Brand partnerships are when two or more companies come together to market or create a product or service. This requires businesses to share risk, audiences, and reputations. To minimize the risks with partnering, companies should make sure their collaboration has key characteristics that point to success.
It’s no secret that brand partnerships require a ton of work. Not only are partners sharing potential risk, but they’re also counting on each other to outperform typical expectations.
Plenty of past brand partnerships failed in their efforts to live up to audience expectations. Take Forever 21 and Atkins, for example. Both companies are consumer brands that primarily serve women, so a brand partnership may have seemed like a no-brainer. However, it didn’t work out quite as planned.
As part of the collaboration, Forever 21 sent Atkins health bars to customers that placed online orders. Upon receiving the unexpected dieting product, customers were offended and disappointed with both brands.
Even a seemingly perfect brand partnership can go wrong. So, how does your business steer clear of catastrophe? Visual Objects surveyed 501 US consumers to find out what qualities are valuable in successful brand partnerships.
What Makes a Brand Partnership Work?
- Familiarity: 57% of consumers trust products with recognizable brand names.
- Innovation: 29% of consumers recognize the Apple Pay brand partnership between Apple and MasterCard, known for being innovative in the digital wallet space.
- Quality: 44% of consumers continue buying from brands that continuously offer high-quality products and services.
- Problem Solver: 38% of consumers avoid trying co-branded products that do not seem helpful.
- Audience-Minded: 43% of consumers are loyal to at least one food and beverage company, an industry often praised for branding that understands audiences.
Familiarity: Betty Crocker and Hershey’s Chocolate
People may be more likely to trust products from brands they know about, making familiarity a powerful tool in digital marketing endeavours, including brand partnerships.
Over half of US consumers (57%) trust products from widely-known brands more than those with names they don’t recognize.
The success of the baking mix partnership between Betty Crocker and Hershey’s Chocolate exemplifies how familiarity can elevate the popularity of a brand partnership.
Source: General Mills
Hershey’s candy-inspired Betty Crocker cake mixes launched in 2013 during a bake event. Then, the company took branded trucks on a 12-day sampling tour that featured a stop in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The positive buzz and momentum from these promotions jumpstarted the success of the products, which remained mainstays in grocery stores and home kitchens across the country.
Gregory Young is the Chief Experience Officer of software company Convincely. Young asserts that familiarity with brands and social proof of quality protect buyers from purchasing regret.
“With household name brand products, countless people have direct purchasing experience. The consumer experience is very well documented,” Young said. “You, as a consumer, can call upon the wealth of their experience and come to a well-informed decision before making a purchase.”
With household name brand products, countless people have direct purchasing experience. The consumer experience is very well documented.
Customers easily trust well-known brands, making partnerships that feature these companies more likely to be a success.
Innovation: Apple and MasterCard
Innovation and creative ideas interest buyers in new products, especially as industries continue to prioritize technological improvements.
Take Apple and MasterCard, for example. The two came together to offer Apple Pay in 2014, and 29% of consumers are now aware of that effort.
Companies that choose to create an innovative solution due to their partnership may be more appealing and recognizable to consumers. This is especially the case when innovation fills a relevant need.
Apple Pay first served as an innovation in the digital wallet space, allowing people to pay for pretty much anything without physical cash or card present. The convenience of this product allowed it to quickly overtake competitors in its field, making it the most popular by 2019.
However, even more people turned to the solution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was the product easy to use, it promoted safe cashless transactions, so people didn’t need to fear the spread of the virus through cash payments.
During the pandemic, Apple Pay brought peace of mind to many users who appreciated the level of innovation brought to the brand partnership.
Quality: Pottery Barn & Sherwin-Williams
When making purchasing decisions and choosing between similar products, consumers are looking for quality. Brand partnerships should prioritize crafting quality products that genuinely meet audience needs.
Many consumers (44%) say that brands will keep their business if quality is maintained across products.
A commitment to a quality service is one of the main things companies should offer in a brand partnership. Sherwin-Williams and Pottery Barn exemplify this quality well in their effort to help customers find the perfect paint color to match their interior design preferences.
Source: Pottery Barn
Twice each year, Pottery Barn promised customers that it would select a palette of Sherwin-Williams paint colors that matches their furniture catalog, allowing customers to more easily coordinate their furnishings and wall color.
This collaboration allowed for a more full-service solution for home decorators in need of both paint and furniture. This all-in-one solution became popular, likely because of the increased value of each service when offered in tandem.
Nate Tsang, founder and CEO of investment research tool WallStreetZen, believes that customers may increase their expectations for value when they encounter a robust and helpful partnership.
“If people can see how the two brands function better in tandem, they'll go in with those higher expectations,” Tsang said. “It's up to the brands to ensure they can provide that increased value without over-promising and under-delivering.”
If people can see how the two brands function better in tandem, they'll go in with those higher expectations.
Tsang compares successful partnerships to chocolate being added to peanut butter: if the partnership is right, the end product will be better than either brand on its own.
In these cases, customers can comfortably raise their expectations and invest trust in partnered brands without the fear of being disappointed.
Problem Solver: Alexander Wang & H&M
Products are supposed to solve user problems. In brand partnerships, consumers want to see issues addressed rather than a flashy marketing campaign.
In fact, 38% of consumers will avoid trying out products that don’t seem helpful.
This indicates that brand partnerships should prioritize being helpful over simply being interesting.
In fact, experts recommend thorough market research before even agreeing to a brand partnership. Market research can be a key factor in determining whether your product effectively solves a problem.
One strong example of a problem-solving partnership is Alexander Wang and H&M’s effort to make designer clothes more accessible to people.
This partnership became viral because it targeted an audience that was interested in designer clothes but required affordable prices to make purchasing decisions. The companies successfully addressed a relevant problem in the market, which led to a strong commercial success.
Even celebrities such as Rihanna and Fergie were seen wearing pieces from the Alexander Wang X H&M collection.
By keeping an industry challenge and consumer problem in mind, Alexander Wang and H&M found success in their brand partnership.
Audience-Minded: Doritos and Taco Bell
In any line of business, the audience should come first. Prioritizing audiences is even more critical when deciding to enter into a brand partnership.
When it comes to pleasing audiences, food and beverage companies are setting a high bar. Almost half of consumers (43%) are loyal supporters of at least one food and beverage company, well-outnumbering support in other industries.
How do these companies continue connecting with the right audiences and retaining loyalty? For one, they employ branding strategies that reflect audience interests while honestly representing the product.
“Food and beverage companies leverage the emotional connection it gets from its loyal customers,” Johnson said. “Because food and drinks appeal to several senses at once such as taste, smell, sight, and touch, they are associated more with personal experiences than other commodities.”
Food and beverage companies leverage the emotional connection it gets from its loyal customers.
It’s safe to say that your partner doesn’t have the same target audience as your business does. This means that you’ll need to work together to seamlessly appeal to both of your audiences with your products and branding efforts.
This is precisely the approach Doritos and Taco Bell took when establishing their partnership to produce one of the most popular Taco Bell food items: the Doritos Locos Taco.
Both companies had powerful brands and consumer followings in the same demographics, which ensured that consumers would connect with the project.
Additionally, the Doritos Locos Taco was the result of plenty of market research and recipe adjustments. The two companies wanted to be sure that it would resonate with the right audiences before launching the product.
The time and energy spent on audience alignment and testing really paid off. The final product continues to be a fan favorite and is unlikely to leave Taco Bell’s menu anytime soon. By leveraging their positions as emotive food and beverage brands with similar target audiences, Doritos and Taco Bell started one of the most successful brand partnerships out there.
Brand Partnerships Require a Tactical Approach
Brand partnerships aren’t as simple as they sound. They require intentional strategic choices in order to succeed. Success in brand partnerships happens when each company involved is willing to share risk and commit to delivering a quality product that addresses a relevant audience need.
Companies that want to partner successfully may also benefit from appealing to familiarity and innovation with audiences through the product they create together.
About the Survey
Visual Objects surveyed 501 US consumers in May 2021.
Thirty-one percent (31%) of respondents are female; 28% are male; 42% did not provide their gender.
Eleven percent (11%) are 18 to 34; 21% are 35 to 54; 27% are 55 or over; 42% did not provide their age.
Respondents are from the South (36%), Midwest (30%), West (20%), and Northeast (14%).