The DTC space is a highly competitive landscape where merchants compete intensely for customer wallet share. However, those operating in your niche can also be your biggest allies when it comes to brand building, product development and customer acquisition.
Brand partnerships have become key pillars in a DTC player’s brand building strategy and growth. When two non-competitive brands that share a similar audience come together, there is an opportunity to leverage brand equity and audience attention through a partnership or activation.
How brand partnerships work
As online acquisition costs rise, and tough competition makes it difficult for new entrants, we are seeing more and more partnerships forged by DTC companies. The efficacy of launching a DTC brand solely with online advertising is waning, making way for a new playbook defined by omni-channel activations, brand partnerships, and community building. A great brand partnership can build brand equity that can’t be purchased via an ad strategy. A shrewdly chosen partner can offer a natural audience overlap that can help to balance customer acquisition costs and increase retention.
A recent partnership between coffee brand Verve Coffee Roasters and drip brew maker Drip Kit is a good illustration of this. Whilst the two are not quite direct competitors, they speak to very similar audiences and used their combined expertise to create a ready to brew, single-serve pour over coffee product.
Being the larger vendor, Verve were able to position themselves at the forefront of coffee innovation working directly with a disruptive DTC brand and keep challenging their industry. For Drip Kit, the partnership represented an additional distribution channel. They were also able to leverage the national recognition and reputation of quality that Verve own, which then filters into the Drip Kit brand through association and shared audience.
Different brand partnership strategies
When looking at a possible brand partnership, there could be a multitude of desired outcomes and various strategies to execute on them. A brand partnership might choose to focus on achieving customer acquisition targets, and deploy a strategy which aims to leverage the shared audience of each partner. A great example of this in action was the recent “Make your dog at home” event in New York where DTC dog brands Ollie, Fi, Wild One, Recess and Burrow threw a “Puppy Party'' welcoming customers and their dogs to try each brand's products in-store.
Alongside this, general brand-building is at the forefront of most partnerships. Clothing brand Kith has brand-building partnerships in its DNA, fostering relationships with larger players like Versace and Coca Cola to usher in a new vision for streetwear.
Other brands like skincare merchant Hey Day and men’s razor vendor Harry’s have partnered on a joint product venture. Both brands had a commercial interest in demystifying skincare for men, and could tap into each other’s audiences whilst splitting the R&D costs of developing a new formula.
In another canine-based mash-up, dog product brand Barkbox and beauty brand Glossier came together to create limited edition dog toy versions of the latter's skincare range. Although seemingly not an obvious fit for a collaboration, the result was some hugely Instagram-able shots of cute dogs enjoying the toy - great for the brand awareness of both businesses.
How to create a brand partnership
There is no proven model that brands need to stick to when creating a partnership. In all areas of business operations, there are areas to collaborate and partner with other brands that align with your values and audience. A great way to create a low-barrier partnership is through content. Whether this is a shared video series, case study, white paper or webinar, offering useful and engaging content across both parties audiences can be incredibly powerful. Event partnerships can also prove extremely valuable, where an offline experience can add a deeper connection to a brands narrative where customers can be attracted from both parties and share the costs. Another example can come in the form of product partnerships, much like Drip Kit and Verve collaboration, where different brands come together to build a limited edition or exclusive product that speaks to the same audience. The globally recognised Apple + Nike partnership is testament to this, with more modern examples like Rapha x Outdoor Voices are trying to emulate that success.