No business is an island. While it is true that operating a business is often an exercise in independence, outside forces can often contribute to success. Marketing partnerships with another brand, for example, can benefit both businesses in ways operating alone never could. Such partnerships combine the efforts of two separate entities into a marketing strategy that can exponentially grow brand recognition for everyone involved.
“Simply put, a brand partnership—or co-marketing—is the alliance of two companies working together to create a mutually beneficial marketing and sales synergy, combining strengths to reach the loyalists of the other,” says Leslie May, founder of Pawsible Marketing, a niche marketing company that helps pet businesses with brand development, public and media relations, cause-related marketing, social media and more.
“It entails various possibilities including associating and/or building a single product or service with both brands to help those companies combine their strengths and multiply their brand equity to potentially reach additional markets and/or to develop an offering that neither brand may be able to develop effectively on its own.”
When a partnership is done right, the benefits can be something worth talking about. “Partnering with a brand can help a retailer develop and execute a larger program and usually offset the costs, as they are normally split between partners,” says Jennifer Lilly DeNick, assistant vice president at Coyne PR. Coyne PR is one of the most recognized independent public relations agencies in the world, receiving more than 100 industry honors in 2011 alone. Its pet division handles the public relations efforts for pet industry branding such as Banfield Pet Hospital, Milk-Bone, Meow Mix and 9Lives. “Additionally, a retailer can leverage the assets of the brand, whether it’s the name recognition, social media presence or research materials.”
A Good Match
Successful partnerships can be seen everywhere. “One example of successful brand partnerships is the ASPCA’s corporate partnership program,” says Kristen Levine, founder and owner of Fetching Communications, a PR and marketing agency that is exclusively dedicated to the pet and veterinary marketplace. “Companies such as Lowe’s, Morton Salt and Subaru benefit by aligning their brands with the enormous appeal of animals. The ASPCA gains financial funding from companies that value the work they do in exchange.”
Other examples might include groomers working with pet accessory boutiques or retail stores working with pet bakeries. The whole point of brand partnerships is to form complementary relationships. The partnership should help both companies by extending to additional markets and broadening their reach and distribution of products and/or services. Both brands should see an increase in sales, as well as enhanced value to the consumer.
May thinks pet retailers looking for a partnership should start by taking a good hard look at their own businesses. “I recommend that pet companies—regardless of size—begin by taking a closer look at their strengths and weaknesses in the areas of products/services, pricing, distribution, promotion and budget,” she says. “The next step would be to explore companies, brands and their products and services to analyze potential mutual benefit.”
Next, put out feelers with the companies that fit that bill. “Retailers should make it known that they are looking for partnerships,” says DeNick. “Contact sales representatives or agency partners and ask if there are partnership opportunities. Even better, come up with an idea and shop it around to brands that you believe are a good fit. Sell them on why they would benefit from a partnership with your business.”
Aligning with the wrong partner or using the wrong marketing
mix can cause a partnership to fail or underperform.
Understanding the ultimate goals of the partnership will help both parties understand where the relationship is going.
“Ensure that any brand collaboration your business enters into includes specific objectives and a collaborative, detailed marketing plan that includes a timeline of what each entity commits to enacting,” says Levine. “Measure the results of the partnership at appropriate intervals and enter any new brand partnership with a provisional period. At the end of the first anniversary, so to speak, evaluate how the partnership is assisting your business in meeting objectives.”
Pet brand partnerships are not without their pitfalls, though. Aligning with the wrong partner or using the wrong marketing mix can cause a partnership to fail or underperform. “Lack of planning and commitment from one or both parties can derail a potentially successful partnership very quickly,” says May. “And, any failure by one of the companies will probably reflect directly on the other partnering company.”
DeNick also warns of partnerships where one partner benefits more than the other. “If executed incorrectly, one partner may get all or most of the credit, leaving the other feeling as though the partnership was unsuccessful,” she says. “Both partners need to make sure that messaging and execution is designed to benefit both sides.”
The best way to avoid these failures is by performing due diligence. May recommends that pet retailers take the time to consider all angles and determine if it is worthwhile for both brands to expend the time, energy and budget that it takes create a successful brand partnership. Both companies should ask themselves: Do the companies you are seeking to partner with have the same type of business culture, values and ethics? Are they as dedicated to ensuring that everyone work toward a common goal to ensure success? Is it a good fit that will benefit both the companies and the consumer?
DeNick advises retailers to think outside the box, but to do so carefully. “Do be open to ideas that take you out of your comfort zone,” she says. “Something that is different and unique will capture the attention of the consumer. However, don’t sacrifice your brand equity. If the partnership idea goes against everything your brand stands for, then it’s not worth it. You want to engage consumers, not alienate them.”
Finally, remember that the possibilities are limited only by the imagination. “The pet industry has just begun to scratch the surface in exploring and implementing key brand and co-marketing partnerships,” says May. “I believe we will see and experience many more brand partnerships, not only within the pet industry, but also partnerships that extend outside of the pet industry in the future, as our industry lends itself very well to these types of arrangements for the benefit of the both companies and the consumers.”