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How to Make Brand Collaborations Work for You

“How to Make Brand Collaborations Work for You” was originally posted by hint Founder & CEO, Kara Goldin, on LinkedIn here:

As the saying goes: Tell us who your friends are, and we’ll tell you who your brand is. Ok, that’s not exactly the saying, but I’ve found that who you associate with as a brand is just as important to your company’s health as friends are to the health of your personal life.

When I started hint, I knew brand collaborations were important, I just didn’t know how to navigate them. Was it as simple as reaching out to a company I thought was relevant and asking them to partner up? Years later I can say that the answer to that is yes… and no.

Here’s a guide to getting your brand collaborations moving in the right direction:

1. Know Thyself

You already know you have a great product, but that in itself isn’t enough. What are your brand’s values? What is your mission? Generating sales isn’t the whole picture. A great example of this is the Apple Store’s Genius Bar. Sure, Apple wanted to sell Mac products in their stores, but their real focus was on creating a relationship between the customer and the company. They wanted to make technology personal, fun, and educational. Because they were so clear about who they were and what they were offering, they knew exactly who their customer was and what kind of messaging was attractive to them. That’s key when you’re getting ready to partner.

2. Know Thy Customer

This is the other side of the same coin. At the end of the day, nothing matters more than your customer, and that’s true for everything from packaging, to marketing campaigns, to—you guessed it—brand collaborations. If you know what your brand’s true selling points are beyond the product itself, then you can start piecing together the person who’s interested in what you’re offering. What is the emotional relationship you have with your customer? What are they trusting you with? Whether it be their health, style, money, or anything else, it’s key to understand that you’re offering more than a product, you’re offering an emotional tie. Once you’re clear on what that relationship looks like, you can start getting clear on who else is out there carrying a message that compliments yours.

3. Connect the Dots

So you know who you are, and you know who your customer is—that’s great. Now connect the dots. Ask yourself key questions: What are the brands your customer loves outside of yours? Where do your customers shop? Who are they showing brand loyalty to? What kind of messaging are those brands using to attract their customers? Are you evoking the same or similar feelings in your customer that those brands are? Really understand what your strengths are, what their strengths are, and how those assets can work together for everyone’s benefit.

I really put this step to work when I was looking at brand collaborating for hint. We knew our message was about health, but beyond that, it was about providing yourself with the tools to reach your highest potential. When we asked ourselves who else was carrying that message, Google was an obvious answer. Not only did we begin collaborating with Google, but we soon started to understand that the tech community in general shared that core value. That was our gateway—from there we started showing up at tech events and marketing to that community. Investing energy at the outset into understanding our customer and ourselves was crucial to making that collaboration a success.

4. Think Outside the Box

The Google partnership brings me to this step—think outside the box. Be open to looking outside your own industry. If we had limited ourselves to companies within the health industry, we would have missed out on an incredible opportunity. In our everyday lives, we all have lots of interests—people who are invested in healthy eating don’t think only about food 24/7. They also buy clothes, shop for cars, and go to the movies. Find out where your audience’s interests lie outside of your industry—what other brands do they look at and love? How are those brands marketing to their consumers? Can you work with those brands?

5. Size Isn’t Everything

Just because you’re a small business, doesn’t mean you’re not an attractive brand partner to a larger business. Small businesses have advantages that corporations generally don’t, and it’s important to leverage that when considering brand partnerships. For example, a start-up has grassroots appeal, and can be seen as the underdog—approachable and relatable. Consumers can more easily align themselves with your brand, and that’s huge. Remember that you bring that to the table when reaching out to your Targets, Starbucks, or Googles.

6. Goes Both Ways

Which brings me to this point—prepare yourself to be approached by bigger names. Not long ago, John Legend reached out to hint for a collaboration. He was passionate about spreading the message of health, and wanted his audience to understand his commitment to clean living. It’s been a wonderful partnership, but one we didn’t see coming. Keep in mind that just because you’re not Sony, doesn’t mean no one’s paying attention.

7. Location, Location, Location

People say to us, “You’re everywhere!” No, we’re just strategic about where we market. Because we understand our customer, we know where they go and where other like-minded people go. People run in packs, and as a brand, we want to be right there with them. Mapping our customer’s path and the brands they come into contact with on that trajectory is always part of our process when we brainstorm for brand collaborations.

8. Never Settle

To come full circle, tell us who your friends are, and we’ll tell you who your brand is. You’re selective with who you invite into your personal life—why wouldn’t you do the same with your brand? Work with companies you really believe in, who really believe in you. A partnership is just that—and it requires the same respect and trust that any relationship would. So go for it! Reach out to your number one choices. Success is waiting.

Kara Goldin is Founder and CEO of Hint Water, the fastest-growing flavored water brand in the United States. Kara started Hint when she couldn’t find a healthy water that tasted great without questionable additives like sweeteners. Hint Water has 0 calories, 0 sugar, and 0 diet sweeteners in a can be purchased online at drinkhint.com in a variety of flavors including Blackberry and Watermelon, in both still and sparkling