My favorite teamup; Photo by bibertaCo-branding happens when two (or more) businesses join forces to present a coordinated “face”.

There’s tremendous potential in combining resources to expand your reach. I’ve seen (and you, too, right?) exciting things happen for businesses that do this, such as broadening each other’s customer base and building loyalty with new services. We’ve also seen awful things happen, which ultimately involves a lot of wasted money.

Treated thoughtfully, co-branding is a powerful marketing tool that can benefit businesses and their customers. To that end, I’ve put together a framework and loose notes I hope you’ll find helpful if you’re considering a co-branding campaign.

1. Customer value:
What’s not valuable? A big ad (a double ad!), with two equally weighted logos, that does nothing more than tout products.

How would your customers benefit from a team-up? You’re looking for engagement—that thing that happens in any conversation only when all participants experience value.

Example:
For a DIY website and power tool teamup, we pooled the latest how-to content from both businesses to create a rich, and very popular, co-branded sub-site. The DIY website had abundant traffic to offer, and the tool manufacturer contributed interactive demos, helping users learn about the tools they’d need to tackle the projects they had chosen to read about. Together, we also created a little Quick Tips tool with a collection of images and super-brief reminders for DIYers. Everything users experienced invited them to explore, to return and learn more, and ultimately, through a strengthened relationship, to buy.

2. What is the partner relationship?
You need to be clear on this, not least because you need to help your customers understand what’s going on, and prevent confusion.

Examples:

  • A wants to tell its customers about how cool B is
  • A is bringing B in as a special treat or service for its customers
  • A says, “If you like us, we think you’ll also like B.”
  • A and B announce a Joint Event or Offering

These are only a few examples. The first three may or may not be reciprocal, depending on what makes the most sense, and truly benefits all participants.

Be really exhaustive about this step. Make sure everyone involved gets it.

3. Establish genuine trust between the partners, and boundaries:
What is being divulged? Given? Kept? A successful campaign can build great relationships, and those can lead to more successful campaigns. Think long term, and keep your promises.

If you’re the “all’s fair in love and war” type, happy to “glance” at stray memos, then at least agree to hold all meetings in a neutral place, and restrict all communications to specific liaisons.

4. Determine the business value:
Name targets.

Beyond earnings (how much, by when), consider including: buzz (what kind: press? internet chatter?), website or physical visits (how many, by when), newsletter or social media signups, etc.

It probably goes without saying that you want to build measuring tools into your plan. The longer I’ve worked on website co-brands the more tracking tools I’ve requested.

5. Need help brainstorming? Feel free to use this worksheet:
Note: Do (privately) answer the worksheet questions for both your own business and the partner business. For both, because you’ll have insights about their offerings and/or needs that they may miss. Privately, because they may not like to hear what you think they need, or ought to offer (so if you present these, do so diplomatically).

Business A

Needs:

Can Offer:

Growth Potential:

I Don’t Understand (questions to ask):

Notes:

5 IDEAS:

Business B

Needs:

Can Offer:

Growth Potential:

I Don’t Understand (questions to ask):

Notes:

5 IDEAS:

 

 

6. Ask questions
The better you understand the business you’re co-branding with, the better the campaign can be. You’re likely missing some important information, like the finer points of their products/services, or (shareable aspects of) their long term goals. If you use the worksheet above, you’ll probably discover important questions. Write them down and get answers.

7. More about “5 IDEAS” (or, Brainstorming in a Nutshell)
The 5 IDEAS item on the worksheet above is one of my personal tricks. If I’m brainstorming about anything, I make sure I’ve written down at least five ideas. I never present five ideas. I rarely present more than two. But writing down at least five will get you past the obvious and into the stuff you may have dismissed as ridiculous, inappropriate, impossible, etc.

Five isn’t really that many. If you’re feeling inspired, I invite you to try ten, or twenty. You can also break it down or dig deeper: Generate five specific ways to implement each of your five ideas, or generate five ideas for each business goal, etc.

I’ve provided a starting point to help spark your best ideas. The more you dig past the easy and obvious answers, the better your ideas will be (even if that means returning to that first, easy and obvious answer). My perspectives are from the point of view of marketing and brand management. For systematic and deeper business perspectives, there’s more homework to do. For example, check out this SmartBrief article, 5 questions to ask when forming business partnerships (there are actually way more than five good tips in this one).

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