How to land brand partnerships when you have a small audience

two women sitting at a desk working together

When the right brands partner together, the benefits are enormous. They can enhance each other’s reputation, build each other’s audience, and improve status in their respective industries.

Red Bull and GoPro. Doritos and Taco Bell. Michael Jordan and Nike—three of the greatest brand partnerships of all time. But when these brands joined forces, they were already big names. How can smaller companies ever hope to form a beneficial partnership with a recognizable brand? 

Focus on your goals

Before you start looking for the perfect brand partner, think about what you’re trying to achieve. Are you looking to generate brand awareness? Increase conversions? For a mutually beneficial brand partnership, it’s essential that your goals are aligned with your future partner’s objectives.

Contemporary British clothing company Hope & Ivy first collaborated with traditional textile manufacturer Liberty of London back in 2020. Both brands benefited from this partnership, as it increased Hope & Ivy’s name recognition while introducing Liberty of London to a new, younger audience.

“As brands explore strategic partnerships to enhance positioning and create talking points, partnerships are becoming more mixed and varied,” retail trends reporter Katie Hardcastle noted earlier this year in Forbes.1

blonde woman modeling a dress

Partner with the right brands

Deciding on the best brand to collaborate with is key to the success of your partnership—and your business growth. The brand you decide to partner with should complement your business and share a similar demographic. To prevent a conflict of interest, avoid partnering with a business in a competitive industry category.

Don’t dismiss a brand that may initially seem incongruous with yours. Partnerships between seemingly different brands can form a successful partnership if their values are aligned.

“Ensuring value alignment is the first step and will make outlining goals even easier,” Kinjil Mathur, CMO at Squarespace, noted in Adweek. “There needs to be a reason to work with a partner that goes beyond how cool you think they are—and you need to align on goals early in the partnership.”2

When millennial-favorite beauty brand Glossier teamed up with dog toy subscription box brand BarkBox, the collaboration seemed random at first. What could makeup and pet care products possibly have in common? But the partnership between the two brands just worked.

Why? Well, according to a rep at Glossier, the brand was already “dog-obsessed” and employees “loved welcoming pups” to their retail experiences. BarkBox, meanwhile, saw value in partnering with the beauty brand.3

“There’s an overlap between Glossier’s customers and our obsessed customers,” BarkBox’s Director of Merchandising, Kate Pobuda, explained. 

As part of their collaboration, BarkBox released dog toys inspired by two of Glossier’s best-selling products—Boy Brow and Balm Dotcom.

dog holding a glossier product in his mouth

glossier products with bark collaboration

Network with your community

Lanny Smith and Seun Adigun were both student athletes at the University of Houston. In 2020, Smith created the athleisure brand Actively Black with the goal of representing and reinvesting in the Black community. Adigun, meanwhile founded the Bobsled & Skeleton Federation of Nigeria

Adigun had been following Smith’s career, and when Team Nigeria was looking for a new sports apparel partner—she gave Smith a call and offered his company the sponsorship for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Smith and Adigun made their initial connection through college—and it doesn’t hurt to take a look at people in your own network for potential partnerships.4 Your employees can also be a good resource, as they may have family or friends who could have leads on potential brand partnerships. 

Trade shows are also a great place to network and quickly make connections. During a single trade show, you can meet hundreds—maybe even thousands—of potential brand partners. 

The more you put yourself out there, the more opportunities you’ll find for brand alliances.

Don’t be afraid to take risks

It can be intimidating for a newer venture to propose a partnership with a more established brand. Even if you’re small, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you think the partnership makes sense and will be mutually beneficial, go for it.

The team behind the Adult Swim cartoon series Rick and Morty formed a partnership with Wendy’s, launching a themed restaurant in Los Angeles that included two new drink flavors inspired by the show’s characters.

The partnership was a risk, according to Warner Brothers’ Tricia Melton, who worried that doing “something that feels wildly out of character” could have backfired—creating a backlash from the series’ devoted fan base.5 

But Wendy’s felt differently. “Great stuff happens when you have the courage to go out there and put stuff in the world,” James Bennett, Wendy’s Vice-President of Marketing, declared. 

Kim Yates of WarnerMedia agrees. “Trust is the number one factor in building these types of partnerships,” she says. 

When two brands who can offer value to each other take risks together, it cultivates trust and reinforces the authenticity of the entire program.

rick and morty promo

Hit it out of the park with the right partnership

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” Wayne Gretzky once said. And unlike the hockey Hall of Famer, you don’t have opponents trying to knock you down. While you may miss at first, if you want to grow your business—you have to keep taking shots. And eventually, you may score a goal. Who knows? What seems aspirational today may go down as one of the best partnerships in history tomorrow.

Ready for more? Learn critical strategies on how to build customer loyalty.

 

Sources: 

1“Two Flints To Make A Fire: Brand Partnerships Are Heating Up Sales And Customer Growth.” Forbes.com

2“3 Elements of Brand Partnerships That Can Boost Creativity.” Adweek.com

3“ Glossier Dog Toys Now Exist To Get Your Dog On The No Makeup-Makeup Trend.” Bustle.com

4“​​Two Winter Olympics Underdogs That Have Already Won.” NYtimes.com

5“Rick and Morty and the Need for Bravery in Brand Partnerships.” Adweek.com

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