In 2019, a Forrester study conducted by highlighted that a mature programme grows twice as fast as a less mature programme, and offers a significant competitive advantage. The question for a lot of account managers is: what is a mature programme?

A mature programme is a programme that leverages the full breadth of the partnership economy, from traditional affiliate partnerships to aggregators, content partnerships, influencers and B2B partnerships. 

Over the last 12 months, we’ve seen a significant increase in the interest in brand to brand (B2B) partnerships. We’ve gathered a huge amount of knowledge and insight from our open B2B partnerships network, where we offer introductions to key points of contact at participating brands.

The interest for B2B partnerships has primarily come from two key stakeholders: 

  • Affiliate Marketing Managers, who are looking to mature their programme further by using B2B partnerships to drive new customer acquisition or support other channels with loyalty and retention. 
  • Partnerships Managers, who are looking to expand on their B2B partnerships and drive new customer acquisition or monetisation. 

How to build a successful B2B partnership within the performance channel

In B2B partnerships, multiple teams are often involved in the discussions. This ranges from other channel teams like paid social, email and tech teams, to the brand manager and PR teams. 

Align expectations

To align all stakeholders before partnerships commence, we need to start with a clear definition of B2B partnerships:

B2B is a marketing channel where two or more brands collaborate on campaigns to accomplish each of their objectives. Usually those objectives are:

  • Increased acquisition of new customers or sales
  • Further monetisation of existing audiences, through promoting other brands
  • Or a combination of both of the above objectives.

Establish key objectives

Before launching any B2B partnership activity, it’s crucial to identify what it is you want to get out of working with another brand. Is your goal to monetise your audience, attract a new audience to your brand, or a combination of the two? Are you considering complementary promotions with another like-minded brand? For a B2B partnership to be successful, it has to be the right fit for all parties. To understand whether a partnership is likely to be the right fit, you have to understand your objectives.

Start by looking inwards – ask yourself first “What can we offer prospective partners?” This may be simply commission for customer referrals, or vice versa, the opportunity to refer new customers in exchange for commission. It could be something else entirely. Understanding exactly what you can offer ultimately allows you to align your ‘toolkit’ with your objectives.

Whilst acquisition and monetisation are the most common objectives, it’s important to note it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Brands open to two-way/reciprocal partnership opportunities often find discussions with prospective partners more fruitful due to increased flexibility. 

Establish potential partners

When laying the foundations of your B2B partnership, it’s likely that you and your fellow stakeholders will have some ideas for brands that you’d like to work with on the campaign. Here, it’s crucial to consider brands for which your brand can add reciprocal value, as well as brands that your brand works with already and with which you have an established relationship. 

The purpose of the partnership should be to align the two brands, enforcing trust between the two audiences and adding value for the customer. There are three types of partnerships brands can form. We categorise them as such:

Primary partners 

Primary partnerships are opportunities that are essential within the customer journey once they have purchased from a brand. If a travel brand sells a flight, the user needs to get to the airport. In this scenario, transport options are a primary partner. 

Secondary partners 

These opportunities are added value, ‘nice to have’ promotions. The user is in-market to purchase, however the opportunity is not essential. A customer that is on holiday might want to learn more about local cuisine or tickets for an event, etc. – the user is in the partner brand’s target market.

Affinity partners 

Affinity partners are partnerships where the relationship between the two brands is not a direct correlation. These are opportunities to bring two brands with similar audiences together. For example, if a customer goes on holiday, they might want to purchase a new suitcase, sunglasses or swimwear. 

Below, we can see where each type of partnership sits within the customer journey: 

The objective is to form various levels of partnerships for a brand. For example, a business might focus on primary partnerships, and the affiliate or partnerships manager can build this out further with secondary or affinity relationships. 

Identifying B2B opportunities?

At this stage, leverage the marketing tools at your disposal. Brands often have an engaged social audience. At Silverbean, we use a tool to identify brand compatibility using audience data. 

For example, using our affinity tool, we looked at potential partnerships for Barbour. We found that of Barbour’s Instagram audience:

  • 18% followed GoPro 
  • 16.7% followed Chanel 
  • 14.5% followed Starbucks
  • 12.7% followed Mercedes Benz and BMW.

This makes all of these brands viable secondary or affinity partners.

By using this data to identify common audiences and brands, they can manage relationships and move each potential B2B partnership into the relevant tier to maximise impact. It also helps brands to build internal business cases for the campaign marketing exposure or spend.

Building brand-to-brand partnership campaigns

It’s important to prove that there is a commercial benefit in a relationship first, in order to support wider team buy-in as the opportunity develops. 

The below process looks at how you can develop a partnership opportunity. 

Use existing resources

If you’re looking to test and learn through a campaign with another brand, consider leveraging your affiliate mix to drive a campaign. By doing so, you’ll be able to preview the commercial benefits of the relationship. 

For example, ATG Tickets, a box office for over 40 venues across the UK, has an affiliate mix dominated by ticketing content publishers. Travel brand, Secret Escapes, works with several travel-related publishers. Silverbean aligned the brands by setting up a mutual promotion: buy a ticket for a certain show and get a discounted rate at a hotel via Secret Escapes. 

Boost digital activity

Think about bringing together other channel managers such as PPC, paid social, and email to get their thoughts on a campaign utilising affiliate deep links. Paid social and email campaigns to promote one or both brands are great techniques to turn around a campaign with minimal resources. 

Full collaboration

The above step will have provided measurable evidence of the relationship’s value. If things are going well, further collaboration should be the natural next step. This could involve resourcing full integrations within your brand’s core website to promote the service, integration into the booking flow or additional marketing activity such as sponsorship, offline promotions or in-store activations.