The global market is proliferated with thousands of brand owners, each trying to differentiate themselves from competitors, strengthen engagement with their target, increase revenue and build a fandom.
In trying to achieve all of this, often times brand owners can become so inward focused that they neglect outward-focused opportunities. Brand owners today must build hacks to help them to identify and maximize their brand’s external opportunities if they want to have a brand that is fully optimized. One of these hacks is co-branding.
Over the past 20 years, I have helped create multiple co-branding programs for Coca-Cola in their activation of the Olympic Games. In each case, the brand was able to leverage the powerful equity and associative imagery of the Olympics to strengthen its connection with Olympic fans in a unique and personal way.
Like in the example above, partnering with an entrenched brand can offer immediate access to a new group of future brand loyalists and strengthen your brand’s equity in areas where your co-branding partner is most loved.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
A co-branding opportunity may be a good option for you if both your brand and the one you are considering would benefit from the opportunity. In other words, the two brands should share associative imagery and bring value to the other. In the case of Coca-Cola and the Olympics, both brands own quality and authenticity. Moreover, they both unify the world while reaching distinct audiences. It is this powerful commonality that makes them a good fit. If your brand does not offer value to another brand or share a unique commonality, it most likely would not be a good candidate for co-branding (with that brand).
In selecting the best possible brands in which to partner, be sure to include competitive brands in your consideration set. While this tactic might sound sacrilegious, the most successful brands keep all options on the table. So, start looking at brand partnerships as a gateway to external opportunities. The next partnership just might grant you access to a market you have been struggling to enter.
Take, for example, the partnership between Blue Apron and actress-turned-celebrity cook, Ayesha Curry, also known for hosting Ayesha’s Homemade on the Food Network (and for being married to NBA star, Steph Curry).
After building a loyal following, Ayesha Curry expanded into the market of meal kits through Blue Apron in April 2017. This partnership allows Curry to expand her brand universe, while also allowing Blue Apron to tap into a target market that might have otherwise been unobtainable. Through this collaboration, both parties hope to gain exposure, increase revenue and build their consumer base, adding value to both brands. To build on this momentum, Curry recently opened a pop-up shop, Homemade, that will feature lifestyle products that align with her personal brand, including meal kits, cooking wares, home accessories, baby food and much more.
While Curry will have to wait to see if the concept pans out, this will help her to gain more exposure with fans who visit the store that is incremental to her television programming.
If you have been reticent to venture into brand partnership opportunities, now might be the right time to dip your toe in the water. Just like with Curry and Blue Apron, brand partnerships can benefit both brands in a variety of ways including reaching a wider audience, gaining entry into a new market, or strengthening a connection with an existing consumer. The key is finding the right opportunity.
Consider Brand Fit First
Before jumping into a partnership with an enthusiastic prospect, understand how to determine whether that opportunity actually works with your brand. And consider the long-term implications. Short-term wins might sound good on the surface, but they could erode brand equity.
An important point to consider is whether the partnership embarks on your brand expansion point, which I define in my book as: “a pivotal characteristic that translates powerfully from one product variant to another, or from one sector to another, to give consumers even more of what they want from a brand.” The brand expansion point is that point that connects the consumer literally or emotionally with your brand.
Take the time to research each company in which you are considering partnering. Find out more about their culture, ethics and purpose. From these, evaluate what their own brand expansion point could be. Brand partnerships that don’t support your brand expansion point will, at a minimum, confuse your consumers and, in the worst case, destroy your brand’s equity.
In the example of the Ayesha Curry brand, her expansion point revolves around “food, faith, family, and fitness.” By partnering with Blue Apron, a category that aligns with Curry’s brand expansion point, her entry into the prepared food delivery category has been successfully received and will likely strengthen her brand over time.
If Curry had chosen another category that, say, leveraged her husband’s fandom, it might have produced some revenue in the short-term, but in the long-term it could have proven disastrous for her brand and her husband’s. Therefore, it is critical that you understand how your brand connects with your consumers and then find natural, logical partnerships that reinforce that point of connection.
Many of us have taken the “if it feels right, then go for it” approach to branding and may have actually experienced some success along the way. Others have planned how we want our brands to operate and have followed this path to a more consistent pathway of success.
Regardless of which route you have taken, understand how to identify a great external opportunity, ensure that the opportunity fits right with your brand, and follow through.