Shivang Sethia in Marketing |   July 5, 2022 . 12 min read

How to Pursue Marketing Alliances that Unlock Growth in the Digital Ecosystem.

Are you someone who is finding it extremely difficult to drive the holistic growth of your brand and are facing constrained budgets and resources along with cut-throat competitions from various categories...?

Well then, let’s uncover the potential of ‘Co-Branding’ and see how you can unlock success for your brand by executing meaningful Brand Collaborations & Brand Partnerships.
In this article, we will cover the following:
  • Why are Brand Collaboration & Brand Partnerships more crucial than ever?
  • What is 'Co-Branding’ or Brand Collaboration?
  • How to create Co-Branding strategies for your brand objectives?
  • Insights and Learnings to consider while forming co-branding partnerships.
  • Let’s start with understanding the reality of business and consumers in the digital ecosystem:

    Why are Brand Collaboration & Brand Partnerships more crucial than ever?

    Dream 11, Uber & Airbnb - These companies identified opportunities, and as first movers, were the key companies to build categories. But competition for all these players soon followed. Ex: Ola, Jugnoo, Blue Taxi, etc., competed with Uber; similarly, MPL, Halaplay, My 11 play, etc., competed with Dream 11 and likewise.
    On the other hand, players like Nike, Adidas, Reebok were the only known (& accepted) players in the sports apparels category for decades. However, in recent years, many brands have entered the Indian market, such as Asics, New Balance, Under Armour, Skechers, etc., in hopes of finding their niche.
    Essentially, new brands with newer branding strategies and big ambitions are emerging faster than ever, because of which established categories are getting more cluttered.
    And parallely, we see consumers are becoming more and more connected through the digital platforms & mediums.
    While this is amazing from a consumer’s perspective, as they have far more choices & better value available, it creates a range of challenges for the marketeer depending on the brand (& category) they are operating in.
    These challenges could be:
  • Establishing or Guarding the unique brand positioning
  • Building / Growing Brand Affinity
  • Gaining Consumer Trust
  • Challenging the Market Leader
  • While some marketers may still take the traditional approach to solve these challenges by using mainstream advertising, others have discovered that the key to unlock success in today’s hyperactive digital world ecosystem is through forging meaningful brand collaborations to tap into the interconnected lives of the consumer.
    So, now let’s uncover how to curate & pursue ‘Brand Collaborations’ and meaningful ‘Co-Branding’ that have the potential to unlock growth for your brand.

    What is 'Co-Branding’ or Brand Collaboration?

    To ensure we are on the same page before we progress on this topic, let me share how we’ve defined Brand Collaborations -
    “Brand Collaborations or Co-Branding is an alliance between a brand with one or more brands, persons, publishers, or any other organization that decides to jointly promote a product, service or a concept in a manner that creates a mutual benefit to all the stakeholders involved.”

    Co-Branding / Brand Partnership examples-

  • Red Bull and GoPro Partnership (Brands came together to promote products)
  • P&G and National Breast Cancer Foundation(Brand & NGO came together to promote a cause)
  • Airbnb Experiences and Shantanu & Nikhil(Brand & Influencers came together for promoting an experience)
  • BMW and Louis Vuitton partnership(Brands came together to create travel products)
  • A Caveat of ‘Co-Branding’:Even though at times there may be some kind of monetary transaction involved, brand collaborations or ‘Co-Branding’ go far beyond a simple ‘ad buy or ‘sponsorship’ and that’s what we will cover in the next section.

    How to Unlock Growth with Brand Collaborations (Co-Branding)

    To understand how we can pursue meaningful Brand Collaborations (Co-Branding) and partnerships that can help us unlock success, we need to be definitive about linking it to our marketing objective.
    As we all know, it is quintessential to link all your marketing efforts with your overall marketing objective. That should be the goal behind building brand collaborations too. We need to ensure that your brand & marketing collaboration contributes to a more central and critical brand objective.
    However, we also know that the marketing objectives are dependent on the business’s needs and goals. As such, different organizations can have different goals based on various factors. Therefore, to unify the process well (and share recommendations), we will take the marketing funnel as the starting point for our understanding. We will understand the different marketing objectives and leverage them to create successful brand collaborations (Co-Branding) using the marketing funnel.
    Let's take each step of the marketing funnel and see what kinds of co-branding strategies work best for each of them.
    Here are a few principles on how to make co-branding strategies for awareness:
    1. Prioritize Reach & Impact: pl;

      Choose partners who have a high % of the user base/community that are unaware of your product or brand proposition but are also classified as a media audience for you, and thus can qualify as ‘new reach’.

      Always note the following:
  • Target the Biggest Players in that category with ‘New Reach’: Get the most significant player in that category rather than the 2nd or the 3rd best player, provided that your brand ethos match.
    Ex - If Sirona Menstrual cups want to tap into audiences booking railways and want to tie up with Travel OTA, the better partner for them would be Ixigo rather than MakeMyTrip or GoIbibo.
  • Target Impactful Message Delivery with ‘New Formats’:As we know, reach is different from impressions, so create impact with reach in a manner that allows you to break the clutter. That will potentially bring awareness and an actual impactful reach, not just a low visibility impression. New formats of communication delivery & an impactful media push can make the difference here.
  • Examples of brand collaborations for driving awareness through reach:
    While movies & brands partner for cross-promotions - the impact they drive can be varying for gaining incremental buzz for their movies & brands. However, some movies make the difference by choosing the execution format to be impactful.
    Consider a co-branding example like  Alexa & Zero Movie and  Alexa & Snapchat. Zero - wanted to create meaningful awareness and ToM, so it partnered with tech brands to create a brand partnership strategy that allowed them to choose formats that were never explored before, and thus it garnered far more attention.
    2.Drive Earned Impression:

    Getting incremental eyeballs is very important for awareness but relying solely on a partner's consumer base/community is not the only way to drive awareness through Brand Collaborations. It’s also the proposition & the messaging that you co-create with your brand partner that can drive earned impressions (unpaid / non-owned reach).

    Keep the following in mind:
  • Build a stronger Creative Proposition as it has the ability to drive word of mouth:
    Choose a partner that enables you to co-create a proposition that can drive significant earned impressions. Essentially, look for leverage to design an idea that can drive virality and isn’t just a plain vanilla association. For this, you don’t necessarily need to work with players in the category basis their reach.
  • Build ideas true to your brand's values to drive emotional messaging:
    The true power of an idea is tested in such brand collabs. Thus, it is essential to ensure that the concept(idea) is deeply linked to your brand's emotional benefits. That can help create more meaningful awareness in a way that deeply connects with your target audience. Therefore, it's equally essential for your partner's brand values to sync with your brand's values.
  • Brand Collaboration examples for driving awareness through earned impressions include:
    Airbnb X Visit Sweden. Visit Sweden's global reach was limited, and Airbnb usually did not do cross-promotions. However, this drove tremendous awareness for both brands. That was because of the power of the creative proposition, which attracted a lot of media / PR attention. Visit Sweden's partnership with Airbnb was great for them to communicate 'Freedom to Roam' and drive awareness for Sweden as a travel destination.
    So if you want to drive consideration, here are a few principles that will help you think about brilliant brand collaboration partners!
    1. Double down on ‘Relevance’:
    Brands need to understand the audience’s attitudes and interests well to be able to design relevant products and communication. There is also a rise of personalization of messaging enabled by technology where you identify and target users effectively.
    Thus, Brand Collaborations & marketing alliances can be of great help here. They allow you to work with partners who can help you gain better relevance with different audience sets within your target group.
    Here’s how to design brand collabs for this purpose:
  • Focus on relevance with credibility rather than reach:Being associated with a relatable voice (that your audience most identifies with) in the specific domain is critical while forging partnerships to drive relevance.
  • Focus on Multiple Vertical Communities:Much like society, your audience can also be segregated into vertical communities that come together based on interest, passion, attitudes, and demographical similarities. Thus, through brand collaborations, one can form multiple marketing alliances explicitly designed for the most significant communities within your target audience.
  • Some of the co-branding examples for consideration include -
    Myntra Influencer Brands Myntra worked on partnering with various celebrities to create in-house brands that were closely designed with the celebrity's personality at the core instead of just making one brand with different celebs. HRX for Hrithik; House of Pataudi Traditional Wear for Saif and Soha
    Airbnb Experiences- Airbnbs offer online experiences based on various interests and passions of its users. Also, partnering with Broadway for Art & theatre lovers, Olympians for sports enthusiasts, and IGLA for the people passionate for diversity was a move in the same direction. This move helped build a lot of trust and resonance through the partners themselves.
    2. Triggers & Barriers Led:
    As most of us know that owning the category drivers is very important to drive consideration. It is equally important to alleviate the barriers for usage too (ex - travel during covid & safety). However, given that most of the consumption audience today is Gen-Z and Millennials, winning user’s confidence is not as easy.
    Thus, Brand Collaborations can play a pivotal role if used smartly, and here is how to do it:
  • Find a real ‘User’ in your Partner to strengthen triggers:
    In order to establish your own drivers of consideration, seek partners who can help you with the proof of the promise that the brand is making. So, if an alliance partner is a user of your product or service, it communicates a message more deeply than another promise that any other brand makes. Therefore, your biggest RTB is a known consumer. Ex:Samsung NDTV
  • Leverage partners to address barriers:
    It is essential to find partners whose strength lies in solving for your barriers, and possibly your strength lies in solving for theirs. Then, you come together to join forces in a manner that the perceived barriers or gaps can be dissolved.
    Ex:Hilton X RB. Hilton worked with RB to train their staff for the cleanliness protocol they developed with Lysol, helping them gain a better perception of safety protocols and emerge as a thought leader at a time when the demand for the category was dropping.
  • Purchase
    This one is more direct and here are a few things to keep in mind while looking for partners to drive ‘Purchase’ as a marketing objective.
    1. Drive Trails by Incentivising:
    Brands do not always want to build their existence on price-offs and discounts, but they still need to drive trials by incentivizing the new users. A good way is to form an alliance with partners who can effectively incentivize your users.
    Here is how to do it well:
  • Tap into cross-selling opportunity into a closely connected category:Make an alliance with a partner that operates in a closely connected category. That has the strength to speak to users with high intent of purchase from your category.
    Ex: Mobile - Accessories, Flights - Taxis & Accommodation. This creates an opportunity for cross-selling with a partner’s proposition that also adds incentive for the user.
  • Go exclusive:Look at time-bound exclusivity with partners to get a reach/effort guarantee from your partner. It is because the partners also benefit if this value is provided exclusively to their user-base and would thus push the proposition/spend on the reach out to their existing users.
  • 2. Provide incremental Value:
    The definition of a value seeker has changed now. It is not about finding a product that offers only value for money, but about getting a product that you think provides a good experience at a reasonable price and from a trusted source. Here are a couple of ways to create incremental value beyond monetary savings for your consumers:
  • Provide more value add through partner’s benefit:
    This can work for you if you are a brand in a cluttered category and have a good reach. Partners looking for visibility can partner with you and offer more value to your consumers. Ex: PepsiCo - MMT.
  • Value beyond the product:
    Understand where all your users can find value in your brand over your competitors. Ex: Being socially aware can help them get a better-perceived value from your brand. If so, partner with organizations / NGOs that can help you contribute positively to society. Ex:  Siksha & PG.
  • 3. Ecosystem Led Acceptance:
  • Ensuring consistent accessibility at multiple touchpoints:
    Create an ecosystem of alliances that make it extremely simple to find access to your product. Ex: Preloaded apps on the phone.
  • Become the choice for your partner’s consumers:
    Create a super-strong proposition for the users of your allied partners- so that they use your brand when they transact with your allies. That is usually a slightly forced way of driving consumer acceptance and thus product trial; therefore, it may not be preferred by some brands and alliance partners. Ex: Paytm – Uber. Paytm was the only digital payment option for Uber users.
  • Loyalty:

    Long-term value, designed for your user :
    Brand Collaborations have been widely used to drive consumer loyalty, especially in the aviation + hospitality and the banking industry. This is driven from the PoV that the benefits that your consumer can derive for being loyal to your brand must go beyond the incremental benefits from your brand itself. However, the key differentiator to establish through Brand Collaboration is to:
  • Create long-term promise for your users:
    Some of the best associations created to drive consumer loyalty are the ones that have been created for providing a longer-term benefit. Thereby providing the comfort to the user to rely on the benefit while continuing to return to your brand. Ex: ICICI & Amazon. Normal discount terms v/s long-term value on a platform of choice.
  • Amplification of product usage basis your USP:
    Partner with platforms that amplify your products usage and are also wanted by your consumer. Ex: Airtel Thanks Bouquet - highlights the airtel data rollover feature as it has partnered with Netflix, Zee5, and Amazon Prime.
  • 2. Delivering Delight:
    Building Brand Collaborations with partners add to the overall experience and thus give you the potential to provide consumer delight.
    Ex: -Spotify Uber Ride
    Uber was trying to add personalization to the ride experience and create differentiation from a normal taxi by providing an unmatchable experience that people would like to come back to.

    Insights and Learnings to consider while forming co-branding partnerships.

    Now that we have learnt so much about co-branding, here are some key insights that we would love to share with you, and this is what would help pursue not just good but great collaborations with brands!
  • Identifying the right Problem / Opportunity in the marketing funnel:Experts drill down deeper to understand the root cause that is causing the problem/barrier resulting. For example - knowing that the brand has low consideration is not enough. It is rather important to understand what exactly is causing that problem.
    • Whether it is that lack of comprehension about the brand,
    • Or the lack of functional relevance
    • Or is it because the RTB for the brand is weak and thus the credibility of the brand is poor.
    For each of these cases, the marketing alliance ideas could be very different, even though they may still be directly related to the same objective.
  • Defining Individual Goals but with Shared Benefits too:The reality is that even after you have identified the problem and wish-listed the right partners, the key reason why some of the best ideas cannot see the light of the day is due to defining goals without shared benefits. The real struggle starts when you need to define shared benefits - because this process is seldom unilateral. This not only requires understanding your partner’s needs and motivation better (much like in a marriage) but also requires perseverance to drive the partnership through.
  • Choosing the right Partner:While there is no set checklist to help the right partner, these are key principles that help: Finding Common brand values, desired competencies to form the alliance, and Enabling Enriched customer experiences.
  • Revitalizing a brand:creating affinity for the brand. Collaborations with brands are a big lever for this. Never short sell your brand value.
  • Here’s a summary checklist to create meaningful product marketing alliances for your brand:
    If you want to learn more about branding and co-branding, consider one of our flagship Marketing programs:  Professional Brand Management in the digital age for Working Professionals or  Digital Brand Building in case you are a current BSchool student.
    Also, if you are a fresher looking to start a career in marketing, do apply for  The Marketing Launchpad- A Digital marketing course for Freshers.
    This article was written by  Shivang Sethiya, Marketing Training Manager at Kraftshala and the concept was originally covered in his  Kraftshala LIVE session.