It’s not a new concept. Brands have been forging partnerships for decades and for a variety of reasons. Brands partner for the visibility lift, increased exposure, attachment to other brand values, the anticipated revenue boost.
How you approach a partnership can either help or hurt your brand, and your customer base. The point is not so much about the ethics of brand partnerships but more on the pure necessity of it in order for brands to access new audiences and grow net new revenue. Consumers today are regularly ‘hiding’ behind social channels that allow them to be anonymous (i.e., Snapchat, Twitter, Skype) and thanks to brand loyalty, consumers aren’t always looking to learn about new brands. The trend among some Millennials and Gen Yers to like what others like also means that mass groups of target audiences are all flocking to the same brand despite stereotypes of valuing ‘individuality.’
So how do brands reach new customers? They use other brands. When one target audience is totally saturated, leveraging another brand, and the peer influence of its followers, is an almost necessary means to an end. The right partnership strategy can quickly bring like-minded target audiences to a brand they might not otherwise have considered which will in turn contribute to revenue growth.
Ground Rules, Challenges and Expectations
Not all partnerships are a happy marriage and most aren’t easy to establish—we estimate that 80% of partnerships never work simply due to internal logistics—but when the lead generation pipeline needs to be filled, brand partnerships will be the only way to drive new leads. There are a few ground rules that brand managers and their agencies should regard and a few challenges to anticipate.
Brand and Reputation Management
Especially if your “partner-to-be” is a celebrity profile, a risk assessment of the brand and partnership is a worthy exercise. The potential crisis management for a brand if your partner is Ray Rice, Raymond Felton, Tiger Woods, or any other leading name with a moral or criminal record could quickly diminish your own brand’s reputation.
Are you and the partner both publicly traded companies? This exposure and the expectations of Boards of Directors, stock holders and other investors will require brand managers to pay close attention not only to the ROI of the partnership but obviously the joint messaging, activities and campaigns.
Brand Partnership Guidelines and Analytics
Everything from how logos are used together to headlines, taglines, press release boilerplates and particularly social media messaging and engagements should be well documented and agreed to upon partnership. We often create playbooks to help organizations define appropriate use and activities within social properties and these would be just as relevant for partnering brands.
In the case of leveraging partnerships for lead generation, the guidelines need to also focus on the target audience, their behaviors, how analytics will be shared, how leads will be shared and nurtured, and the relevant content and customer experience they will receive from the partnered brands. Given that many organizations struggle with managing their own big data sets, brand partnerships will bring new levels of challenges to managing data from shared channels, shared campaigns and shared databases. Visual dashboards will be integral to quickly identifying, segmenting and understanding the audience opportunity.
Equal Investments for Unequal return
Some partnerships may happen on a handshake. Others may involve six figure deals or more either in the form of equal investments or payouts depending on the nature of the partnership. Regardless, as one marketer put it, partnerships are not a charity. Both brands need to be willing to invest budget, teams, time, and their revenue expectations. Investment is one thing but the ROI is the purpose for investing in the first place.
Benefits and Added Value
With the right partnership, the benefits are obvious, starting with the access to an all new target audience. Most solid partnerships can expect to deliver:
A strengthened value proposition
Increased exposure to values (when partnering with nonprofits)
Opportunity to create/offer ‘exclusive’ products for partners
With regard to adding value for lead generation, it will be imperative that brands take advantage of as many metrics as they can prior to launching campaigns. Protect the customer first; understand their needs, behaviors, preferences; know what content and content types are important; evaluate communication frequency—building the customer’s digital profile will ensure the brand partnership adds value at the right time and builds trust so the new customer acquisition happens on the customer’s terms.
Brand Partnerships That Work:
Starbucks + Rodart
Dairy Queen + Candy brands like Heath Bar
Chrysler + John Varvatos
Kohl’s + Vera Wang
Sapporo + Loyal Dean Longboards
The Olympics + [Under Armour, Designer Whey, Ralph Lauren, Visa, McDonald’s]
Any Hollywood Movie + Any Major Brand
Musicians / Celebrities + Any Major Brand
If you aren’t reaching new customers and the ones you have aren’t committing more to you (though you appreciate their loyalty!), a strategic brand partnership may be your best option to reach the right target audience.