Let’s face it. Your brand partnerships probably suck. I’d like to blame this on infamous YouTuber Logan Paul even though it’s not his fault. However, based on recent behavior, he is the catalyst for this post. In the last few months, almost every brand that has worked with him is not only distancing themselves but rethinking their strategy for partnering with influencers. It’s all about the views and visibility and prayers that this will somehow turn into sales and/or brand affection – until it goes horribly awry.
Not too long after, CNN announced that its $25 million purchase of YouTuber Casey Neistat’s video production company would be shut down as the deal failed to bring the younger viewers it expected.
The truth is that sometimes brand partnerships don’t work out. Typically, it is because they aren’t managed, selected or executed properly. And even when they are, they can still go south because they aren't thought through. The consequences can range from downright expensive to fatal.
1) You don’t have a marketing partnership strategy/plan. Brands often partner with businesses because of the name cachet, a historical relationship, or just plain admiration. However, the partnership isn’t properly vetted, dissected or explored in depth. Brands need to qualify partnerships, set clear expectations for ROI and only dip into their pocket when absolutely necessary. A deep dive plan can look into these issues and create a template for how partnerships should be internally evaluated and assessed.
2) It’s just a media buy disguised as a ‘brand partnership.' The word partner implies a two-way relationship but often it isn’t. It’s a media buy. And if you aren’t a big fish with pockets that go deeper than the ocean, forget about it. Paid partnerships are not typically reciprocal nor are they customized for your brand. They are one-size fits all offerings, often spun to make it seem like value is being added. But at the end of the day, you are the one paying big dollars for something that could have probably been executed for WAY less.
3) You aren’t using your media and marketing assets as leverage. If you are a retailer, the obvious asset is your floor or window space, but your email newsletter or your customer database is just as valuable. One way or another, most brands have something that other brands want, so use it to your benefit. You don’t need physical space to barter either. Your online assets can be worth just as much as those with offline assets. Think of both digital and physical executions - co-branded limited edition mini-shops, promotions, publications, guides, etc. can all offer something new and fresh to your customers without much of a headache and can be executed in a variety of ways.
How do you avoid these missteps? First, do a Brand Partner Assessment. Are you really getting what you paid for? Is there a way to save money? Secondly, get some insight from a brand partnership agent (here is our shameless plug) that can help you plan for the future and look at your existing assets and their worth. They can also offer a third party unbiased POV and, if needed, the heavy lifting required to reach and build connections with your A-List partners.
Bottom line: Partnerships can suck but they don’t have to if you follow a few simple steps. In the end, it may help you choose the right influencer instead of the wrong one.
“A man with a plan” is an old but relevant saying. Why? Because everyone needs a plan, especially in partnership marketing. Without it, you’re navigating through choppy waters without a life preserver and you risk being hurled overboard to drown. It may sound dramatic but I’ve seen it multiple times. Brands that don’t have a plan for how they will solicit and manage partners end up with no partners... or a mishmash of off-brand relationships that provide very little value and suck resources dry (both finances and talent).
What’s a Partnership Plan
…and why should you have one? First, most brands have a media plan, a PR plan, and even a general marketing plan. All of them provide structure and direction for how to meet goals. A partnership plan is no different. It lays out expectations and identifies the types of partners that fit with your target demographic.
Discovering Your Strengths
A partnership plan is designed to look at how you approach and evaluate partners and what can be offered in exchange so that the potential of each deal is maximized. It allows you to be strategic about partnerships instead of arbitrarily piecing them together or ‘buying’ them via media. It’s created to be flexible, so multiple marketing team members can use it, but also rigid enough to control how company media assets are bartered and shared.
Most importantly, getting the attention of top partners and closing deals is frequently done within a short timeframe. Having your ducks in a row provides a tremendous advantage when it comes to interacting with the high-level strategic thinkers at brands that can create the most robust partnerships.
As a BrandAgent, I discuss monetizing and leveraging assets with marketing partners on a daily basis. Too often brands are willing dip into their wallets and pay for a partnership. If you shell out big dollars, you automatically get the visibility you desire, right? Wrong. Typically, you end up with a whopping invoice and not much to show for it.
Here’s where a partnership plan steps in. It creates a structure for what you want, what you expect and if you need to attach a monetary value. It allows you to recognize the vehicles you can leverage and how you will internally approve a deal. All of this shortens the process, helps you close deals faster and avoid delays.
Planning for Partnerships
So, what do you need to include in a partnership-marketing plan?
Here are the top 5 things to consider:
Most partner brands won’t be willing to invest the time so this last point gives you a big advantage over other partner-seekers. Also, create an agreement template and include the minimum requirements for any brand.
Traversing through the nuances of partnership marketing is tough. It’s easy to create relationships haphazardly or by throwing money at them. It is much harder to ensure that partners actually deliver what you need. Brands must hold partners to a high standard. Having clear objectives and direction in the form of a plan allows you to work out pre-approvals ahead of time so you can close deals faster. In an era of crafting plans for every marketing disciple, failing to have one for partnerships is tantamount to brand malpractice.
In the last few months, it seems that more retailers than ever are declaring bankruptcy and shutting stores. Maybe it was the demise of my local Radio Shack, which seemed to be suffering from a long and drawn out terminal illness, that made the pain so much worse. Maybe it’s just hearing that brands from my childhood could no longer hack it – Payless, Wet Seal and The Limited. In the first three months of 2017, nine national retailers filed for bankruptcy – the total number for ALL of 2016.
If you have visited a mall recently, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise. First, the supply of physical stores outweighs shopper demand. Secondly, consumers continue to shift spending more online and prefer to spend more of their extra income on experiences such as travel. So with that being said, why aren’t retailers providing what consumers actually want? If marketers focused more on activations that match consumer interests, maybe it would drive up merchandise sales.
For example, we know of a major women’s retailer who is struggling to keep stores open. Sales are strong but it is a challenge to drive traffic into all of its locations except on holidays. Our advice: try something different. Partner with an upscale travel provider and offer a sweepstakes for a big-ticket exotic adventure such as an African safari. You can only enter if you purchase an exclusive BOGO product. You get entered twice if you purchase that product in-store. You get entered three times if you use the retailer’s credit card to make the purchase. You get the idea.
All too often the rationale for avoiding this type of campaign is that “marketing partnerships are too expensive”. They aren’t. Not if you look at partnerships through the right lens. Partnerships are not sponsorships. You shouldn’t always pay someone to partner with you - especially if you are a high profile brand with lots of traffic and consumer eyeballs. If you aren’t monetizing your reach, you are missing out on a possible opportunity. Some smaller brands race at the opportunity to just walk next to you, not to mention get promoted alongside of your brand. Don’t want to pay for a sweepstakes? The right partner might just GIVE the prize to you. That’s right. At no cost. Why? Because the cost of doing business with you is worth the investment. The potential awareness it will bring to their brand is worth it. If a brand has any sort of media budget, a promotion like this is equivalent to one spend (for example an advertisement in Travel & Leisure) so it is worth a test run. And this doesn’t just apply to small prize but large-scale offerings like cars, international travel and big ticket consumer electronics items.
The second obstacle is often not financial – it’s emotional. Mostly it is because brands suffer from either ‘breakup phobia’ or ‘I can do it myself’ syndrome. Approaching a brand for a partnership is easy. You say you love them, they say they love you. You say you want to work together and then months go by and nothing happens. Brands are sometimes afraid to fess up and tell you directly that this might not be the right fit. So you do a song and dance and get nowhere. Here is where an intermediary, such as a BrandAgent, can help. It is much easier for a brand to deliver the bad news that this partnership won’t work when someone else has to deliver the news. Or, conversely, to properly explore any concerns so you can identify the positives for both partners and get to yes.
The 'I can do it myself' syndrome is also something we often see. Some brands don’t want to hire an agency to act on their behalf because they think they can save the money and do it themselves. They won't. Why? First, it can take an excruciating amount of energy and effort to pitch and construct a partnership – even more if you don’t have the expertise. Second, brands often don’t like to negotiate with other brands. This goes back to the fear of being completely honest and actually initiating the break up. They would rather string you along or put a large obstacle in your way.
Here is a great anecdote. We had a retail client that wanted to partner with a luxury automotive brand and run a sweepstakes. They wanted to partner with Brand A, who wasn’t interested without a financial commitment, but Brand B was equally as interested but slightly less ‘desirable’ to the marketing department. Here is where a compromise might be worthwhile and where an intermediary can help negotiate deal points in your favor. Brand B was willing to do just about anything to make a partnership happen, including donate a car (worth about $40K) and provide access to their customer database. But the retailer wanted Brand A. So to make a deal happen, they purchased the car from Brand A (over a $40K cost), executed the sweepstakes themselves and weren’t able to take advantage of Brand A’s customer list either. So what exactly did the partnership provide them with? Maybe some more foot traffic but did the ROI match the investment? No. That being said, brand-match can be very important and there are times when the tradeoff is worth it.
My point is that the retail environment is very challenging. Brands need to think outside the box in order to keep the doors open to successful partnerships. Sometimes this may mean stepping outside the comfort zone and partnering with brands that will help meet the end goal of driving sales. All brands should retain a standard but it doesn’t always have to be so rigid, especially when you can get it done for free and find ways to keep the partnership a little under the radar. And when retailers are struggling to keep the doors open, can you really argue with this?
Here's to my first blog entry -- and it's not because of a resolution! I loathe New Year's Resolutions because they often result in crushing disappointment. We set unrealistic goals that can’t be attained and we beat ourselves up when we don’t deliver. So, let me be clear, starting this blog is NOT a resolution. It’s a decision to share what I have learned in 20+ years as an expert in partnership marketing.
Why now? Because so often I see what is a right and a wrong way for brands to “partner.” First of all, let’s look at what a partnership actually means. Merriam-Webster's defines it as “close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities.”
The key word here is joint. Most of the time, I engage with clients or prospects or read about programs and find there is a huge misconception about what partnership marketing actually could achieve. More often than not, I find it's missing the main component – ‘joint’ So hopefully with this blog, I can enlighten you on a few things or start a friendly dialog on the topic (comments welcome!)
One of the biggest ‘partnership’ events of the year is coming up soon – The Super Bowl – and it was the catalyst for this inaugural piece. I don’t mean those pricey ads that air for 15 seconds. I mean the big-ticket partnerships – where brands pay huge sums to claim the ‘Official Clam Chowder of The Super Bowl.’ In fact, writing that word may get me served a cease and desist. The reality is that most brands will throw money into a “partnership” when, in actuality, it’s just a big one-sided sponsorship in disguise.
Straight up sponsorships are usually a brand paying for the privilege of a mention or to leverage an affiliation. However, most of these are negotiated and loosely referred to as partnerships, seldom delivering what is promised. Here’s three reasons why sponsorships are not partnerships:
So if you’ve read this far and are wondering, ”When is this guy going to tell us his New Year’s Resolution” (because you knew it was coming, right?). Well, I don’t have a resolution. All I can offer is this advice for 2017: Create true partnerships.
Start by looking for partners that can exchange media assets and properties IN LEIU of inflated media fees. Then, barter or create subsidized cost alliances - partnerships that mutually promote and add value to the campaign. Ensure everyone is using their proprietary assets for the common gain. Finally, don’t just accept scraps off the table - make sure a partnership is customized to maximize impact and value.
A true partnership should, at minimum, pay for itself. Additional Fun fact: for the average cost of one national sponsorship – average, not even Super Bowl media prices – you could have Regatta working 24-7 on your behalf for an entire year. Easily making back what you pay out (or your investment).
Maybe you can call this a resolution after all…. Or just a lifestyle change.
Regatta is The Original BrandAgent, singularly focused on Partnership Marketing. Sam Kaufman is the founder and Chief BrandAgent.