Uncertainty has come to define the current era we live in, and small businesses have been particularly susceptible to the ground shifting beneath our feet. As we’ve struggled to adapt to a bizarre and sometimes frightening new reality, one of the positive aspects to have emerged from all of this, is an acute awareness of how vital human connection really is. Many of us will have become painfully aware of its absence.
We now know that collaboration – not competition – is our best hope for the future.
The small business journey is essentially built on ongoing human relationships with your customers, suppliers, and the broader community. Now more than ever we need to value, and strengthen these connections. In rebuilding your new reality, consider how many allies you have in the field – entrepreneurs just like you on the same challenging journey. When faced with a mighty task, it’s always a good idea to combine forces.
Doubling up your promo power with a partner isn’t just a brilliant way to lighten the load and gain extra reach, it can invigorate your brand too. Combining your own ideas and methods with those of another can be challenging for small brands and solopreneurs set in their ways. But that’s exactly why you ought to consider it. Brand collaborations take you out of your comfort zone, expose you to new ideas, and compel you to experiment creatively.
A brand collab can be a highly effective foray into a new market. This new audience can be related or unrelated to your current one, depending on who you partner with. Sometimes you’ll identify a likeminded brand and develop a campaign based on your shared ambitions.
Or you might identify blind spots on your marketing radar, and seek out brands who have a following in those niches. Some of the most unlikely collaborations end up being successful exactly because they’re so unlikely. By monitoring the response in new markets, collabs make for very useful customer research.
Brand collabs are also just a fun way to express a different side of your brand, flex some creativity, and elevate your perception: you’re that popular brand mingling at fancy cocktail parties; somebody worth doing business with.
Collaborations are special occasions, sometimes even newsworthy events. They ought to be regarded as special projects, and planned very carefully. Done properly, they’ll breathe new life into your brand, and usher more customers through your metaphorical doors.
Success with a brand collab invariably lies in the strength of the relationship, so be sure to seek out the right people to partner with, and consider how you might both benefit through this collective effort. Be clear upfront about who’s doing what, and who’s getting what in return. Sometimes you’ll split the bounty down the middle (profit, leads, followers), but your promo can also be designed to benefit the partners in different ways (“you get the traffic, we get the new sign-up leads”).
Weigh up your equity in the deal, and ensure your brand gets its fair presence in the campaign. It might sound petty, but it’s also in the customer’s benefit to know what this relationship is all about. The posters and social media collateral you create will generate this impression in a single glance. Are you one of six smaller partners at an event, with your logo in the corner? Or is this a co-facilitated experience, and you’re sharing the page 50/50?
It’s always important to keep your branding distinct and recognisable, but a collaboration can also be a fun opportunity to blend your brand’s DNA, and develop a ‘special edition’ hybrid design style that maintains something from each of you.
The marketing calendar
Collab promotions are less dependant on seasonality and special occasions, because the collaboration itself is usually the occasion. But it’s never a bad idea to build your brand promotion around a relevant time of year..
The special day could even be the glue that binds your collaboration: a t-shirt brand and a sunglass brand teaming up for a Summer Vacay giveaway, or a free box of Brand X chocolates with every Brand Y lingerie purchase on Valentine’s Day, for example. Keep an eye on the marketing calendar for relevant occasions, and seek out allies you can combine forces with to drum up some attention.
Tactics to try
There’s a bunch of ways to team up with another brand – either just for the sake of doing something different, or to strategically expand the scale of a special promotion. Here are a few starter ideas to think about:
Collaborations can be ongoing, or simply once-off campaigns to double up on resources. In the case of a competition, you can both (or all) contribute to the prize, making it a far more tempting offer, and thus more likely to get traction. The entry mechanism might involve following or subscribing to all the brands involved, ensuring mutual benefit.
Tag a brand
You could even use your audience to help you identify potential collaborators for your brand. Why not ask your followers who they’d like to see you working with, or suggest other brands who might be on the same wavelength. At Over, when we’re looking out for small businesses doing cool things, we ask our followers to tag their faves, exposing us to potential partners all the time.
A collab can be a lot of fun when two brands or products fuse in interesting ways. Unusual juxtapositions can produce unique creations: Toy Brand x Sneaker Brand, Coffee Brand x Ice-Cream Brand, Butchery x Bakery. Phrases like ‘limited edition’ and ‘one-of-a-kind’ make our ‘must have’ receptors tingle like crazy. If the hybrid creation is up for grabs as a prize, expect a wagon-load of entries.
Sponsor an event
Events usually cater to a specific type of crowd: bluegrass music lovers, brides-to-be, Harry Potter fanatics. They’re all gathered together in one place at one time… now’s your chance! Get your brand in front of (or in the hands of) the right folks – whether it’s your logo on the flyer, or free samples at the event. It can also embed you in a community: the small beer brand that sponsors the weekly pub quiz very quickly becomes woven into this ritual, and is likely to become the brew of choice for regulars.
Bear in mind, that in an era of virtual eventing, it’s never been easier to host small-scale online events, like tutorials, Q+As, and virtual hangouts. These might be for smaller crowds, but they’re likely to be a more engaged audience, and you can make the experience very focused, authentic and intimate.
Partner for a cause
Working with or sponsoring a charity, NGO, or community group reflects your brand’s values more than anything else. Show the world what you care about – health workers, black-owned small business, LGBTQ+ rights – and you’ll endear yourself to people who do too. Yeah, you’re exposing your product to the right people and polishing your brand’s image… but you’re also helping people who could really use some support – which is the real reason to consider partnering for a cause, right? Right.
Working in partnership with artistic individuals is a very practical and effective way to shake up your brand identity, or create content in a cool, relevant way. Engaging with the creative community, or positioning your brand as a vehicle for expression, can do wonders for its perception. Regular artist collabs will keep your brand persona energised, and build you up a pretty cool network over time. Artists and designers have definitely felt the pinch in 2020, so creative collabs create much-needed opportunities for these solopreneurs.
Social media is hard to get right, but some people make it look like the most natural thing in the world. Those people can help you out. ‘Influencers’ can be a loaded term when we use it in the ‘entitled freebie-hunters’ sense of the word. Think of them more as well-respected communication experts. But before you look at their follower count, look at the fit. Use your intuition above all. Seek out collaborators with an authentic connection to your brand, your product, your story. If you just give some free stuff to somebody popular, we’ll smell it a mile away.
Brand collabs require all your ducks to be in a very neat row before announcing it to the world… to pre-empt anything blowing up in your face. Before you go live, make sure you’ve got the essentials in place:
Obviously the numero uno ingredient in your collaboration is a trusted, likeminded partner. Are they a logical fit for your brand? Is there a common goal, and a shared benefit?
Be as specific as you can about what this brand collaboration entails for the both of you. Who does what, and gets what in return? Write it down, and shake on it (or better yet, sign a basic contract).
Messaging & mechanism
Who’s saying what, and when? On which platform, and to who specifically? What are the customer touch points for each brand? Rolling out your messaging has to be a co-ordinated, coherent effort.
Perhaps the mere act of levelling up your brand and doing something different is reward enough. But if you want to use the collab as a brand promotional tool, figure out what kind of data will indicate success (new followers, sign-ups, profit split) and track this.
Unmissable social media posts
Is your collateral designed and ready to go? Brand collabs thrive on hype, so make sure you have announcements for all your different platforms. With Over, you can craft a single campaign design, and then very easily duplicate this in various formats, from Instagram Stories to emailers. And with Over Teams, all collaborators can work and comment on the same design in real time.