Affinity Marketing, Texas-Style

If you can co-brand mobile phone service, bank cards, and vacation cruises, why not power? An innovative energy company in Texas has teamed up with the state’s universities to offer co-branded energy – electricity and natural gas.

As reported in Advertising Age, in return for subscribing to the affinity program, those power consumers get to accumulate points for school merchandise, tickets to athletic events and more.

Diehard Longhorns, Aggies and loyal Texans statewide can also contribute to the state’s growing renewable energy economy. The power company who’s behind this novel branding campaign, Champion Energy Services is supposedly providing branded power companies with renewable energy. In this case, it’s Dallas-based Branded Retail Energy who’s driving the affinity deal, and every Texas fan that opens an account contributes to a sustainability initiative for either Texas A&M or UT.

Affinity branding succeeds in a very narrow but loyal channel — be it alumni, members, enthusiasts, or employees of a large organization. (Costco started out as a discount warehouse for students and staff at area colleges in San Diego) Affinity buyers grab the chance to give back or get an inside track on deals while consuming something they’d be buying anyway. They’re concentrated, easy to find, and often have high household disposable incomes. Sound like shooting fish in a barrel to you?

With 14 states across the country having deregulated the power industry, including well-populated states such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio, expect this affinity branding concept to catch on quickly, via those states’ university systems.

See also Fast Company.

5 Quick Tips for Community Marketing

My friend Peter owns a silkscreen, graphic design and embroidery shop, and does 80% of his business with community schools, non-profits, and businesses situated within 5 freeway exits from his shop. These happy customers are neighbors, fellow booster club parents, or members of his church. The quality of Peter’s goods and services seal the deal for repeat business, and customers’ word of mouth recommendations are spreading throughout his metro area and into the next counties.

When asked by Peter for advice on how to boost repeat sales and traffic both online and in-person, while staving off hungry out of town or online competitors, I suggested these 5 quick tips. Read on!

1. Gather Testimonials. Can’t say enough about ’em… pepper all of your outbound communication liberally with tales from happy customers. Thank you notes posted in auto mechanic’s waiting rooms are one of the most cost-effective uses of wall space. The most reliable form of promotion is word of mouth. Add testimonials to your Facebook Fan Page or LinkedIn company profile, too.
2. Inform and Motivate Customers. In our visits to stores, coffee shops, even doctor’s offices, we find free books that inform and entertain waiting customers. Now there’s an equivalent for your website: free, online publications, from libraries such as Free Select from among thousands of free, professionally published books; your site’s viewers can in turn download the titles right off of your site. There’s nothing wrong with adding fun subjects, either … poetry, travel, short stories might be a good diversion for your customers! Printed titles are an option for your company’s public premises, too. Customers feel better informed and cared for, and will thank you for it in the form of referrals.
3. Show Up in Local Search Results. It takes about 20 minutes to get on the boards with Google, Yahoo, and Bing local search engines. These listing and search services are very friendly for small, community businesses. Get started: Google Local. Yahoo! Local. And Bing! Local.
4. Be Seen and Heard. Not only should you attend community and trade business meetings, you should take charge of a particularly challenging chair or organizing role to raise your “expert” profile. By helping organizations for free, your relationships and workload will grow in repute. Be very selective, though; support just one highly-regarded group where customers most often gather, to avoid Volunteer Scatter-shot and loss of focus on your paying work.
5. Strengthen Communities. You and your employees are the first to benefit from happy customers and repeat business when payday rolls around. Remind customers that not only your company, but those who serve you — providers of goods and services, wholesale and retail partners — feel the love too. And who works for said partners? Those very customers, and their friends and neighbors. While you are walking the walk of integrity, quality, and pride, remind everyone who will listen how productive it is to keep it local. Feature “locally operated” and similar themes prominently in all outbound messages.

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