Skip to content
Partnership Marketing Strategies For Growth

Partnership Marketing Strategies For Growth

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
4 min read

By now you know it’s silly to build your own audience. And you also know what you need to offer The Headliner if you want to be The Opening Act.

But there are many different kinds of Partnership Marketing arrangements. Here are a few:

The Trusted Endorser

The Today Show recently ran a commercial that showed the hosts using a Google Home speaker, smiling and feigning surprise while they used it.

For a few years, the NBA has run commercials for the latest blockbuster movies. But it’s not just a plain ol’ movie trailer. The trailer also contain NBA highlight clips, begging the question: do you want to be as awesome as Lebron James andSpiderman? Of course you do.

In both cases, The Trusted Endorser implicity recommends the product, and demonstrates how awesome it is.

The Channel

Have you ever used a computer with an Intel processor? Of course you have. The problem with computer processors (or anything else inside of a computer) is simple: you can’t see it. Your expectation is that you buy a computer that works. That’s it. It’s good for you, but not so good for Intel.

Intel sought out distribution channels like Dell, Apple, and other computer manufacturers. It wasn’t just to use their processors, but to also name the chips inside. Intel paid PC manufacturers to add an “Intel Inside” sticker to the housing of each laptop or desktop computer with an Intel processor. Your computer still worked, but now you also knew what was inside.

By accessing the channel they already used and making themselves more prominent, they were able to grow awareness and demand.

The Affiliate

The affiliate partnership can be summarized in a single word: Groupon. They built a gigantic email list filled with deal-seekers, then sent them deals. Businesses in turn pay Groupon for access to their audience of deal seekers.

Appsumo is a daily deals site for software that works just like Groupon. Nerds like me get an email daily that has a new software offer. Typically these offers are for new-ish companies that need to get new users. The best users for these companies are the tech-nerd-early-adopter-types like me.

While audience provider (Groupon, Appsumo) in The Affiliate arrangement will have engaging content, people don’t sign up for the content itself. Nope, they sign up to get targeted deals or offers.

The Content Provider aka The Opening Act

There are many reasons for a business to develop and sustain its own audience. Once you build your audience big enough, you’ll have to think about it too.

Providing helpful content is a typical way for businesses to continually be helpful. The crux of it, though, is that it’s a lot of work to create great content. And unless a business is in the game of creating content strictly, they’ll probably need some help.

About a month ago I arranged a webinar with a major software company called Outreach. They have a list of over 60k people, and it’s highly targeted to the group I wanted to address (sales professionals). What I brought to Outreach: 2 articles, a webinar, and now I have 6 more pieces of content in the works that they’ll both publish and distribute.

You also see this at events: event organizers need great speakers, and speakers need an audience (otherwise it’s called practice, not speaking).

As The Opening Act (or The Content Provider), your job is to develop amazing content. Your partner will showcase your content, because they know it’ll help their audience. It’s a win-win.

The Gatekeeper

Some businesses have an insanely valuable product, but a really small market. There are usually one or more gatekeepers that control access to the market, so you’ll want to focus on the gatekeepers, rather than the audience (at least initially).

Let’s say you want to market your B2B services that make conference speakers more awesome. Instead of just putting up a website for the world to see, figure out where conference speakers are already going to become more awesome. One place is an association of conference organizers. Who are these people and how can you help them? For each conference organizer you connect with and help, you’ll probably gain access to dozens of speakers.

That’s how you leverage The Gatekeeper strategy.

The Partners In Crime

This is often called “co-branding,” which is a fancy way of saying “let’s put create an ad campaign and pay for it together.” Sometimes The Partners In Crime strategy is a package deal with complimentary products, and other times it’s a marketing stunt.

I love this example from Red Bull and GoPro. Both brands are grounded in extreme sports, so of course it makes sense for them to launch a balloon into space:

The Partners in Crime strategy is perfect is both partners have a substantial audience they can bring.

A great example I saw recently is podcast guest hosting. Podcast hosts will swap shows – “you host one episode of my show, I’ll host one episode of your show” – in order to broaden their respective audiences. Genius.

The Sponsor

Conference-goers will know this strategy well. Paid sponsorship gives the sponsor accesss to a highly targeted audience. So if you’re a video production agency, or provide video hosting software, you’d love to get access to people who go to a conference about video marketing.

The Sponsor has a highly targeted audience, but they’re often just an advertiser as opposed to a Content Provider. And that’s the difference between being self-serving and helpful – big difference.

The Platform

There’s a fantastic newsletter that I highly recommend called The Hustle. The newsletter is about tech and business news, and I look forward to reading it every day.

I don’t subscribe to The Hustle to see their partner ads. I subscribe to see their content. It’s the same reason I subscribe to The Atlantic, New York Times, and Washington Post. Sure, they have ads, but more importantly they have a content platform that has value because of the content itself.

In this way, The Platform is quite different from The Affiliate or The Sponsor described above.