We recently brought on a new client that pulled off one of the most creative and effective marketing partnerships I’ve ever seen — and they did it only a few weeks after the company was founded five years ago.
Our new client, Roadie, is an “on the way” delivery company that gives ordinary folks a chance to make a little money by delivering items to people who are on the way to where the driver was going anyway. When the company opened, its main need was to recruit drivers. Thanks to its partnership with the Waffle House restaurant chain, Roadie had all the drivers it needed very quickly.
The partnership was simple: Waffle House restaurants became “Roadie Roadhouses,” where drivers and senders connected to hand off or pick up items to be delivered. The restaurants advertised the partnership with in-store signage and offered a free waffle and drink to drivers making deliveries at their store.
Waffle House benefitted by driving traffic to its restaurants, as well as associating a very traditional brand with the hipness of a tech startup. Roadie got to advertise its company to potential drivers across 25 states for virtually no cost — and both benefitted from the publicity generated by the unusual partnership, which exploded when Jimmy Kimmel talked about it during his monologue one night.
What are the keys to a successful brand partnership? I suggest there are three:
Brands Should Be Similar But Different
The two brands partnering together need to have similar values and appeal to a similar audience, but they have to be different enough for the partnership to be interesting and attract attention.
For example, BMW and Louis Vuitton are selling a similar experience — luxury travel — to the same market — wealthy individuals with a sense of style. This partnership was not an event, but a product: Louis Vuitton created a four-piece luggage set that fits like a glove into the trunk of BMW’s all-electric BMW i8. The partnership was part of the launch of the i8.
The Partnership Should Be Newsworthy
What two brands decide to do together should be unusual enough to capture the media’s attention.
Star Wars and CoverGirl offer a great example. Talk about an odd pairing — what could a science-fiction movie and a makeup company possibly have in common? Well, decades ago, when the Star Wars franchise began, probably nothing, because the movie attracted mainly men and boys in the beginning. But today, the old gender and age categories no longer apply — women and girls like Star Wars, too. To tap into this new reality, CoverGirl designed a new line of makeup with two styles: the “light side” and the “dark side.” The unusual promotion helped put Star Wars in front of a demographic it needed more of — females — and allowed CoverGirl to ride the Star Wars marketing machine as it plowed through the internet and television prior to the premiere of the film’s 2015 installment, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Sometimes, the newsworthiness isn’t in how different the two brands are, but in what they decide to do together. Both GoPro and Red Bull are lifestyle brands that are all about an action-packed and usually extreme lifestyle. They have been involved in many mutually beneficial partnerships, but the biggest and most spectacular was Stratos, an event they jointly sponsored in which Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumped from space — 24 miles above the surface of the Earth — with a GoPro camera strapped on. Baumgartner set multiple world records and generated huge press for GoPro and Red Bull that bolstered their “extreme living” brands.
There Needs To Be Benefit Parity
Both brands should receive about the same level of benefit. One should not benefit disproportionately, and one should certainly not benefit at the expense of the other.
For example, part of Starbucks’ ambiance is the music played in its coffee shops, and people who pay $5 and up for a cup of coffee are pretty good prospects to buy new music. In this partnership, Spotify lets Starbucks baristas use its premium subscription service at no charge, on which the baristas create playlists that provide the musical ambiance Starbucks is known for. Starbucks gets free access to cutting-edge music and Spotify’s artists get access to Starbucks’ customers, who can tap into the daily playlists through the Starbucks Mobile App.
Brand partnerships can offer benefits that are hard to get any other way — like lots of attention for a relatively small spend, the opportunity to draft off of each other’s brand equity and new energy to brands that may have grown a bit long in the tooth. If your company can use these kinds of results, look around for a good partner, come up with an innovative idea and go for it!
(Originally published in Forbes.)