In the last few weeks, I’ve joined multiple webinars discussing the opportunity within the affiliate channel, how to use technology to better support brands and how new types of partnerships can help to grow programme revenue. One of these elements is brand-to-brand marketing – the holy grail for some affiliate account managers.

It’s the premium form of partnership allowing you to work closely and align your brand with another brand that has a similar set of values and customer demographic. In short, a brand-to-brand relationship equals WIN, WIN, WIN.

WIN for your bottom line as you increase your sales.

WIN for your partners brand as they increase their sales.

WIN for the customer as they are receiving value from the relationship.

Industry leaders see the potential in Brand to Brand Partnerships

I spoke to top executives and directors at affiliate marketing firms about the opportunities they see for brand-to-brand partnerships.

Jim Nichols, CMO at Partnerize, said: “In today’s marketing environment, many brands are looking for new ways to scale pay-for-performance efforts and drive more profitable growth. Brand-to-brand partnerships are a great way to meet that goal.”

Andrea Anez, strategic partnerships director, EMEA at Impact, added: “Our research with Forrester has shown that partner programmes with multifaceted approaches, such as those that build brand-to-brand partnerships, tend to grow twice as fast as less mature programmes. Here at Impact We’re big advocates of this form of partnership as we’ve seen great gains in efficiency when our partnership automation technology has been used to advance brand to brand relationships.”

Sophie Metcalfie, head of publisher development, Commission Factory said: “We’ve seen advertisers looking to diversify their proposition during recent months to help maintain revenue streams where primary propositions may have been temporarily compromised. One way we’ve seen advertisers looking to do this has been through reciprocal publisher links in non-conflicting, brand to brand partnership campaigns.”

Rosalyn Berrisford, client partnerships director at Awin, agreed. She said: “Awin believe that brand to brand partnerships are an incredibly exciting part of the digital mix, as complementary advertisers benefit from each other’s reach and brand equity. The affiliate channel offers a great place to kick-start these partnerships through our existing platforms and network of relationships.”

So how can we drive brand-to-brand success?

Jim said: “By structuring strategic brand partnerships in ways that align business objectives, businesses can leverage the strengths and credibility of other leading brands to meet a host of business objectives, from driving incremental sales to increasing customer acquisition.”

Andrea concurred: “In our experience at Impact, these relationships work best when they create a unique value-add for the consumer that focuses on a complementary value proposition. The inherent reciprocity in these partnerships not only makes it a win for all parties, but also makes it a key growth engine within partnerships.”

Sophie commented: “It’s great to see merchants exploring the possibilities and testing the waters to expand upon their core products and services. However, it is important for any partnerships to be logical, complimentary and not make assumptions about customers that could be interpreted as formulaic. Generally, campaigns partnering a product and a complimentary service perform well for this reason.”

Rosalyn also agreed with this point, saying: “A community to support the development of these partnerships will help showcase their benefits and enable the discussion of considerations needed to ensure success.”

So, what are the barriers?

It’s no surprise that most enterprise brands want to get involved in these partnerships. The concern from my point of view, however, is a lack of experience, a lack of knowledge and a lack of clear successes, meaning all these efforts for brand-to-brand partnerships might well just be an extra effort without measurable outcomes.

We need to come together as a community, form a collaborative view on how brand-to-brand works and use a unified process as much as possible. No one way is going to be 100% all of the time, or adopted for every partnership, but the below article looks at ways of establishing brand-to-brand partnerships which are WIN WIN WIN rather than a drain on time and resource.

With that said…

What are brand-to-brand partnerships?

In its simplest form, a brand-to-brand partnership is a relationship between one brand and another.

This is not a new phenomenon; brands have been working with others for quite some time through sponsorships and collaborations. The travel and entertainment sector lead the way in this and have ancillary product teams as business units in an effort to increase revenue per transaction.

What is important to understand the affiliate channel’s role in these collaborations, whether to support brands with existing teams or those (especially retail) brands that are entering this space for the first time.

What is the aim?

For me, the aim is often one of two things;

  1. To increase revenue, to increase the likes of new customer acquisition, average order volume (AOV), sales volume, etc. 
  2. To increase the lifetime value (LTV) of the customer post-purchase.

Brand-to-brand partnerships can drive a high volume of sales for a business due to the size of the audience that you will be tapping into. This means that a brand-to-brand partnership could drive a higher volume of sales than a traditional publisher would.

Another metric of success for brand-to-brand is these partnerships typically have a high new customer acquisition rate. In comparison to a traditional affiliate partner, these campaigns can often drive much higher customer acquisition rates , which is also more appealing to brands.

Finally, another important metric could be the AOV. Depending on the campaign, we tend to see a higher AOV from brand-to-brand partnerships. However, this is often due to the types of partners we have been using which have an affluent audience. An example of this is Secret Escapes and ATG Tickets, both have an audience with larger disposable income. In addition to this the collaboration between Farfetch x Charlotte Tilbury again attracts an audience which would drive a high AOV.  

Increasing LTV is often a strong focus for ancillary teams, who can simply look at additional products to cross-sell pre- or post-purchase. This is a key element of brand-to-brand partnerships for brands with low margins on their own products. Within the travel, leisure and ticketing industry, margins tend to be lower than say, fashion, so it is important to increase revenue post purchase.

Collaborating and forming long-term relationships with complimentary brands helps to drive business revenue whilst also adding value for the customer. By bundling products or offering an integrated user journey, you can ensure your customer doesn’t feel the need to look to your competitors for comparison or research.

If increasing post purchase revenue is an aim, I would recommend checking out ROKT, the likes of Live Nation, Ticketmaster, Hotels.com all use the ROKT technology to promote non competing brands on their confirmation page (on a CPC basis) or to incentivise app downloads which in turn increase LTV.

The types of relationship…

We class these as a simple “one-way” or “two-way” type of partner. Over time, Silverbean has gathered a database of brands that are actively looking to work in brand to brand. This is split into:

  • One-way partnerships – A brand that only wants to receive another brand’s traffic to their site, or is only open to sending traffic from their site to another.
  • Two-way partnerships – a mutual partnership between brands where both are open in promoting each other in various methods.

Once we establish the type of partnership, we then brainstorm a campaign that adds value to both audiences. 

Process

We have looked to develop a process for brand-to-brand partnerships. The key to this is looking to run these partnerships as simply as possible to begin with, while we increase the investment in resource as the opportunity scales in revenue. Below is our process for validating that the two brands are the right fit. Anthony Bingham comments:

“Utilising cross channel tools makes it relatively simple to validate a brand; here we look to use tools to cross-reference audience profile and social fit for each brand. We will then use a number of tools to track and attribute sales from partnerships including affiliate tracking and analytics.”

Stage 1 – Sales Partnerships

At this stage, the focus is to ensure we proactively launch a simple relationship with a brand. Due to the simple nature of the campaign, we lower the amount of people involved with the campaign and requirement from the business to drive volume in partnerships.

At first, we set up a very simple campaign between two brands, which is promoted by their own affiliates. Often, we find two brands that are a suitable fit for one another have a very diverse, complementary affiliate mix.

The value here is created for both the brands and their affiliates. The affiliates may gain entry into a new industry to promote, for example should a ticketing brands might partner with a train company. The ticketing affiliate mix can now promote travel to the show, which they might not have done in the past. This increases their revenue – win, win, win..

Stage 2 – Integrated Partnerships

The above, generally short-term promotion in tier 3 generally helps to see if there is a commercial opportunity for the two brands to partner.

From this, you can decide if the relationship is then worth developing further. It might also be that you keep a tier 3 relationship going for 3 or 4 campaigns. Once it has been proven there is a commercial benefit in the relationship, you can then look to involve other marketing teams.

Silverbean would then look to launch a larger campaign with the other digital media teams. Paid Social and Email are good channels to test this with. We have found paid social is a fast way to push a message out and inform of a possible competition or collaboration between to brands. More people are receptive to information on social and bringing two brands together will increase interest in the short term. In addition to this by using email you can segment the audience to appeal to the target market of the campaign. Both channels bring immediate results rather than SEO which is much more long-term.

Having a roundtable meeting with both brand’s teams is beneficial to generating a creative campaign, but also helps to secure buy-in for the partnership.

Stage 3 – Collaborative Partnership

As brands develop from stage 2, stage 3 allows the partnership to develop across additional digital channels and traditional media, taking the relationship both online and offline.

Examples of this include:

  • Introducing the SEO and web team to build a section of your site for the partnership, a possible white-label solution, etc.
  • Developing a collaborative display campaign to remarket to users.
  • Supporting in-store or at-venue cross-promotions, post-purchase flyers, etc.

The relationship can then continue to develop over time.

Collaborating with other teams

Please note the above is based on a very simple view that a brand-to-brand partnership is a new focus for your brand and assuming you have full ownership to execute. You may have a team that focuses on partnerships already, an affiliate team with limited resource, or no team whatsoever.

The affiliate channel can be used to drive volume or undertake a test-and-learn approach to new partnerships. Once these partnerships show revenue growth, they can be passed on to the relevant team.

Conclusion

The above offers insights on how Silverbean are currently working with partners to drive brand-to-brand partnerships. We are continually developing the service and process based on feedback within the industry for existing partnerships.

To grow this as a channel, we need to support each other. Therefore, I have launched a group on LinkedIn for brands to connect and share their thoughts and practices on brand-to-brand marketing. Please do join here.

The aim is to put all brands, agencies and networks in one place to openly discuss and grow brand-to-brand partnerships within the affiliate channel.