A Guide to 3 Brand Partnerships That Jumpstart Your Startup

Few startups have the time or money for painstakingly building needed brand awareness. Strategic partnerships can speed the process.

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By Megha Desai

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Traditional marketing or advertising can often be unwieldy and expensive for a young company but many have found great success with smart, strategic partnerships that bring visibility without the staggering cost.

Related: Six Strategies for Partnering with Big Brands

Whether you offer a B2C product (business-to-consumer), or a B2B (business-to-business), there are fundamentally three types of partnerships, beyond your investors, incubators and advisors, to consider.

1. Awareness Partners. The goal of this type of partnership is increasing your brand's visibility and name recognition. This type of co-branding serves as a distribution channel for your product or service. It might not yield new leads immediately but creates awareness of your company so, when those leads exist, they know to come to you. Think of it as the primer before you paint a house.

"Awareness partners" are your celebrity endorsers, press partners and other large distribution partners. Your message on these platforms should be simple and focused on your brand personality and one aspect of your functionality and consumer benefit. Press and PR are not the same as awareness. Do not enter a partnership, even with celebrities, just for the PR. Think long term about the value you and the partner bring to each other in terms of awareness.

Choose awareness partners who are in line with your brand values and already have an audience you need to attract.. Establish your goals at the beginning of the partnership. Accept that this partnership may not lead to instant user generation, customers and sales.

2. Brand Partners. These are crucial partners for generating leads and presenting your company to them. Done correctly, the partnership can lead to exponential growth and revenue. However, brand partnerships are also the hardest to get right.

A successful brand partnership will elevate your legitimacy and affinity by shaping consumer opinions through your association with the partner brand. You can create compelling and useful content together by collaborating with another entity in a contest, campaign or longer-term strategy. That can sometimes be a built-in distribution model. Brand partnerships tend to be driven more by communications than product.

Aligning brand values is more crucial here than with any other partnership. Take the time you need to build these partnerships. They are hard to get right.

Related: 4 Tips to Go Further, Faster with Strategic Partnerships

3. Functional Partners. These partnerships elevate the functionality of your product or offering for your customer. A strong functional partnership takes investment and effort from both partners to get right and may even require building out a new functionality within your organization.

Functional partnerships are a great source of lead generation, but often are unbalanced to the benefit of one brand more than another. Often times these bring great value to the junior brand. These types of partnerships tend to be more products driven.

Accept that these partnerships take more out of the junior brand. Both sides need to dedicate staff and resources to execute this partnership right. To identify good partnership candidates, really think about your user. What is she doing, thinking, eating while using your product?

Samsung's integration of Flipboard into their latest phones is a brilliant example of a functional partnership. Samsung, on it's way to becoming the number one name in personal electronics, smartly brought in Flipboard, along with a variety of young products, to elevate their customers experience.

When you're in your startup universe it can be difficult to look outside of yourself but collaboration is the key to business success. Partnering properly, with strategy and keen execution, can take your startup to places it never could've gotten to by itself.

Related: Do More with Less

Megha Desai

Social Impact Advocate & Advisor

Megha Desai is president of The Desai Foundation, an organization that elevates health and livelihood of women and children through community programs in the U.S. and India. She is also the founder of MSD (Marketing. Strategy. Dharma.), a branding partnership advisory serving social good brands.

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