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Could Co-Branding Be What's Missing from Your Inbound Strategy?

Posted by Loree O'Sullivan

image credit: death to stock photos
Are your goals to generate a greater audience and increase your sales?
If you're using inbound marketing practices, you're certainly on the right track. However, even businesses who are doing inbound right can struggle to see results quickly. Perhaps you're bound by a limited content budget. Maybe you're operating in a "boring" industry, and are having trouble developing offers that engage and convert. There's a chance your niche is highly-competitive, and your SEO strategy isn't working as quickly as you'd like it to.
All of these struggles are unfortunately common, but they don't mean you're destined to see another quarter of disappointing inbound marketing metrics. If you want to fast-track your results, it may be worthwhile to consider a co-branding initiative with another organization.

What is Co-Branding?

As Business Week points out, everyone who's ever visited a grocery store has seen co-branding in action. This marketing tactic has brought you plenty of delicious items, including Swedish Fish-flavored chewing gum, Snicker's ice cream, and other products that are a mixture of two ore more distinct company's products. 
For brands outside of the food or clothing sectors, co-branidng works much the same ways. One or more companies agree on terms of collaboration, and work in conjunction to deliver a product or service. In the inbound marketing realm, these collaborations often result in high-quality content offers. Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs are two separate brands, but they collaborate on an annual research report that's one of the best resources for content marketing professionals. If you've ever been truly impressed by a whitepaper, research report, or fact sheet, there's a good chance the intelligence on it was delivered by two or more brands, working together.
The right co-branding strategy for your company may not be a new flavor or ice cream or a research report. It could be a webinar, blog series, eBook, or any other number of concepts. When done right, co-branding creates value for both company's audiences. The right strategy is one that serves both organization's audiences and goals. 

What are the Pros and Cons of Co-Branding?

There are a number of reasons that companies may consider co-branding. While virtually every organization can derive benefit from this marketing tactic in one form or another, it's certainly wise to consider the potential benefits and risks before drawing up a plan. 
  • Potential for a greater audience, lead generation, and sales
  • Ability to benefit from another company's reputation and/or brand associations
  • Cost-savings on ambitious or expensive marketing projects
  • You will only receive half the credit
  • The wrong collaborator could damage your company's reputation
There are real risks to co-branding. If the organization you choose to work with has an existing reputation of poor-quality products or late service delivery, your organization could inherit some of their reputation in the industry. It's always wise to do extensive due diligence and research before agreeing to work with another organization. Detailed project guidelines and planning can also protect your organization.

Best Practices for Successful Collaboration

Before you take any particular action, be sure to carefully research options for collaboration. Consider reaching out to organizations in your industry that are already engaged in co-branding initiatives for guidance on best practices. Many companies who have successfully collaborated have learned some lessons about best practices that can shape your strategy. Once you've developed a set of best practices and criteria for your organization, you can begin researching prospective partners and draw up a proposal.
1. Only Co-Brand with Companies Who Have the Same Values
If your organization is focused on environmental responsibility, you'll want to find an organization that has the same commitment. Values aren't just reputation, though a company with poorly-defined values could have a negative reputation. They're about a brand's promise, record of delivery, and desire to improve.
Many organizations have brand values listed on their website. As you research companies to collaborate with, consider whether their public values statements are in total alignment with your own. 
2. Never Co-Brand with Direct Competitors
It's never wise to collaborate with a company that offers the exact same products and services. You both run the risk of losing customers through your collaborative efforts.
The right company is one that offers complimentary services. Ideally, their focus should enhance what you're offering. If you're in the business of performing audits, a company that offers compliance consulting could be the perfect match. Try and select a brand whose products or services offer benefit to your customers that you don't.
3. Co-Brand with Companies with a Stellar Reputation
It will be limiting to only co-brand with companies with a stellar reputation, world-class customer service, and the best products available. However, refusing to collaborate with anyone who isn't the absolute best at what they do is definitely worthwhile. Carefully research a company's reputation online, including product or service reviews from customers, before sending a proposal. 
4. Create a Proposal
It's always easier to try and work with companies that you have existing relationships with. Optimally, you have the opportunity to co-brand with a company in your local community or with a professional peer. However, that's not always an option for some companies. If you don't have an existing connection, try and build a professional connection before you fire off a proposal.
Co-branding proposals should include a project concept, overview, suggestions on division of labor, and a suggested promotion plan. Outline how your idea can benefit your potential collaborator. Put in the effort necessary to craft a perfect proposal to increase your chances of winning a successful collaboration.
5. Agree on a Project Plan
Before you begin executing work, both parties should agree on a detailed project plan. This should include every bit as much detail as a proposal companies in the service industry would share with a prospective client. Consider including the following aspects in your agreement:
  • Point of Contact
  • Timelines
  • Productivity Tools (Basecamp, Slack)
  • Promotion Methods
  • Tasks & Task Assignments
  • Key Performance Indicators
Co-branding can drastically increase your company's sales and exposure. With a successful collaboration, you can get your company's name in front of an entirely new audience who may need your products and services. While there are risks associated with this marketing tactic, the pros definitely outweigh the cons for many brands.
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