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When your brand is in the startup phase, one of the biggest challenges is growing your audience, let alone doing so cost-effectively. Traditional paid channels like social media and marketing campaigns require significant purse strings, and the ROI is far from guaranteed. But through partnerships, two brands can come together to grow their audiences in a collaborative way without requiring a major investment.
The beauty is that each partner has their own brand equity, but the brands aren’t direct competitors, allowing each access to one another’s existing customer-base and marketing resources that they otherwise would not have. Through our work building and accelerating companies, we’ve seen many of our startup clients effectively incorporate partnerships into their marketing strategies to help them gain attention from new customers.
Here are five key things we’ve learned along the way:
Select your partner wisely
It’s very important to choose the right partner for your emerging brand. Ask yourself whether this partner will engage and appeal to your audience. It may be helpful to make a wish list of your dream partners and what qualities they bring to the table. And when it comes time to actually make a partnership decision, don’t make it on brand perception alone. Think of like an online dating service; you want to know that your future partner checks all the boxes on your wish list before jumping into a long-term relationship.
In our experience, the most effective partnerships allow both parties to fill in the gaps in one another’s businesses. Instead of just giving your partner access to your clients and vice versa, think about the ways you can both highlight and cross-promote one another’s unique offerings and services.
Maybe it’s introducing them to new brands or making a content swap. Whatever avenue you choose, keep in mind that you are adding value to your customers, which, in turn, may yield a boost of brand equity and loyalty among customers. Remember, one of the key advantages of partnership marketing is not having to build an audience from scratch.
However, in order for this to work, the partnership needs to be handled in a way that is mutually beneficial to both parties. An example of this might be a content swap in which both brands run a blog post on each other’s websites.
When you’re starting up, it’s tempting to look for channels that give your brand immediate exposure and offer the most payoff in the shortest amount of time. But immediate results don’t always have the staying power needed to make maximum impact. That’s why when you’re developing a partnership, it’s smart to have long-term goals in mind.
Even though it’s hard to remember when there wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner, one of the ways Starbucks was able to boost its brand power early on was through its partnership with Barnes & Noble. This partnership gave readers and shoppers a reason to hang out in the store and gave Starbucks entry into an established retailer. Today, it remains an important part of the Starbucks business model.
To preserve your brand’s reputation (and that of your partner brand), transparency is key. Brands need a system of record that protects the marketing partners involved and validates return on investment. Think of it like an independent checks and balances system to make sure that both stakeholders are delivering on their promises.
When exploring possible partnerships, it’s important to have an honest idea of the quantity and quality of leads you might procure by working with a particular brand. Having that information communicated in a clear, honest way allows for greater trust between brands, as well as a strong sense of accountability with respect to deliverables at the end of the partnership.
Ride the sharing economy wave
One of the reasons partnership marketing remains highly relevant is because it’s able to deliver on many of the promises of the sharing economy. With customer experience and convenience serving as two of the cornerstones of the sharing economy, partnership marketing becomes an even more important tool for building brand reach, positive brand association and offering customers higher quality options.
A good example of this concept in action is Airbnb’s partnerships with hotel-booking platform, SiteMinder, which lists traditional hotel rooms on its platform, as well as Flipboard, which provides its users with lifestyle content tailored to their interests.
Another example of this type of partnership is Uber’s partnership with Spotify, which allows riders to create a soundtrack for their ride and was successful in bringing new users to both brands.
Could partnership marketing be the secret ingredient your startup is missing? As you continue to look for opportunities to reach new audiences, consider incorporating partnership marketing into your plan. This strategy can add tremendous value and loyalty at a fraction of the cost of other marketing channels. As we’ve seen time and time again, the right partnership could be a real game changer for your brand.