Finding the right fit: creating strategic partnerships that work for your brand

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Author
Imogen Beech
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9 minute read

Right, you’ve read all about the benefits of strategic partners and now you’re looking to give this strategic partnership malarky a go.

But it’s not enough just to decide that you want a strategic alliance (another industry term you’ll find floating around!). Forming partnerships, maintaining partnerships and most of all, achieving your goals through your partnerships takes careful planning, dedication and commitment. In fact, Forrester revealed that 73% of marketers find managing partners a major challenge, with opportunity progression proving particularly tricky.

So, the worst thing you could possibly do is leap into a strategic partnership with a brand that’s just not right.

If you’re wondering how to create strategic partnerships that are right for your brand and that will help you grow your business, here are some essential steps you’ll need to take before you even think about approaching anyone!

1. Identify your objectives

Identifying goals

The biggest mistake you can make is forging ahead in your search simply because you’ve heard that a co-marketing partner or a channel partner is something you should have. Unless you have a real reason for wanting one, the time and resources you’ll need to spend finding and maintaining a strategic partnership simply won’t be worth it!

That’s why identifying your objectives is such an essential first step towards creating strategic partnerships that can work. Potential objectives include:

  • Accessing new markets
  • Increasing sales in existing markets
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Improving your brand’s reputation
  • Improving your access to technology and other resources
  • Improving your product offering for your customers
  • Diversifying your product offering

Of course, there are overlaps!

It’s also important to identify whether your goal is short-term impact or long-term growth. This will affect what kind of partners will suit you. For example, Instagram influencers’ posts will usually only be effective for a short while, as they get replaced on users’ feeds by more recent posts (our guide to paid partnerships on Instagram has the full lowdown). On the other hand, YouTube videos sit within an algorithm that makes them more inclined to work towards long-term growth.

Similarly, seasonal partnerships can be hugely effective at leveraging a trend that you know will be on your audience's mind at a specific time of the year, but they're not usually designed to operate long-term (although they can have long-term benefits, like brand awareness). Check out our selection of seasonal partnership examples to learn more.

Once you’ve identified what you want to get out of a strategic partner, you can then pinpoint exactly what kind of partnerships you’re looking for. If you're hoping to use partnerships as a growth channel, over time, you'll hopefully develop a thriving partner ecosystem that incorporates many different types of partners all utilising their individual strengths to help you achieve different goals across your organisation.

2. Pinpoint what type of partnership will help you achieve your objectives

Identify partnership types

Now that you have your objectives, it’s time to work out what type of strategic alliance you need. After all, there are many different partnership types and not all of them will be suited to achieving the objectives you’ve identified. Let’s take a look at some potentials.

  • Increasing brand awareness: companies looking to increase brand awareness might be drawn to partnership marketing types such as sponsorship, product placement or distribution marketing partnerships.
  • Improving brand reputation: charitable partnerships, when done well, can be an excellent way to improve your brand reputation. Other popular types of partner marketing that can help achieve this goal are sponsorship and co-branding.
  • Accessing new markets: Affiliate marketing, content marketing, comarketing, distribution marketing, supply chain partnerships and referral agreements are all types of partnership marketing that can help companies access new markets.
  • Increase sales amongst existing customers: for those looking to increase sales amongst their existing customer base, an incentive marketing partnership where you reward customers for repeat purchases can work wonders. Alternatively, a licensing agreement, a technology partner or a joint product partnership where you collaborate with another brand to improve your offering could lead to more purchases.

In general, there are two main groups of strategic partnerships: partner marketing and other strategic partnerships.

Partner marketing, also known as partnership marketing, is an umbrella term that incorporates any kind of partnership related to marketing brands or their products. This includes co-branding, content marketing, comarketing, distribution marketing and much more. Check out our selection of partner marketing examples to get a full idea of the kind of scope it includes.

On the other hand, the second category of partnership is when brands go a step further and collaborate in ways besides just marketing. For instance, they may collaborate to build a new product or to share personnel and other resources.

Our guide to the different types of strategic partnerships. will give you a good idea of exactly what kinds of partnerships there are and which ones can help you to reach your goals.

3. Find brands that could help you achieve your objectives

Find brands

Once you’ve decided exactly what type of partnership you’re after, you’ll need to get still more specific. After all, a partnership with any old brand that’s up for it just isn’t going to cut it, even if it is the type of partnership that you’ve pinpointed!

There are probably tons of brands that you might think are fantastic potential partners for you. But to help you narrow it down to those worth contacting, ask yourself these questions.

What’s their reach like?

If you’re looking to increase brand awareness or reach new markets through partnership marketing, you’ll need to make sure that potential partners have a large enough reach to make a collaboration worthwhile.

Take affiliate marketing for instance. If an affiliate’s website only has 100 visitors a month, you’re unlikely to see much of a return (unless their conversion rates are through the roof!). However, there’s always a balance to be had – if a brand is too big, they might not be open to working on a pure performance basis. For example, they might demand high upfront costs with no guarantees as part of a hybrid deal, meaning you have to fork out a set fee alongside paying based on performance.

We like to think that there’s a special ‘Goldilocks Zone’ when it comes to partnerships (as there is in so many other areas of life!) – a size that’s not too big, not too small, but just right. From our experience, this is often websites that have between 10,000 and 100,000 visitors a month, but of course, it’s different for everyone.

The same goes for co-branding partnerships. If you’re going to be co-branding a marketing campaign, you’ll need to ensure that your partner brand has enough of a following that you can leverage their reputation and audience for your benefit. However, if the other brand is too big, they’re unlikely to see enough of a return themselves, as they’ll need to leverage your audience to make the partnership worthwhile for them.

This isn’t always the case though. A joint product partnership often involves a collaboration between a small startup and a tech giant, because both parties bring something very different to the table – the startup might be able to provide technology that can get the tech giant ahead of their competitors, while the giant has the reach and resources that the startup is likely to be looking for. So, it’s always important to take your goals into account when you’re assessing what a potential partner can provide.

How relevant are they?

No matter how big a potential partner’s reach is, your partnership won’t have any kind of positive impact if their audience isn’t a good match. Kim Kardashian has millions of followers on Instagram. But if she promoted computer software, she’d be unlikely to generate much of a return as her audience just isn’t relevant enough.

On the other hand, think of Red Bull and GoPro’s successful co-marketing partnership. The reason it worked so well for both brands was that they have the same target market but aren’t competing against one another (turns out that people who enjoy jumping out of planes at high altitude also enjoy energy drinks!). So, it’s important to make sure that your customer overlaps with your partner’s audience.

For B2C companies, this overlap will probably be more demographic-based. For example, you might look for a partner whose audience falls into a certain income bracket, age group, gender or religion (which may require some data sharing). However, you can also think more laterally. For example, one of our customers is a business that sells houses. Their relevant partners could be any brand that targets people who have recently divorced or who have recently received an inheritance (since these groups are likely to be looking to sell).

On the other hand, B2B companies are likely to be more focused on finding common ground between the businesses they sell to, such as their industry, size and region. They’ll also want to identify whether or not the target customer is the decision-maker (and if not, they’ll need to make sure that there’s a tracking mechanism in place to make sure partners are rewarded for leads that are then passed on to the decision-makers internally).

Can you give them enough of an incentive?

Even harder than creating a strategic partnership is maintaining it. According to Mark Sochan in The Art of Strategic Partnering, 60-65% of strategic partnerships fail. The key to making them last is to ensure that both sides of the partnership benefit equally. So, rather than focusing on negotiating a deal that’s great for you but not so great for your partner, look for partnerships that will result in a win-win situation for you both.

This applies to all partnership types.

Take affiliate marketing as an example. If you only offer a low revenue share, the affiliate will need to sell a lot to make the partnership worthwhile for them financially. This may result in them having to put in more effort than what they’re receiving in return, which isn’t likely to last.

So, it’s important to consider how much value a partner will receive from a potential partnership in proportion to the effort they’re putting in. Our piece on why partnerships fail goes into more detail here.

What’s their reputation like?

In a strategic alliance, you’re essentially aligning your brand with that of another company’s. So, any negativity surrounding their brand also reflects badly on yours. No matter how big a potential partner’s reach is, only enter into a partnership with a brand that you would be proud to be associated with and that enhances your brand reputation rather than damaging it.

But how exactly can you determine reputation?

First and foremost, have a look at what other people say about your potential partners. A great way to do this is by checking independent review sites.

Here are a few good starting points:

It’s also worth checking a brand’s estimated domain authority using tools like Breezy (which pulls through Moz’s domain authority score for each partner recommendation). This gives you an idea of how trustworthy Google considers a website to be. Although it’s not foolproof, it’s generally useful to avoid partnering with brands with low scores, particularly if you’re going to be linking between one another’s websites (check out our guide to content partnerships for more information on domain authority and backlinks).

That said, just because a company has a generally good reputation, that doesn’t mean that it can’t damage yours if you have different values. For example, if being green or sustainable is a big part of your brand ethos, partnering with an oil company would likely damage your credibility. Similarly, if you’re in the children’s health industry, partnering with the NRA would be sure to do a lot of damage (but it might not if you sold hunting gear!).

So, always consider what reputation you’re trying to achieve for your brand, and weigh potential partners up against those same ideals.

What’s their partnership history?

Take a look at a brand’s previous partnerships when you’re considering whether or not to approach them. Have their previous partnerships been successful? Do they have any partners that are direct competitors of yours? It’s usually best to steer clear of brands who are already partnered with your direct competitors (unless we’re talking comparison sites) but you can learn a lot about them from their previous collaborations.

Doing this research will also stand you in good stead for when you actually approach a potential partner. You’ll be able to reference partnerships similar to the one you’re envisaging. Or, in the case of content collaborations, you could even suggest a page on their website that you could contribute to.

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Once you’ve followed these simple but vital steps, you should have a much clearer idea of exactly what type of partnerships your business needs, putting you in a great place to develop a successful partner ecosystem strategy. So, now that you actually know what you’re looking for, it’s time to go about finding strategic partners to approach.

If you’re ready, follow our step-by-step guide on how to find strategic partnerships. And remember: with relevancy ranking, reach and authority stats and a competitor partnership analysis tool, Breezy answers all of these questions for you – making it quick and easy to create successful strategic partnerships that can help you to achieve your goals.

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