Expanding the Circle of Friends for Mature Brands

Get over the idea that you are in a monogamous relationship with your customers. You are not the only one. I know this might come as a surprise to some companies and brands, but you are not the only organization that interacts with your customers. In fact, it’s safe to say that everyone interacts with multiple entities on a daily basis.  That doesn’t mean you can’t become part of their bigger circle of friends. That is especially true and important for mature brands that might have reached a plateau with their existing audience.

That’s why it makes sense to partner with other companies that aren’t in the same market but whose customers share traits and might overlap. There are two main strategies here: brand partnering and co-branding. These two ideas are slightly different but accomplish many of the same goals.

Brand Partners

In a partner relationship the two companies share information about their audience and often refer potential customers to one another. They might appear together at events but their actual products remain separate.


On the other hand, co-branding typically involves a combining or integration of the respective companies products or services. This takes more effort and planning. The coordination of engineering, supplies and production is not a small task. However the additional work can be well worth it.

Here are just a few of the benefits that brands can expect through partnering and co-branding.

Expanded Reach And Frequency.

By sharing their audiences, both companies expand their reach with very little effort. Your name and message will appear to new faces and be presented to your existing audience with additional frequency. The efforts by Fridaysˇ restaurant and Jack Daniel’s® are a great example. T.G.I. Friday’s uses a barbecue sauce that incorporates Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey as an ingredient. They get a little piece of the quality and “edge” that the Jack Daniel’s brand brings, not to mention the taste. Jack Daniel’s gets its name on lunch and dinner menus and in television ads, front and center with customers where it wouldn’t have been otherwise.

Create Completely New Products.

Sometimes two products just beg to be combined together—like the Oreo® Cookies Blizzard® Treat. It doesn’t take a genius to put those two products together, just a sweet tooth. The work is in communicating the details and making sure that each respective brand is credited appropriately and that it meets quality expectations. On the other hand, partnerships like the Nike + iPod® effort take an increased amount of coordination, including engineering and design from both parties. However, the result was truly a first step in what is and will become one of the most important tech developments, wearable technology.

Business Referral

Everyone recognizes that referrals from people we know can be very influential. Or even people we don’t know in the cases of celebrity endorsements. We respect their opinions because of their perceived knowledge and status. Businesses can lend similar cache when they partner with other companies. Whether implied by joint activities, say that partnership is in essence of a referral. It could be as simple as a “preferred vendor” type status, or you could actually appear together at an event. For example, a real estate company and a senior living community could produce an educational event specific to the needs of homebuyers in those markets.

Complementing the User Experience

Have you ever been somewhere and thought: “I wish I had (fill in the blank) – that would make this perfect.” Recognize those customer moments as the perfect opportunity for a branding partner or co-branding—and you don’t have to be part of the Fortune 500 to take advantage of them. For example, the Yellow Springs Brewery is a company that has taken advantage of both brand partners and co-branding.

Due to current state laws, breweries are prevented from serving food where they manufacture alcohol. I’m not sure why, but the solution is brilliant: food trucks. Yellow Springs Brewery hosts a variety of food trucks on different days to accommodate their hungry and thirsty customers. But what’s for dessert you ask?

Well I’m glad you did—and hopefully designated a driver. Located just north of the Village of Yellow Springs, the brewery has partnered with Young’s Jersey Dairy. Together they created an ice cream flavor that incorporated the brewery’s Handsome Brown Ale. Genius. And delicious.

Look Down the Road

To minimize risk it is important to really know both your audience and your potential partners to determine if a collaboration could be successful. If you don’t discover misalignments before you take your relationship public, the brand loyalist from both sides will be sure to point them out. That can lead to a firestorm of negative feedback on social media and elsewhere, and make things very unpleasant.

Also, make sure that the connection doesn’t adversely affect your existing brand equity. Ideally brands should be somewhat equal in stature. You don’t want to be one doing all of the lifting. Additionally, you want to add value to the effort and not appear merely tacked on as an afterthought.

Better Together

Properly executed, branding partnerships and co-branding are great ways to build new excitement about mature brands. The sum can truly be greater than their respective parts, creating new audiences and advantages for both companies. The result can be “two great tastes that taste great together” …

… only better.

An Invitation

Learn more about how legacy brands can connect with new audiences in our ebook, Five Gates of Branding.

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