Ah, the glamour and grumblings that surround Marketing Development Funds (MDF). Love it, fight it, just can’t ignore it. In many marketplace segments, MDF is a fact of life. For the uninitiated, MDF is funding provided by ingredient suppliers to OEMs for the ostensive purpose of training and/or marketing (think Intel and Microsoft logos/content in the context of HP or Dell or IBM laptops/server product advertising). Those logos don’t come free.
For the mid-sized ingredient brand or strategic, niche company without the big-brand and big-dollar clout, is there a way to tune MDF contributions to become more than just OEM slush and replacement $$ for their just-slashed marketing budget while still adding value for your customer? I argue “yes”, if you’re nimble. The struggle: that unseen battleground w/in the collaboration model to impact the marketing mix and the outbound deliverable content while retaining some measure of your brand’s visibility and value to pull an OEM sale with end customers.
Co-marketing has fewer rules than marketing campaigns developed for your own company – or more rightly, different rules/more opportunities to innovate since the multiple partner environment often provides larger budgets, freedoms from normal messaging and graphic standards, and air-cover that comes naturally from collaboration. Downside risks, however, are equally large. Campaigns are complex, often verging on chaotic… politics abound… competitors are often bedfellows (future blog topic) and the marketing process is messy. Success, I believe, requires a core passion for outbound marketing and the ability to listen, advocate, and solve problems in real-time while remaining calm during a chaotic process.
To better turn chaos into mere complexity, I’ll suggest a framework for the initial customer engagement regarding MDF spending. Please weigh-in and comment. Dialogue on this and we all stand to win.
- Align your internal team first. An obvious step but how often have you found yourself in customer meetings and around the table you own team ends up in debate, or worse arguing approaches while the customer sits baffled and questioning your credibility? As well, be clear on your audience targets, objectives and messaging… and demand the same clarity from your customer about their priority target segments, success metrics and messages. Also make sure you/your team understands the resource load you’re willing to extend. Know this answer and who from your side will speak it. Every customer in an MDF conversation will ask – usually sooner than later, usually repeatedly.
- Be the Communications Professional around the table. Everyone needs a specific role in MDF discussions. Sales… Product Marketing… Marcom/Corporate… whomever. Each of you must play to your strengths and to an overall strategy. Co-marketing is about customer facing support. If you’re the outbound expert, be the expert and make sure your team supports you in that role. Above all, don’t let the meeting become a sales call. Certainly there will be multiple objectives to any customer visit. Do your best to limit MDF conversation to only the core-team players, from your side and from the customer’s side. Voices around the table who are not primary stakeholders often distract.
- Be/behave as a brand equal. There’s a build in adversarial undercurrent that I face in almost every MDF exploration. Sometimes subtle, sometimes very in-your-face. In the last month, I and a senior product marketing lead opened discussion w/a data storage segment leading OEM. We pre-planned our approach, tapped business intelligence connections for perspective and felt going in there was ample ground for positive conversation. As the meeting started, however, we found ourselves defending brand equity rationale, product certification hurdles, and segment priorities far afield from the MDF conversation we thought we’d been invited to have. Eventually, we were able to steer back to co-marketing and our company’s MDF value-add approach. And we closed w/positive next-step actions. Without having aligned well on a methodology and process (future blog topic), the customer’s initial assault likely would have thrown us off stride and to a less useful outcome.
- Listen for intersections and gaps, then walk away. Even if you think you have the perfect answer and campaign solution, walk away. Don’t try to get to a solution too quickly and certainly not during the initial client F2F (oh yeah, for meaningful discussion – you have to be face-to-face. AOK to do preliminary calls, and/or net meetings, but for the first substantial discussion, F2F is unequaled for beginning the relationship build. By hearing first hand where customer priorities fall, you can internally brainstorm the gaps and possible intersections that add value. Joint whitepapers, co-authored PRs or editorial features, web content sharing, sales force training modules, tradeshow collaborations… these are all low-stress, high-success early possibilities. Don’t expect to immediately become part of a national advertising campaign w/logo identity (might happen, but rare). By walking away, you buy time to digest, brainstorm and truly think about the right approach, not just any approach.
- End with a clear next engagement step. In the early stage of MDF talk, agreement to sustain is an important metric. No one has time to waste. Gaining a next step meeting, or the opportunity to dive deeper with presentation material on a particular outbound concept, or being passed along to an expanded group of customer stakeholders – all are real endorsements that you’ve broken the ice. In the customer meeting I mentioned above where we were a bit ambushed, we ended with my having two specific actions to set up review meetings around a joint partner collaboration, and a tradeshow blog experience. My product marketing counterpart took the action to explore topics for a possible joint whitepaper. It’s all happening real time so stay tuned.
Any of this resonate w/your experiences w/r/t Partner Marketing, Alliance Partner Co-Marketing? Would love to hear feedback and commentary.
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