Partnership marketing — what it is, why it’s so popular, and how to do it
Partnership marketing is one of the best ways to reach new audiences, build business relationships, and boost revenue. A survey by DemandGen showed 96% of businesses expected an annual revenue increase directly linked to marketing initiatives within their partner networks.
There are many ways to build marketing partnerships with companies and individuals. This guide will help you understand:
- What partnership marketing is
- The benefits of partner marketing
- 11 types of partnership marketing
- Partner marketing tips
- Examples of successful partnership marketing
What is partnership marketing?
Partnership marketing, also called partner marketing, is a strategic collaboration between two parties — typically two businesses or a business and a public figure. The purpose of partner marketing is to reach mutually beneficial marketing goals such as growing an audience on a new platform, growing brand awareness in a specific demographic, attracting new customers, or strengthening existing customer loyalty.
The benefits of partner marketing
Partner marketing is a popular strategy across industries. Every business partnership will bring unique advantages to the parties involved, but there are a few universal benefits.
- Access to new customers. Teaming up gives your business access to the other business’s curated audience. The increased visibility leads to a higher probability of conversions.
- Cost-effective marketing. Partnering extends your marketing budget and capability, because you benefit from the expertise and resources of another business. Suppose one business’s strength is social media advertising and another’s is email campaigns. The two can pool resources to create a marketing strategy that reaches audiences through both mediums.
- Reduced risks. Collaborating with a brand that has already proven successful minimizes your risks and helps you avoid pitfalls associated with new ventures.
- Greater customer trust. Partnering with a brand that has an excellent reputation inspires potential customers to associate your brand with high-quality goods and services. That audience may be keener to trust your brand because of your affiliation with your partner, who has already earned customer loyalty.
11 types of partnership marketing
Marketing partnerships can take various forms. Some are more public-facing, working directly with customers, while others work primarily behind the scenes. Here are the most common forms of partner marketing and what they look like in practice.
1. Affiliate marketing and ambassador programs
Setting up an affiliate marketing program or an ambassador program can generate a lot of buzz around your brand without all the overhead of a traditional marketing campaign. These programs take advantage of influencer marketing strengths to impact social media audiences.
- Affiliate marketing is when a company partners with a content creator — like a blogger or YouTuber — who promotes a product in return for a commission. For instance, a blogger could review affordable Bluetooth speakers and include an Amazon affiliate link. When readers click and buy, the blogger earns a small percentage of the sale.
- Ambassador programs involve more exclusive relationships with individuals who share a brand’s products with their audiences online and off. Fashion companies like Aerie lead successful ambassador programs, partnering with a few hundred social media influencers who create posts on Instagram and TikTok to show off the brand’s clothing and accessories.
Affiliate marketing and ambassador programs are offered to content creators for free, but affiliates don’t get paid until they make a sale. This arrangement provides a cost-effective way for a company to branch out on social media.
2. Distribution partnerships
A distribution partnership gives your brand access to the distribution channels that another company has already built, to get your product into the hands of more people.
One form of this partnership is to pay a larger distributor like Amazon or Walmart for space in their stores or warehouses. But distribution partners can also be wholesalers, brokers, sales agents, or businesses like yours with the same audience. Here are some examples.
- Reselling. A discount furniture outlet purchases unsold items from retailers at wholesale prices. Then they resell the furniture below the original retail price.
- Bundling. Two software companies offer a package deal for customers interested in buying both of their products.
- Cross-promotion. Two brands host a joint giveaway on social media where people must follow and like posts from both brands to qualify. Winners receive a gift package with products from both companies.
3. Referral partnerships
Every good salesperson knows the value of a referral. According to Invespcro, customers who learn about your brand through other customers have a 37% higher retention rate and are four times more likely to recommend your brand to others.
In a referral partnership, one business consistently recommends another business to its customers. This team effort creates a referral pipeline, where loyal customers of one company visit and eventually become patrons of the other business.
For instance, a physical therapy clinic could partner with another company’s health app by recommending the app to patients. The app company would gain access to a more targeted audience and likely convert more new users into paying customers. In exchange, the clinic would receive a cut of the profits.
Unlike affiliate programs, the relationship you develop with your referral partners is not strictly transactional and requires more nurturing. Call or email them often and ask how you can benefit them. These can be invaluable partnerships, so be willing to invest in them long-term.
4. Loyalty programs
Loyalty and rewards programs are partnerships established directly with customers that help build customer relationships and incentivize them to keep buying your products or services. They work well in both retail and ecommerce settings to increase brand engagement and win the hearts of your buyers.
A business can give out points, coupons, or exclusive access to repeat customers as a reward for shopping. Here are some real-life examples.
- Dutch Bros Rewards lets customers earn points toward free drinks.
- The ALDO Crew loyalty program offers coupons, birthday treats, exclusive deals, and early access to special seasonal clothing collections.
- The Marriott Bonvoy tiered benefits program raises qualifying customers through several levels from simple member status all the way to Ambassador Elite.
Events provide a wide-reaching opportunity to market to the masses. That’s why company logos are everywhere at sports games. A sponsor relationship allows a business to pay an event organizing committee to advertise its brand in a public space.
Some sponsorships are enormous and last through a series of events — like Coca-Cola at the Olympics. If you’re on a budget, you can sponsor something small. Consider these examples:
- An ice cream company sponsors a county fair where they give away ice cream.
- A local bank sponsors a 5K race in their town and has their logo displayed on the back of runners’ t-shirts.
- A hospital sponsors a youth theater production and places its logo on the back of the show program.
Sponsorships are one of the most direct ways to court customers. At events, people will notice your brand’s status as a sponsor. This publicity gets people talking and generates leads based on word-of-mouth advertising.
A licensing partnership is another great investment for extending your marketing with a smaller investment. A licensing partnership enables one brand to use another’s intellectual property — content, branding, patents, or trademarked goods — in exchange for a flat fee or royalty. Licensing can give you access to more products and brand recognition that you can generate organically.
Starbucks kiosks inside Target are part of a long-running licensing deal between the two corporations. Target licenses Starbucks’ logo, menu, and retail items to draw in customers familiar with the coffee chain.
Licensing comics or cartoon characters is a strategy many businesses use. For example, LEGO licenses Star Wars characters for many of its toy sets.
Consider networking with similarly sized companies that operate in adjacent fields. Licensing their content could help you branch out to new audiences or excite your current customers with new offerings.
7. Co-branding and affinity marketing
Brand recognition goes a long way. Two popular brands collaborating and putting their names on a new product can supercharge sales. Co-branding partnerships allow two companies to put collaborative resources behind a new product they market together.
Here are a couple of examples.
- Nike and Apple collaborated on the Apple Watch Nike+ to court customers from both brands’ loyal fanbases.
- Crocs creates limited-edition shoes in collaboration with celebrities and companies such as Justin Bieber, 7/11, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Affinity marketing is more or less the same as co-branding. Two companies team up to capture a niche market with an affinity for both brands. The partnership strengthens both.
If you can narrow down a niche group loyal to your company and your potential partner, co-branding a new product together could be a win-win.
8. Joint ventures
Joint ventures are a way business partners share their skills and resources to create a mutually beneficial project and enter a new market more quickly. They share profits based on their ownership and responsibility in the business. For example:
- Amazon and EV-startup Rivian partnered to create electric vehicles for Amazon’s delivery fleet.
- Hulu was created as a joint venture between News Corporation, NBCUniversal, and later Disney to break into the video streaming market.
Joint ventures can also benefit companies looking to reach customers in a new location. Picture a mobile fireworks stand partnering to share a corner lot with a barbeque restaurant on the Fourth of July. Businesses that have similar goals and wield an edge among customers in a specific region or market make the best partners for joint ventures.
9. Product placement
Perhaps the most recognizable example of product placement is the presence of branding in TV shows and movies. You’ve probably noticed when beverage companies, automotive brands, and fashion retailers flash their logos on set.
Product placement is a subtle form of advertising where one partner pays another to embed their products in visual media. This method helps naturally build brand recognition and popularity without being too pushy.
On a smaller scale, companies can pay content creators on YouTube or Instagram to use their products in a video — even if the product is not the topic of that content.
10. Channel partnerships and resellers
Building a B2C brand comes with many hurdles, but you can avoid some of them through a channel partnership or reseller. These partnerships allow smaller brands to sell through larger companies with more name recognition and a steady customer base.
- A channel partnership is an agreement for one brand to distribute, resell, manage, or deliver products from another firm through their channels. Think of a grocery store purchasing wholesale dairy products from a farm. The store will market the products under a generic brand name familiar to customers. The farmer doesn’t have to build a B2C brand and the store doesn’t have to produce the dairy.
- Resellers operate very similarly. They buy a product from a business partner, make minor changes, and then use their existing channels for marketing the product under their unique brand name.
Consider a channel or reseller partnership if you want to focus on product creation more than B2C marketing. It’s a shortcut to selling your product to the masses with ease and a certain degree of anonymity.
11. Nonprofit partnerships
Partnerships between for-profit and nonprofit organizations are often a win-win. Their shared goals and values can be the glue to bind a long standing relationship within a community.
For example, an advertising agency might partner with a local hospital and help raise money for medical research. The corporate partner could host events and fundraising drives and incentivize volunteer work to get employees involved.
It’s a massive benefit for nonprofits to have corporate support. And teaming up with a nonprofit can help businesses increase brand recognition and trust.
Partner marketing tips
The best marketing partnership for your business will depend on your industry and goals. But there are a few ground rules to starting any new partnership that can make or break your success.
Select the right partners
Choose partners who will treat the partnership as a team effort. Finding companies with similar goals and marketing strategies can help you narrow down which type of partnership best suits your shared ambitions.
The right partner doesn’t have to work in the same industry, but their goals and expertise should complement yours. The partnership should enhance your current marketing strategies, not hinder your progress.
Locating potential partners can start with a quick Google search or scrolling social media to find like-minded business owners. In-person networking events, such as trade shows and conventions, can also present opportunities. Reach out for an initial meeting to decide if joining forces could lead to a productive partnership.
Establish clear expectations from the beginning
After you find a marketing partner, determining mutual expectations should be first on your to-do list. A conversation about what you both want from the partnership can help avert disappointment and encourage clear and honest communication.
Write down your goals and expectations. A written document is a useful guide as the partnership grows and helps evenly divide up the work.
Here are some essential expectations to include:
- The responsibilities of each partner
- Timeframes for meeting goals
- What to do if either party hits a roadblock
Set measurable goals
Make sure your goals and expectations are measurable. Document your benchmarks and what metrics best demonstrate success.
For example, ask how many new leads each business expects to gain by the end of every quarter. Make a note of your expected conversion rate or profit margin.
Your shared goals should also mesh well with your internal business goals and revenue expectations. Setting up a marketing partnership should never drain your resources. It should give each business new momentum to reach strategic milestones.
Track your progress while you kick off your first campaign and as the partnership develops over months and years.
Support and reward good partners
Embarking on a new collaboration can be frustrating as both businesses establish new processes and routines. Fostering a positive relationship and working through early struggles together is vital for long-term success.
Keep communication open with regular check-ins. Celebrate successes by hosting joint company outings or offering monetary bonuses to employees who go above and beyond to generate revenue through the partnership.
Finally, remember the golden rule and treat your business partner as you would have them treat you. Even while it seems your partner may be slacking, if you honor your commitment, you will maintain trust with both them and your customers.
Examples of successful partnership marketing
Partner marketing is everywhere. Companies big and small benefit from partnership marketing as a way to branch out to new audiences, build corporate relationships and increase revenue. Here are three prominent examples.
Walmart and ThreadUp
The resale app ThreadUp has a channel partnership with Walmart to sell secondhand items on the big box retailer’s website. ThreadUp gets access to a huge customer base, while Walmart profits from access to a more extensive inventory and a pool of younger customers who are familiar with ThreadUp and the trendy second hand resale market.
Google and Fiat Chrysler
In a giant joint venture, Google and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) — two very different companies with unique products and markets — partnered to develop self-driving cars. Together they launched the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan fitted with Google automation equipment. Because of this partnership, FCA has spent relatively little on self-driving vehicle technology and Google has broken into the auto industry.
Netflix and Sony
Netflix has an exclusive licensing deal with Sony for their movie rights after they appear in theaters. These partnerships are widespread among streaming platforms, as securing exclusive rights is often key to drawing in new subscribers. For production companies, these lucrative deals often bring in large chunks of revenue.
Get started with partner marketing
The ubiquity of marketing partnerships across industries is a testament to their value. They’re a great way for businesses to reach new audiences and optimize their marketing ROI. Many types of partnerships could be a good fit, depending on your goals and who you choose as your partner.
If you want to start with partner marketing, knowing your goals, keeping your plans organized, and tracking your progress are all key components of long-term success.
Adobe Marketo Engage can help you keep partnership marketing relationships and campaigns organized and on track. With a full suite of B2B sales tools, Marketo Engage manages leads, automates marketing tasks, identifies new audiences, and provides robust analytics to keep your goals in sight.