The Many Forms of Cross-Promotion

For thematic reasons I’ve told my backers on my current Kickstarter to come over here if they want to read about cross-promotion.

As usual for my posts, this is inspired by a Kickstarter experience (a conversation with Jessica Feinberg about her Clockwork Dragons project) but the principle is much older than online crowdfunding.

Cross-Promotion is, at its base, a simple trade: I’ll advertise you if you advertise me. But to use it effectively requires more finesse than that. I’ll start by talking about two rules of cross-promotion, and then go into more detail of some different types I’ve seen and used.

Rules

Rule One to keep in mind is that cross-promotion, like any form of promotion, is only useful if your audiences actually overlap. There’s no point promoting a Kansas estate agent on a UK blog, nor advertising your fox-hunting service on an animal welfare site.

Rule Two with cross-promotion, and one that doesn’t apply to regular advertising, is that you should choose a high quality partner; don’t just check if someone is in the right genre and immediately agree to cross promote. Remember that you are telling your customers/followers/fans that the product you’re promoting is good; and in doing so you are putting their support on the line. If you repeatedly point your followers at substandard products they will start to associate you with that lack of quality, and you will lose their trust.

Techniques

Beyond the rules there are many useful tricks and techniques to cross-promotion. I can’t claim to be an expert on any of them, but I hope I can provide some thoughts you may not have considered.

  1. Circuits and Hubs: Something I remember keenly from my first days on the internet is the way that many blogs and webcomics organised into circuits, fitted around a certain theme, where each member of the circuit linked to the two neighbouring ones and to the hub. This structure seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years, possibly because it requires a skilled curator to maintain Rule Two, and often one or more of the blogs/comics in the cycle would actually stop updating entirely without being removed.
    This isn’t a structure I would recommend, although if you have a tight community (4-5 content producers) it is a potentially viable option.
  2. One-off Cross Links: This is the technique I’ve used most often, as it’s a simple method that’s particularly suited to crowdfunding. You each, at whatever point seems appropriate, append a link to the other party to one of your regular updates. In general when using this technique it’s best to actually explain why you believe your followers will be interested in the other content producer’s products (whether it’s a similarity in genre, location, or simply in stylistic preferences). This not only helps the other producer, it also makes it clear that you care about your backers, and want to show them things they’ll enjoy.
    Yes, you’re getting a boost from the deal, but it helps if that’s not the only reason for it.
  3. Favourites Lists: These aren’t necessarily cross-promotion, but they can be. Within a set of links to sites you appreciate, you can include some sites that also have links back to you. For instance many (but not all) of the “Other Good Comics” on Questionable Content also have favourites lists, and include Questionable Content on their list.
    With favourites lists in particular it can be good to simply unilaterally promote someone else, and let them know you’re doing so. This allows you to build up your list (making it honest and valuable) while still having a chance of receiving a reciprocal link. Indeed in many cases you may be more likely to receive a recommendation in this manner than if you had simply asked for one.
  4. Crossover Products: One of the more valuable forms of cross-promotion, but one that requires more work than most, is to have products that are linked to each other in some way. For instance on a previous project I worked with Dog Might Games to design a special deckbox with the Concept Cards logo, so that backers who wanted a high quality storage case could get one; something that we couldn’t provide at that time. They even agreed to produce a deckbox larger than their standard size, in order to allow for more convenient use by our backers.
    We both linked to each other, but they gained more customers through the link because they were the ones selling the linked product. This wasn’t a problem for us, because we were very happy that our backers could get something they desired from a good quality source, but it is certainly something to keep in mind.
    Licensing agreements are essentially this principle applied in a more organised manner, for instance Sony profit from their ability to make Spiderman movies, but Marvel gain from Spiderman being more well known; as Sony’s gain is larger, Sony pay for the privilege.
  5. Buy Both and…: This style of cross-promotion has some similarity to the above, being a complex thing to set up but possibly very rewarding. You make an agreement with the other producer that those who buy from both of you will receive some exclusive content or other bonus. A topical example now is Red Bull’s promotion with Destiny wherein those who buy cans of Red Bull can access buffs and extra content in the game.
    These can be controversial, especially if it feels like you’re holding back on content in order to provide it as a bonus. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be good, especially if the content is relevant to both sides (an even more difficult task).
  6. Incomplete Without: This is something often seen in comics (both webcomics and traditional ones), in the form of a crossover; you can’t know the full story unless you go to both. With traditional comics they’re generally between products of the same publisher, but webcomics are often looser arrangements of friends.
    Handle with care, especially with products that must be bought. If a small piece of your product feels incomplete that may not be too bad, especially if the completion is available for free, but the more significant the chunk the more likely you are to annoy your fanbase, and lose loyalty.
  7. Shared Store: If you’re a small business with a limited selection of goods, it’s unlikely that many people will simply stumble across your e-shop. By joining with others in a similar situation to form a larger store you can increase the number of visitors who stand a chance of seeing your products.
    Be wary however; once the store gets above a certain size the chance of people stumbling over your small product starts dropping massively. Any sensibly organised store will list its best sellers most visibly, and it is unlikely that you will be one of those best sellers.
  8. Business Buddies: Friendships come in many forms, and bonding over a shared style of business (whether it be a loose acquaintanceship or a tight friendship) is a natural occurrence, and leads you to automatically promote each other without any form of grander scheme. It also leads to more opportunities to form the more difficult forms of cross-promotion.
    I can’t give any significant advice on this one, although I have had some success, my social skills are below average. If you need to learn about making friends there are many resources available, most of which are doubtless terrible. I see no reason to add to that number.

There are assuredly other categories, but this is not intended as a comprehensive guide and I’m drawing a blank right now, so it’s time to end.

If you came here from the kickstarter update, or even if you didn’t, please click on the Owlbear to be transported (back) there, where a relevant preview card from the Concept Cards Treasures set, and another example of cross-promotion, await.

bearowl

Be Well

-Ste C

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