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Brand partnerships: Epic crossovers every business needs

Brand partnerships are key to unlocking unlimited possibilities when it comes to building a brand's audience. SmartNews’ AJ Brustein dives into 3 factors that consumer-facing brands must keep in mind in order to get the most out of their collaborations.

5 min read

MarketingMarketing Strategy

Brand partnerships: Epic crossovers every business needs: Photos shows a table with several people surround it, arms and hands outreached, going all in with hands on top of others.\

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One of the biggest trends in Hollywood of late is crossover events that involve different intellectual properties. This strategy – which can be applied in brand partnerships – has come to the forefront because producers are able to leverage the popularity of separate franchises to create buzz and attract a wider audience. Superhero movies involving the Avengers and the Justice League immediately come to mind. The film “King Kong vs. Godzilla” is another recent example of a partnership between entertainment franchises. 

No matter the industry, brand partnerships can be a powerful tool to broaden one’s audiences and gather unique customer insights – if done correctly. To get the most out of a potential brand partnership, consumer-facing brands should keep the following factors in mind.

Seek shared values

By collaborating with other businesses, brands can tap into new customer segments. It is important for brands to choose their partners carefully and ensure that they align with their values and objectives. A partnership that is not a good fit for a brand can damage its reputation and turn off customers. Companies should only consider partnerships with organizations that have complementary strengths. 

Business leaders need to look beyond the financials for these types of decisions. Brands cannot afford to solely prioritize potential revenue over cultural fit, as the customer experience will inevitably take a hit as a result. Before jumping into a business partnership, brand managers must take a hard look at what their brand stands for and what its reputation is in the marketplace. 

These assessments do not always arrive at the same conclusions, unfortunately. If discrepancies do exist, then it may be smart for businesses to pursue partnerships that can help shore up the reputational gap. 

Above all else, brands must prioritize shared values first, as partnerships reflect those the sharpest. 

Reach new audiences

One notable example of a brand partnership is the decade-plus-long partnership between Nike and Apple. Both brands are known for their innovation, though they typically play to different audiences. In 2006, the two companies first teamed up to create activity trackers, starting with Nike+iPod and then the Apple Watch Nike Series. The collaboration has been a success because it combines Nike’s expertise in athleticwear with Apple’s expertise in technology to design unique products. 

Technology companies have used this blueprint for other successful collaborations, such as between Uber and Spotify, which integrated Spotify’s music streaming service into Uber’s ride-hailing app. These partnerships helped the companies involved reach new audiences and receive significant media attention. 

Collaborations of this kind also are common in the quick-service restaurant industry. Last year, McDonald’s and Cactus Plant Flea Market, a streetwear brand that was founded by designer Cynthia Lu, partnered to launch a first-of-its-kind adult Happy Meal, which came with a regular-sized meal and a toy of McDonald’s characters stylized by Cactus Plant Flea Market. The collaboration was aimed at attracting fashion-conscious millennials who hadn’t considered trying a Happy Meal since their childhood.

In retail, brand partnerships are a staple. Consider Sephora, a beauty products brand, and Kohl’s, a department store. Through the collaboration, Sephora opens minishops in Kohl’s stores, offering a curated selection of its best-selling products, as well as Sephora-trained beauty advisors to provide personalized consultations and services. Earlier this year, the companies expanded their partnership to an additional 250 Kohl’s stores. The partnership introduced a new demographic to Kohl’s stores while giving Sephora new locations.

In all these instances, the companies created opportunities to reach new audiences without relying solely on their marketing budgets. The best business partnerships naturally find new consumer segments that fit all the brands involved.

Prioritize the customer

Customers expect businesses to prioritize their safety and well-being. By partnering with businesses that share this priority, brands can demonstrate their fidelity to customer satisfaction and build stronger customer relationships. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain the level of commitment a brand has to customer safety. Many companies claim to be customer-first but, in truth, they do not have relevant safeguards in place to protect their audience and others. 

One way a brand can determine whether a business is customer-centric is by reviewing their customer experience. For example, checking a brand’s terms of service or their return policy are simple ways of understanding if customers are put first. 

More directly, finding online reviews of their product or service is often the best tell-tale sign.  When exploring business collaborations, a company must do its due diligence to ensure their brand and their customers will be protected. 

Much like popular crossovers in Hollywood, brand partnerships in every consumer industry also have the opportunity to delight customers. By combining the strengths of two brands that overlap in values but not in audiences, companies can build significant interest and hype beyond what the marketing budget alone could deliver.


AJ Brustein brings a wealth of experience to his role of head of Innovation Acceleration, Communications and US Marketing at SmartNews, from start-ups to long-time industry leaders in the US and Japan, while deftly balancing work and family. Previously, AJ was VP and GM of Curology, a telehealth start-up; he co-founded Wonolo, a mobile platform that empowers individuals engaged in hourly or temp work; and was responsible for the global Coca-Cola brand and Fanta brand in Japan. AJ graduated from Boston College with a double major in marketing and finance.

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