Here, Mike France, co-founder of premium watch brand Christopher Ward, outlines the important considerations for small business owners looking to strike up a brand partnership to grow their company
Forming a successful partnership with a fellow brand has the potential to further your exposure, unlock new markets, spark innovation and potentially streamline your operations.
For any brand – big or small, established or challenger – breaking into new markets, and boosting brand awareness outside a core audience, can often prove a major hurdle. Partnering with a relevant brand is therefore one of the most effective ways of establishing greater brand visibility and traction.
Yet brand partnerships are also potentially perilous when they go wrong. Carefully choosing who, and who not to engage with, and ensuring you have both suitable resources and the rights partnership strategy, are therefore vital to ensuring the partnership’s success.
The first step towards a successful brand partnership is to establish exactly what you wish to achieve from a tie-up, and how these goals fit into your wider business strategy.
A partnership can never be central to your brand strategy but it is crucial that it supplements and complements your own values and goals.
When it comes to choosing your partner, the most successful partnerships are those that add a “halo” effect to your brand. This is to say, a partner shouldn’t be so different they have no relevance, nor so similar they don’t bring anything new to the table.
The sweet spot is a partner that shares brand values – and who compliments who you are – but is distinct enough to take your brand to new places.
One of the easiest traps to fall into is believing that the “bigger” the brand you may be able to partner with the better. At Christopher Ward, we have been approached many times in the past with offers of big partnerships, including from several Premier League clubs, Formula One teams and big rugby sides.
Such opportunities can initially be very enticing. Yet in none of these instances did we feel these brands were truly aligned with what we are about and that the relationship would have worked. This is why, rather than partnering with a household sports team, we have entered a partnership with Morgan Motor Company.
Our key messaging revolves around classical British design and heritage, and providing quality, Swiss-manufactured timepieces at affordable prices. Communicating a message of affordable quality would therefore seem hollow if we were partnered to a football club who regularly splashed tens of millions of pounds on new players.
A second potential pitfall of partnering with a far larger brand is that the partnership becomes imbalanced, with one company overshadowing the other in what should be a 50/50 partnership.
This could lead to you being drowned out and viewed as an add-on by the consumer, rather than being taken seriously as a company in its own right.
This is why it is important to do your due diligence and taking your time in forming the brand partnership, to ensure that you are on equal footing.
And, of course, this mantra applies both ways – a partnership where you are a little more than a crutch for a smaller brand will bring you little benefit.
Partnerships require both funding and resources, and with it often difficult to tangibly forecast a financial ROI from a partnership, the potential returns need to be weighed up against the costs with a cold eye.
You also need to make sure, in advance, you have sufficient internal resources available to properly do the job.
This includes a champion of the partnership at board or strategic level, but also people at the “real”, operational level who can fully commit to, and are capable of understanding, the needs and goals of the partnership.
Alignment is key
When entering into a partnership it is crucial that you feel that your brand values are aligned, and that the relationship is one of mutual respect.
The biggest red flag is when a company has evidently not taken the time to research and understand your brand’s ethos, history or product. It’s impossible to find common ground with a company who have no interest in you beyond financials.
As a business, the main aim of a brand partnership is, ultimately, driving sales and widening your brand exposure. But to compromise your brand integrity for the sole purpose of achieving increased sales is ill-advised – especially for small-to-medium-sized businesses who generally have a more personal relationship with their customers.
A spike in sales is never worth a long-term tarnishing or selling-out of the brand’s image.
The foundations of a brand partnership are no different to the fundamentals of wider business. Strong personal relationships between the key figures at the two brands helps enormously but more importantly it is vital that both brands are benefiting equally from the partnership.
Ultimately, brand partnerships must be carefully considered and responsibly implemented – but if done so, have the potential to propel a venture to new heights.
Mike France is co-founder of Christopher Ward
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