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10 Awesome Co-Branding Partnerships You Need to See

Co-branding and co-marketing are two advanced marketing strategies that center on creative collaboration with another company serving the same customers you do.

These kinds of partnerships are helpful with fueling business growth. But before we dive into co-branding and co-marketing, let's review the role partnerships play in how you can drive revenue and achieve your big business goals. 

What Is a Business Partnership?

There are several different ways to approach partnerships that drive growth. To put it simply, a business partnership is a legal relationship formed by an agreement between two or more parties. The partnership is mutually beneficial for all parties involved.

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The partnership agreement, which may vary depending on the nature of the partnership, often lays out important elements, such as:

  • Goals: the objectives both parties want to accomplish.
  • Sharing of assets: the breakdown of how finances, labor, and other assets will be contributed.
  • Designation of responsibilities: the details of who in each party will be in charge of certain tasks. 

The business partnerships we are discussing today are co-marketing and co-branding. In both cases, you find an ally with core strengths that complement your own and combine your resources to deepen market penetration and improve brand awareness.

These kinds of partnerships can be as simple or complex as both companies want. Some might simply collaborate on a blog series or fund a research report together, while others may run nation-wide ad campaigns. Co-marketing and co-branding alike can be immensely helpful. 

However, there’s a key difference that separates the two.

The Difference Between Co-Branding and Co-Marketing

What Is Co-Branding?

Co-branding involves collaboration that begins with product development and continues onward. It involves a strategic alliance between brands that promote a single product or service together. 

For example, two organizations team up to fill a need for their target audiences. 

There are several advantages to co-branding, such as:

  • Minimizing costs of production and marketing.
  • Strengthening positions in the market.
  • Improving reputation with existing audiences.
  • Providing more value in a new, unique way.

What Is Co-Marketing?

On the other hand, co-marketing involves companies working together to cross-promote existing, mature offerings. In a co-marketing strategy, companies working together have something in common. 

For example, the parties involved in a co-marketing campaign might be in the same industry or share similar target audiences.

Companies can enjoy many benefits from co-marketing, like:

  • Sharing resources to offset the internal burden.
  • Reaching buyer personas in new areas.
  • Expanding messaging to new, good-fit markets.
  • Sharing results and evolving messaging together.

Seeing Through the Blurred Lines of Co-Branding and Co-Marketing

The line between these two concepts can be blurry sometimes: For example, a digital marketing firm and a software company might co-market AI chat software, but also work together on an ebook that prospective buyers will read to learn more.

In general, though, the rule of thumb is this: If you’re co-creating a new artifact, such as a product or service, and people are paying for it, then you’re co-branding.

Co-branding is a deeper partnership that takes longer to get going and requires more assets than co-marketing. Still, it can be even more powerful than standard co-marketing, in part because a well-executed co-branding campaign is so memorable for consumers.

How to Build a Co-Branding Partnership

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When you're considering a co-branding partnership, first you want to ensure that you're mitigating any risk. To manage your risk before entering a co-branding partnership, follow these steps:

  1. Research partners that share your core values and align with your industry and target audience.
  2. Determine how a relationship with an existing brand can benefit you and them. 
  3. Ask around: find other organizations that partnered with the brands you want to work with and request their feedback. 
  4. Ensure your agreement gives you full approval and refusal rights for communications. 

As you're in the early stages of building a co-branding partnership, you need to avoid common mistakes that could be disastrous for all parties involved. Follow these tips to ensure you don't end up burning bridges and wasting your resources.

Get Crystal Clear on Co-Branding Goals.

Before approaching a brand, (as noted in step one above) thoroughly research their mission and identify how a partnership with you will help them advance their mission. Remember, this needs to be a win-win for both of you.

If you are only out for yourself and are sending partnership requests without any research, you're going to be denied. In fact, you could sour what could be a great relationship with an industry peer. 

Don't just reach out with a vague request. Instead, detail your goal and show potential partners how a co-branding strategy can help them achieve a specific goal as well. This is why communication is so important. 

Be Transparent in Your Proposal.

Transparency is key to developing a strong rapport in business relationships. If your prospective partner feels like they're not getting the whole picture, they will struggle with trusting you. 

Lay out everything in the beginning in a co-branding proposal. Sometimes a proposal might be a simple email, but you want to show them how a partnership can benefit them. If you're keeping it short, at least hit the right notes to spark their interest. 

A better approach than simply writing a short email is sending a comprehensive proposal. Build out a detailed outline of the co-branding campaign, with a list of ideas about the product or service you want to create together, the goal of the project, marketing campaign concepts, and how you plan on measuring the results.

This shows them that you're serious about making something awesome together. 

Entice Them to Follow Up.

When you're initiating the co-branding conversation, end your outreach with a request for them to book time with you. Explain how you're open to their feedback and want to hear their ideas. 

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Suggest a time to talk with them over the phone or in person so both parties can go through the ideas together. This will help determine their level of interest. 

If they're not interested, they won't want to talk. But if you successful enticed them with your proposal, you'll get into a deeper conversation to iron out all the nitty gritty details before officially signing a legally binding agreement. 

Confirm Internal Resources Before Signing Off.

Chances are, you and your potential partner will have some back and forth to determine which teams will hand particular components of the co-branding campaign. Obviously, you want to confirm the agreement, but don't cut yourself short and set your team up for failure. 

Check in with your team one last time to ensure you're not biting off more than you and your team can chew. When you sign an agreement, you're committing your resources to a long-term project. Be sure the resources are available.

Otherwise, you risk falling short on your responsibilities, which can permanently damage the relationship. 

By following these tips, you are well equipped to execute a kick ass co-branding campaign. 

10 Co-Branding Examples You Can Take to the Bank

Speaking of kick ass co-branding, there are several large companies doing it right. While co-marketing is often used by nonprofits and smaller enterprises partnering with much larger ones, co-branding has become very popular among industry juggernauts that are already ubiquitous in their respective fields.

This gives them the opportunity to capture the public imagination in new ways.

Let’s take a peek at some of the best examples from the last few years:

1. Taco Bell and Doritos Go Loco

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Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos – which feature a hard taco shell suffused with unmistakable Doritos spices – may well be the most iconic co-branding example of the last decade. Not only has this been enormously popular, but Doritos have started showing up everywhere, even in sushi.

2. Cold Stone Creamery and Tim Hortons Eat Up

Tim Hortons is a ubiquitous coffee and fast food brand in Canada, but they're not very well known in the United States. By showcasing one another’s menu in select locations, they launched what grew into a major campaign empowering both shops to boost foot traffic during off-peak hours.

3. MasterCard and Apple Travel to the Future of Payments

Apple has been striving to redefine how people pay for things in an increasingly cashless society. At a pivotal moment in its quest, it introduced Apple Pay functionality alongside MasterCard. MasterCard users became the only people in the world with access at the time.

4. Dr. Pepper and Bonne Bell Have a Lip Balm Breakthrough

Since 1975, Dr. Pepper and cosmetics brand Bonne Bell have had the perfect co-branding operation in place. They’ve been working together since virtually the day Bonne Bell launched its flavored lip balm line, providing the unforgettable flavor of Dr. Pepper to lips worldwide.

5. Nike and Apple Bring Shoes to the Next Level

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The Nike+ footwear line capitalized on the new wearable device trend by allowing users to monitor their exercise stats with an app attuned to a special Apple microchip. Not only would customers gladly pay a premium, but both brands were now integrated in their lifestyle goals.

6. The BMW i8 Uses Louis Vuitton-Inspired Styling

There’s no luxury brand quite as upmarket as Louis Vuitton, known for its handbags that cost a small (and sometimes large) fortune. The BMW i8 integrated ultra-luxe touches at every step. For even more prestige, the inimitable Vuitton created a four-piece luggage set for the BMW i8.

7. Eddie Bauer Updates the Ford SUV

BMW isn’t the only one to look far afield for style inspiration. Eddie Bauer, an outerwear and outdoor gear retailer, got into the act, too. Starting all the way back in 1983, Ford launched Eddie Bauer-inspired versions of its Bronco, Bronco II, F-Series trucks, and Aerostar minivan.

8. BuzzFeed Launches Best Friends Animal Society into the Stratosphere

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Not all co-branding efforts focus on a splashy, expensive product. For its partnership with Best Friends Animal Society, BuzzFeed produced what it does best: Viral content. By sharing a video of Emma Watson playing with kittens, they helped many feline friends find their forever homes.

9. Alexander Wang and H&M Build a Magnificent Sales Funnel

Alexander Wang is a top-flight fashion brand with items starting in the hundreds of dollars while H&M is, well, not. However, H&M has offered special branded items in consultation with Alexander Wang that grow H&M sales and introduce customers to aspirational high-end goods.

10. The Force Is With CoverGirl Makeup

Back in 2015, The Force Awakens rocked the Star Wars franchise with the introduction of brave and tough heroine Rey. To celebrate this gender equality milestone, CoverGirl worked with Lucasfilm to craft Light and Dark Side makeup lines and energize young female moviegoers.

The Co-Branding Phenomenon Is Thriving

Co-branding is a powerful part of your marketing toolkit. Although it’s most often seen in the B2C world, the impetus to bundle features and combine core strengths can apply to B2B too.

The best part is that you’re not in it alone. You can leverage marketing best practices and data analytics from your partner company to ensure both parties get the absolute most from the deal.

Even if your marketing endeavors are already a smashing success, co-branding can unlock your untapped potential. It’s a great way to evolve your offerings and get customers to take notice!

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Rob Steffens

Rob Steffens

I am the Director of Sales & Marketing here at Bluleadz. I'm a recent newlywed who enjoys spending time with my wife vegging out and binging our favorite shows or getting some exercise on the Racquetball court.