The Jills' Tips to Creating Brand Partnerships

***Originally posted on The Haute Mess

“If you build it, they will come” … or so the saying goes.

So … how do you get customers to discover your new business? Customer acquisition is a big hurdle for any company, but is especially challenging when you have limited resources and an even more limited marketing budget! It would be great to launch a Super Bowl commercial and instantly expose 115 million people to your startup. But until that day comes, you can still reach tons of new customers with creative and scrappy entrepreneurial ways.

In addition to social media, organic PR and building an email listserv, we found that the best way for us to reach our target audience was through brand partnerships! Why are partnerships important? They are a great way to expand your reach, strategically market to new prospective customers and associate your company with other brands your target customer already loves. Luckily, we had a leg up. One of Spruce & Co’s co-founders (Jill A) is a partnership pro from her time working at Google and StumbleUpon as a partnership lead.

During our first year at Spruce & Co, we have launched strategic brand partnerships with both large brands (including BirchBoxJetBlueDelta, TED and Zipcar) and younger startups (including Away Travel and Stowaway).

Here are a few best practices we keep in our brand partnership toolkit:

BECOME YOUR OWN TARGET CUSTOMER

Once you identify your target customer (remember, you are not always your own target), make an effort to immerse yourself in his or her world. It’s a helpful exercise to build a demographic and interest-based profile for your customer. What brands do they care about? Follow their social channels and sign up for their list servs. What do they read? Start following those blogs, newsletters and media outlets! Where do you think your customer shops, eats and travels? Which other brands are present in those places?

Training yourself to think like your customer will help inspire ideas for partnerships to strike up across the apps, brands and places of interest your customer cares about most. If an idea sparks, find the right contact (more on this below…) and PITCH IT! 

LINKEDIN STALK LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB (AND LEVERAGE YOUR NETWORKS)!

LinkedIn can be your best friend. Make sure your own profile is up-to-date and then spend time scouring the site, refining your search to particular companies and roles within those companies. The larger your network is on LinkedIn, the more connections you’re able to make through friends, friends of friends, etc. Utilize the feature to ask for introductions, and if you’re not able to get an introduction – don’t be afraid to send cold emails!  You never know who is going to be helpful. Some of our most successful partnerships to date started with a cold email to someone we connected with on LinkedIn.

Outside of LinkedIn, you should also engage with your alumni communities, past co-workers and any other networks you take part in. Since we launched our company during business school, we were fortunate to have a built-in network of classmates and alumni – and we reach out to them often! A handful of our classmates are working at the companies on our “dream partnership” list, or are connected to someone who is – the Facebook group for our business school class is active with people asking “Does anyone know someone at XYZ company that can help make an intro?” The key is to not feel limited by your immediate network—don’t be afraid to leverage your networks (both “real life” and social).

GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR OFFERINGS

Many partners approach us with an idea that requires a marketing budget or a large social media following. (i.e., “In exchange for $X, we’ll do XYZ for Spruce & Co” OR “We’ll post to our 5 million followers, if Spruce & Co. posts to a similar amount.”) The thing is – we are small (but growing :)) and aren’t in a position to entertain most of those types of ideas – which forces us to think more creatively! A good partnership only works if BOTH partners feel like they are getting something good out of the deal. Rather than exchange $$$ or the promise of a massive social following, a few things we can offer potential partners include: product samples (sometimes in custom co-branded packaging), specialty discount codes, gift giveaways, design collaborations, guest blogging, or features through our email newsletter.

Keep in mind that a partnership with a brand or company bigger than yours is not always a good idea just because you’re working with a larger company. Make sure you’re getting something out of it that’s helpful for your business – and be patient! Some of our best partnerships have taken over one year to cultivate. Good luck and we’ll see you on LinkedIn!

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