By Aster Mekonnen, Lecturer in Marketing at GSM London
The first significant academic perspective on affinity marketing was offered by Macchiette and Roy (1992). They described it as a blending of the concepts of affinity and marketing. Affinity marketing, therefore, is based upon a strategic partnership between complementary brands, in which a mutually beneficial triadic relationship is formed between the group, the members of the group and the service provider of the product being used for marketing purposes.
Affinity credit cards have long been the most popular affinity products. A study on the benefits of affinity credit cards demonstrated that the advantages associated with affinity marketing could be categorised both by focus and type. Functional, or tangible benefits, are related to the core product benefit, whereas image, or non-tangible, benefits are focused on the symbolic value of the product.
The USA is the leader of affinity marketing and can often serve as a useful indicator for the UK market. A recent report on credit cards conducted by the USA’s Government of Accountability Office (GAO, 2014) indicated that the University of California received about $1.5 million through its agreement with FIA card services, the largest payment to an institute of higher education in 2012. The University of Cambridge, whose alumni affinity credit card launched in 1993, had 10,000 card holders by 1999 and had raised over £250,000 for the university by that date (Mintel, 2000).
Whilst marketing credit cards to college students appears to have subsided recently (GAO report on credit cards, 2014, US based study), advancement in technology such as digitally-enabled marketing presents new opportunities for HEIs to review their strategy and renew their efforts. HEIs should develop a combined retailing strategy with their students’ union in order to provide a more coherent and commercial-led approach to affinity marketing across their campuses and to their alumni community.
To have success with affinity marketing HEIs also need to be aware of the types of members within their association. A recent study of charity and professional groups classified customers as either explorers, supporters or communicators (Mekonnen, Thesis 2012). These terms are described as such:
- Explorers: members that are more inclined to take advantage of, or be on the look-out for, services that give them a better financial deal
- Communicators: members with the desire to communicate their professional identity
- Supporters: members who feel that the support they give to the affinity group through the card is the most important attribute of the scheme.
In light of technological advancement and the development of knowledge around affinity marketing, HEIs and their commercial partners should consider the following key areas:
Affinity marketing is still a strong tool with tangible and non-tangible benefits extending to all parties involved. It remains an effective, mutually beneficial way for organisations to increase members’ engagement with their affinity group as well as strengthen said members’ relationship with the service provider.