A Complete Guide to Collaborative Marketing for Brands

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Pete Davis

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28 Apr, 2019

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Ever heard the saying ‘two heads are better than one’? Well, the same holds true in business. When it comes to marketing your brand, collaboration is often the key to success.

In fact, a recent report found that mid-sized businesses that collaborated on joint initiatives were $430,000 better off than those that didn’t and that more collaborative businesses had much greater revenue growth than less collaborative businesses.

To help you to leverage the power of collaborative marketing for your business, we’ve put together a guide that breaks down how the concept works, companies that have seen success with it, and how you can try it out on your own.

What is collaborative marketing?

Collaborative marketing is the act of combining your company’s resources, assets, and funds with other companies in order to better accomplish your marketing goals.

Related: How to Land Your First Instagram Collaboration

To put it another way, it’s working with businesses with similar interests to accomplish more through your marketing efforts than you could on your own.

The end result is a symbiotic relationship: both parties combine their strengths for the benefit of both of them. 

How does collaborative marketing work?

Collaborative marketing works like this: 

First, you identify a brand that you might be interested in partnering with. This brand shouldn’t be a direct competitor, but they should be one that complements your own brand and shares a similar audience or marketing goal. 

After that, you can reach out to that brand to ask them if they’d be interested in collaborating with you. Typically, collaborators will use either their budgets or their reach as cross-promotional currency.

In the former case, this might mean pooling your marketing budgets together to purchase a joint advertisement that you wouldn’t have been able to afford alone. In the latter case, this might mean promoting each other’s products to your own audiences in order to double your reach.

Collaborative marketing can take many forms. It could range from something as simple as giving a ‘shout out’ to another company on social media in exchange for one in return, to a full-scale joint ad campaign and anything in between. 

We’ll talk more about what collaborative marketing looks like later and outline some ideas and strategies that you can try.

Difference between collaboration and co-branding

Marketers often use the terms collaborative marketing and co-branding interchangeably but, while similar, these aren’t quite the same thing. There’s a subtle but important difference between them.

Collaboration is more of a marketing effort, whereas co-branding is more of a branding effort. 

In a co-branding relationship, two brands will work together to create a joint product that represents both of their brand identities. Here’s a great example of this from Taco Bell and Doritos.

This Taco Bell cross-over menu item used a Doritos shell and sold over 1 billion units the year it went on sale. As you can see, the product represents both brands at the same time, aligning them together and strengthening each brand’s reputation.

In collaboration marketing, we rarely see two brand identities being melded together in this same way.

Some people also confuse collaborative marketing with influencer marketing as both marketing techniques involve partnering with a third party, but again, these are two different things.  In this scenario, influencers are almost always paid for their promotional assistance making it more of a transaction than a collaboration. 

You can learn more about working with influencers here.

Pros and cons of collaborative marketing

To help you to figure out whether or not to invest your time and money into collaborative marketing, let’s take a quick look at the main pros and cons:

Pros Cons
Reach new audiences

Brand collaborations can potentially double your audience size and help you to reach highly-targeted potential customers

Takes time to set up

Setting up a collaborative marketing campaign requires a lot of back and forth communication; it can take a lot of time to get going.

Cut costs

Splitting the cost of a traditional ad between multiple brand partners can dramatically reduce costs.

Less creative control

You have to be willing to compromise to create a campaign that works for both brands, and that means giving up some creative control.

Strengthen your brand

Collaborative branding with the right partner brand can strengthen your brand’s credibility and recognition by association. 

Potentially one-sided

In bad brand collaboration, the benefits might be weighted unequally, with one company coming away much better off. That’s why it’s important to choose the right partner brand.

Combined expertise

Two brands working together means you get to leverage the best of both of your strengths to create bigger and better campaigns.

Conflicting ideas 

Working together can be difficult if you disagree with your partner brand about the details and execution of your campaign.

How to get started with collaborative marketing

There are plenty of ways to get started with collaborative marketing. To help you to get thinking about some initial ideas, we’ve put together some of our favorite strategies below.

Partnership marketing

Partnership marketing is when two brands split the costs for a mutually beneficial marketing campaign. This could take the form of ads, content marketing, a giveaway, or even a pop-up shop. The key is that both brands are meeting their goals and split any costs that go into the campaign. 

Apple is one of the heavyweight champs of partnership marketing. Over the years, they’ve collaborated with brands like U2 and Nike to create some of the most iconic partnership campaigns ever. If there’s any brand you want to emulate, look to Apple.

Another great example of partnership marketing is the collaboration between Hubspot and Chatfuel. The two brands launched an ebook together, and when users went to download it, they were presented with CTA’s for both brands — each of which offers complimentary services. 

Read more about partnership marketing

Retail partnerships

For many brands with physical products, retail partnerships are a near necessity — they’re what get your products into nationwide or international chains like Whole Foods, Target, or even online marketplaces like Amazon or Thrive Market. In short, retail partnerships can bring your products to a whole new audience and boost sales almost instantaneously. 

But retail partnerships don’t have to stop at simple distribution agreements. They can go further into exclusive products, content marketing, or even retail-retail partnerships — CVS recently took over Target’s pharmacy, for example. 

If you want examples of retail partnerships, just go to the grocery store. Every product that isn’t from the store brand is part of a retail partnership. 

Read more about retail partnerships

Cooperative advertising

Cooperative advertising, aka co-op advertising, is pretty much the same thing as partnership marketing. The main difference is that cooperative advertising is focused exclusively on advertising, not marketing in general. This means that content marketing, Instagram giveaways, etc., are off the table. 

A typical cooperative advertising campaign promotes a joint venture. For example, Starbucks and Apple had a partnership from 2007 to 2016 that let Starbucks customers instantly connect to free WiFi and preview, purchase, and download songs from iTunes while in the store. Ads run for this venture would be considered cooperative advertising. 

Read more about cooperative advertising

Instagram collaborations

Instagram collaborations take collaborative marketing to the ‘gram. There are several types of Instagram collaborations, such as:

  • Instagram takeovers: One brand takes over another brand’s Instagram for a set period of time. 
  • Giveaways: Multiple brands host a giveaway of some of their products
  • Referrals and affiliate programs: One brand promotes another’s products and receives a commission when someone makes a purchase
  • Product shoutouts: One brand makes a post that includes and/or tags another brand and its products
  • Joint product releases: Two or more brands collaborate on a product and jointly release it

Instagram is an essential part of any brand’s marketing toolbox and all brands should consider adding these strategies to their arsenal. 

Read more about Instagram collaborations

Instagram pods

Instagram pods are a type of behind-the-scenes collaboration. In short, an Instagram pod is a group of Instagrammers that agrees to engage with each others’ content. Every time one of them posts on Instagram, they send it to the group, and all the members are encouraged to like and comment on it. Since Instagram’s algorithm boosts content that has significant engagement, this can be a very useful strategy. 

However, there is a dark side: Instagram does not approve of the practice, and being part of a pod can land you with some tough consequences. Facebook banned a few groups that were used to form pods in 2018, and Instagram blocked one brand’s store from the platform.

Overall, the risks outweigh the benefits here. Although Instagram pods can boost engagement, that engagement tends to be pretty superficial. You’ll get a boost as far as the algorithm goes, but you can end up with retaliation from Instagram itself. 

Tread carefully. 

Read more about Instagram Pods

Brand partnerships

Brand partnerships are any type of collaborative effort that serves to meet the partner brands’ goals. While this can mean anything from joint advertising to retail partnerships, here we’re going to use it to refer to brands that collaborate long-term — often on a product. 

Long-term brand partnerships can lead to new products and ideas that neither could have come up with on their own. For example, when Burger King partnered with the Impossible Burger, they made history by becoming one of the first national fast-food brands to release a meatless burger. 

But brand partnerships don’t have to lead to the birth of a new product. One of the longest-lasting brand partnerships is between McDonald’s and Coca Cola. Although McDonald’s hasn’t collaborated on a new drink with Coca Cola, it has agreed to exclusively offer Coke products at its restaurants. 

Read more about brand partnerships

Partnership emails

If you’re ready to jump into the world of collaborative advertising, you’re going to need to break the ice. And what better way to do that than with a good old email?

Partnership emails are your chance to get in touch with a brand and tell them why you two would make a great team. To do that, you’ll need to have:

  • An introduction: Explain who you are, and why you’re relevant to the brand. 
  • A compliment or acknowledgment: Let the brand know why you chose them. What do you like about their work? Any recent products you’re in love with? Let them know — everybody likes compliments!
  • A request: This is meat and potatoes of the email. Why are you writing to this brand? What do you want them to do for you? Stock your product? Host a giveaway? Collaborate on a piece of content?
  • An offer: Part two of the meat and potatoes. If they fulfill your request, what are you going to give them in return? What’s in it for them?
  • A call to action: If you successfully piqued their interest, what should they do now? Let them know how to get in contact with you. It’s often a good idea to propose a time for a call right in your initial email. It takes the work of planning out of their hands and makes it easier for them to simply say yes and show up on Zoom at the time you proposed.

Read more about partnership emails

Referral marketing

Referral marketing, sometimes called affiliate marketing, is when your brand partners generate targeted leads for your brand through referrals, usually in exchange for some sort of commission. It’s a great, simple, and effective way to utilize collaborative marketing.

All you need to do is set up your referral program, then give your brand partners their own unique tracking links and promotional tools like banners, etc. After that, they can start sending customers your way.

How you choose to set it up is up to you. Many brands opt for CPA (cost per acquisition) referral models in which partners are paid per acquisition (usually a sale). You can set it up in-house or work through a platform like Share a Sale.

Instagram takeovers

Another great way to utilize collaborative marketing is to host an Instagram takeover. This is when a brand or influencer acts as a guest host on another brand or influencers Instagram channel. It’s a great way for brands to cross-promote content in a way that is mutually and equally beneficial.

There are two ways to go about this:

  1. You can take over another brand’s Instagram feed
  2. You can invite someone you want to partner with to take over yours

Or, you could do both at the same time! By taking over your partners you’ll instantly be able to reach and promote your brand in front of their entire audience. 

If you go down this route, make sure to partner with a brand or influencer that has similar goals and buyer personas to your own as well as a similar following size.

Collaborative content marketing

Collaborative content marketing is when you create and share content in collaboration with a strategic brand partner. Here are some examples of what we’re talking about:

  • Guest posting – publishing content on a partner’s blog can be a great way to generate targeted leads and build your authority in the space.
  • Expert roundups – creating a piece of content and reaching out to other businesses for quotes is a great way to build relationships and boost the share of your piece.
  • Podcasts – consider collaborating with a similar brand on a podcast and share it with both of your respective audiences to double up your reach.
  • Interviews – invite a key figure at a partner brand for an interview and publish it on your blog. After that, they can share it with their audience (free exposure for your blog) or even invite you for an interview in return.

Joint ads

You can split the cost of a traditional advertisement with one or more partners to reduce the cost. This works great when it comes to regional or more local collaborations.

For example, let’s imagine that you own a small boutique fashion store in a small shopping mall. Rather than advertise your specific store, you could advertise the mall itself and split the cost with the rest of the businesses operating there. 

Everyone benefits equally, and the cost is significantly lower.

Partnership deals/discounts

Another great collaborative marketing strategy is to set up exclusive promotional deals and discounts for your partner and vice-versa.

For example, a fast-food restaurant might give a coupon for a discount at the local cinema with every purchase, and the local cinema might do the same in return. In this example, both parties benefit without being in direct competition with each other. 

Mailing list exposure

As we all know, email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing channels out there with an unbeatable ROI. As such, one of the best ways to utilize collaborative marketing is to ‘share’ your mailing list with another, similar brand.

An easy way to do this is to place an ad for your product in another brand’s email campaign to reach their mailing list. This works best with similar brands as the more targeted mailing list, the better the ad will perform.

In fact, this is exactly what we do here at Ampjar – we connect awesome, like-minded brands together for joint email campaigns. So, if you’re interested in trying this collaborative marketing strategy out, make sure to check out our Curated Communities.

If you don’t have much of an email list to share just yet, now’s the time to start building one.

Awesome examples of collaborative marketing

If you want to see what effective collaborative marketing looks like in action, look no further than the partnerships below. All these companies killed it with their brand collaboration marketing campaigns.

McDonald’s and Hasbro

McDonald’s have been teaming up with Hasbro for over a decade for one of the most successful annual fast-food promotions of all time.

Every year, they launch the ‘McDonald’s Monopoly’ event, which gives diners the opportunity to enjoy everyone’s favorite board game while they dine by collecting tokens and matching up colors for the chance to win big prizes.

It seems to be a match made in heaven as the co-marketing campaign has been a roaring success for both brands.

For McDonald’s, the campaign goal was to increase sales and footfall across the board, and it’s exceeded targets for 12 years in a row. It’s good news for Monopoly too, having lead to a 159% increase in positive sentiment for the board game.

Uber and Spotify

This collaboration between Uber and Spotify is the perfect example of complementary brand relationships. These brands aren’t direct competitors, but they complement each other perfectly.

Throughout the campaign, Uber passengers could connect their Spotify apps to the car’s radio in order to control the music, providing brilliant cross-promotional exposure for both brands. Spotify added value to the Uber experience and created hype that boosted rides, while Uber provided a massive amount of exposure for Spotify. 

It also helped that they both had similar target market’s. Both focused heavily on the ‘millennial market’ and were huge names in the tech space. 

Levi’s and Google

Google recently teamed up with Levi’s for an exciting partnership campaign nicknamed ‘Project Jacquard’. The brands worked together to develop an exciting new wearable tech product – an interactive denim jacket. 

The jacket was designed to allow cyclists to use their phone by tapping or swiping their jacket sleeve, eliminating the need to pull out their phone (which is, of course, dangerous). 

This partnership definitely borders on co-branding as the main goal of both brands was to strengthen their respective images, but it’s still worth mentioning as it was so successful. 

The campaign generated a ton of interest and successfully unified both brand’s strengths. The result was a product that oozed not just style and sophistication, but also functionality and innovation. 

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