How to Pursue Marketing Alliances that Unlock Growth in the Digital Ecosystem.



Constraints with budgets & resources clubbed with cut-throat competitions from the category making it extremely difficult for you to drive holistic growth for your brand? Let’s uncover the potential of ‘Marketing Alliances’ and how you can unlock success for your brand by executing meaningful Brand Partnerships.

In this article we will cover the following:
Let’s start with understanding the reality of business and consumers in the digital ecosystem:


Evolved Ecosystem & Cluttered Categories!

Dream 11, Uber & Airbnb. These companies identified opportunities, and as first movers were the key companies to build categories.. But competition for all these players soon followed. Ex: Ola. Jugnoo. Blue Taxi. for uber. Dream 11 - MPL, Halaplay, My 11 play etc.

On the other players like Nike, Adidas, Reebok, which were the only known (& accepted) players in the sport apparels category for decades. However, in more recent years, many other brands trying to find their niche in India have entered in the Indian market, such as: Asics, New Balance, Underarmour, Skechers. Furthermore new brands such as HRX & Proline entered the category as new brands too.

Essentially, New brands with big ambitions are emerging faster than ever, as a result of which established categories are getting more cluttered and new categories are coming to existence. Additionally, more & more consumers are increasingly embracing the digital platforms & mediums - thus strengthening the digital ecosystem which is extremely connected & interdependent.

While this is amazing from a consumer’s perspective as they have far more choices / better value available, it creates a range of challenges for the marketer, depending on the brand (& category) they are operating in. These challenges could be :
  • Establishing or Guarding the unique brand positioning
  • Building / Growing Brand Affinity
  • Gaining Consumer Trust
  • Challenging the Market Leader - Breaking ‘The Marketing Loop ie: more consumers in the category = incremental consumers for the Market Leader.

While some marketers may still take the traditional approach of solving for these challenges by using mainstream advertising, others have discovered that the key for unlocking success in today’s hyperactive digital ecosystem is forging meaningful Marketing Alliances.

So, now let’s uncover how to curate & pursue ‘Marketing Alliances’ that have the potential to unlock growth for your brand.


Marketing Alliances

To ensure we are on the same page before we progress on this topic, let me share how I have define Marketing Alliances for this session -
  • An alliance between a brand with one or more brands, person, publisher or any other organisation.
  • that decides to jointly promote a product, service or a concept
  • in a manner that creates mutual benefit to all the stakeholders involved’.

Example: Red Bull and GoPro (Brands came together to promotes products) P&G and National Breast Cancer Foundation (Brand & NGO to promote a concept) Airbnb Experiences and Shantanu & Nikhil (Brand & Influencers came together for promoting an experience)

Caveat: Even though at times there may be some kind of monetary transaction involved, Marketing Alliances go far beyond a simple ‘ad-buy’ or ‘sponsorship’.


How to Unlock Growth with Marketing Alliances:

To understand how we can pursue meaningful marketing alliances that can help us unlock success we need to be definitive about linking it to our marketing objective.

Aligning Marketing Alliances with Marketing Objective(s):

As we, all know It is quintessential to link all your marketing efforts with your overall marketing objective, and thus that should be the goal behind building the marketing alliances too. We need to ensure that your marketing alliances contribute to a bigger / critical brand objective.

However, we also know that the Marketing Objectives are dependent on the business needs and goals. And that different organisations can have different goals based on various factors.

Therefore, in order to unify the process well (and share recommendations), we will take the brand funnel as the starting point for understanding what the different marketing objectives could be, and how one can create a successful marketing alliance for that part of the marketing funnel:


Things to consider while building Marketing alliances for the differents parts/ stages of the Brand Funnel:


Awareness:

Prioritise Reach & Impact: Choose partners which have a high % of user base / community that are unaware about your product / brand proposition but are also classified as media audience for you, and thus can qualify as ‘new reach’.
  1. Target Biggest Players in that category with ‘New Reach’: One should always endeavor to get the biggest player in that category / rather than the 2nd / 3rd best player, given that all the brand parameters meet, that is. Ex: If Sirona Menstrual cups want to tap into audiences booking railways and want to tie-up with Travel OTA then the better partner for them would be Ixigo rather than a MMT or GoIbibo.

  2. Target Impactful Message Delivery with ‘New Formats’: As we know, reach is different from impressions, so it is important for brands to design impact with reach, in a manner that allows you to break the clutter. Thus have the potential to bring awareness and not just a low visibility impression but an actual impactful reach. New formats of communication delivery / impactful media push can make the difference here.

While movies & brands partner for promotions- the impact they drive can be varying for gaining incremental buzz for their movie / brands. However, some movies actually make the difference by choosing the execution format to be really impactful. Alexa & Zero Movie and Alexa & SnapChat. Zero - wanted to create meaningful awareness and ToM so it partnered with tech brands to create partnerships that allowed them choose formats that were never explored before thus garnered far more attention.

Potential To Drive Earned Impression - Getting incremental eyeballs is very important for awareness but relying on a partner's consumer base / community is not the only way to drive awareness in marketing alliances. It’s also the proposition / messaging that you co-create with your partner which can have the ability to drive enormous earned impressions (unpaid / non-owned reach).
  1. Building a stronger Creative Proposition - ability to drive WoM: Choose a partner that enables you to co-create a creative proposition that has the ability to drive significant earned impression. Essentially, look for leverage to design an idea that has the ability to drive virality and isn’t just a plain vanilla association. Thus for this you don’t need to work with players in the category, reach wise.

  2. Building Ideas true to your brand’s values - the ability drive emotional messaging: The true power of an idea is tested in such brand alliances thus it is important to ensure that that idea is deeply linked to your brand's emotional benefits - and can help you create more meaningful awareness in a way that deeply connects with your TA . Therefore, It’s also equally important for your partner's brand values to also be in sync with your brand’s values.

Example: Airbnb X Visit Sweden. Visit Sweden's global reach was limited, and Airbnb did not usually cross promote this campaign to it’s existing community of users through - emails/ premium website visibility etc but still it drove trumendoes awareness for both brands. Because the power of creative proposition was extremely strong which attracted a lot of media / PR attention. Visit Sweden partnership with Airbnb was great for them to communicate ‘Freedom to Roam’ and drive awareness for Sweden as a travel destination.


Consideration:

Double down on ‘Relevance’: Brands need to understand the audience’s attitudes and interests really well now, as the degree of relevance consumers expect has increased multifold now. There is a rise of personalization of messaging -enabled by technology where you identify and target users effectively.

Thus marketing alliances can be of great help here as they allow you to work with partners who can help you gain better relevance with different audience sets with-in your TG. Here’s how to design marketing alliances for this purpose:
  1. Focus on relevance with Credibility rather than reach: Being associated with a relatable voice (that your audience most identifies with) in the specific domain is foremost important while forging partnerships that help you aid relevance in your messaging. If there is enough resonance + credibility for your partner then reach would not matter as much. Then, It is about building an alliance with a partner that your audiences dearly relate with on an individual level.

  2. Focus on Multiple Vertical Communities: Much like the society, your audience can also be segregated into vertical communities that come together basis - interest, passion, attitudes and demographical similarities. Thus through marketing alliances one has the opportunity to form multiple brand alliances that are designed specifically for the biggest communities with-in your TA. Ex: Myntra - Influencer Brands. Airbnb Experiences.

    - Myntra - Hrithik -HRX, Saif & Soha - House of Pataudi Traditional Wear, Deepika Casual wear for the poised Indian - Myntra worked on partnering with various celebs to create In house brands that were closely designed with the celebs personality at the core. Instead of just making one brand with a celeb.

    - Airbnb- Broadway, Olympians, IGLA: Airbnb’s offers online experiences based on various interests and passions of its users. And partnering with Broadway for Art & theatre lovers, Olympians for sports enthusiasts and IGLA for the people passionate for diversity was a move in the same direction. As the move helped build a lot of trust and resonance through the partners themselves.

Triggers & Barriers Led -
As most of us know that owning the category drivers of consideration is very important to drive consideration (ex - mobile phone & camera) but it is equally important to alleviate the barriers for usage too (ex - travel during covid & safety). However, given that the majority of the consumption audience today is GenZ and Millenials - winning user’s confidence is not as easy. Thus Marketing alliances can play a pivotal role, if used smartly - here is how:
  • Finding a real ‘User’ in your Partner that can strengthen Triggers: In order to establish your own drivers of consideration by enabling (if they are different from the category’s top drivers) or own the drivers of consideration (if they are the same as the category drivers) for the new age audiences brands should forge alliances with partners that help can help you with the proof of the promise that the brand is making. So if an alliance partner is an user of your product service it communicates a message more deeply than another promise any other brand makes. Therefore your biggest RTB is a known consumer. Ex: Samsung NDTV

  • Leveraging partners to showcase diversified strengths that can alleviate barriers: Forming an alliance basis the need gaps is the key. It’s important to find partner’s whose strength lies in solving for your barriers, and possibly your strength lies in solving for thiers. Thus you come together to join forces in a manner that the perceived barriers or gaps can be dissolved. Ex: Hilton X RB. Hilton - Worked with RB to train their staff for the cleanliness protocol that they have developed with Lysol. Helped them gain better perception on safety protocols. RB - To emerge as a thought leader at a time when the demand for the category was going above the roof.


Purchase:

Driving Trails by Incentivising:
Brands do not always want to build their existence on price-offs and discounts but they still need to drive trials by incentivizing the new users then a good way is to form an alliance with partners who can effectively incentivise your users. Here is how to do it well:
  • Tapping into cross-selling opportunity into a closely connected Category: Make an alliance with a partner that operates in a closely connected category, and thus has the strength to speak with users with a high intent of purchase from your category. Ex: Mobile - Accessories. Flights - Taxis & Accommodation. Thereby creating an opportunity for cross-selling with a partnered proposition that also adds incentive to the user.

  • Time Bound Exclusivity, better value from, and to the Partner: Look at time bound exclusivity with partners to get reach / effort guarantee from your partner. It is because the partners also benefit if this value is provided exclusively to their user-base and would thus push the proposition / spend on the reachout to their existing users.

Providing incremental Value - The definition of a value seeker has changed now. It is not about finding a product that offers only value for money, but about getting a product that you think provides good experience and at a decent price & from a trusted source. Here are a couple of ways to create incremental value beyond monetary savings for your consumers:
  • Providing more value add through partner’s benefit. This can work for you if you are a brand in a cluttered category and have good reach. Partners looking for visibility can partner with you and offer more value to your consumers. Ex: PepsiCo - MMT.

  • Value beyond product -Non- Monetary value for your customers: understand where all your users can find value in your product, brand over your competitors. Ex: your audience being socially aware can help them get a better perceived value from your brand. If so, partner with organisations / NGO that can help you contribute positively to society. Ex: Siksha & PG.

Ecosystem Led Acceptance:
  • Ensuring consistent accessibility at multiple touchpoints: Create an ecosystem of alliances which make it extremely simple to find access to your product. EX: Preloaded apps on the phone.

  • Become the choice for your partner’s consumers: Create a super strong proposition for the users of your allied partners- so that they use your brand when they transact with your allies. This is a usually a slightly forced way of driving consumer acceptance and thus product trial, therefore, it may not be preferred by some brands, and alliance partners. Ex: Paytm - Ube. when paytm was the only digital payment option for uber users.


Loyalty:

Long-term value, designed for your user : Marketing alliances have been widely used to drive consumer loyalty, especially in the aviation + hospitality and the banking industry. This is driven from the PoV that the benefits that your consumer can derive for being loyal to your brand must go beyond the incremental benefits from your brand itself. However, the key differentiator to establish loyalty by marketing alliances is to:
  • Creating a long term promise for your users: Some of the best associations created to drive consumer loyalty are the ones that have been created for providing a longer term benefit. Thereby providing the comfort to the user to rely on the benefit while continuing to return to your brand as a loyal user. Ex: ICICI & Amazon. Normal discount terms v/s long term value on a platform of choice

  • Amplification of product usage basis your USP: Partner with platforms that amplify your products usage and are also wanted by your consumer. Ex: Airtel Thanks Bouquet - highlights the airtel data roll over feature as it has partnered with netflix, zee 5 and amazon prime.

Delivering Delight: Building Marketing alliances with partners who add to the overall experience and thus give you the potential to provide consumer delight.. Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNUc3WD2Y-U Uber was trying to add personalisation to the ride experience and create differentiation from a normal taxi by providing an unmatchable experience that people would like to come back to.


Key Insights for Pursuing Great Marketing Alliances:

Before we end this session there are some key insights that I would love to share with you, this is what I feel would help pursue not just a good but a great partnership!
  • Identifying the right Problem / Opportunity in the marketing funnel :Experts drill down deeper to understand the root cause that is causing the problem / barrier resulting. Example- knowing that the brand has low consideration is not enough, what is rather important to understand is what exactly is causing that problem. Is that lack of comprehension about the brand, lack of function relevance or is it because the RTB for the brand is weak at the moment and thus the credibility of the brand is poor.For each of these cases the marketing alliance ideas could be very different, even though they may still be directly related to the same objective.

  • Defining Individual Goals but with Shared Benefits too: The reality is that even after you have identified the problem and wishlisted the right partners. This stand alone is one of the key reasons why some of the best ideas can not see the light of the day The real struggle starts when you need to define shared benefits - because this process is seldom unilateral. This not only requires understanding your partner’s need and motivation better (much like in a marriage) but it also requires perseverance to drive the partnership through. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8Cb4p2vUsM

  • Choosing the right Partner - While there is no set checklist to help the right partner but these are key principles that help: Finding Common brand values, desired competencies to form the alliance and Enable Enriched customer experiences.Example - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbliUq0_r4&feature=emb_log

  • Revitalising a brand - creating affinity for the brand. Marketing alliances is a big lever for this. Never short sell your brand value.
Here’s your quick checklist to create meaningful alliances for your brand:



This article was written by Shivang Sethiya, Marketing Training Manager at Kraftshala and the concept was originally covered in his Kraftshala LIVE session.