Reciprocal marketing describes a situation in which two businesses promote each other in order to gain a mutual benefit. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it has become a highly popular method of marketing for electronic retailers. In the online business world, reciprocal marketing is also known as reciprocal linking, because the most common application involves placing links on another company's Web site. A similar concept for Internet businesses is affiliate marketing, which occurs when one of the businesses involved in a reciprocal marketing arrangement pays the other for traffic or sales generated through a link. In the brick-and-mortar business world, reciprocal marketing is more commonly known as co-op marketing or cross-promotion.
Reciprocal marketing is equally popular among small, entrepreneurial Web sites and large, well-established ones. Writing in Entrepreneur, Melissa Campanelli called it "a reliable strategy employed by the most innovative dotcoms…. The tactic basically allows you to offer your paying customers discounts at your online partners' sites as well as provide discounts to your partners' customers on your site." As an example, a customer who spends $50 or more on your Web site might earn a coupon good for a discounted purchase on your partner's site. "These kinds of deals are the way the Internet will be working, going forward," Steven Bellach of the electronic florist site Proflowers told Campanelli. "The beauty of it is that no cash changes hands between merchants, and you get people when their wallets are still open."
Reciprocal marketing offers small business owners a number of potential benefits. For example, it helps reduce the cost of attracting new customers, adds value to customers' shopping experience, and is inexpensive to implement compared with many traditional marketing schemes. As Hollis Thomases explained in an article for the Baltimore Business Journal, the key to successful reciprocal marketing is to find the right partners. The most suitable companies will be complementary in terms of philosophy, product line, and brand image. It may also be helpful to target Web sites that see roughly the same number of visitors as your company's, since the arrangement should be mutually beneficial rather than self-serving. But small business owners should be careful not to clutter their Web sites with dozens of links offering discounts. In addition to confusing customers, including too many links might cause traffic to leave your site before making a purchase.
Small business owners can find potential partners for reciprocal marketing arrangements through traditional forms of networking, such as attending conferences. Thomases also recommended networking online. Some possible methods include contacting the Webmasters of sites you like, e-mailing the authors of message board postings that relate to your business, and subscribing to e-mail discussion groups on subjects that relate to your business. Before approaching potential partners, it may be helpful to define the value your site has to offer. Although experts state that Internet entrepreneurs should not depend on reciprocal marketing as their only form of promotion, they do admit it is a valuable way for e-businesses to grow. "At the core of a strategic online alliance is the desire to grow your e-business," Thomases wrote. "It will allow you to extend your reach and save on marketing costs."