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Plays Well With Others: Brand Partnerships and Your Business

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Entrepreneurs have a natural inclination to go it alone. While this do-it-yourself spirit can help you move forward, adding an element of collaboration into the mix can make you unstoppable. Partnering with another brand lets you broaden your reach, accomplish more with fewer resources, and create extraordinary experiences for your current (and future) customers.

These types of partnerships can also spark enormous innovation in product and business. We'll go into detail on those areas in my next column, but today I'd like to focus on the marketing potential of brand partnerships. When considering whether or not a particular partner would be a good marketing match, I ask myself four key questions:

Do the brands mesh well?
One of the wisest words to keep in mind when dipping your toes into the co-branding partnership realm is "No." This isn't Nascar, where brands can just slap a logo on a car and call it a successful partnership. If brand identities don't align, if there's no overarching story that joins your company with your potential partner, just say "no." For small businesses to justify the considerable resources required and potential vulnerabilities of corporate partnerships, there's gotta be some commonalities.

Take for example, the very well-aligned partnership between Best Western and Harley Davidson. At first glance it may seem odd that a chain of family-friendly hotels is playing nice with a bunch of bikers, but look more closely and the link becomes clear: Harley riders care an awful lot about loyalty, and they're always on the road. Why not make them VIPs at a hotel chain with locations conveniently lining the very highways they ride?

At TaskRabbit, we recently engaged in a similarly aligned partnership with Pepsi NEXT. We use storytelling a lot in our marketing (for good reason, we have so many incredible stories to share), and so does Pepsi NEXT. We particularly love talking about how TaskRabbits "add extra hours" to people's days. There's an element of magic in that, just like there's an element of magic when you read the Pepsi NEXT tagline, "Drink it to believe it." Our partnership was formed around this thematic alignment of storytelling and magic, along with squarely aligned target demographics -- 25- to 40-year-old females. In short, we meshed well.

Does each partner bring something unique to the mix?
Even if the commonalities are clear, a partnership isn't worth doing unless both partners bring something to the table. Take a look at the much-talked about team of Starbucks and Square. The coffee mega-chain brings its massive customer base to the pairing -- it's by far the largest business using Square. For its part, Square provides an efficient, safe, convenient, and very customer-friendly solution that also positions Starbucks as one of the most tech-forward retailers in regards to the mobile payment space. That's a pretty fair value exchange.

During last year's South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) conference, TaskRabbit partnered with Bravo TV -- in particular Watch What Happens Live! -- to launch our Austin market. We had an awful lot of buzz, but we were brand spankin' new to the Austin market. As a very popular network, Bravo had a ton of reach in Austin and a much anticipated panel by WWHL! host Andy Cohen. Since SXSWi is all about the "it factor," they were looking for a startup partner with existing buzz in the tech community -- something we had. We shared our buzz by including Bravo branding on the merchandise worn by hundreds of TaskRabbits throughout the festival, and we gained additional exposure in Austin and beyond when a TaskRabbit was featured on Watch What Happens Live. Joining forces added value to both sides.

Does the partnership help your brand alignment?
As a small business or startup, one of the factors you should always consider when looking at a potential partnership is the incremental potential reach. Note that wider reach doesn't always mean a better partnership opportunity. Instead of sheer scale, take a look at which communities your potential partner can open up for you. Does their audience represent a demographic you haven't been able to reach on your own? Are their users particularly apt to respond to your brand and its mission? Asking these questions will inch you closer to brand alignment by reaching the right customers -- the ones who are more likely to become brand loyalists.

We recently partnered with New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss on the release of his latest book, The 4-Hour Chef. Not only is Tim a TaskRabbit superfan, his readers are all productivity lovers interested in optimizing their time. Making it easy for these readers to outsource grocery shopping for recipes featured in the book was an innovative way to reach an audience that we knew was likely to dig the mission of TaskRabbit.

Is the partnership bigger and better and deeper and more wonderful than what your brand could create alone?
Meshing well, fair value exchange, and awesome reach are all indicators of whether the partnership will be beneficial to you and your brand partner, but don't forget to ask yourself this last question -- it's the most important one. Is the sum more than the total of the parts? If the answer is "yes," then charge forward.

Take a look at the recent team of Target & Neiman Marcus. They joined forces to create Holiday24, a gift collection that's both high-quality and affordable, and their respective customers rejoiced. They invited 24 designers to play too, and committed to a joint donation of $1 million to the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This partnership is on a scale that neither of these very strong brands could have reached flying solo.

At TaskRabbit, we recently joined up with Eventbrite for a New Year's Eve promotion we never could have done alone. People constantly post Tasks to get help throwing parties, and we knew New Year's Eve was going to be a huge party night. Eventbrite knew this too, and set out to create the ultimate toolkit for New Year's Eve hosts. The gorgeous portal lets hosts find venues, make invitations through Paperless Post, outsource errands to TaskRabbits and even find designated drives for their guests through Uber. It's a great example of how a partnership can be much larger than its parts.