Partnership marketing is a lucrative channel for most brands. However, as I state in my previous Econsultancy article ‘A complete guide to partnership marketing’ – partnership marketing has in the past been simply swept under the marketing rug.

It’s now slowly coming to the forefront, mainly thanks to the rise of digital tech and social media. The rise of fintech, proptech and martech mean that integrated partnerships, where one brand plugs into another, is becoming more and more popular through the advancement of APIs.

I would say that the prominence of partnerships and partnership marketing (where brands promote one another for marketing gain) is taking off as an offshoot of affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing took hold in the late 90’s, early 00’s, where relevant sites would promote an advertiser to gain a kick-back. In many ways partnership marketing is similar, but with more mutual gain and a longer-term outlook in the form of product integrations.

There is certain attraction and prestige, not to mention the acquisition of new customers and improved basket size, to these partnerships. Notable examples include TripAdvisor partnering with Deliveroo and OpenTable, StarlingBank and Moneybox teaming up, and Easyjet and Booking.com combining.

But I’ve spoken to many businesses, as well as those I’ve worked in, who’ve actually found the process of partnering extremely difficult and struggled to replicate the examples above. So why is this?

Here are six reasons and how to mitigate them:

1. Don’t confuse partnerships and partnership marketing

At the same time don’t confuse buying media / advertising with partnership marketing.

What is difficult is that everyone wants to use the buzzword ‘partnership’ to describe their activity. I’ve seen business development managers who send cold-calling emails describing themselves as partnership managers, where in actual fact they are just trying to sell me a tech platform.

At the same time, partnership marketing is meant to be a long-term coming together of two brands, whether it’s integrations, interesting sponsorships, innovative attractions, a series of marketing campaigns, or utilising another brand as a reward mechanism.

Plain and simple, it’s not one brand buying advertising space in another brand’s newsletter or direct-buy display advertising on their site.

Here are three examples of what it might look like…

Chip & Emma – Integration Partnership

Lastminute.com & HomeAway – Reward Mechanism Partnership

Airbnb & Le Louvre – Unique Reward and Branding Partnership

2. Don’t be a short-termist

Many brands believe partnership marketing doesn’t work because they are too short-termist in their outlook. Businesses drive home the idea of partnership marketing and reaching out to other brands to speed up acquisition growth, but the reality is that not only do these agreements take months, if not years, to formulate, they are also a long-term growth option and shouldn’t be seen as a one-off hit.

Don’t get me wrong, a partnership campaign can take a few weeks to secure and launch if you’re lucky but it shouldn’t be seen as a one-off newsletter or marketing stunt. To really see the benefits you need to ensure that long-term commitment is made from both sides and you’re both under the same pretence of time-frame and objectives.

Let’s also mention the work that goes into partnerships – finding your counterpart, discussing whether and how to work together, commission negotiations, technical discussions, contracts, creative production and campaign analysis – all to consider.

3. Do get everyone on board

This isn’t a one-man channel. Companies wishing to partake in partnership marketing will hire an individual to arrange and run such campaigns. But it’s not only about them, the entire company needs to have partnerships at the forefront of their strategy and priorities.

If not, what normally happens is that the marketing individual will onboard a huge brand-name partner but the product team and engineers who might be required for the integration tell you they don’t have capacity for another six months or there are other product developments which are more important.

So the lesson here is, partnerships needs to be backed by the board and bought into by the entire cross-functioning team.

4. Do be honest about your audience

Many brands lost a lot of email leads when GDPR was introduced because (correctly or not) they asked customers whether they wanted to be opted in for marketing, and many said no. Also, from then on, we’ve had to be clearer about asking customers if they are ok if we target them with third-party offers, and many also say no. This poses a slight problem with partnership marketing. Consequently, it may be tempting to not be 100% open about the size of your customer base when securing a partnership deal.

My solution to this would be not to cover up, but be truthful how many customers can be marketed to, outline that your T&C’s make it clear to customers whether they are opting in for third-party offers, meaning you’re more likely to have a much more engaged customer who actively wants to know about partners of yours.

5. Don’t think finding a partner is easy

Back to the earlier point, that we’re seeing business development managers call themselves ‘partnership managers’ and some brands keen to run partnerships but not hire someone for the role – for start-ups this is normally the case.

This all means it’s not very easy to locate the individual who can make the partnership marketing decisions. So, my preferred techniques are to locate contacts via your C-suite or by messaging a counterpart on LinkedIn to enquire about a partnership. These are two simple approaches that do work.

6. Do accept that some brands just aren’t right for partnership marketing

I’ve worked with a lot of brands that love the idea of this channel, understand the cost savings, efficiencies, brand exposure and PR benefits it brings, but when they come to run it, it simply doesn’t work or they struggle to forge any long-lasting relationships.

The most common reason is their customer base. Some brands have highly engaged, loyal customers. Others have discreet customers who like their services but prefer to not be active. This leads to upselling and rewarding becoming difficult. That means promoting or getting other brands to promote you, just simply won’t work. Others find they simply aren’t well known enough yet for other brands to promote you. They want a name that their customers know, they want a product that can be trusted, or they want you to have a base of a certain size. To these brands I say, there are other angles. Try a monetary kick-back, try offering to pay for the integration, or ask for a test campaign that’s initially much smaller in approach.

Partnership marketing is both lucrative and a challenge, but by understanding these six main challenges, brands can overcome the difficulties to succeed with this ever-growing marketing channel.