Remember when you were a kid, and you just HAD to have the latest McDonald’s Happy Meal toy? Whether it was a Beanie Baby or a Hot Wheels car, you probably devoured many chicken nuggets and french fries to collect all the toys you could. Your little kid brain probably didn’t realize it, but you were witnessing one of the most underrated tools in a marketing professional’s arsenal: co-marketing. 

Even though your Happy Meal days are probably behind you (although we won’t judge if you still can’t resist a chicken nugget or two now and then), co-marketing is as popular as ever. With increased customer acquisition costs online, brands are teaming up in more ways than ever to share their brands with their mutual audiences and split the cost. 

In this article:
What’s Co-Marketing?
Real-Life Examples
Finding the Right Partners
8 Co-Marketing Ideas

What’s Co-Marketing?

Co-marketing is a broad category of marketing tactics that include everything from swapping content to launching a full-blown co-branded product line. It might look something like this: 

  • You sell sunglasses.
  • You make a connection with a brand selling swimsuits.
  • Between the two of you, you launch a co-branded campaign and promote each other’s merchandise on your sites.
  • You each get to share your brand with a different but related audience, earning you new site visitors and customers.

The idea is to find a brand that has an audience that’s similar to yours with a different product and team up to expose new people to your brand, help people see your brand differently, or open up an opportunity for more revenue. 

Real-Life Examples

There are many examples of co-marketing, but here are a few of our favorites. We like these examples because they work on three different levels: 

  • Each of the brands gets access to a new audience.
  • The brand partnership allows each of the brands to show up in the market in a new way.
  • The co-marketing that comes out of the partnership lowers customer acquisition costs for both brands.

Glossier + Bark

These two brands stumbled on a brand partnership opportunity when Bark, a direct-to-consumer (D2C) company that designs and produces dog toys and treats, noticed that many people visiting the Glossier retail location brought their pets with them. Bark knew that they had an overlapping target audience, but needed to identify the right co-marketing idea. They settled on modeling dog toys after Glossier’s best-selling Boy Brow and Balm Dotcom, so that pups can match their humans. 

This collaboration won Bark and Glossier user-generated social content (nothing is more insta-worthy than a picture of your pet with a large plush version of your favorite lip balm) and earned media mentions for their unique idea. Notably, neither of the brands used paid media to support the launch. 

Bearaby + West Elm

Pairing an emerging D2C brand with an already established brand is a smart way to increase brand awareness quickly. Not only does the newer brand get some implied legitimacy, but there’s also the broader audience that now has exposure to the new brand. On the part of the established brand, they get to be associated with a younger, hip brand to help lend them feel fresh and modern. 

That’s precisely what happened when Bearaby and West Elm paired up to sell some fresh colors of Bearaby’s eco-friendly weighted blankets on West Elm’s site. West Elm gets a fresh, trendy product, Bearaby gets brand recognition and a new way to increase revenue. In the marketing industry, we like to call that a “win-win.”

Rhone + Dagne Dover + more

If you’re not interested in co-branded products, you should still consider co-marketing opportunities. Rhone, a D2C brand selling high-end men’s activewear, frequently teams up with other brands selling products that are related to theirs to do social media giveaways and content. 

One of these brands is Dagne Dover, a D2C brand selling high-end bags, including fitness-focused carryalls. In another instance, Rhone has teamed up with Boston-based Achieve Fitness to produce and post instructional fitness content. Since many D2C brands already feel right at home on social media, particularly Instagram, finding ways to expand your reach organically could be a natural fit. 

Finding the Right Partners

With the above examples, finding the right partner was key to the success of the strategy. Whether you’re the one seeking out co-marketing partners or you’re fielding requests from brands who want to work with you, make sure your time, effort, and money are invested in the right partnerships. Here are a few simple steps to evaluating your brand partnership opportunities:

  1. Find out everything you can about the brand you’re evaluating. This is where you put your superior Google skills to work. See what kind of press they’ve received in the past, what their social media following looks like (including how many followers and the level of engagement), who their target audience seems to be, what products they sell, and anything else that strikes you as interesting. 
  2. Look to see if there’s any overlap with your brand. What do you share in common? Where are you different? Do they sell the same or similar products to yours? Where do your target audiences overlap? 
  3. Dig into what an actual partnership would look like. What are the pros and cons of collaborating with this brand? What would you like to get out of it, and what would you need to be willing to give? 
  4. Take some time to document some ideas for partnerships. See the list below if you need some ideas. 
  5. Figure out what a successful partnership would look like and which metrics you’ll use to determine success. For a partnership focused on sharing content, you’ll want to look at KPIs like new site visitors and organic searches for your brand. If you’re launching co-branded products, you’ll want to evaluate revenue. 

The key takeaway here is to make sure you’re partnering with the right brands and asking for the things that make the partnership valuable for you. Don’t be afraid to reach out to brands that seem like an unconventional fit. Like Bark and Glossier, those might just turn out to be the ones that generate the most curiosity. 

8 Co-Marketing Ideas

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, there’s a chance that one of these ideas will spark a co-marketing or brand partnership idea. They’re roughly in order from easiest to pull off to most complicated. 

Trade social posts

All you need to pull off some co-branded social posts is a little bit of time and some creative resources. To identify the right partners, think about someone who has some expertise or a product that complements what you have. For instance, if you sell women’s yoga pants, you might partner with a healthy meal delivery brand to feature healthy meals on your page and a quick yoga flow on their page. The opportunities here are endless! This works best if you do an ongoing feature to make sure that you make a repeated impression on both audiences. 

Social media giveaway

Similar to trading posts, but with slightly more investment, is doing a co-branded giveaway. This way, both brands can get in front of each other’s audiences to increase social followers (and it benefits your audience because everyone likes the opportunity to get something for free!). 

Team up on content

If you’re investing in content marketing, this co-marketing idea is for you. You can trade blog posts, videos, infographics, etc. or you can team up to make something together. This is particularly powerful if you’re trying to do something like create a video but don’t have the resources to put one together. Conversely, maybe you have video resources but are looking for innovative ideas to engage your audience. Continuing with the yoga pants and healthy meal delivery partnership above, you could film quick “how-to” videos for yoga poses or healthy meals and distribute them to your audiences. 

Co-branded emails

If you want to tell your audience about a brand or product that complements yours, sending a co-branded email to each of your audiences could be the way to do it. You could offer some deal or coupon code or inspiration for how to use your products together. A co-branded email works well because you’re able to target people who are engaged with your brand and interested in what you have to say. 

Co-branded events

Partner up to target one or more specific demographic areas with co-branded events. These events can be as large or as small as you’d like and usually involve some draw for the audience. Something as simple as a free product giveaway or something bigger like an expert speaker, class, demo, or activity. These events can be deceptively complicated, with plenty of details to plan and tasks to work through. That’s why it helps to have a partner to pull it all off. You can use these events to sell products or to strengthen your brand image. 

Co-branded product release

With the right partner and the right idea, a co-branded product release can be a massive benefit to both partners. You get all of the benefits of co-marketing, including reaching your mutual audience as well as your separate audiences plus the added benefit of revenue from your new product. To identify the right co-branded product idea, think about brands with products that complement yours or who have an audience in common with yours. Like the collaboration between Glossier and Bark, don’t be afraid to think outside the box for fun, innovative ideas that will catch the attention of your audience. 

Direct-to-consumer brand + retail brand partnership

As a D2C brand, one of the biggest hurdles you have to climb over is that customers can’t touch and experience your products before purchasing. Forming a partnership with a brand with a retail storefront can solve that problem while giving the retail brand a fresh, new product experience to bring people into their store. For instance, Hydrow, who sells rowing machines, partnered with Rhone to allow customers to test a rowing machine in two of Rhone’s New York City stores. To further entice customers to come in and test their product, they teamed up with Rhone to enter those who could row 275 meters in 1 minute into a drawing for a $1000 Rhone gift card.

Two Is Better Than One 

With rising customer acquisition costs, increasing competition, and more fractured customer attention, there’s no reason to go up against all of that alone. Teaming up with suitable partners in big or small ways can help you spread awareness of your brand to new audiences and help your audience see your brand in a new way. 

Megan Pratt
Author