Banks and Insurance firms have long seen the power of marketing through affinity partners, but new entrants to this marketing world include the major hotel and car rental chains. The airlines are getting into the act, as are some brave consumer services firms such as Lifelock. It takes a bit of fearlessness to jump into this world of managing dozens, or hundreds of partners, but the boost in marketing results has been proven time and again.

Having worked with a number of clients that market through affinity partners, SIGMA has a blueprint of marketing best practices that can dramatically improve affinity marketing results. Some of these are just practical, tried and true direct marketing techniques, but often the complex world of partner marketing makes executing on the basics difficult.

  1. Target the Right Affinity Partners. The potential revenue an affinity partner can deliver may vary greatly from group to group. Therefore, marketers should manage pursuit efforts based on the estimated potential value an individual affinity might provide. By using profiling information about your current clients and looking for partners whose members match your target profile, your efforts should create more productive partnerships.
  2. Establish Segments of Potential Partners and Create Segment Benchmarks. By segmenting your partners into major categories, such as large corporations; regional associations, clubs, credit unions; colleges and university associations; and national organizations, and evaluating your results by segment, you will usually find significant differences that should focus your efforts. We have found the following data attributes to be useful in segmenting the groups: the strength or influence of the affinity relationship with its members, the size of the organization’s membership, and how well the members’ profiles match to the marketer’s ideal customers.
  3. Optimize Affinity Member Targeting. Not all affinity members have the same value; in fact, groups often only deliver a small number of high-tier prospects. In most cases, your objective should be to avoid marketing to members who are low-tier prospects, those members that are clearly unlikely to respond and to whom your communication may be seen as “junk.” Begin by developing a profile to identify who looks most like your best customer. Then stick to your guns and focus on those affinity members who match your target profile. We often develop benchmarks based on an analysis of current customers and develop a targeting model. The scoring model may be a robust predictive model or a simple points model based on varying attributes. By scoring all members and marketing to the top tier of model scores, you will optimize your marketing spend and return.
  4. Integrate Multichannel Personalized Communications. Creating the right messages that support the interests and needs of both yourself and your affinity partners need not be complicated or costly. Today, tools are available to automatically construct personalized communications that speak to each affinity member uniquely, in an informative and cost-effective manner. The key to success is to establish a simple data framework that allows you to learn from each campaign interaction. Develop a test-and-learn approach to understand the optimum combination of email and mail to maximize results and minimize costs. There are a number of messaging tools that allow you to deploy across multiple channels seamlessly.
  5. Work More Smoothly with Your Partners Using Collaboration Portals. For high-functioning affinity partnerships, we create partner collaboration portals. This portal typically supports creative reviews and approvals, repository of key files, and assets. One of its principal values is the provisioning of consistent and timely information across the partner ecosystem. The Partner Portal informs the affinity partner on campaign timelines, approvals, future campaign plans and additional services that the company provides to the affinity partner.
  6. Campaign and Offer Optimization. Fine-tuning your communications is critical to the long-term success of the affinity program. Each campaign deployment is a chance to learn how to improve response and ROI. Subtle, seemingly inconsequential changes can achieve substantial improvement. Establishing a test-and-learn approach should be a central part of your affinity program. SIGMA suggests a test matrix be established for each campaign; the test matrix clearly identifies each element being tested and is linked to the campaign and touch database. As responses and results are collected, performance can be assessed for each test cell. Meaningful results are habitually reviewed and learnings are applied to the next campaign.
  7. Business Intelligence and Insights Portal. The insights portal should provide the basic campaign performance tracking information as well as results by key marketing segments. Ideally, the insights portal also assesses campaign performance by key benchmarks that are appropriate for both your company and the affinity partners. Once you have an organization’s member data, you can append household third-party data to the member record to examine campaign performance by key demographic characteristics – and share insights easily with your partners.

Pursuing these strategies across multiple affinity partners will take planning and careful project management, but will surely boost your results over time.