How to Make Your Co-Op Guidelines Easier to Increase Participation

BrandMuscle | November 26, 2018

Quantum physics is complicated. Brain surgery is complicated. Sometimes, even not burning your Monday night dinner can be complicated. Every day, we’re surrounded by tasks and processes in life that are confusing, overwhelming and downright frustrating. So why add to it by making your co-op/MDF program guidelines one of them?

Not surprisingly, 86% of your local business partners find co-op funds not just necessary, but critical to executing their local marketing. In a perfect world, that means that all available funds are used toward marketing tactics that are executed properly, targeting the right audience with the correct branding, right?

Wrong. In fact, of the $70 billion in annual co-op advertising dollars available, roughly $35 billion goes unclaimed. One of the reasons for this phenomena, according to BrandMuscle experts, is that the guidelines put in place for local business partners are wildly complicated, causing them to either not execute marketing at all, or pay for it all out of pocket with their own branding to avoid the approval process. What does that do to the control at the corporate level? It becomes virtually nonexistent.

“We’ve seen large and vast hierarchical approval processes from corporate brands all across the country,” said James Morse, Senior Solutions Architect at BrandMuscle. “Sometimes, approval processes differ by tactic, dealer, region or requested reimbursement amount, and could even be escalated up to the CFO. That’s where we see the major drop-off of participation at the local level.”

To avoid program burnout for your brand, consider the advice from BrandMuscle co-op experts.

1. Calculate the Risk

Jen Oloo, a strategic co-op marketing advisor, said she challenges her brands to take another look at their guidelines.

“If a local business partner is buying booth space at a local event for $200, how many people in your company really need to approve that?” she said. “Strip down the layers and implement a review process so, for instance, we have two layers of approval instead of seven or eight. Then, maybe do an audit every two or three months and adjust from there.”

Oloo said for clients she typically takes a step back with them to do the math. For example, how many events are being processed, and how much do they typically cost to execute? What if 10% of the co-op submissions are incorrect? How many dollars will that cost your brand?

“Typically, in the end, the answer is really clear,” Oloo said. “We strip out a lot of the requirements. There might be a couple things that squeak through, but the program is always much stronger and more profitable when local business partners are actually participating in the program and executing marketing on your behalf.”

2. Determine Best Practices

Create regulated best practices for your brand to adhere to. Determine how quickly submissions should be approved or denied. An industry best practice is 24-48 hours, Oloo said, but at best they should be auto-approved.

“Best practices help to create positive experiences,” Oloo said. “The more positive interactions your local business partners have when it comes to your co-op program, the more engagement you’ll see.”

Creating a list of best practices, at both the corporate and the local level, will keep all parties accountable for ensuring that co-op funds are being submitted, approved/denied, and reimbursed in a quick, simple and effective manner.

3. Ask Yourself the Right Questions

“As corporate marketers, we have to listen to our local business partners and be willing to look at our processes” Oloo said. “To do that, it’s necessary to step back and rethink the way we compose our co-op guidelines.”

Here’s the true test to ensure that your co-op program is easy for your local business partners to use. If the answer is “Yes” to all of them, then you’re in the clear. Chances are, you’ll answer “No” to at least one of them, which Oloo said is normal.

1. Are your guidelines simple?
2. Are your rules the same across users?
3. Do you have a fast, efficient approval process?

“You should always be listening to your local business partners,” Oloo said. “Your feet on the street know what they’re talking about. Updating and simplifying your guidelines will likely lead to better engagement, higher adoption and overall more visibility for your brand.”

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