The Gist

  • Collaborative advantage. Collaborative marketing increases brand visibility, enhances reputation and reaches wider audiences.
  • Choosing partners. Successful partnerships require shared goals, values and audience demographics for mutually beneficial collaborations.
  • Potential challenges. Collaboration requires clear brand distinction and defined exit strategies to avoid brand identity confusion or potential fallout.

Collaborative marketing, also known as partnership marketing, involves two or more brands working together to reach a wider audience and increase customer engagement. The collaboration can include co-branding, shared advertising campaigns and even joint product development.

This article will take a close look at collaborative marketing, how it can be successfully implemented and examples of businesses that have effectively used this strategy.

What Is Collaborative Marketing and How Does It Work?

Collaborative marketing is an innovative strategy that enables brands to take advantage of each other's strengths, increase brand visibility and enhance their reputation. It can be integrated with other marketing strategies such as social media marketing, content marketing, influencer marketing and more. These partnerships can be between companies within the same industry, or cross-industry between businesses that believe they can benefit from the other's resources, technology or customer base.

Bridget Reed, co-founder of The Word Counter, an online word counting tool, told CMSWire that collaborative marketing is a strategy that aims to develop long-term relationships with customers, partners and other stakeholders. "The goal is to improve brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and loyalty by engaging in a mutually beneficial dialogue," said Reed. "Collaborative marketing can help increase brand exposure and improve your brand’s reputation." 

Collaborative marketing can provide many benefits, including cost savings, resource sharing, access to new markets and increased innovation. However, it also requires a high level of cooperation, clear communication and mutual trust to be successful.

How Do Brands Determine Who to Partner With?

Partnering with another business can benefit both brands, but only if the brands’ audiences share commonalities. Brands should begin by focusing on the goals of the branding campaign and the values they wish to convey. The right partner — one who aligns with a brand’s vision, mission and audience — will not just complement the brand, but enhance it. The purpose of collaborative marketing is to augment a brand’s identity and position it more favorably in the market. 

Josh Weiss, founder and CEO of Reggie, the wellness regimen for dogs, told CMSWire that because the biggest benefit of collaborative marketing is expanding brand awareness, it's essential to be selective about who you partner with. "Many businesses make the mistake of collaborating with companies to cut marketing costs or because of the other company's audience size," said Weiss.

Similar to the importance of brands using the right influencer to work with, businesses that are considering a collaboration have to ensure that their core audiences mesh well. "If you choose one that doesn't align well with your own brand, then their audience and yours may not overlap," he said. Weiss suggested that to give the partnership the best chance of success, brands need to ensure that there's a connection between the types of people who would shop at each of the companies.

For instance, it would not make sense for an organization such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to partner with Colt Firearms. The two brands do share common values, as Colt has a focus on human rights, ethics and environmental responsibility, and Ben & Jerry’s mission is to “advance human rights and dignity, support social and economic justice, and protect and restore the Earth's natural systems.” Their core audiences, however, are not likely to see eye to eye, and such a partnership is unlikely to be beneficial for either brand. Shared audiences have similar needs, desires and demographics, and Colt and Ben & Jerry’s audiences tend to have different social and political viewpoints.

Additionally, it doesn’t make sense to collaborate with brands that have competing products, except for rare occasions, such as happened in 2015, when Coke and Pepsi collaborated with ACP AdvisorNet, a nonprofit organization that provides advice and services for returning military veterans. Another unique collaboration between competing brands occurred in September 2019 when Burger King announced a campaign called a "Day Without Whopper" and stopped selling its Whopper for a day. This was done to help McDonald’s increase sales in order to raise money for Children With Cancer, and McDonald's donated $2 for every Big Mac and signature burger that was sold. Such rare occasions aside, it generally doesn’t benefit businesses to partner with brands that directly compete with them. 

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Examples of Collaborative Marketing

A great example of collaborative marketing is that of Taco Bell and Doritos, who came together to create a new product called Doritos Locos Tacos, which is essentially Taco Bell taco meat wrapped in a crispy Dorito shell. The Doritos Locos Tacos was first released on Oct. 14, 2000, and on April 16, 2020, Taco Bell announced a new member of the Taco Bell Dorito family, Flamin' Hot Doritos Locos Taco. The collaboration was a great success, as a Business Insider report said that Taco Bell sold more than a billion Doritos Locos Tacos in the first year and had to hire around 15,000 new workers just to keep up.

doritos and taco bell

Jon Wilson, email marketing manager at RumbleOn, a motorcycle and powersport vehicles ecommerce platform, shared an example of how his business is effectively using collaborative marketing. Wilson’s brand, RumbleOn, formed a strategic alliance with RideNow Powersports, one of the largest dealership groups in the United States, to effectively enhance and improve the reach of both businesses. “We have seen great success over the years by working in tandem to cross-promote both brands and extend our outreach efforts while growing brand awareness for each,” said Wilson.

Learning Opportunities

Another great example of a successful collaboration is that of GoPro and Red Bull, who partnered together in 2016. As part of the collaboration, GoPro became Red Bull’s exclusive provider of point-of-view imaging technology for Red Bull’s media productions and events. Speaking about the collaboration, GoPro’s founder and CEO, Nicholas Woodman, said that the partnership was very strategic, as “We share the same vision … to inspire the world to live a bigger life.” 

Michael Maximoff, co-founder and managing partner at Belkins B2B lead gen agency, told CMSWire that the GoPro and Red Bull collaboration is a relationship that worked out amazingly well for both brands. “Successful collaborative marketing does require two brands with a common interest and audience, so it's not exactly easy to pull off,” said Maximoff. “If your audience and marketing interests line up together, you can do wonders through collaborative marketing.”

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The Challenges of Collaborative Marketing

Collaborative marketing can be a very effective strategy that opens up new opportunities for growth and customer engagement, but it’s not without its challenges, the first of which is finding the right partner. Even then, each partner may struggle to define the lines that distinguish themselves, blurring brand identities. “When you have two different companies that have similar backgrounds and traits, distinguishing the two brands separately can get challenging,” said Wilson. “Lines can easily get blurred if attention to detail is ignored.” 

Wilson suggested that one solution is having distinctive brand books (a document that serves as a rulebook for how a brand presents itself to the world) that clearly communicate themselves when compared to one another. “Utilizing separate tones, brand colors, and imagery truly helps each brand have its own identity and helps define who or what each brand represents.”

Additionally, unless the partnership is going to continue indefinitely, brands must have a plan for how they will end the relationship. This exit strategy will help the brands to avoid any potential fallout or damage, and can also include the possibility of reviving the collaboration at a future date.

Brian Rappaport, CEO of Quan Media Group, a boutique out-of-home shop, told CMSWire that to build a successful brand collaboration, both brands must be getting what they want — hitting their core audiences, and most of all, seeing value from the investment. “Regardless of the channel, the marketing investment must pay off for both brands and amplify their awareness.”

Final Thoughts on Collaborative Marketing

Collaborative marketing can be a highly effective strategy for brands looking to expand their reach, enhance their reputation and increase customer engagement. By partnering with businesses that share similar values, goals and audiences, businesses can leverage their strengths and form a mutually beneficial relationship.