Forming strategic marketing alliances with other businesses is one of the most cost-effective ways to reach new audiences. Christina Richardson, business marketing specialist and founder of The Nurture Network, runs through the five steps to make your marketing collaborations a success
The biggest challenge for most new brands is lack of awareness - which is why more than 80% of businesses say that finding new customers is one of their biggest barriers to growth. This need, combined with limited budgets, is what drives a number of brands to explore marketing collaborations to fuel their business.
But collaboration remains one of the best-kept secrets of the entrepreneurial world. More than 60% of start-ups and small businesses are working together to find new customers, because it can be one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to grow a business.
At one end of the scale, businesses are co-creating completely new products, or running whole marketing campaigns or on-pack promotions together. At the other end of the scale, savvy start-ups get together with other brands to promote each other and share each other’s products to expand their own reach.
Here’s how to set up a successful marketing collaboration and get results on a budget.
1. Be clear on your objectives
All effective marketing starts with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and developing collaborative marketing activities is no different.
Firstly, identify what you want to achieve. Identify whether you want to reach more people; whether you want to reach a very specific or niche group of people; perhaps you want to improve your brand reputation; or reward your current loyal customers in some way.
Knowing your objectives will enable you to be clear about what activities you would like to do with another brand.
2. Think like a customer
Having your customer at the heart of all your marketing decisions is vital to effective marketing. When it comes to choosing a brand to collaborate with, your customer is the best place to start. What brands does your customer base buy and interact with? What brands do they aspire to buy? Which ones complement your brand?
Identify all the brands that your consumer interacts with, and you will have a long list of brands that you can collaborate with to meet more customers like the ones you already have.
3. Be true to your brand
The final filter for selecting the best brands to collaborate with is brand fit. The most effective marketing collaborations are when the very essence of the brands involved genuinely work well together.
Whether it is having a common cause, matched brand values, or a similar tone of voice, something must be complementary between you and your potential partner to make a successful relationship, rather than a superficial one.
When McDonalds was announced as a brand partner of the London Olympics back in 2012, they came under some pretty heavy scrutiny, because the perceived brand values jar with each other. By contrast, Nike and Apple working together to create fitness accessories that talk to each other makes perfect sense and gives added value to the consumer.
4. Think ‘mutual benefit’, not payment
There will always be a role for paid-for sponsorship deals, but it’s best to build relationships based on mutual benefit rather than cash exchanges. Once you know who you want to reach and what you want to achieve, the trick is to identify what you have of value that you can offer potential brand partners.
You could give away products in return for free advertising; offer up competition prizes for editorial coverage; feature other peoples' competitions in your marketing in return for featuring in theirs - the opportunities are endless.
Don’t get caught up thinking you have nothing to offer because you’re small or don’t do much marketing. If you have just one shop, there will be non-retail brands itching to access the people that walk through your doors every day.
If you have a great social media following, or an e-newsletter that is well received by a specific group of consumers, then these are your assets.
5. Focus on the relationship
In return for reaching new customers and promoting your business for little or no cost, be prepared to invest time in creating a strong relationship with your brand partner.
Be open and honest about what you both want to achieve, and agree your joint objectives upfront. If you get the right balance, you will both want to repeat the activities again and again, which really pays back on the time spent finding, meeting and working together.
Be flexible and creative early in the planning stage. Once you have a central idea for working together, look at all parts of your respective businesses and see how and where you can spread your idea across multiple marketing channels. By amplifying the activity across email, print adverts or social media you will get a better return on investment (ROI) for the time you are putting in.
Plan ahead and agree clearly who will do what by when. The best ideas can fall down at the execution stage - so make time to go through the detail and agree responsibilities upfront.
If there is any copy, creative or artwork required, set up a process so that both parties can sign it off in good time by the deadline. Allow extra time to resolve any differences of opinion that may crop up without pressure. And identify some key measures (key performance indicators or KPIs) that you both feel are good ways to track success by.
Reaping the rewards of collaboration
The only limiting factor for collaboration is finding the right partner to do it with. The majority of brands we work with find this the biggest hurdle, as it often takes meeting someone whilst networking to get the ball rolling.
However, with some time, effort and careful research to find the right partner brand, you could reap serious rewards.
Written by Christina Richardson of The Nurture Network.