Choose your partners wisely

The attention paid to brand partnerships, which within the brand affinity world are defined as the mutually beneficial partnering of two brands with similar values, has arguably never being as intense as it is now.

Brand partnerships are coming under increasing scrutiny and it has been shown that they can have a big impact on consumers. But before forging an alliance brands must be aware of their own values

The attention paid to brand partnerships, which within the brand affinity world are defined as the mutually beneficial partnering of two brands with similar values, has arguably never being as intense as it is now.

Medical journal The Lancet has questioned how a huge sporting event like the FIFA World Cup, which campaigns for good health, could align itself with brands such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Prior to this, McDonald’s UK announced it was to refocus on its core offering of burger and fries, after years of pushing healthier options, and only recently Disney ended its partnership with McDonald’s Happy Meals, which netted it a staggering $100m (&£54.9m) a year – instead concentrating on healthier alternatives such as branded fruit (MW October 6, 2005).

These shifts are the result of either a mismatch between the core offerings of one brand with another (FIFA and unhealthy brands, McDonald’s and Disney) or a brand trying to change its core offering without changing its brand values (McDonald’s and healthy options).

Research by Touchdown Brand Affinity Marketing among 1,000 marketers reaffirms the importance of getting the science behind any partnership right, and offers an insight into why consumers buy certain brands. While 68% of respondents say a successful partnership can only “sometimes” increase the value of a brand, the results of a number of hypothetical partnerships show that targeted and thoughtful tie-ups are highly effective in creating positive consumer perceptions.

In order to test this theory individuals were asked to review brands with similar values, such as British Airways (BA) and Starbucks. Both brands were regarded as quality leaders in their own field and as innovators. In this instance, 5% of respondents considered BA an “excellent” brand while 15% say they feel the same way about Starbucks. At the time of research, prior to the BA price fixing allegations, a brand partnership between the two was viewed as positive and the collaboration saw BA’s rating as “excellent” rise to 15% and Starbucks’ to 30% – on both counts healthy double digit increases in positive consumer perception.

Brand affinity is concerned with “win-win” partnerships like these, in which both brands gain credit in consumers’ minds. This example clearly demonstrates the huge benefits that can be accrued from intelligent partnerships where “brand DNA” matches, but there are dangers for brands that do not get the values behind a partnership right.

Judged on its own merits, 50% of respondents felt oil company Esso was “not at all socially responsible”. However when partnered with Innocent Drinks – a brand whose values directly oppose Esso’s reputation – this changed. If a situation involving the distribution of Innocent Drinks at all Esso Stations with Esso putting a percentage of the profits into recycling is considered, the proportion of respondents considering Esso to be “not at all socially responsible” drops a staggering 35%. Esso may have gained – but Innocent Drinks brand reputation would forever have been sullied.

It is not just enhanced consumer perception that brand partnerships have the potential to create. Well considered partnerships have multiple benefits: they reinforce core values, accelerate market entry, distribute marketing costs and increase brand awareness. The survey reveals strong awareness of these benefits with 82% of respondents confirming the importance of affinity marketing as a tool to drive sales and brand awareness.

The survey also looks at the reasons why consumers buy certain brands. Of the respondents, 96% said they buy “reliable” brands, while 61% claim they don’t follow trends but buy brands that represent their own individual style.

This last figure supports the idea that consumers mix and match brands to create their own identities, and although it is hard to generalise, consumers are largely seen to fall into one of three broad categories. Inner-directed consumers who choose brands that reflect their own style, outer-directed consumers who latch on to the latest trend, and sustenance-driven consumers who are innately conservative, choosing brands they trust and which are practical. Marketers must bear this in mind when organising a brand partnership.

Overall, the survey confirms the potential of brand affinity to create better perceptions and drive sales. But it also highlights the dangers for companies embarking on partnerships with brands that do not have similar values (Kit Kat and Big brother perhaps?). So before any brand partnership is undertaken it is crucial that brands acknowledge what they stand for, and what they don’t. If they can’t get this right, they should not consider partnerships at all.

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