Marketing partnerships can be an inexpensive way to promote your brand, as long as you don't give more than you get
When The Infatuation, a restaurant review site, released its 2014 summer guide, it featured restaurant and bar ideas for New York City, as well as profiles of several weekend getaways with detailed clothing suggestions for each. The guide was created in partnership with apparel company Paige Denim, which provided the clothing that appeared in the guide and helped defray the cost of production.
The joint venture was "one of our biggest marketing drivers of the year," says Andrew Steinthal, co-founder of the Infatuation. The site required users to submit an email address to download the guide, so the company's email marketing list doubled. There was also a big bump in its web traffic.
A partnership with the right company on the right project goes a long way in helping you reach new customers and burnishes your brand identity through association--all for a small investment. But not every marketing partnership is a winner. Doing it wrong can be expensive and put a drain on your time and energy.
1. Choose a company your customers will dig
Target partners that will excite your audience. Steinthal and co-founder Chris Stang have spent more than five years using partnerships, like the one with Paige, to expand the Infatuation's reach. "One of the first things we did was make a wish list of brands we love that would be dream partners," Steinthal says. Approaching brands that fit the site's readers' young, urban lifestyle helps ensure that both the Infatuation's existing users and its partner's customers will be pleased to see the pairing, instead of confused by it.
2. Meet each other's needs
Partnerships work better--and last longer--when they allow each partner to fill gaps in the other's business than they do when they just give each partner access to the other's clients. New York City--based Fora Financial, which provides working capital to small and midsize businesses, recently began partnering with equipment lease providers in various industries to market financing to their customers via direct mail. It is a great match: Fora Financial reaches new customers that would not otherwise be familiar with its product, and the leasing companies are able to gain and keep clients that need a cash infusion before they can sign a lease, says Jacklynn Manning, Fora Financial's chief marketing officer.
3. Don't endanger your reputation
It's also crucial to know when to say no. Megan Smyth, CEO of FitReserve, provider of an all-access membership that gives entry to fitness classes in multiple gyms and studios, was approached for a partnership by a low-end mass-market-product maker that wanted access to her members. She declined, she says, because it wasn't the right fit from a quality or reputational standpoint. A partnership with a smaller company, wedding registry site NewlyWish, is a better fit with a better payoff: NewlyWish gets a commission on sales of FitReserve memberships made through its site, and Smyth gets access to a new group of well-heeled customers.
4. Carefully set the terms of the deal--and walk if they're broken
No matter the type of partnership you enter, be absolutely clear about who is doing what, including evaluating state laws that might apply to limits on giveaways and creating a detailed schedule for distribution of promotional materials. Know exactly what benefits you expect to receive, or you are at risk of doing too much work for too little return. The Infatuation's Steinthal and Stang were several planning sessions in when they learned that their compensation for their contribution to a partnership with a mobile phone maker would be nothing but free phones. They quickly terminated the partnership. Steinthal declined to name the company, but said being treated like casual bloggers rather than as a partner with common goals reinforced the importance of asking detailed questions up front.