There is power in numbers. Partnerships between two brands work through the loan of brand equity to each other. The clever bit is when value is added to consumers. Nike+ boosted the Nike experience with integrated Apple technology. The music brand Beats by Dr Dre partnered musicians and other celebrities to develop co-branded products, generating huge commercial value and reaching new audiences via these collaborators.
Consumers are now savvier and more cynical about message-based marketing. Brand loyalty is comparable to "brand borrowing", to satisfy a certain time and function. Where brand parity exists in a market the opportunity of 1+1 can be approached in tag-team style. You can create a point of difference in your sectors and add value with a double-powered proposition.
Brands joining forces
So who do you team up with? Does McDonald’s say "Hey, Whole Foods, I’ve noticed you around, shall we get it on?" Probably not. Being aligned in brand vision and purpose is key. The launch of the #BrewBurger from craft brewery BrewDog and Honest Burger aligned two entrepreneurial, fast-growing British companies with an opportunity to give visibility to each brand. They achieved this through endorsement, trial and product innovation (the marriage of beer and burger excellence).
Launching a brand partner is like introducing your buddy, Brand X, to friends in the pub. You are using the power of endorsement, association and the confirmation-bias "halo effect" to bring Brand X to a new audience. Then when you (as Brand Y) are introduced to your brand partner’s sector, this group doubles in size. Your marketing efforts and audience have just doubled, and added value is being delivered to your consumers. Partnerships can even go beyond doubling when delving into events and opportunities to expand and diversify your brand; sometimes partnerships are platonic and sometimes they can be embedded into your brand’s DNA.
The process of evaluating partnerships starts with questions. Consider how a collaboration could be of value to consumers while being mutually beneficial. Partners can be identified through contacts, networking or a partnership specialist that matchmakes aligned thoughts, agendas and expectations. Once you have identified a partner, consider a checklist: are you a mission-driven business, what’s your CSR remit, what’s your heritage and identity? These factors can help create strategically sound partnerships that could be anything from co-branded product creation to event sponsorship, selecting charities to support or choosing start-ups to work with. Consider your audiences: even though the strongest partnerships are between those in different sectors, it is important to identify the crossover.
My colleague Amanda Jennings and I were part of the team that launched The O2. A fundamental part of our strategy then was to have the customer at the heart of everything. It was always about customer-centric thinking, which made retention more important than acquisition. We were constantly finding unique, aligned partners to innovate with, which has aided the ambitions of The O2’s owner, AEG Live – building long-lasting brand equity.
To determine a clear, purposeful value exchange and proposition, you need to establish how to create added value and then convey it through one clear proposition. Keep it fresh, innovative and relevant to your audience’s lives. Keep rebuilding. Develop highly creative propositions that excite and benefit all parties involved. Partnerships are unique and can present a clear reason to choose your brand. They can also deliver unequalled value, as proven by Waitrose’s Heston range. The supermarket’s customers can sample the chef’s culinary experiments at home without spending £1000 at The Fat Duck. Harness extreme brand value between sectors.
Consider your working practices. Working together on a neutral, cloud-based platform such as Google Apps can enable cross-company productivity and real-time collaboration. Share thoughts in documents that can be authorised and edited; video calls can negate the issue of office distance.
Understand the potential ROI and share your expectations early. Short-, medium- and long-term brand partnerships deliver different sets of results related to your commercial objectives. Each partner will be an expert in their brand. You should be able to add rigour to your goal planning. Don’t underestimate the power of reach, sentiment and engagement if you’re planning a longer-term partnership – be prepared to put soft measures in place and share the growth ambitions of the programme.
Stop, collaborate and listen
Follow the wise words of marketing expert Vanilla Ice – stop. Don’t let your competitors overtake you through partnerships. Collaboration is the key to boost your brand and its usefulness in people’s lives. Listening to potential partners’ goals and consumers provides the key to creating a partnership that will lead to both loving you forever.