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Forget Competition it's Time for Co-opetition

Forget Competition it's Time for Co-opetition

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: March 24, 2010 Updated: February 1, 2011

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, but whether your target customers are consumers buying gifts for Grandma or businesses shopping for services, everyone's in a frugal mind-set. Given that most consumers are still holding tight to their purse strings, business owners might be forgiven for thinking competitively. It's easy to feel like you have to fight other businesses tooth and nail for every client, and every dollar, you can get.

But in truth, that Scrooge-like attitude has never been more misplaced. Today's marketing buzzword isn't competition-it's 'co-opetition.'

What is co-opetition? It's the gentle art of cooperating with companies that might traditionally be considered your competition. Co-opetition means teaming up with complementary businesses to market your companies together. Done right, it can boost business for both of you.

Since this concept may be new to you, here are some examples of what I mean and some ideas for ways you can introduce co-opetition to your marketing mix.

Choose the right partners. Co-opetition works best for businesses that are not head-to-head competitors, but are complementary or somehow related. For example, if you own a children's clothing boutique, you probably wouldn't want to try this tactic with another children's clothing store. Instead, you could partner with a children's toy store, children's book store, children's hair salon or 'mommy and me' gym. Yes, all of these businesses are competitive in one way-you're all competing for the parent's discretionary dollar-but they're complementary in others. Essentially, just because Mom is buying toys this holiday season, doesn't mean she won't also be spending on new holiday outfits.

Think local. Co-opetition is typically used by brick-and-mortar businesses in the same vicinity. That's not to say it can't work online for e-commerce companies, but there's something inherently personal or 'face-to-face' about this mode of marketing. That's part of what makes it so effective.

A good place to get started with co-opetition is at your Chamber of Commerce or local business association. Bring up the concept to the other members and see what they think. Most people are willing to try just about any new marketing method these days, so chances are you'll get several willing participants.

Throw an event. Many small businesses implement co-opetition by hosting special events. For instance, every summer, all the restaurants on one street in my neighborhood host a monthly 'Stroll and Savor' night where each eatery sells samples of their cuisine outdoors for a dollar or two. At the same time, the retailers on the street have 'Sidewalk Sales' with discounted merchandise on racks or tables outside. In another part of town, local businesses host a 'First Friday' event. On the first Friday evening of every month, local musicians play outside businesses up and down the street. At other locations, local artists display their wares. This event attracts lots of hip, young parents who can't get out and socialize the way they used to, but enjoy pushing the stroller while looking at art and listening to live music.

A group event like this is a great way to attract new customers who might not otherwise try your business. This can work in a large area (an entire outdoor shopping center) or on a smaller scale (a strip center). The more businesses you get involved, the more customers the event can attract. Be sure to get any necessary permits ahead of time.

Start small. If the idea of organizing a big event sounds like a bit much, don't worry. Co-opetition can start as small as you want. For instance, if you own a pet products store, you could let a local dog groomer or dog-walker leave their brochures at your checkout counter. In return, ask them to give their customers coupons good for a discount at your store. The tactic can work for service businesses, too; for example, an attorney whose clients include lots of small businesses could have brochures from a tax preparation firm in his office. Or a fitness trainer might give clients discount coupons from a nutritionist, masseuse or physical therapist. You get the idea.

As I mentioned, co-opetition would work for e-commerce companies as well. You could include ad fliers or coupons from your partner business in the box when you ship a customer's order, or include links to their sites on your Web site.

The key to making co-opetition work is to be sure both parties do their share-in other words, if you're spreading someone else's marketing message to your customers, you need to be sure the other business is spreading yours, as well.

By exposing your brand to a whole bunch of new customers, co-opetition multiplies your marketing reach. And because prospects are getting information about your business from a trusted source (the other business that they already patronize), they're more likely to buy from you.

Get creative. Think creatively about what businesses might be good co-opetition partners for you-and what strategies you could use. Some other ideas:

  • If you send out an e-mail newsletter, give your partner company some space in it and vice versa.
  • Pitch yourself and your partner company/s to local radio shows. For instance, the fitness trainer, nutritionist, etc. I mentioned above could discuss staying fit during the holidays.
  • Trade e-mail lists or customer lists. Set ground rules beforehand for how you will use these lists and make sure you aren't breaking any CAN-SPAM laws.
  • Host contests with your partner companies.
  • Join with your partner companies in sponsoring or volunteering at local charities.

Take it to the next level. If your local businesses really get into the idea of co-opetition, you may want to consider starting a buy-local campaign. A marketing campaign that encourages shoppers to buy local helps not only your business, but the community's tax base and local employment. One study showed that even during recessions, businesses in areas with buy-local campaigns had smaller sales declines than businesses in areas without those campaigns.

A good buy-local campaign educates consumers about the value of independent businesses; promotes shopping at these businesses through ads, coupons, shop-local weeks and similar marketing tools; and promotes local independent businesses in the media. The American Independent Business Alliance and the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies are two groups that can help you start a buy-local group. Their Web sites offer lots of advice on getting members, promoting the concept to consumers and market your buy-local campaign.

Whether your co-opetition campaign starts small or big, it's sure to help your business grow.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva on Twitter @Rieva. Visit SmallBizDaily.com to read more of Rieva's insights on small business and to buy her newest book, Marketing 101: Quick Tips for Marketing Your Business.

Message Edited by Rieva on 11-19-2009 04:02 PM

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades