May 1, 2008
It’s important to have faith that a slowdown will be short lived. As a rule, slowdowns are short lived, lasting around eight months. The most notable exception was the Great Depression, which economists now consider to be a series of economic recoveries aborted by government meddling.


It’s important to have faith that a slowdown will be short lived. As a rule, slowdowns are short lived, lasting around eight months. The most notable exception was the Great Depression, which economists now consider to be a series of economic recoveries aborted by government meddling. Economists are smarter today and less likely to follow the misguided notions of the past, even though governments are still prone to meddle with things (hey, it’s what governments do; they meddle). Still, chances are good that any slowdown will be short.

While bad economic times don’t last, many companies react like the economy will be in the tank forever. They cut way back in a slowdown, making it an opportune time for the aggressive company. The aggressive manager knows it’s easier to grab market share in a recession, so he takes share from the competition and rides the curve to new heights when things turn.

You may not be enough of a riverboat gambler to bet hard during a slowdown. Even if you were inclined, you might not have the resources squirreled away to weather much of a slowdown. Yet, there are still things you can do besides retrench. You can still grow aggressively by executing smart marketing strategies that are low cost, but effective. One of the best is “affinity marketing.”

Affinity marketing is marketing to groups of people with a common or shared interest. The marketer (i.e., you) supports the common interest when people in the group buy the marketer’s goods and services. Affinity marketing works best with non-profit organizations.

Here are five ways to practice affinity marketing:

1. Homeowners Associations

Offer to pay a homeowners association (HOA) $10 for every service call you perform within their neighborhood. Pay $10 for every service agreement purchased.

In return, the homeowners association distributes information about your company to the neighborhood and invites you to speak at the next HOA meeting.

Some HOAs are professionally managed. Some are volunteer organizations. All HOAs are looking for money, especially free money. The professional manager can present the program as proof of his worth. The volunteer, who is usually a harried homeowner, is simply grateful for a beneficial program that’s easy on him.

When I was the president of an HOA, a home security company approached us. They offered the HOA a bounty if homeowners converted from the current security company to theirs. Since a significant share of the neighborhood was under a security contract, I didn’t anticipate many conversions. To my surprise, around 10% of the homes switched to the new company when we announced the program. That meant, nearly everyone who was able to switch, did.

Why did people switch? Because people were more loyal to the HOA than their security company. Because all things being equal, they might as well give their business to a company that helped their HOA.

How do you find the HOAs? In many towns they are registered with the city. Visit the municipal website to see if you can find a listing of the presidents of the HOAs and contact information.

If the HOAs are not listed, start with Google. Most HOAs have some kind of web presence. Search for the neighborhood’s name and your town. Or, try one of the national directories of homeowners associations. You can find these from a web search.

2. Schools & PTAs

When my kids went to Garden Ridge Elementary School, they brought home coupons for a pizza delivery place every day. The coupons didn’t save money. When the coupons were redeemed with the pizza delivery company on a specific night, the pizza company made a two-dollar donation to the school’s PTA.

The same pizza company regularly mailed me coupons offering far more than a two-dollar discount, which meant the donation was less than their standard discount. Moreover, I didn’t really like this particular pizza company’s food. Yet, we ordered pizza on the designated night.

The money didn’t even go directly to the school where it might be used for something academic. Instead, it went to the PTA where it would be used on teacher appreciation gifts.

Even worse, the PTA volunteers copied the coupons at the school, took them to the classrooms, where the teachers told the kids to stuff them in the folders the kids showed their parents every night. As a taxpayer, I paid for the pizza company’s marketing of an offer that I didn’t even benefit from. And I still bought!

I bet you have too! People are plain stupid when it comes to their kids, especially when the kids are young. As a marketer, this is irresistible.

Contact an elementary school/PTA. Explain that you have an idea for a fundraiser that doesn’t require parents or kids to sell anything (people get awfully tired of fundraisers where you have to sell stuff). Create cards, flyers, or magnets for the kids to take home. If the parents present the flyer to your company for a service call, the school/PTA gets $10. If the parent buys a service agreement, the school/PTA gets $10.

Don’t stop with elementary schools. Approach the high school band director. The bands are always looking for money for band trips. Talk with the teacher in charge of theater arts. Talk with the heads of every club and athletic team.

3. Sports Shade Tent/Instant Bench

Talk with your local soccer and football associations about providing free pop-up shade tents or instant benches to sports teams. Offer to provide the tent or bench if three or more parents purchase service agreements (or some other product) from your company.

Before you deliver the tent, have your logo, phone number, and website permanently imprinted or sewn onto the tent. Near the logo, add, “Call YOUR NUMBER to find out how your team can get a free tent.”

You can order imprinted tents for as little as $184 from Promotion Peddler at…

Personally, I would recommend the better quality tent that costs $217.

Instant benches lack a visible edge you can imprint so you need to find someone who can sew a canvas or nylon flap to the seat that flips down when the bench is set up.

If you want to add to the incentive, give each parent a pop-up travel chair with your logo, unique selling proposition, and contact information imprinted on the back. I’ve found imprinted chairs from an advertising specialty company on sale for $15 per piece with a minimum order of 24 (regular price is less than $18).

The beauty of the tents and benches is the coach is pushing parents to buy from you and will then be marketing for you afterwards.

4. Team Sponsorships

You are probably approached about team sponsorships from time to time. Team sponsorships can be expensive. As a result, many small business owners only sponsor teams their kids play on or that their employees coach.

When people approach Peaden Air Conditioning in Panama City about sponsorships, Robert Wilkos has them submit the names of at least three team families who do business with Peaden. These are checked against the company’s customer database.

Word quickly got around that the way to get support from Peaden was to give them business. Robert Wilkos managed to create peer pressure to support Peaden.

5. Churches

There’s a misconception that churches will not support a business’ affinity marketing efforts. That may be true for a given church from time to time, but certainly not all of them. Churches are like other not-for-profit organizations. They always need money.

I’ve heard ministers make a pitch, just before benediction and dismissal, for everyone to go to a particular ice cream parlor because the ice cream parlor was donating a percentage of the day’s offerings to the church. I’ve seen inserts in the church bulletin promoting lunch at a certain restaurant because the restaurant was donating 15% of the cost of the meal to the church youth when you turned in the insert at the time of payment.

The best church affinity marketing program was created by the late Tom McCart. Tom was working with an air conditioning contractor who was trying to build his service agreement program. Tom came up with the idea of approaching a large church, offering to take care of the church’s heating and air conditioning equipment at cost, and offering a “Sanctuary Agreement” through the church.

The Sanctuary Agreement was the contractor’s standard service agreement, renamed for the church. For every Sanctuary Agreement sold, the air conditioning company would donate $10 to the church’s building fund in the name of the individual who invested in the agreement.

The company provided the church with the Sanctuary Agreements, but otherwise made no sales efforts. It was up to the leadership to present them to the congregation. It was up to the members of the church to complete the customer information, write a check, and mail it to the contractor.

The pastor of the church saw the Sanctuary Agreement as a win-win (and it is). He stood before the congregation and told everyone they needed to get their air conditioners serviced before the summer so they might as well get a Sanctuary Agreement and help the church out.

The number of agreements purchased through the program has grown with the telling. Whatever the number, it was significant (hundreds, if not more than a thousand). The air conditioning company had to add to its service staff just to be able to take care of everyone.

Churches will support affinity marketing. However, it may not be best to start with your own church. That’s similar to being a prophet in your own town.