Brand Partnerships: Reaching New Heights Through Cooperation

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Phil Grossman

18 Feb, 2020

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In today’s economy, we adhere to the dogma that competition is the driver of all great innovation. Sure, cooperation is nice, but it takes a subordinate position to the Big C, when brands become gladiators and duke it out to the death.

Or so we’re led to believe, that is. While competition is definitely a major driving force in business, sometimes cooperation ends up being what pushes companies towards the best versions of themselves and changes the faces of their respective industries forever. When two consummate brands team up, the result is often game-changing.

Here, we’re going to take a look at brand partnerships, the bread and butter of inter-company cooperation, and how they can level up your business efforts.  By the end of this article, you’ll know the answers to:

  • What are brand partnerships?
  • Why are brand partnerships important?
  • What are some examples of partnerships?
  • How can I create a brand partnership?

Ultimately, you’ll have a basic understanding of how brand partnerships can fit into your business, and how you can work towards nailing some down. 

What are brand partnerships?

In short, a brand partnership is any formal marketing partnership between two brands that aims to increase exposure, break into new markets, create a new product, increase sales figures, or achieve other similar goals for both brands. 

While a brand partnership can technically be between any two brands, it’s almost always between two non-competing brands. That’s because a successful partnership should benefit both brands, and a partnership between direct competitors will almost necessarily force consumers to choose one over the other, defeating the whole purpose. 

For example, a hypothetical brand partnership between Starbucks and UNICEF would work because there is no conflict inherent in selling a cup of coffee and donating a percentage to charity. However, a brand partnership between McDonald’s and Burger King wouldn’t play out well as the campaign would essentially be telling consumers they need to eat both brands, despite the fact that most consumers only have an appetite for one hamburger at a time. This would force consumers to choose between the two, ultimately driving competition, not collaboration

Ideally, brand partnerships are ways to not only promote both brands, but to use each of their strengths to create a product, experience, or service that neither brand could make on its own. 

Why are brand partnerships important?

At the most basic level, brand partnerships are important because they get their partner brands in front of an audience they may not have ever reached otherwise. 

As an example, take the recent partnership between Impossible Foods, the plant-based meat maker, and Burger King, the fast-food titan. While both brands make burgers, they occupy disparate market segments: Impossible Foods focuses on the growing plant-based eating niche, while Burger King concentrates on the mainstream fast-food market. For the most part, the plant-based market would have no interest in eating at a Burger King, and the BK crowd would have little inclination to try a meatless burger. 

But when Burger King and Impossible Foods partnered with each other to create the Impossible Whopper, each brand gained access to the other’s base. Suddenly, vegans and vegetarians had a reason to go to Burger King, and BK regulars had a reason to try a plant-based patty, even if just out of curiosity — both markets were exposed to brands they wouldn’t have engaged with otherwise. In fact, the customer bases weren’t just “exposed” to the other brand, but foot traffic actually increased by 18.5% to stores that sold the Impossible Whopper and decreased by 1.75% to stores that didn’t sell it during the same period. 

And, perhaps more importantly than the increased sales and brand awareness each company benefited from, they also created something entirely new: the first nationwide, mass-market plant-based burger. The Impossible Whopper was a game-changer, and neither company could have created it on their own. 

While it’s easy to say that the importance of brand partnerships lies in their increased exposure, the truth goes a bit deeper. Brand partnerships often foster new and unique products that deserve attention, and the buzz naturally follows. So, in some ways, the true importance of a brand partnership is not so much the immediate exposure increase, but rather the possibility of elevating your brand’s products to a level that’s simply hard to ignore.

Brand Partnership Examples

The best way to learn what makes a great brand partnership is to look at some strategic partnership examples. Here are a few standouts.

Talenti By Dani

Talenti is known for its gelatos and sorbets, and Jars By Dani is known for its unique dessert jars. If you don’t know what a dessert jar is, take a look for yourself: 

While Jars by Dani is a relatively small operation, Talenti is the best-selling packaged gelato brand worldwide and the third best-selling premium ice cream in the United States. When Jars By Dani entered a partnership with Talenti, Dani got a huge exposure boost, and Talenti likely became the first choice ice cream brand for Dani’s niche following. 

But what’s more: the two collaborated on a really unique ice cream product that never would have come about otherwise.

Waves and Chris Lord Alge

What happens when you take one of the leading audio plugin developers and put them in a room with one of the greatest audio engineers of all time? You get the Waves Chris Lord Alge plugin series, of course. 

This is another prime example of a product that could not have come into existence were it not for the combined talents of two high-level brands. With Waves’s skill for crafting professional audio software and Chris Lord Alge’s talent for knowing what sounds good, the two were able to collaborate on a partnership and a product that not only introduced each other to new audiences but resulted in a product that’s at the top of its game. 

Game of Thrones and Oreo

While the other examples so far have been fairly innovative, sometimes a brand partnership doesn’t need to go above and beyond — extra exposure is sometimes all that you need out of a collaborative effort.

Such is the case with Game of Thrones’s and Oreo’s teamwork on their collectible Oreo series. Sure, some Oreos with Game of Thrones designs aren’ groundbreaking, but it definitely made a whole lot of GOT fans go out and buy some Oreos, and perhaps it convinced some Oreo’s connoisseurs to check out what all this Stark and Lannister business is all about anyway. 

Carvel and Biscoff

As it turns out, brand partnerships can be quite delicious, and the one between Carvel and Biscoff is no exception. While Carvel is likely the best-known ice cream brand in the United States, Biscoff is a national treasure in Belgium but enjoys a relatively low level of notoriety on this side of the pond. 

Carvel’s Cookie Butter ice cream made with Biscoff cookies, however, helped to introduce the Belgian specialty to a wider American audience. And for Carvel, they were able to sell and market a delicious new flavor.

Developing your own brand partnership

Brand partnerships are usually a worthwhile investment and endeavor when done right. Here are a few things to think about if you’re considering developing one. 

Evaluate your readiness

If you’re thinking about partnering with another brand, be realistic. If you don’t already have a recognizable identity and an established customer base, you need to work on yourself first — put your own oxygen mask on before helping the person next to you, as they say. Strategic partnerships, like any type of relationship, work best when both businesses are already mature and can stand on their own. If that doesn’t describe your business, then you’re not ready to enter into one just yet. 

And when you do think you’re ready to explore partnerships, start off small. You can’t expect to land a major collaboration with a fortune 500 company right off the bat – it’s as unlikely as it is unnecessary. 

As Carsten from says, “Some of the best partnerships we’ve had were started from a single guest post we published on our (current) partner’s blog. Reach out to collaborate on something small before moving up and working on bigger projects.”

Starting off small is important from a budgeting perspective too. If you’ve never partnered with another brand before, you’re likely going to make mistakes in the beginning, and you don’t want to blow a huge chunk of your marketing budget on a failed brand partnership while you’re still getting your feet wet. 

Roman from Travel SEO Agency agrees: “I suggest you not to start big. Pick small influencers with not a large but highly engaged audience. Also, they often underestimate their worth”

Define measurable goals

Without a clear idea of what you hope to get out of the partnership (and what you can provide your partner with), you’ll have no way to determine whether it was a success, nor how to improve upon it in the future. 

These days, performance marketing gives businesses a huge amount of power to analyze data and figure out exactly where their marketing needs to be bolstered. A great way to start figuring out what you’d like to get out of a partnership is to go over your most relevant data, see where you’re underperforming, and set a measurable goal to improve that metric. 

The key here is to make it measurable, so don’t just say you’d like to see more sales — figure out how many more sales you want to see, and once your partnership is up and running, compare your results to your goals to see whether it’s working out. 

Once you know what your goals are, you need to communicate this to your brand partners.

Tamara from The Lone Wolf Coach thinks this is key to success: “My number one piece of advice for companies building partnerships is to have CLARITY. Be very clear on what you want from the partnership and what you are willing to offer (and what you are NOT willing to offer).”

The last part of this message is important too: you have to define what you’re willing to offer in return. It’s not just about your goals, but your partner’s too. Think about what your prospective partners might want and how partnering up might benefit them. 

Rafe from VC Inc. Marketing explains why this is important: “The key to establishing a successful brand partnership is to keep one key goal in mind that a prospective partner will be focusing on: WIIFM. It’s an acronym that stands for What’s In It For Me? To entice a prospective brand partner, you need to clearly, concisely, and convincingly explain how and why the partnership will benefit his/her organization. Preferably, this benefit is one that the partner seeks, and isn’t able to attain on its own.”

Start with the needs of your audience

Brand partnerships aren’t all about reach and acquisition, they’re about working together to better meet the needs of your existing customers too. That’s why hunting for a brand partner starts with identifying the needs of your audience. 

What do your customers want that your business can’t deliver? What might another brand be able to bring to the table? Focusing on what your audience and customers need makes it much easier to select brands that you think will work. 

Even if you’re new to brand partnerships, you’re an expert in the needs of your audience, and you can use this to inform your decisions and ensure that your brand partnerships are successful for you and your partners.

As Alex from Cardinal Digital Marketing put it, “Look for opportunities that will connect with your audience and ultimately drive acquisitions. Long-term your need brand partnerships that will keep your audience engaged and interested in your products or services”

Find the right partner

The best brand partnerships are generally forged between two non-competing brands that complement each other in one way or another, like a fitness brand and a health supplement company, for example.

William from VelvetJobs offers another good example. He writes “Partnerships work better and last longer when they allow each partner to fill gaps in the other’s business than they do when they just give each partner access to the other’s clients. For instance, if you’re a financial organization that provides working capital to small and midsize businesses, consider partnering with equipment lease providers in various industries to market financing to the customers via direct mail.”

Partnering with a complementary brand offers a few benefits:

  • There’s more crossover between audiences, meaning each of your audiences are more likely to be interested in the other’s products.
  • Similar products or industries often allow for a greater possibility to innovate together.
  • Non-competitor brands won’t siphon away sales from your business.

While this may sound fairly obvious, this can often end up being the business equivalent of saying you want to date someone who’s “nice, smart, good looking, and easy to get along with” — it’s much easier to list out the criteria than it is to find a business you can actually work with long-term.

To increase your chances of success, make sure you do thorough research on any potential partners. Don’t just look at their products, look at their voice, style, and mission. Even if two brands sell complementary products, if one company is called Bubblegum Pony Car Fresheners and the other is called Pure Testosterone Car Wash, you’re going to have a mighty hard time appealing to both audiences with a partnership like that. 

Christopher from Motus Creative Group recommends that you “Do your homework, and make sure you’re connecting two brands that either already have a shared audience, or, better yet, a potential shared audience or demographic not yet realized.”

Entering a partnership can be risky: occasionally, you can strike up a cooperative effort that not only doesn’t appeal to your base but actually turns them away. For this reason, it’s vital that you’ve already developed your own identity, understand your own audience, and put in the time to research your prospect’s identity and audience before entering into any sort of partnership.

To minimize this risk, John from English Blinds has some suggestions. During your research, he suggests to ask yourself, “Is there anything in the brand’s history that might cause problems for you in the future? Look for things like questionable business practices, poor eco-credentials, reputation issues, poor product quality or a series of product recalls, or any prior issue of any kind that might, in turn, reflect on your brand if you partner with them”

A brand partnership is one of the most powerful marketing and creative tools available to businesses. Yet, while it gives brands the opportunity to reach new heights and expand their horizons, newer brands run the risk of getting overshadowed by larger brands and losing their identity. 

As one famous uncle of a teenage arachnoid said, “with great power, comes great responsibility.” As you consider your options, remember that brand partnerships are not easy in-out marketing tricks, but serious, long-term commitments from one brand to another. The rewards can be enticing, but without a clear idea of your own identity and goals, you run the risk of losing yourself in the union. 

Craft the perfect pitch

Once you’ve found a partner you want to work with, the next task is to convince them that they want to work with you too. 

This is easier said than done. As Carly from Money Crashers notes, “brands (especially popular ones) receive plenty of partnership opportunities all of the time, so you need to make your pitch stand out.”

Carly goes on to give some recommendations about how to hone your pitching strategy and craft the perfect pitch. She writes, “First, understand what your goals are of the potential partnership (increased revenue, broader exposure, etc.) and make sure that’s part of the pitch. Then, you’ll want to individualize each partnership pitch email towards the brand in question. Maybe you point out a few specific things that you love about the brand you want to connect with or throw in a creative subject line in the email.” 

Personalization really is key to successful pitching. Generic template emails look unprofessional, lack impact, and will reduce your chances of landing a partnership. It’s okay to send out bulk emails to several brands to maximize your chances of success, but make sure you’re tweaking that pitch email template to personalize it for each recipient. 

Carly also adds that you should “make sure that your media kit is up to date and readily available because it is probably going to be asked for as the process moves forward.”

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