A brand partnership strategy is a brilliant marketing move that puts the resources and reputation of two or more brands to work to benefit each partner. These partnerships help to expand your reach, boost credibility and influence, and create more robust content.
In 2016, GoPro entered a brand partnership with Red Bull that helped them sell an average of 4.4 million units over the next four years. This helped solidify GoPro’s status as the world’s go-to action camera.
A brand partnership is a mutually beneficial agreement between two or more businesses. All parties agree to help one another by promoting and sponsoring each other or creating content together. Brand partnerships aim to increase brand recognition and ultimately boost sales and customer loyalty.
Red Bull played a hand in GoPro’s success because Red Bull’s athletes showed how GoPro cameras took amazing photos, even in the wildest conditions. In return, GoPro gave Red Bull the chance to showcase their athletes and further promote Red Bull as a lifestyle brand, rather than just an energy drink.
Brand partnerships are a great way to grow, but they aren’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. You need to figure out what type of partnership is best for your current growth needs. So, let’s dig into the process.
Table of Contents
- Different types of partnerships: Co-marketing, integration, sponsorship
- 10 Brand partnership activities
- How to organize your partnership efforts
- Brand partnership best practices
Identify which type partnership you need
There are three types of brand partnerships: co-marketing, co-branding or integration, and sponsorships. The one you should choose will depend on your business goals, so I’ve defined each below and listed their advantages to help you decide.
1) Co-marketing partnerships
In a co-marketing partnership, two or more brands agree to promote each other through joint marketing activities like social media contests, co-hosted webinars, and more. This relationship typically is more casual, with no formal contract (although companies may institute agreements for each joint project).
Going back to our initial example, GoPro and Red Bull went the extra mile and built a whole marketing campaign together. Both companies promoted each other on a global scale.
Another example of a co-marketing partnership comes from Clearscope: They regularly partner with other brands to co-host webinars. In December 2022, for instance, Clearscope partnered with Jeff Baker of Baker SEO to co-host a webinar on evaluating search engine results pages.
Finally, Pep and Pup, a pet blog, hosted a social media giveaway with Vancouver cat company Catcouver to reach a wider audience. Both companies target a similar demographic — people who want and/or love pets — so joining in a co-marketing partnership proved to be advantageous.
Co-marketing activities are advantageous to companies that want to:
- Reach a larger audience
- Increase brand recognition
- Acquire more qualified leads
- Generate more buzz around a certain product or event
- Offer prospective and current customers new or different types of content
If your current marketing goals align with these, start looking into brands that offer a different product but target an audience similar to yours.
2) Co-branding or integration partnerships
Co-branding partnerships, also known as integration partnerships, occur when two or more brands work together to create a new product, whether it’s a physical item, an online service, or software.
Think of all the sports brands who partner with famous athletes to create new shoes (e.g., Nike x Michael Jordan). Other successful co-branding partnerships include Taco Bell partnering with Doritos to create the Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme and Google Maps partnering with Spotify to produce an in-navigation music streaming feature.
In eCommerce and SaaS, this can also take the form of integrations. Consider how many Shopify and other sales platform apps exist in the Shopify store and you’ll understand the value of integration partnerships for new user acquisition.
Brands enter into co-branding partnerships to:
- Increase sales by creating a more useful product or service for their current target audience
- Build relationships with other industry leaders
- Increase brand awareness and loyalty by associating themselves with a well-known brand or public figure
- Reach a wider audience without spending excessive amounts of money
Take note, however, that co-branding partnerships only work between brands that share similar values and target audiences.
If you have a partner in mind and your marketing goals align with the points above, you might want to look into a co-branding partnership.
Sponsorships involve one brand investing in another’s endeavors (e.g., online or live conferences, events). The sponsoring brand receives perks like the opportunity to set up a booth and market to attendees while the sponsored brand is compensated with money or free products.
For example, Salesforce’s Dreamforce event obtained sponsorships from large companies like Accenture, Deloitte Digital, and IBM.
Those brands backed Dreamforce to reach the event’s attendees who, according to Salesforce’s sponsorship package, included CEOs, sales leaders, customer service executives, developers, marketing managers, and salesforce admins.
In exchange, Salesforce offered different services that provided pre-, during, and post-event marketing plans. This enabled the sponsors to extend their audience reach and generate even more leads.
Sponsorships allow brands to:
- Market to an event’s attendees and generate leads
- Build relationships with specific businesses
- Learn more about their target audience by interacting with people at events
- Improve their reputation by sponsoring well-known brands
Brands can patronize more than private entities though; they’ll also fund charity events, podcasts, and professional development courses.
If you have the budget and know a brand or creator who your ideal customers follow, look into the potential gains of sponsoring them.
Choose the right brand partnership activities
Before you seal the deal with your partner brands, you need to discuss the list of activities that you want to collaborate on to ensure the partnership is beneficial to you both.
Agreeing on joint activities from the get-go will help all parties understand how much resources need to be invested in the partnership. It’s also an effective way to gauge whether or not that investment is worth it.
Here are 10 partnership activities (split into categories based on each type) you can suggest during your next partnership discussion.
5 Co-marketing partnership activities
1) Joint webinars
In joint or co-hosted webinars, each partner presents a topic that’s relevant to each brand’s audience. The brands also promote the event together on social media, through email, and via other communication channels.
An example of a great joint webinar is Salesforce and Grammarly’s webinar on account-based marketing. This topic is relevant to Grammarly’s audience because it talks about content personalization and tone. It’s important to Salesforce as well because their product offers solutions for account-based marketing teams.
If you want to host a webinar with your brand partners, first decide what topic would benefit all parties. Then, discuss promotional timelines, which webinar software to use, and a tech rehearsal date.
2) Newsletter swaps
A newsletter swap is when partners mention each other in their email blasts. Swaps can supplement other brand partnership activities like joint webinars or podcast guesting.
For example, if you’re co-hosting a podcast on the importance of SEO with SpyFu, then both you and SpyFu would send your mailing lists webinar promotion emails.
3) Blog post exchanges
Like the name suggests, a blog post exchange involves writing content for your partner brands’ blogs and vice versa.
Blog post exchanges are beneficial to all parties, as each blog has a unique target audience, which results in a wider audience for both brands. In addition, brand partners can exchange backlinks, leading to higher site authority.
4) Social media shout-outs
Social media shout-outs occur when brand partners link to each others’ blog posts, websites, events, or other pieces of content on their social profiles.
For example, SproutSocial and Salesforce decided to partner.
Then, SproutSocial shared their experience at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s flagship event, on Instagram.
Similar to email newsletter swaps, social media shout-outs can support other brand partnership activities.
5) Podcast guesting
Podcasts are a great way to reach a wider audience on a unique platform. Choose a guest from a well-known brand or be a guest on a partner brand’s podcast to help spread your brand name to different demographics.
For example, Buffer featured different small businesses on their podcast to boost their reputation as a brand that helps small businesses succeed.
Associating your brand with reliable brands and speakers through podcasts can strengthen your image as an authority in your niche. Whether you host guests or stop by for an episode with another company, podcasts are a great way to boost your reputation.
3 Co-branding partnership activities
6) Product development collaboration
Product development of any kind takes months of planning, developing, testing, and more planning. But developing a new product with capable companies is worth the commitment: A new, jointly produced offering can delight your customers, boost brand loyalty, and potentially increase recurring revenue or repeat sales.
For example, A&W Canada partnered with Beyond Meat to create new plant-based or vegan burgers.
In doing so, A&W was able to reach a whole new target audience who otherwise never would have dined at their establishment. Beyond Meat, meanwhile, earned more exposure and increased sales through A&W.
When you and your brand partners develop a whole new service or product together, it’s only natural your teams need to train together. That way, both teams are consistent in the way they handle support questions and market the new offering. Although this is an internal activity, it’ll ultimately benefit your customers and indirectly bolster your brand reputation.
8) Create co-branded success stories
The best partnerships are between brands that work together for their customers’ success. That means you’ll likely find plenty of customers that use both your and your partners’ products, and are happy to share about it.
For example, if you are a 3PL working with a listing tool, you can find customers that use both your logistics services as well as the listing tool software in conjunction. You can then craft a case study about how your partnership has benefitted that customer, how they use you both for success, and the results.
2 Sponsorship activities
9) Presentation and speaking opportunities
Ask certain sponsors to speak at an event or collaborate with you on a video or other audio-visual media. This is a great way to sweeten the deal: Your sponsor can show off what they know and how they can help attendees while simultaneously linking your brand to credible and respected names and thought leaders.
A quick and easy addition to your sponsorship packages is the number of mentions you’ll provide. You need to acknowledge your sponsors throughout the event, podcasts and videos leading up to the event, and various promotional activities.
Be as specific as possible with your deliverables so your sponsors know exactly what they’ll gain in exchange for their contribution.
10) Event booth setup
If you’re hosting a live event, invite sponsors to set up a booth at your venue. Help them by providing decoration options and a visible space.
For example, below is SurveyMonkey’s booth at the Dreamforce ’22 event.
They featured a bright green motif and set up an arcade basketball game to attract more potential leads and customers.
Alternatively, if you have a close complementary relationship to other brands planning to showcase at a trade show or other event, consider sharing a booth to make things more interactive or establishing booths near each other.
How to keep partnership efforts organized
I am still learning when it comes to keeping clients’ massive partner databases and activities organized. However, I’ve found that using an Asana form for every new partner helps ensure all the information we need is captured. You can create these forms in Airtable as well, if you prefer to use a different project management tool than Asana.
At minimum, the fields you want to capture for every partner are:
- Partner name (brand)
- Partner website
- Your primary contact’s name
- Your primary contact’s email address
- Target partnership activities
You may also want to add additional fields for:
- Primary contact’s title
- Additional contact emails
- Type of partner (ex. integration partner, marketing partner, affiliate partner, etc.)
- Quick description of the partner (ex. “a content marketing agency specilizing in eCommerce”)
- Whether or not they are on your partner page
I set up the Asana form so that the partner name becomes the title of a new card, and the information entered populates that new card description. From there, they are dropped into a “New partner” or “For outreach” column that tells me it’s time to reach out and start the collaboration process.
The columns I recommend using in your partnership board are:
- New partner: For new submissions, either from a potential partner or submitted by a team member. Cards in this column are ready for partner manager review and action.
- Partner list: For active partners with previous co-marketing activities recorded.
- Planning in progress: For partners with whom you are currently brainstorming or in discussion with regarding what partnership activities you want to pursue.
- Newsletter swap: Partners you want to spotlight in your newsletter and vice versa.
- Guest blog exchange: Partners currently doing a post swap. If cards sit here for a while it’s a good cue to follow up on when your post will be published.
- Joint webinar: Partners you’re currently planning an upcoming webinar with.
- Sunset: Partners you no longer work with. Be sure to include a few lines why the partner was a poor fit in the description.
You can find my free Trello template for this board here.
Adopt these 6 brand partnership best practices
Now that you know the types of partnership and which will most benefit your brand, you can begin to search for potential partners and draft a comprehensive and compelling pitch.
Identify your goals
Each activity in a brand partnership serves a different function. For example, a co-hosted webinar showcases your expertise and establishes your brand as an authority while also helping you reach a wider audience. A social media takeover, meanwhile, can improve your brand reputation by associating your name with other relevant brands.
So, before looking into potential partners, identify the goals you want to achieve. Think about what you need the most from your marketing efforts. If you want more customers, you might focus on generating more leads or expanding your audience reach. If your monthly recurring revenue is low, you need to attract more qualified leads.
Then, determine which of those goals you can achieve with a brand partnership. Remember, each type serves a different purpose, so compare your goals to specific collaborations to see if they overlap.
Lastly, make those objectives actionable using the SMART goal-setting method (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based).
- S – Specific (clearly stated)
- M – Measurable (able to gauge success)
- A – Attainable (realistically feasible)
- R – Relevant (closely related to both company’s objectives)
- T – Timely (able to set a deadline for completion)
An example SMART goal could look like: “We want to enter [X types of brand partnerships/brand partnership activities] in our niche within [time frame]. For each partnership, we aim to [specific goal, e.g., generate 20 qualified leads].”
Once you’ve pinpointed your specific goal, you can look for the right partners.
Research potential partners
The ideal brand partners are companies that target either the same audience as you or one you’d like to pursue. Going back to our opening example, GoPro’s initial target market was travelers who wanted a portable camera that took good photos. However, their partnership with Red Bull allowed them to target a whole new segment — athletes.
In the same way, you want to look for brand partners who will extend your reach and earn you more leads.
To get the ball rolling, here’s a spreadsheet you can use to find and track potential partners. List five brands that could be good fits and fill out the linked sheet with the following information:
- Company Name. The name of the company you want to partner with. Link to the company website for reference.
- Number of Employees. Look into how many employees the company has to gain an idea of their available bandwidth to handle partnership events and activities.
- Target Audience. Identify your potential partner’s target audience. This will inform what content you should create, especially if their target audience is a segment you’ve never targeted before.
- Contact Method. Find who you need to contact about a collaboration and how. Sometimes, contacting a brand for a partnership is as easy as filling out a form. Other times, you need to send an email to either a partnerships team or a specific employee.
- Notable Products or Services. Understand what your potential partners offer their customers so you can figure out how you can add to it.
- Preferred Type of Partnership. Choose your preferred type of partnership with each company based on their target audiences and specific goals.
- Potential Activities. List possible activities to propose to your potential partner.
- Notable Past Partners. Look into who your potential partners have collaborated with before to gauge the kinds of activities they’re open to.
- Notes. Add any other important information here.
As you build your list, remove potential partners who don’t seem to have enough bandwidth to handle a partnership (i.e., companies with a limited number of employees) or who’s target audience isn’t relevant to your brand.
We recommend starting with five possible fits and reaching out to them. If you fail to find a partner among that group, research and contact another set of five.
Draft a personalized pitch and reach out to potential partners
We’ve all received cold emails — and deleted them without opening them. When it comes to business communications, personalization matters, with over 60% of Americans saying they respond more favorably to personalized emails from businesses. So, instead of drafting generic, cold emails, tailor your pitches to your prospective partners to increase your chances of achieving opens, clicks, and responses.
To personalize your partnership pitch emails, you need to include the following information:
- Your contact’s first and last name and their position
- A list of the ideals you and your potential partners share
- Your prospects’ top products or content
- What you can do for each brand (e.g., help them reach CEOs, improve their reputation through social media)
Armed with this information, start writing your pitch. You should open with a brief introduction that states your name, brand, and purpose for contacting the company. Then, mention why you want to partner with them, including the values you have in common and why working together is a great idea. Emphasize the benefits you and this partnership will bring to the table. Lastly, close with next steps — who to contact if they’re interested, what they need to prepare, etc.
A pitch for a co-marketing partnership proposal should look something like this:
Dear [name of contact person],
My name is [name] and I work for [company]. I’m reaching out because we’d love to [collaborate on a marketing campaign]/[work together on your next event].
We noticed your company values [value #1], [value #2], and [value #3] — and we agree 100%. We also love your [product offering/content] and believe working together will benefit us both by:
- [benefit #1]
- [benefit #2]
- [benefit #3]
If you’re interested in discussing this opportunity further, please feel free to reply to this email or contact me at [preferred phone number].
Some companies that receive regular partnership proposals have forms to fill out. But in most cases, you’ll need to write an attractive pitch email to start the conversation.
Sign any necessary agreements and paperwork
For partnerships that go beyond surface marketing, you’ll want to sign some formal agreements that detail important points. When it comes to larger partnerships, you may even need to look over legal contracts, NDAs, and the like.
For example, you may want to agree on:
- Where your partner logos and brand names will appear and vice versa (e.g., on your website or in a poster at an event)
- How many times you plan to mention each partners and on which channels
- Communication details, such as whether each partner will get a dedicated newsletter or a mention in your regular newsletters
- Whether full leads will be shared, or if there is a lead list calculation (e.g., 1-1 lead sharing, full list lead sharing, etc.)
- Timeline of the deliverables for each partner
Visit my content templates page to download some partner event planning docs.
Keep communication lines open
Regular communication with your collab brands makes all the difference in the success of your partnerships. It also fosters a stronger relationship, which leads to better ideas and collaboration.
For each of your partner brands, make sure to set up the following channels:
- A regular group meeting to review progress and bounce ideas (especially important for long-term partnerships)
- A Slack channel for asynchronous communication (or something similar)
- A board on Trello, Notion, or other project management applications to track progress
Be proactive in sharing ideas and progress reports to encourage your brand partners to reciprocate.
No marketing endeavor is complete without tracking. Moreover, the metrics you track will change based on your goals and the types of partnerships you enter into.
Luckily, brand partnership goals are pretty straightforward. Return to your SMART goal statement and create a spreadsheet you can use to track your progress.
Some helpful brand partnership metrics are:
- Number of webinars hosted (for co-hosted webinars)
- Number of engaged attendees (for co-hosted webinars)
- Number of viewers (for social media takeovers)
- Number of mailing list sign-ups (for events)
- Number of sign-ups who converted to paying customers
- Number of clicks (for content partnerships)
Define what a conversion is for your company and track all the metrics that contribute to it.
Want more partnership best practices? Read: Partnership marketing best practices
Wrapping up — Grow faster by growing together
Brands network because they understand the importance of partnerships. These mutualistic relationships can increase your brand’s exposure, broaden your audience reach, and strengthen your name reputation.
However, rashly jumping into a partnership with the first available company can backfire, so you need to establish your goals and research potential options thoroughly. Once you’ve entered into a relationship, be clear about the activities you’ll both participate in and actively support one another. Consider the list in this article to brainstorm ideas that’ll kick-start both your and your partner’s exposure.
Instead of making slow, incremental progress on your own, work with other brands to accelerate your growth.