The 5 False Expectations That Could Destroy Big-Brand Partnerships

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On the surface, startups and big-name brands are businesses with a similar overarching goal: to make money. But crack the exterior, and you’ll find that’s about all they have in common.

While each has a unique set of resources and organizational structure, when they’re paired together these different forces can create a complementary dynamic.

A large corporation, for example, can lend a certain amount of credibility and brand equity to a small business’s products or services. It also can help it open up distribution channels, improve consumer reach, hasten product launch and maneuver in an often-fickle marketplace.

On the flip side, a startup can provide an avenue for corporations to discover new ideas. It also can help revitalize an aging company, exhilarate its staff and attract untapped markets.

Related: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on Partnering With Your Partner

While these opportunities can open new doors for startups, don’t let the potential for growth blind you. To succeed, you have to set aside certain expectations when partnering with a big brand:

1. Your partnership takes precedence. Big brands often enter into more than one partnership, and your needs must be integrated into a long list of priorities. To avoid losing momentum for a project, try to align yourself with someone on the “inside.” Finding an internal advocate to take ownership of the project can keep it on track.

2. The larger brand has the capacity for support. Bandwidth is relative. Assuming your partner has extra labor or funds to invest in your problems or obstacles isn’t wise. Big brands often work under the same constraints as smaller ones, and they must devote resources to their own challenges. Set expectations at the outset to ensure you get the support you need when you need it.

Related: The 7 Deadly Sins of Joint Ventures

3. Your partner will take risks. Just because you’re open to taking risks doesn’t mean a big brand partner is, too. Big brands generally have more red tape to cut through and more to lose than small ones. Respect the limits of your partner company and periodically gauge its tolerance for risk, so you can create solutions and strategies consistent with expectations.

4. It’s easy for your partner to pivot. Big brands are more like boulders than pebbles. Once it builds momentum in a certain direction, it can be challenging to change course. Rather than trying to scrap plans halfway through a project, create a strategy to iterate as the partnership enters the real world.

5. A big-brand partnership guarantees a smooth rollout. Developing an innovative product with an amazing marketing plan doesn’t prevent problems from arising during its launch -- even when partnering with a big brand. Integrate a pilot stage in the rollout plan, so your partner and you can iron out any issues or polish the design before the footprint reaches a massive scale. 

Related: A Crash Course on Licenses, Joint Ventures and Partnerships