in terms of marketing (including this short video).

 

We see this idea in play all around us, especially since the dawn of social media, which has allowed all sorts of groups – good and bad – to congregate worldwide. As an Arsenal fan, it’s not a nice feeling to know I have something in common with Piers Morgan, but there you go.

Human connection is essential. Whether face-to-face or through electronic devices we need connection. It’s why so many large companies spend big on creating brands.

The SME Connection Challenge

The possible issue with this idea for SMEs – to reach like-minded people – is scale. Who has the time and money to build their own “tribe”?

The reality, of course, is that you’re already doing it. Your current actions and words are delivering your calling card. You are already attracting what you put out – your like-minded tribe. If you aren’t necessarily sure what that is, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board regarding your brand. If you are attracting rubbish clients and staff, well, sorry, it’s deffo time to look in the mirror.

Marketers like to talk about brand loyalty. It’s an interesting concept for small businesses, especially in the B2B space. The clarity of your message is essential (I have spoken about this before), as are the actions you display day-to-day, such as your customer service and your business culture. But, however much you try, and however attractive you think you are, don’t expect someone to be so engaged that they’ll ever put a flag in the middle of their garden for you. That said, if you are looking to expand your customer base with like-minded people, you may already have a ready-made opportunity waiting for you.

Affiliation and Collaboration

In small business ecosystems, affiliations with like-minded businesses can be a great way to develop strong ties and mutually expand your network. It’s an extension of the tribe idea, only with organisations rather than people.

And, where it used to be that big was better and that it was weak to need anyone else to help deliver your service, it’s okay to be small these days. It’s a selling point to be openly collaborating, especially if it extends your value proposition.

Perhaps you have business partners you could be collaborating with? We all know how hard (and expensive) getting new business can be so why not work your ‘little black books’ in a collaborative (and ethical) way?

I recently took full advantage of my ‘little black book’ to connect an IFA, a law firm and a specialist legal training company to help create something mutually beneficial for each party. We all get something from the interaction, both by expanding our reach and by maximising marketing budgets.

Trust is obviously key and can make this approach work against you if you are not careful. Some parties might try too hard and too soon to get something back from the interaction (over-selling, or trying to sell before they have created a meaningful connection). Some may not try hard enough and think it’s been a waste of time (IE. you do an event or campaign and don’t even have a plan of ‘why’).

That said, if you pick the right partners, you’d be amazed at the opportunities to engage with other businesses in an ethical way to extend your reach. Here are more ideas to get you thinking:

  • End Game – Understand what it is you want to get from the whole experience first. Why do it? What are your motives, and how will you be able to measure that it was worthwhile after the event?
  • Value – It’s not just about you. Any collaboration must ultimately add value to your customer. Especially if you are potentially introducing them to someone new.
  • People Like Us – Ensure you choose companies to partner with that match your own ethics and brand values. Don’t rush into anything before doing your due diligence.
  • Agree to boundaries – If you are potentially introducing your clients to someone else, know that there is trust in place.
  • Go all in – You have a great chance to attract new customers while introducing your clients to a new company to interact with. If you’ve done your due diligence, there should be a good fit. Maximise the opportunity. Create a pipeline roadmap of how you will start to engage new contacts, and how you intend to work them over time to convert them into customers.

Summary

Small businesses focus on generating new business a lot. From your own perspective, if you work out how much lifetime value a new customer could offer, you’ll know the maths. That’s why it is so important to create the roadmap for turning a stranger into a customer. It’s not about getting someone from A-B, more likely it’s A-B-C-D-E at the very least.

By collaborating on events and campaigns with like-minded businesses you have the opportunity to start a little further down the line of trust, with leads being a little warmer through association. Respect your collaborator, respect the customer, understand the value you can offer, and, if your brand matches their aspirations you may just end up being on the same team.