3 Keys to a Successful Brand Collaboration

By Urey Onuoha

Courtesy of Chevrolet


What do an automaker and a toy brand have in common? Or a ride-sharing service with a beer brand? The answers might not seem obvious at first, but when brands like these collaborate, sometimes for a good cause, the synergy can often lead to effective consumer engagement. From Chevrolet working with LEGO to Lyft teaming up with Budweiser, brands that collaborate are finding new and unexpected ways to delight their customers.

Potential partnerships can exist anywhere and collaborations are a great way for brands to break through the clutter and connect with consumers, explains Joseph Jaffe, founder and CEO of the New York–based Evol8tion, whose work in connecting established brands with early stage startups to solve business challenges has parallels to brands collaborating. To work, these partnerships have to be beneficial for both sides. "It really helps when the other brand can offer the things that the first brand needs, and needs something that the first brand can offer," Jaffe says. "That sounds fairly obvious, but when it comes to startups and brands collaborating, for example, we're very deliberate and very clear to emphasize the fact that it has to be a win-win."

But finding two brands that perfectly align and turning any resulting campaigns into a homerun is no easy task. Here are three keys to launching a successful brand collaboration.


1. Find the Shared Connection

According to Jaffe, for partnerships to be successful, "there has to be that synergy between brands in terms of their equity, their ideals, their belief system, and ultimately the profile of the consumer."

For Chevrolet, any collaborations begin with brand alignment and shared values, says Paul Edwards, U.S. VP of marketing at Chevrolet. Earlier this year, the automaker partnered with LEGO and Warner Bros. to promote the recently released The LEGO Batman Movie. According to Edwards, when Chevy team members saw the 2014 The LEGO Movie, they also saw an opportunity for future collaboration. "[We] were impressed with the creativity and the execution, and felt that the family-oriented themes they explored in the film aligned perfectly with Chevrolet's core brand values," he says. They began talks with Warner Bros. to work with them and LEGO on the next movie project. "As a brand, we are very optimistic, young at heart, and ingenious, and once you see the movie, it will be clear that there is a very authentic connection for us with the characters and the storyline," Edwards adds. The partnership allowed Chevrolet to engage LEGO enthusiasts and fans of the movie, and ultimately connect with new consumers through something they are passionate about.

Sometimes, the shared connection moves beyond potential ROI to an alignment based on doing something to help others. Sharing a commitment to promote responsible alcohol use and build safer communities, Lyft and Budweiser teamed up to curb drunk driving fatalities as part of the beer brand's "#GiveADamn" campaign. Launched in September last year, the campaign promoted the two brands' offer of free or discounted Lyft rides during peak nighttime hours through the end of 2016. Through the program, customers who were at least 21 years old could claim discount codes for $10 off a Lyft ride, which were shared on Budweiser's Facebook page. Any rides under $10 were free. The partnership launched with 5,000 rides per weekend in four major cities, and the number of days, markets, and rides increased as interest in the program grew. By the 2016 holiday season, the number of free ride offers had grown to 10,000 any night of the week in six states and Washington, D.C.


2. Set, and Agree, to Expectations Early On

To ensure that the interests of both brands are represented in the collaboration, it is advisable that each brand outlines its goals, objectives, and KPIs up front, says Jaffe. In the case of Chevrolet, the team worked closely with Warner Bros. on the front end to ensure there was agreement on its goals and expectations for the project. "Warner Bros. and LEGO have been great partners from the outset and were able to help us create some very unique assets and experiences," Edwards says. Among these assets were a full-size Batmobile made from 344,187 LEGO bricks, which Chevrolet showed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit; featured on a product page on Chevrolet.com; and, building on its "Real People, Not Actors" campaign, a TV spot using LEGO mini-figures discussing the Batmobile in a focus group.

In order to properly manage the process, Jaffe recommends bringing in a facilitator to take on that responsibility. "I think it makes sense to have an objective, unbiased, independent middle man who is a subject matter expert and whose primary job is to manage expectations to create that win-win," he says.


3. Be Open to Compromise

When two brands come together, there's also a meshing of corporate cultures, which can be challenging. In order to maximize the potential of the relationship, there has to be constant communication and a willingness to compromise.

"A good partnership is just like a life partner," Jaffe says. "There's got to be that give and take and there's got to be compromises and opportunity costs, sacrifices, and fairness, and equity." After first ensuring that all goals are outlined ahead of time, it is important to have regular check-ins throughout the process. Successful partnerships require a willingness to give up some measure of control and share successes, so Jaffe advises that brands be open to compromise and have enough flexibility to course-correct when necessary.

"In my previous company, we'd always say with every campaign, 'What are the five best things and the five worst things that can happen,'" he says. By looking ahead and having some flexibility, brands can plan for all scenarios — good or bad — and react appropriately as they occur.




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