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The Double-Edged Sword

The Double-Edged Sword

by Ellen Fruchtman, CEO

The double-edged sword rears its head every year. It dangles like a carat. It moves otherwise brilliant business people to make marketing decisions based on reimbursements, versus the benefits of your brand awareness. Ahhh. It’s co-op time. Typically by the end of Q1, many larger brands who dole out the dollars (actually credit), have sent you their guidelines and slick creative options. What I’ve noticed over the years, are guidelines that are becoming stricter. Creative that is very much the same. Both of which aren’t necessarily best for your local market.

Brands do need to maintain some sort of brand standards, which we all need to understand. It would stand to reason if now and then, their retail partners could weigh in on what these guidelines look like. You’re their “partner” when you purchase their products, but not so much when it comes to communicating what might be best to sell the product in your own media market. You’re paying 50% of that ad with your brand receiving 10% awareness within the ad. Who could pass that exceptional offer up?

In 2024 some of the “guidelines” now include disproportionate percentages of how you need to spend your dollars promoting their men's jewelry versus women's jewelry (even if these percentages don’t come close to what sells in your store); the exclusion of broadcast (be it television or radio) even though locally that might be the very best exposure; mandatory companies hired to handle your local digital spending with very little oversight; and the list goes on. The best part? The guidelines and co-op numbers are sent with your plans due within 5 -7 days of receiving those numbers. One brand dares to reduce your co-op each day you are late submitting the plan. Forgive me. I’m old school. But, who is the customer here?

Co-op is a double-edged sword. When you cut through that feeling of being lucky enough to have it, let’s remember you’ve made money for the brand. You’ve been a loyal soldier. You’ve invested in shop-in-shops. You’ve welcomed their required signage taking up 6 ft. of prime space. You’ve endured the large buy-ins and the “best-sellers” that never sold. You have been instrumental in providing the designer brand awareness in your market. And, that should account for something. So maybe, just maybe, it’s time you get to call some of the shots. Maybe it’s time to turn the tables. Maybe you set the strategy for your own company when you begin to work with a designer. Maybe you know what media works best in your market. Maybe they don’t provide you with a litany of marketing items they won’t include for co-op. Maybe they agree a private event with your top 100 customers is better than one print insertion. It’s time. It’s time you sent them your guidelines. It’s time to send them a proposal of what will connect to your customer. Maybe they listen to you. Because hey, it’s your business. Your hard-earned cash. And, when you think of it, you both have the same goal in mind: Sell their product.

Retailers have put a lot of faith and dollars behind many brands. Some of that has turned out to be blind faith. How many times have brands gone direct to consumers? Open retail establishments? Haven’t protected your zip code territory? Compete with you online even in your SEO efforts? Hell, I’ve seen some brands sell online and have the audacity to tell the retailer they can’t sell their product online. Overall, the track record isn’t very good. You’re a partner until you aren’t. Are there some brands protecting you? Yes. But that list continually becomes smaller year after year. Many have done away with their co-op programs. For those large brands (and this article is mostly with those brands in mind) who do provide the dollars, but also provide guidelines which in many cases are not best for your local market, I would say it’s time to take another look at the world of co-op. Take control of the sword. So that the battle is not doubled-edged, but even.

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