Brand x Brand collaborations are a strategic alliance between two or more brands to create a specific product or service or to combine marketing platforms and messaging to create interest, excitement and distinctive value.
These collaborations may be short or long term and of varying complexity and integration.
Brand x Brand collaborations generate outsize attention from unpaid and paid media and create interest and excitement for a brand's existing customers and introduce brands to new ones.
Brand collaborations span industries. Fashion and beauty have always been leaders and recently we’ve seen collabs in such disparate categories like travel, fast food, health and homegoods. Brands are partnering up to offer novel, thoughtful and interesting experiences for consumers that work to create the two key emotions of surprise and delight. Brand x Brand Collabs show customers more of a brand’s attitude than brands can ‘tell’ them through other digital media.
All marketing methods have their moment and we are entering the era of brand collaborations as digital media has become ubiquitous, but with declining returns for brands.
Brand collaborations have emerged as a strategic marketing solution to the challenge of brands trying to stand out in an ever more constrained marketing environment. Digital media has seen a concentration of advertising spend into a few platforms focused on accurate customer targeting meaning we are all bombarded with similar looking messages constantly wherever we go online or in the physical world.
Resulting in a sea of sameness that ultimately has switched the customer off.
Brand x Brand Collabs are a way to switch the customer back ‘on’ by creating attention grabbing messaging or products that show attributes of the brands in a new way.
Brand x Brand Collaborations take many forms and can be very simple, such as a simple email program to refer customers to other brands somewhat like an affiliate model, or they can be complex where brands co-create whole new products that didn't exist before using multiple internal teams to collaborate to create something entirely new…and everything in between. Check out our hall of fame for an in depth and inspirational look at collabs that have moved the dial for brands of all types and stripes.
Whichever route brands take, choosing a great partner is the first and most important step towards success. Choosing the wrong partner can cause damage to your brand, but even before you get the product into the market place the wrong partner can create co-working challenges that mean the program never really gets momentum or backing.
At Colaboratory we work with brands of all types and sizes and have a firm belief that for brand x brand collabs to bring true value to a business they must be part of the overall strategic marketing plan. Brands must conceive of all of their collaborations within a strategic framework and then develop a consistent roadmap for developing partnerships that make collaborations “business as usual” for brands.
How To Build A Collab Strategy
Brand x Brand collabs often invoke squeals of excitement in customers, but groans of misery for employees. Anyone who has been involved in a collab knows they often involve spools of complexity, long hours and multiple stakeholders to inform, educate and persuade long before they are brought to market.
At Colaboratory we work with brands of all types and sizes to create brand collaborations that get attention from the market and from the customer. Working on brand x brand collaborations all day every day we know that for collabs to bring true value to a business they must be part of the overall strategic marketing plan. Only by working to an overall strategic plan can brands create enduring value for their customers and as importantly maintain enthusiasm and application internally. We know what collabs can “make” for a brand, and more importantly we know what they “take” to create and execute.
We are in the corner of anyone in the organization charged with bringing these exciting yet often frustrating ideas to life.
To make it worth it in both domains, brands must conceive of all their collaborations within a strategic framework and then develop a consistent roadmap for developing partnerships that make collaborations “business as usual” for brands. As the saying goes “Strategy begins at home” with brands working internally and cross functionally to research and interpret the customer, the market and market conditions to create a clear means for creating value and bringing that value fully to bear on the market.
The brand is a communication vehicle for that strategy as it shows up as a product or a service. The brand ultimately communicates rational value, by connecting emotionally to the customer. This is why brand x brand collabs are so effective and at their best ‘magical’. They make this emotional connection in nove, often orthogonal and impactful ways.
Collabs create a heightened emotional touchpoint with the customer by first inducing surprise (sometimes a lot of surprise) then recognition (“ahh…I get it”), which leads to interest and ultimately the creation of added value either by increasing sales (often dramatically) and heightened or evolved awareness in the market.
The kinds of growth that collabs can spark simply can’t be found with other forms or marketing communication. But collabs are harder to conceive and execute. This is because collabs combine every single one of the so-called “5Ps” of marketing strategy, product, price, promotion, place…and of course people.
Collabs should neither be one-off or off to the side. They should be an important part of the overall marketing mix. The place of collabs within the overall brand strategy must be understood clearly. Collabs can bring new value to communications and growth goals that other methods can’t and it is these values and really only these that should inform the collab strategy.
The collab shouldn’t be trying to emulate or displace activity that the enterprise is already doing effectively with other means. Collabs are additive.
Collab strategy begins and ends with people. Before any ideas or executions can be considered the brand seeking to grow through collaboration has two audiences they must win over. The internal audience and the external one. The audience for their products.
Because strategy is an internal process built to interpret the external world. Collab strategy must be central to the organizational viewpoint and should be the domain of influential teams within the company or enterprise. It has been said that collab strategy is “no-ones business until it becomes everyone’s business”. Most collab owners, be they brand managers, partnership managers, brand strategy owners, CMOs and CEOs find that collabs touch every part of the organization and need a lot of buy-in, and sign-off. Your collab team needs to be at the heart of brand and market strategy.
Colaboratory’s LaunchPad process brings collab strategy to life by answering the four fundamental questions any strategy, collab or otherwise must ask;
When we have clarity on these fundamentals, we work with teams to identify partnership opportunities that leverage these answers . Opportunities are found in a compelling combination of brands, executions and channels. A natural mistake to make is to first focus on the ‘brand’ rather than the customer experience. The ‘who’, rather than the ‘why’, ‘what’ and the ‘how’.
First we focus on ‘why’ the ‘what’ and ‘how’, and the ‘who’ comes into view. We know from experience that there isn’t one ‘who’, there are many potential partnerships that can create value for brands. The most valuable are often the least expected. These are uncovered through clarity of strategy, rather than being clouded by the excitement of teaming up with a ‘name brand’.
Colaboratory exists to make it easier for brands to identify the best opportunities with the best partners to create impact with existing and new customers. To find out how we can make brand collabs an essential and predictable part of your brand’s marketing strategy contact us here.
Armed with a solid brand collab strategy you’re in a great position to research partners to help bring collabs to life.
Our collab research techniques blend data and rigor with strategic marketing expertise to identify numerous opportunities and also to rule out partnerships that are likely to be uninspiring or unprofitable.
The first principle of partner research is to start with a very clear view of the customer sets that comprise the make-up of your audience both currently and aspirationally. You have to know what you want, that you don’t have, before deciding who and how to partner to make progress.
You must be clear on what that customer might want that you can’t satisfy as well with other means readily at your disposal rather than through a collab. Collabs are intense work and so the goal of a collab should reflect the effort that they will take to execute. Aim for something special every time.
Second, brand must create a method to evaluate a significant number of partnerships at speed. A failing of many collab practices is to focus on too narrow a subset of potential partnerships narrowing in on the most clearly defined and immediate synergies. The mistaken goal is to try to identify the most ‘perfect’ match defined within very limited terms. This makes the process feel manageable and controllable, but forces the brand into ever smaller goals and aspirations. The resulting partnership may not ‘fail defined in strict terms…but it’ll likely not catch fire either.’
This approach makes sense only when your partnership strategy is fundamentally “defensive” and you’re aiming to find the partnership that can’t be killed or disputed. In the search for “synergy” many brand collabs lose their energy and it's the energy that excites and delights customers in the end. Courage comes from being able to consider a large group of potential partners right up front.
A great partnership is often one that seems intriguing and even obvious on reflection, but not necessarily at immediate inception.
A Wide Funnel
The goal of our approach is to cast a wide funnel envisaging multiple different partnership combinations that invigorate the brands identified customer demographic, psychographic, social and purchasing behaviors. Most brands have multiple versions of these to embrace customers with differing needs and at different stages of their customer journey.
Through a combination of social listening, signal analysis, analysis of known customer lists, customer activity and actions in known domains such as dedicated websites, retailer websites, marketplaces and social platforms we are able to identify key themes that dictate behavior and the directions and intensity of customer aspirations and goals in relation to the brand.
It is these that map to the potential universe of partners. So instead of mapping brands to brands, we start with the customer as the brand sees them and wants to be seen by them and work forward from there to the brand partnership potential.
Typically this process will yield anything up to 50 potential partners across 5 alternative domains including causes customers are engaged in and an understanding of brands of all types and stripes and sizes and their ability and appetite for brand collaborations and executions.
A common error we’ve seen in other approaches is to limit the field by size, brand awareness, pure customer overlap and other known quantities. This is where what can be ‘known’ trumps and diminishes what can be ‘shown’. The tendency of many brands is to play safe at the start, censoring aspirations early to ensure that the collab makes the cut.
Our approach is to create a wide, diverse and interesting universe to work within, knowing that a great program is built on consistency and commitment to collabs as a business process and an engine for growth.
In conclusion, the three principles for effective partners research are
#1, start with your customers present and intended as the source of all thinking. Understand what you are intending to deliver for them first.
Then #2 expand the field of play. Use numerous data sources combining activity, interest and action to interpret possibilities for partnership.
#3 Look for energy beyond the synergy. Small brands can partner very effectively with global brands by bringing their credibility in a given area to the larger brand. The larger brand likewise has assets that can help the smaller brand achieve its goals, which may be growth, or could be investment or the development of new IP.
The sheer breadth and depth of this research and the importance of having third party validation of the techniques is more than a lot of brands can realistically apply to the collab space. This is why Colaboratory created its Confirmatory and LaunchPad products. To help brands expand their reach and to develop a fast, accurate and systematic approach to opportunity management and development.
Responsibility for collaboration within brands often sits with multiple stakeholders so we advise anyone building their own outreach strategy to follow a number of steps to get in the game.
#1. Set up a Google Alert for ‘Brand Collabs” (and variations thereof) to identify potential partners and also as a means to determine who within organizations creates and publicizes partnerships. This will help identify individuals, and also the types of roles and titles you need to search for.
Be sure to note who is quoted or recognized as the leader in an organization bringing these collabs to market
#2. Run searches for collabs on LinkedIn and follow brands that consistently create collabs. Follow Colaboratory on LinkedIn as well!
#3. Build a database of brands and contacts. The purpose of outreach is to identify the right partners and to cultivate relationships for the future. Be sure to capture all outreach in your own valuable database. This will prove to be a great asset to you and your partners.
Here at Colaboratory we’ve identified four key audiences that typically touch brand x brand collaborations. They are Brand Management, Partnership Management,, Brand Strategy Directors and CMO/CEOs.
Of these Partnership Managers (directors) are the best target to aim at. In all on LikedIn here in the US there are 52,000 professionals with the following titles;
We recommend that in the absence of a direct connection seeking out these roles at your target companies is the most direct means to get to an individual who can give you actionable information.
People in these roles typically have an active interest in trends in marketing and an appetite for being well informed. Additionally individuals with an exposure to Influencer marketing in any organization will likely have some direct or indirect overlap with brand collabs.
Secondary targets would include senior level brand managers. In the US there are over 180,000 members on LinkedIn with titles such as;;
It’s unlikely that any collab partnership would launch without the buy-in of this group so we maintain close eyes on this audience as well. However we’ve found that the partnership manager role is the role with the most strategic perspective on brand collabs within a framework of other partnership initiatives and overall marketing strategy is the most effective means to initiating a partnership that will survive the rigors of the inception and execution process.
Once, you’ve found an exciting partner prospect and you’ve identified the person or persons that you need to contact to get things moving. Your outreach strategy will be determined by the level of relationship you have with your target partner company . For ease of understanding we’ll use the terms level 1, level 2 and level 3.
Level 1 contacts are your own; you know someone who works there. Level 2 contacts are secondary contacts, meaning you know someone who knows someone who works there. Level 3 contacts are LinkedIn contacts—you're connected in some way, but essentially these are cold contacts.
If you have a level 1 or 2 contact, use warm introductions whenever possible. Have your contact put you in touch with the relevant department leaders at your target company.
If a warm introduction isn’t possible, you’ll need to use direct cold outreach. Contact the relevant parties directly through email and other messaging services like LI, Instagram, or Facebook Messenger. It is sensible to use multiple methods. Just ensure that your messaging is consistent across platforms and that you note that you’ve used other contact methods as well.
If you want to scale your outreach it’s quite OK to use a professional third party outreach service. This has been known to work well as the outreach feels professional, planned and strategic.
Colaboratory can connect you with services that will do the outreach for you while compiling a large database of contacts and detailed interactions. Indeed on some occasions we have undertaken this for clients. Our method is always to communicate that collabs are an integral part of the brand's ongoing strategic marketing initiatives. While we may be reaching out with a specific opportunity in mind we always aim to ensure that we understand the collab landscape within our target company and determine their readiness for collabs. With this in mind no outreach is wasted, even if it is initially unsuccessful.
What To Say
To assess whether your target partner could and should work with you on your collaboration, they need to know four essential facts (4EF) about the collab and your plan.
Use a long or short form version of the 4EF script as appropriate. Your outreach communication, regardless of channel, must include these facts as well as a call to action.
The call to action will be a request for an initial meeting to discuss the collab opportunity.
How To Say It
Be clear with your partner that this outreach is intended to execute a thought out collab. This initial outreach isn't to begin a negotiation but rather to extend an invitation. An invitation that is being extended to a number of parties.
Remember this is your collaboration, and your strategy. You are inviting your target partner to get in on the action. Going into the outreach with confidence can help you maintain control of the discussion and yield better results. It will make it quicker and easier to get to a decision on whether to partner now, and if not now, when (if at all).
Confidence stems from approaching your partner with a clear vision of why they should participate, which is what the 4EF formula will give you.
What if they say no?
The goal of this outreach is to get to a quick yes or no. So a ‘no’ is an expected and desired result. When you are turned down you need to confirm three things. First, the person turning you down is the decision maker and which other decision makers there are in the organization. We have found that collabs sit in more than one place in the org.
Second, whether they are turning you down this specific collab, or whether they would rule out any collabs with you. In either case you should note why and finally. What kind of collabs would they entertain with you or with other brands?
As noted at the start of this answer, the goal of outreach is to find partners quickly and also to build up your knowledge of the landscape. The collab landscape is opaque and increasing your knowledge of it will make you invaluable to other brands which will in the long run improve your ability to develop more collabs at a greater rate, quality and impact.
The first step to impactful brand x brand collaborations is to claim your brand page on Colaboratory.
By having a brand page on Colaboratory you activate your brand in our network and identify the thought leaders and decision makers in your organization that lead brand x brand collaborations. Think of it as the best way to find your collab tribe.
Any brand in the Colaboratory network can search and find your brand as a potential partner, identify important characteristics about your brand and your experience of and appetite for brand x brand collabs.
Your brand page is where you make it easy for other brands to find you and to network with you. By having a page you put yourself clearly on the collab map and begin the process of soliciting, attracting and evaluating collaborations automatically.
Much of the company detail on your page is generated automatically from industry sources so creating a page is very quick and easy. By claiming your page you will identify yourself and others in your organization as the contacts other brands need to establish a collab. You can also update brand information and assets easily to make sure your brand representation is up to date.
Claiming your page is easy. Simply complete the form linked here and you’ll receive an email to confirm your details.
Once these are confirmed you’ll have access to your page and can make updates as required. Once in the network you’ll be able to highlight collabs and opportunities that you're looking for and to search for brands that you might want to collaborate with.
Your brand page is the place where you get off the sidelines and onto the front lines of brand x brand collaborations.
Confirmatory is our targeted, always-on service helping members quickly determine if a specific partner is right for them. Confirmatory will help you organize, validate and enrich potential partnership applications.
Confirmatory relieves the burden brands have for ingesting and filtering brand x brand collaboration opportunities from internal and external sources. Turning the process from a random walk into a source of market intelligence, strategic insight and execution.
Confirmatory is an excellent tool to advertise a brand’s appetite for collabs and at the same time increase institutional intelligence on where collab opportunities lie through aggregating and interpreting inbound interest. Over time this increased throughput will help brands predict successful collaborations more reliably. Increasing the likelihood of business growth through collabs.
Members subscribing to Confirmatory can submit unlimited brands for individual brand x brand partners assessment. This is ideal for brands that are in high demand and receive numerous inbound requests for brand x brand collabs.
Confirmatory offers brand and partner managers independent and objective perspective on each request against a consistent rubric with a fast 48 hour turnaround.
This means that brands can evaluate opportunities consistently over time making sure that you never miss an opportunity and at the same time ensuring that all inbound requests are handled promptly, accurately and according to the priorities the brand has predetermined.
The tool is also a great way to assess ideas generated internally. The Confirmatory tool helps establish and execute a sound collaboration strategy and process. It encourages brands to attract more inbound collaboration opportunities in the knowledge that they have a reliable, scalable tool that ensures you won't drop the ball. At the same time it encourages internal enthusiasm for collabs without the concern that internal relationships will be harmed if individual ideas aren’t taken on.
Collab, brand and partner managers can invite ideas freely knowing they have a method to manage and evaluate them in a timely way according to a consistent rubric of assessment that establishes the likely fit and the practicality of execution.
Confirmatory gives partnership and brand managers a third party assessment enabling them to support their recommendations and sell them to internal audiences. Overcoming “shiny object” skepticism by establishing a third party validation standard and process.
An additional benefit we hear from Confirmatory customers is that the tool helps them sharpen their thinking and surfaces new ideas that they would never have had in sectors they wouldn’t have imagined. This in turn sharpens the outreach efforts brands make as they can read new trends and ideas in the types of inbound requests they receive.
How do brands invite inbound requests?
Many requests will come in unsolicited from sites like LinkedIn and other sources. Particularly when a collab has been publicized widely. The confirmatory tool will help manage these bulges in activity seamlessly. Confirmatory provides brands with a single email inbox to forward these requests to.
Confirmatory customers receive a weekly update on the inbound requests with a high level matrix view of the fit and likelihood of execution. Monthly meetings between Colaboratory and the brand identify opportunities and trends revealed by Confirmatory.
How do we manage communication with requesting brands?
Colaboratory handles all post application communication with prospective partners ensuring the brand’s reputation is maintained.
Confirmatory Prospect Management Tool
Great collab programs are built with a consistent throughput of ideas and Colaboratory has created a prospect management tool that links into Confirmatory that enables brands to solicit enquiries on their digital properties. Capturing supply side interest.
Members who choose the Confirmatory can harness the same power for potential collabs, never missing out on an opportunity to connect with the right brand.
The prospect management tool enables lead capture on brand’s digital properties with a direct feed into Colaboratory for evaluation, prioritization and reporting. As with the confirmatory tool this enables the same clear, professional approach to stage-gating and expectation management for external partners.
Colaboratory provides Confirmatory members with regular reporting on who has expressed interest and the potential for each partnership. Building a database of contacts for clients and a muscle for interpreting and understanding opportunities.
LaunchPad is Colaboratory’s signature product enabling brands to make brand x brand collabs a central strategic marketing priority and skill.
Brands that initiate “LaunchPad” work with Colaboratory’s collab experts to refine every aspect of their approach to collabs within the framework of their other strategic marketing initiatives and set against their goals for customer satisfaction, growth and audience development.
LaunchPad is a three part process, beginning with a deep dive into brand aspirations and audience insights that yields a clear understanding of how brand x brand collabs can uniquely and definitively support business growth. As we work together we clarify initial research and understandings concluding with a comprehensive LaunchPad report detailing recommended collabs and next steps.
Armed with this first LaunchPad brands have a solid foundation for initiating and executing multiple collabs that in turn drive growth and enhance learnings to tune and hone the collab engine the brand is developing.
A deeper dive into the Launchpad
Part #1. Collab Set Up.
The set up or onboarding process involves in depth interviews to understand marketing strategy, owned and leverageable assets. Assessing ideal, optimal and dream collab partners (including influencers and brands to help shape understanding).
Additionally we’re keen to understand the industry sectors and categories that immediately appeal. As part of this process we consider and assess brand reputations in conjunction with your specific collab strategy. Noting how to make activities complementary to established marketing strategy.
Starting with the customer we work with our tech partners and access to transactional social and email data to gain customer insights from your core customer personas. It’s important to know what people responding to, what they are buying, where they talk about your brand.
Finally we confirm what themes or environments you want us to focus on or search through.
These are the hard yards which set us up for the more exciting phases of the journey./
After this initial deep dive. We look at the data, social and transactional and see how these match what you are aiming at and also what customers talk about when they aren’t mentioning your brand…making sure that conversation overlaps with the audiences you are trying to finds.
#2. Check In Phase
At this phase we present the strategic themes we identified and provide an initial glimpse at the partnership types and brands this inspires. This is our opportunity to confirm we are in alignment with your strategy and that we captured the essence of your goals for collabs ensuring we are identifying the right customer profile and interesting and energizing partners to work with.
Collabs work best when they create a new spark of energy in the brand and show customers new attributes and aspects of your brand. This stage is essentially the “does it spark joy” phase.
Ideas that don’t intrigue, excite or spark energy are ruthlessly cut at this stage leaving space for the most energy-inducing ideas to be built upon.
#3 LaunchPad Delivery
At this final stage we provide a comprehensive overview and recommendations for the collabs the brand should pursue across each of the strategic themes we have previously identified and agreed.
We provide a “final five” recommendation as a LaunchPad for outreach to potential partners with in depth brand overviews and a compelling case for each collaboration.
With the LaunchPad in place the brand is ready to create and pursue brand x brand collabs as a strategic imperative and platform for communicating with customers and potential partners into the future.
The brand will have a robust understanding of the value collabs will create for the brand and a persuasive case to approach brands to collaborate with it for both brand’s mutual benefit. As well as an action plan for next steps to increase the rate, quality and impact of brand collabs into the future.