BY DREW HENDRICKS
Strategic partnerships are often an ideal way to get more brand traction, expand your audience and customer base, access additional resources and talent, and stimulate revenue growth without going out and acquiring another company. You can create a temporary brand partnership through a joint marketing campaign or you can aim for a longer partnership (like a joint venture) to create new products or services to bring to market. Having worked in various partnerships throughout my career, I’ve found some tips that help approach and manage these in a way that creates a win-win.
Define your individual and partnership value
While a strategic partnership can increase your value as a brand, don’t forget to put your own value on the table so that it is recognized within the relationship. Defining this value up front is important to maintain equal footing in the strategic partnership and illustrate why the other brand should work with you.
Before formalizing the partnership, make sure you have answers about the value you both bring, how that value is enhanced, and what additional value is generated through the partnership for customers. If you don’t have those answers or they don’t add up, then you know you shouldn’t proceed. If you are satisfied, then it’s a strategic partnership that will likely deliver a solid return.
Work from a shared vision and principles
As part of the strategy you create with your partner, there should be a written vision and principles that guide everything you do together. Although you are not forming a company, it helps to write these down and use them as a foundation for how you will interact and collaborate. Think of it as a temporary culture that is in place as long as the partnership.
Also, partnerships will have friction. You are both separate companies with agenda and objectives that may not always mesh. This is where the shared vision and principles will help. They can be consulted when there is a conflict to find common ground to negotiate through the differences.
Take your time and do it right
Any relationship where people rush into it typically does not go well — or last long. It’s OK to take the time to get to know one another and feel each other out. Spending time on a social and professional level can help you understand each other’s quirks.
Conduct due diligence on each other, and have follow-up meetings until each of you is satisfied that it is the right decision to collaborate. Also, once you are in the partnership, don’t rush to end it if you sense anything that makes you uncomfortable. It will take time to get into a flow with each other and settle into focusing on what you can create together. If there are problems, talk them through rather than ditching the partnership immediately.
Give each other parameters on working together. This structure will bring meaning to the partnership. It will also minimize any misunderstandings that could derail the value you are trying to develop.
These parameters should be in the form of an agreement that describes the roles and responsibilities of each partner. It should also list the goals you want to achieve, the metrics you are using to measure the results, and specific timelines for achieving those results. It will also cover the financial aspects and how the strategic partnership ends in terms of estimated time frames and exit strategies.
Train, assess and communicate regularly
I’ve seen situations where brands partner, decide on some tactics and then assume it will just go as planned. The better approach is to invest in training each other’s teams to understand the brand benefits on an individual and combined basis. All those involved in the partnership should regularly communicate through connecting each other’s project management systems and maintaining a schedule of regular meetings.
Assessment is a must-have strategy to ensure the tactics are doing what both brands want. This is where having those metrics in place really helps: If anything is not working, regular communication can prove invaluable to helping pivot as quickly as possible. The integration of sales and marketing teams can also help maximize the resources used for deployment and changes.
Add more partnerships in a thoughtful, strategic way
These types of partnerships are probably the only type where you can play the field and have numerous going at the same time without feeling guilty or looked down on. Yes, it’s OK to create more than one brand partnership at the same time — as long as they make sense, follow the above tips, and do not conflict with each other. Most brands understand the value of multiple partnerships, but you do need to tread carefully or go a different direction if you are considering strategic partnerships with two companies that may be competitors.
Not every business will be in a position to take advantage of strategic brand partnerships. If you are in the early stages of development, you may not have the value that other brands are seeking. You also may not be prepared to work with others if you need to build more experience and knowledge for yourself about your industry and business operations. And that’s OK. You can always circle back in the future and consider how a strategic partnership may work with your company as it develops over time.