Cross Marketing: Partnering with Like-Minded Businesses Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Cross-marketing means forming marketing alliances with local businesses that sell related products, attract similar customers and have common demographics. 

By Jeff Siegel


Talk to wine marketers about cross-marketing, and their frustration is evident. Smaller producers, who would benefit the most from the practice, seem to be the most reluctant to embrace it.

Cross-marketing means forming marketing alliances with restaurants, cheese shops, bed and breakfasts, chocolatiers, grocers and the like. It could be as simple as trading email lists and referring customers to each other or as sophisticated as a wine-and-chocolate or wine-and-cheese pairing. In other words, it’s working with local businesses that sell related products, attract similar customers and have common demographics. 

“It’s all about creating a symbiotic relationship,” says Jennifer Tincknell, a partner in Napa wine marketing company Tincknell and Tincknell. “Cross-marketing can encompass so much more than just wooing customers with discounts. It can be a platform to develop a portfolio of complementary brands and products that enhance your own. 

“You’re helping your customers find other products they would like, and it’s a chance to do something more than the usual: ‘How do we grow our wine club?’”

Joining forces

It’s a tactic that remains much underappreciated in the wine business, even though it’s common in many other consumer categories. And, say several marketing experts, cross-marketing is both cost effective and straightforward in execution.

“I think one of the reasons that so many smaller wineries are wary of this [technique] is that they don’t see how it can work for them, and so they assume it will just be another marketing expense,” says Philip Ruskin, who runs Ruskin International, a marketing consultancy whose clients have included those in wine and food in the U.S. and Europe. “But if they look at it another way — that it’s a much less costly marketing expense than what they might do otherwise — they can begin to see the advantages.”

Keep in mind, too, says Ruskin, that though wine’s legal restrictions can complicate cross-marketing, they don’t make it impossible. He’s worked with a number of whiskey distillers in Kentucky, and they found ways to use cross-marketing despite even higher legal barriers.

Best practices

So how can you make cross-marketing work?

  • Identify likely businesses. The key here, says Ruskin, is to focus on the local. A national chain isn’t likely to be as interested. How can you find likely businesses? Ask your customers: Where do they shop? What do they like to do in their off time?
  • Don’t limit the search. Ruskin says one of the most overlooked opportunities, surprisingly , involves celebrity chefs. Is someone making an appearance locally? Is a local chef giving a cooking demonstration? These are opportunities to introduce the chef to your wine not to sell in her or his restaurant, but to use in a cooking demonstration. 
  • Know the best person to contact. This may be one of the most difficult parts in making cross-marketing work. It’s almost certainly not the province of the winery’s wholesaler, and the rep would look confused at best. Ruskin’s advice: Marketing begets marketing. Don’t ask the restaurant’s general manager or the supermarket’s wine buyer. Instead, does the local business have a marketing company or marketing employee? These folks are likely to be more amenable to a pitch, especially when they can see it’s a win-win situation.
  • Be creative. Yes, wine dinners. Yes, media samples. But there’s so much more (as well as the aforementioned wine pairing twists). One typical whiskey approach, says Ruskin, is a custom barrel sitting in the lobby of a restaurant or retailer. That same tactic can work for wine: a special blend, sold to the retailer or restaurant (allowing for the legal requirements), with hundreds and hundreds of people walking past it and wondering what it means. It’s all about piquing interest and starting a conversation.

In the end, says Tincknell: “Cross-marketing is all about local businesses working with other local businesses to promote each other.”

Because local marketing works better together.


Jeff Siegel

Jeff Siegel is an award-winning wine writer, as well as the co-founder and former president of Drink Local Wine, the first locavore wine movement. He has taught wine, beer, spirits, and beverage management at El Centro College and the Cordon Bleu in Dallas. He has written seven books, including “The Wine Curmudgeon’s Guide to Cheap Wine.”

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