How to Build a Better Co-Op Program

James Morse | March 6, 2020

For brands executing local marketing, money talks. Offering marketing funds to your channel partners is a fundamental part of spreading the word about your brand’s products and services. However, building and optimizing a co-op program across regions, verticals, and sometimes continents is no easy task. As you reflect on how you can help your channel partners drive awareness and sales, ask yourself these important questions.

1. Do I Have the Time to Manage Co-Op Advertising?

It can be hard to get out of the weeds and focus on the strategy necessary for growth. Be careful not to take on more than you can handle. This seems obvious, but many channel marketers try to tackle everything at once. Unfortunately, this approach can create chaos for your partners.

If you’re confident in your current marketing, don’t be afraid to ask for the marketing dollars or resources necessary to execute an effective co-op program. On the other hand, if you’re not so confident, consider scaling back your efforts to focus on specific regions, product lines, or even marketing tactics where you see the most opportunity.

2. Are My Co-Op and MDF Guidelines Clearly Defined?

Complicated guidelines will quickly deter your channel partners from portraying your brand correctly, if at all. Your guidelines, at minimum, should include:

  • Eligibility of products and/or brands
  • Expectations and deadlines for claim (reimbursement request) submissions
  • Eligibility of media types and marketing tactics
  • Reimbursement percentages and timelines, including earned dollars and insufficient funds
  • Pre-approval and compliance recommendations
  • Proof-of-performance documentation and advertising requirements
  • Approved vendors for marketing execution (e.g. print vendors, digital agencies, etc.)
  • How to request additional funds
  • Support contact information

3. Is My Co-Op Program Easy to Use?

This question isn’t whether or not you find the program easy to use. It’s if your channel partners find it easy. Think about the following from their perspective:

Are you offering a unified co-op platform?

Eliminate confusion by keeping the technology simple. Don’t send your partners to multiple sites and vendors in order to produce one marketing tactic or campaign. By offering a one-stop shop, you empower your partners to manage co-op funds independently and within your guidelines. (As reference, check out how BrandMuscle streamlines the process by offering an integrated local marketing platform)

Do you have co-op marketing guidelines that are easy to find?

Not having program guidelines is like assembling a piece of IKEA furniture without instructions. Channel partners need (and want!) instructions in order to conduct marketing on your behalf. Having your guidelines in an easy-to-find location, typically alongside marketing collateral, will increase engagement and minimize denials.

Are you providing excellent customer service?

This service should act as an extension of your marketing team. Your channel partners should know where to go to receive strategic direction, ongoing training, and professional guidance. By providing value through great customer service, you ensure that your channel partners are generating the greatest return on your co-op investment because they will be satisfied and actively engaged in marketing your brand.

Are you reimbursing your partners quickly?

There’s nothing worse than submitting an expense report for flights and hotels only for your boss to take forever to approve it. Your channel partners feel the same way when they spend money out of pocket to advertise your brand, and you don’t reimburse them in a timely fashion. The faster you reimburse, the faster they market your brand again.

4. Am I Selling My Channel Marketing?

If you want co-op and MDF funds to be spent on local marketing, the process needs to be easier and more beneficial to local channel partners. This usually starts by opening the lines of communication.

Partners need to be informed of your co-op program. How are you getting their attention? Your co-op participants are often busy managing their entire business and depend on you for reminders and support. This communication needs to be ingrained in your email newsletters, conversations with your marketing team and channel partners, and alerts through your through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) platform. Offer continuous training to educate your partners, and don’t forget to make it exciting by including incentives to invest in the tactics you know drive the highest ROI.

Read Part 2: co-op campaign use, tools and reporting.

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