The 6 essential requirements for successful marketing partnerships

I can’t say I’ve read The Odyssey, but I think Homer nailed it when he wrote:

“There is nothing more … admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends”

And the reason I think this is right is it could easily be rewritten for business:

“There is nothing more profitable than when two companies who see eye to eye do business as partners, confounding their competitors and delighting their consumers”

And so to get a ‘profitable’ Marketing Partnership (whether financially, brand health or both), there are some simple, practical ways to help you identify suitable candidates and increase your chances of avoiding the adolescent pain of a lonely walk home at the end of a night out.

I’ve pulled together a list of six measures that I have found useful. It’s not exhaustive, as every partnership is unique, but it’s a good start and a way to bring your ‘Blink’ instinct together with a framework for analysis.

1. Commitment from senior management

Top of the list for a reason…If a C-level (or similar) decision maker in both businesses see value in what you’re doing, then the chances are that a partnership will get off the ground. It’s amazing how a business will get behind something when a small amount of highly influential individuals are beating the drum. Equally, I worked on one particular project that involved co-development and co-marketing of an innovative product that didn’t see the light of day purely because the CEO of the company had a different view of who his company should be working with to the rest of his own team. Months of work went down the drain in an instant and, for us, an unachievable deadline to launch with another partner that could have been avoided had we know the low visibility our work had with the initial partner’s leadership. Get the right people involved and get them excited. It’s never a bad thing to direct your marketing expertise internally.

2. Relevance to the core consumer

You should know this instinctively, but when it comes to selecting a marketing partner it’s essential that your brand and your potential brand partner can legitimately engage with each other in the eyes of the consumer.

That doesn’t mean the brands can’t come from very different worlds – the classic case for me is the collaboration between Vans and Kenzo. Vans, the Californian skate shoe company founded in 1966, partnered with Kenzo, the French luxury fashion house founded in 1970, to collaborate for a number of seasons on limited edition Vans shoes using Kenzo fabric designs. This marriage of the fashion and streetwear worlds brought accessibility to a high-end label without endangering its ‘premium’ positioning for Kenzo, meanwhile upscaling the Vans brand and providing a point of difference in a highly competitive, cost-conscious category. By doing so, the companies were able to cross the divide between their typical consumer and each addressed a new audience.

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3. Marketing clout

You’re looking to create value through the marketing partnership from Sales, Brand Equity and/or Equivalent Media Value. More often than not a large percentage of this will be through comms roll-out in traditional, digital and social media channels, not forgetting Key Individuals (Ambassadors, Athletes, Social media Stars and so on). Run some analysis to see how active the potential partner is likely to be with you – current and historical media spend, geographic scope, demonstrable creative ambition and social media engagement will help you build a picture for how engaged the business is with marketing investment and the subsequent level of support you might expect.

4. Brand / company health

It’s sometimes easily forgotten that potential partners have their own business to run, their own commercial focus that got them this far already. Of course, the successes are often accompanied by some less attractive considerations. Partnership is generally about strengths and weaknesses; you may have a financially strong business that has a waning brand amongst its target consumers. It might look to partner with a smaller company that has less impressive financials but a significantly stronger brand.

We worked with a company that was very attractive from a brand perspective and outwardly looked to be in a strong financial position. However as we went through the initial approach for a partnership it became obvious that the business was creaking under serious debt and, understandably, needed to focus on its core business rather than establishing new partnerships. We accepted their need to do this and moved on.

A good source of financial information and analysis is Seeking Alpha.

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5. Product expertise

For me, the most complete marketing partnership extends into the product portfolio. Why? Because this normally requires significant commitment from multiple teams within each partner business, not just the marketers. As the Vans and Kenzo example showed when two companies can bring together product expertise over and above brand alignment very powerful partnerships emerge. Another great example, albeit a couple of years old now, is the hook up between Burton Snowboards and Mountain Dew: creating sustainable fabrics out of recycled plastic bottles and using the material in a range of limited edition T-shirts and other key products within the Burton line.

The point here is that working with a hardware or software company that has in-house product making skills opens the door to innovation and a commitment to succeed that can elevate the partnership.

6. Distribution

Lastly is physical distribution. As anyone that has worked in a hardware startup will tell you, distribution is the quickest way for you to lose margin but it is also the best way to get your product in the hands of the early adopting consumers you want to engage with; the core influencers. With that in mind, when it comes to marketing partnerships, in particular, it helps to consider using a partner’s distribution as a marketing tool – foregoing the opportunity to make profit in order to influence the right people.

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So to finish up, these are six ways to look at a potential marketing partnership. Most should apply, some might be irrelevant to the specific partnership you are putting together and others might need to be added. However, broadly speaking if you’ve addressed these points and turned up the dial on the measures that matter the most then you should be in a good place to make the marketing partnership a success.

Stuart WellsBorn in Edinburgh and proudly Scottish, Stuart Wells has spent 18+ years in agency and marketing roles working with world-class brands such as Mars, Bacardi, Sainsbury’s, the BBC, Nokia and Burton Snowboards. 
In 2015, he collaborated closely with INSEAD business school who chose to publish his work with Nokia and Burton Snowboards in a Marketing Best Practice case study. When not at work Stuart enjoys being with his family and snowboarding; one the few perks of the Finnish Winter.

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