When marketers partner with complementary brands, they're often seeking greater value and a larger reach than either party could achieve alone. The "strength in numbers" strategy makes tremendous sense during crunch times like the holidays, where a synergy of resources can make for blockbuster promotions.
In today’s mobile-first world, these types of deals are increasingly inked with third-party apps: Absolut vodka, Lyft and Gratafy, an e-commerce platform, all banded together at the beginning of November for a "bot bartenders" and free ride promotion. IKEA similarly teamed up with Lyft competitor Uber to deliver 200 free "Friendsgiving" meal-planning kits just last week.
The real-time marketing value of third-party app partnerships is proven — Uber successfully partnered with Hershey's to deliver Kisses last Valentine's Day — and can also help brands overcome some mobile obstacles.
"[A]s digital advertising continues to run into major headwinds due to ad blockers, consumer distaste and rampant fraud [...] marketing and ad dollars are increasingly being used to build out more effective, longer-lasting and durable brand partnerships that marry technology and marketing," said Mike Dudas, the co-founder and CRO of Button, a service that connects apps with commerce brands.
And "durable" brand relations of this type are on the rise, per Dudas, especially as time spent on mobile devices increases — a trend that's made new brand discovery and continued engagement a challenge. Honing a focus on apps in particular is the smart move given that recent comScore research shows in-app commerce increasing 70% year-over-year.
“There is tremendous value leveraging the benefits of third-party marketplaces found through these apps," Charlie Lang, VP of product at Koupon Media, told Marketing Dive. "[Marketers] are able to insert their brand and associate their brand with the value provided by the third-party marketplace or app. Through this tactic, they are able to advertise value to a targeted audience.”
Why third-party partners make sense
Dudas explained that brand partnerships have historically been best used in the co-marketing campaign sense or for the long-term strategic marketing found in things like sports sponsorships.
"These partnerships between brands can be highly effective [...] and can provide exposure to new users, complementary experiences for existing users and, at times, a revenue opportunity,” Dudas said.
Lang added that apps in particular provide a fresh avenue for marketers to insert their brand into day-to-day consumer habits. For mobile marketing, app integrations are fast becoming essential, as recent comScore research finds apps consume 50% of time spent on devices.
Dudas pointed to a number of cases where brands have been able to integrate their products directly into partner services: Facebook Places partnering with Uber, OpenTable and Fandango; Condé Nast Traveler sharing a common audience with Hotels.com, OpenTable and even Refinery29; and Ibotta establishing loyalty programs with Airbnb and Hotels.com.
API integration and data matching is part of what makes these partnerships possible, according to Dudas. And even though building these bonds can take time and resources, Lang said the marketing advantages are numerous, including a greater value-add for the consumer due to the deeper integration of the two brands.
“When consumers use the app again, they will remember the [brand] experience,” he said.
Dudas agreed that melding complementary services is a key advantage, allowing for long-term mutual value and easier management over the long run thanks to automated interactions.
However, any third-party partner should fit naturally into a brand's overall mission and vision. Dudas cautioned that marketers risk turning off a partner’s base if tie-ins seem inauthentic or irrelevant to the service provided.
Finding a marketing match
Brands should be proactive in searching out key complimentary services for their product. One way to figure out what those services might be is to study existing customers and to learn what they want more of.
And beyond finding an app that's the right fit for a partnership, marketers should examine how they will fit into that app's media landscape.
“[Marketers] need to think through the marketplace they are buying into — what is the deeper value your brand can provide the marketplace?" Lang said. "Marketers should also be thinking about how the partnership will be different than a media buy. Many media companies provide a network of apps to insert the brand into — in some instances, this might be a more efficient approach.”
Both experts agreed that technology-driven brand partnerships are an effective marketing tactic, with Dudas adding that they can open doors to new sets of consumers across industries. However, connecting with new consumers is just the first step in what should be an ongoing process to build loyalty and a coherent message.
“How a brand continues to nurture relationships with new users is the most important part," Dudas said. "Brands must be cognizant of presenting clean and high-quality experiences to their customers in an often cluttered mobile world [...] too many ads and poorly targeted messages can intrude on a user’s experience."
Coca-Cola and Dollar General: A partnership in practice
Two brands successfully incorporating mobile elements and an in-store customer experience are Coca-Cola and the Dollar General app.
Greg Chambers, the group director of digital innovation at Coca-Cola, told Marketing Dive that Dollar General was chosen for a partnership because of its shared values, namely that a great user experience is a simple one.
“We do a lot with customers to evangelize our best ideas because we know that Coca-Cola is successful when our retail partners are successful," Chambers said. "They take these new ideas to their mobile teams and collaborate with other technology partnerships."
Their promotion works as such: When Dollar General app users are near a Coca-Cola end cap equipped with a designated "beacon," they receive a notification to their mobile device letting them know about any offers, or custom content such as games, sweepstakes or video via DestinationCoke.com.
“Before there was any talk of a business arrangement, there was a deep concern with the customer experience,” said Chambers. “We got that right first, showed it to Dollar General and everything flowed very naturally from there. Both teams share a deep love for the user experience — it’s the guiding light to be able to do any marketing initiative well.”
Now that the promotion is up and running, Chambers added that real-time visibility into data collected by the partnership has lead to a “great impact on how Dollar General and Coca-Cola operate.”
As for advice for marketers looking to form a technology-driven partnership of their own?
“Focus on the customer experience first. If it’s not something somebody wants to do, it doesn’t matter what brand it’s from or what partner you use," Chambers said.