Written by: Austin McNair
Partnerships are strange.
On one hand, it’s evident that we operate in a competitive world which values self-sufficiency. Our customers, colleagues, and peers expect us to work hard, carry our own weight, and continue to grow. No excuses. Fortunately though, it’s not all dog-eat-dog…
Charles Darwin who famously developed the concept of survival of the fittest is also quoted as saying, “It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
In nature, life, and now in business, there appears to be an essential need for partnership and collaboration. And we don’t have to just rely on appearances… We have data!
According to Hinge’s 2023 High Growth Study, partnership marketing is ranked as the 12th most impactful marketing technique for professional services firms – ranking at the same level as more commonly implemented marketing techniques like producing an original podcast and even keyword research/search engine optimization.
So what are we to make of these findings? First, let’s clarify what we mean by partnership marketing so that we can understand exactly how they can help our businesses grow.
Marketing Partnerships Defined
Partnership marketing can be defined as a mutually beneficial marketing relationship between a firm and another organization. Now, this definition is admittedly pretty broad – but that is because most marketing partnerships will have their own unique attributes.
The centerpiece of a marketing partnership could include larger initiatives such as conducting a powerful piece of research with another firm or be something as small as asking a partner for a specific retweet on Twitter. It all depends on the firms involved and their current strategic goals.
Many marketing partnerships start small and grow overtime as two firms get to know one another and find what works best for each party. We’ll explore more details below but here are some examples of partnership marketing activities:
- Build do-follow links on relevant blog posts
- Social media blasts sharing new content or upcoming events
- Email swaps promoting your respective services or content
- Co-produced and co-promoted webinars
- Live events targeting the same prospects
- Conducting a new piece of research together
However, you cannot afford to simply partner with anyone. There are some important things that must be considered before entering into a new partnership with another firm.
Selecting the Right Partners
When beginning a new strategic marketing partnership there are two criteria you need to follow to select the right digital marketing partner – ensure they are not your competitor and that they serve the same audience as you.
It may sound obvious… but you need to be sure that the firm you partner with is not your direct competitor. Many firms continue to diversify their service offerings making it more likely for partners to cross into your lane. So do your research ahead of time by reviewing their website, interviewing one or two of their team members, and possibly talking to one of their clients. In any marketing partnership, you want to avoid introducing any confusion about what services your firm provides. Partnering with firms that offer the same services as you simply isn’t an option.
The second criteria is that your partner needs to serve the same audiences as you do, at least in part. For example, at Hinge this means that our marketing partnerships are built with other firms that serve or are looking to serve the professional services marketplace. We receive messages on a regular basis from firms that want to “partner” with us but whose audience is different than our ideal prospects. If your firm is like ours, then you don’t have the time or resources to waste on partnerships that don’t directly put you in front of your ideal prospects.
To summarize, when considering a new marketing partnership follow these two rules:
- Be sure your partner is not your competitor
- Confirm that you and your partner are targeting the same audience
Marketing Partnerships and Growth
When you think about the connection between partnerships and growth, it makes a lot of sense. If you can work cooperatively with another organization that communicates with a segment of your audience that you haven’t yet addressed, then your reach — your universe of potential clients — will expand. And if the firm you partner with is held in high esteem by its audience, some of that credibility can be transferred to your firm by association.
The strongest partnerships not only give you access to another firm’s list of prospects, they can benefit your audience, too. How? By endorsing a reputable firm that offers services many of your clients and prospects need, you expose them to a high-quality provider. When they need to buy those services, your clients have a great option (your partner) already at hand. Of course for this approach to work, you must vet your partners carefully.
What Goes into a Partnership Marketing Plan
So suppose you wanted to act on this information. What would a partnership marketing plan look like? The question to ask yourself is “how could we utilize our most impactful marketing techniques in a marketing partnership plan?”
When we look at a list of the most impactful marketing techniques, nearly all of them can be rolled into a partnership marketing plan. Here’s one way you might approach such a plan:
Speaking Engagements and Conferences: If you have an annual conference, offer your partner a speaking spot and exhibit space. This helps your audience learn more about your partner and puts a face to your partner’s name. If your partner has an annual conference, you can swap these opportunities. But what if they don’t? Consider inviting your partner to co-present at other conferences that target an audience you have in common. More and more conference organizers are seeking presentations that involve more than one speaker, so offering co-presenters can give you an advantage when competing for a spot.
Co-promoted Webinars: Webinars have skyrocketed in popularity as individuals all around the world seek professional development opportunities in a low-cost forum. Measurements of successful webinars include high a registration count, attendance count, and engagement rate. Often times it is difficult to hit these higher numbers on your own. A co-promoted webinar is an easy way for two firms to utilize each other’s audience to increase the total number of registrants and ultimately attendees while highlighting each others expertise.
Publish Original Research: More and more firms are discovering the power of conducting original research. The benefits are plenty but two highlights include how original research can educate your firm strategically on your ideal prospects while also giving your marketing team material that can supercharge your marketing strategy. However, original research can be expensive. So how about finding one of your marketing partners and conduct the research together?
Downloadable Content/Email Marketing/Blogging: Email marketing and guest blog swaps are common in partnerships. For instance, you might agree to send an email to each others’ list every other month. Typically in these arrangements, firms don’t exchange lists with their digital marketing partner; instead, each organization sends for the other. You might agree to write (and host) guest blog posts a little more frequently than you exchange emails — say monthly. You can make the most of these golden opportunities in front of a new audience by adding educational content to the mix. Offer a free whitepaper or research report in each email you send. End your blog posts with a link to download related content. And be sure to gate at least some of your content so you can acquire email addresses and grow your firm’s list of contacts.
Website & Online Advertising: You may want to offer your partner advertising, branding and marketing opportunities on your website. If you sell ad space on your website or newsletter, for instance, include free ads as part of your partnership plan. Consider adding a Partners page or section to your website, as well. Ask your partner to provide relevant copy and graphics. This page can also tell your audience about any special pricing or packages they can get as a benefit of your partnership.
In this post, I’ve outlined one approach to a partnership marketing plan — one based on our most recent study of high-growth professional services firms. You need to customize your plan to fit the realities of your firm and industry. At Hinge, we’ve cultivated strategic digital and traditional marketing partnerships for a number of years, and they have become an invaluable way to expand our reach to new audiences. While building partner relationships and trust can take time, it’s well worth the effort. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to start growing your firm!
Related: Understanding the Marketing ROI of Your Lead Generation Programs