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January 19, 2016 // 7:00 AM

What Is Co-Marketing? A Guide to Co-Branding Marketing Campaigns

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As marketers, we are always looking for new ways to get more bang for our buck. Co-marketing allows two or more companies to work on a project together, doing less work for more reward. Who doesn't want that? 

So to help get you started, we've collected a ton of tips and tricks below for creating a successful co-marketing campaign and relationship, from start to finish. 

Co-Marketing

Co-marketing is when two companies collaborate on promotional efforts for a co-branded offer. In a co-marketing partnership, both companies promote a piece of content or product, and share the results of that promotion. By levering the relationship and reach of a partner, co-marketing campaigns are designed to deliver more leads, buzz, and awareness, with less work.

Download our free marketing campaign checklist here to make sure you don't miss a step in campaign planning.

Co-Marketing vs. Co-Branding

You've probably heard the terms "co-marketing" and "co-branding" thrown around quite a bit -- but what's the difference? Is there one?

Turns out, they’re actually pretty similar.

While co-branding refers to a partnership in which two companies combine their products or expertise to create an even more valuable product or offer (Think: Doritos Locos Tacos), co-marketing takes things a step further.

Co-marketing campaigns provide teams with an opportunity to work together to promote a shared offer -- such as a co-branded product or piece of content. In a co-marketing partnership, both companies promote that offer, and share the results of that promotion with each other.

Why Should You Do Co-Marketing?

Co-marketing helps brands build a new audience, and get a new type of content in front of their audience. The most common form of co-marketing is for two companies who have similar audiences to work together on a piece of content, and promote that content to both audiences.

This content -- ebook, webinar, templates, etc. -- typically sits behind a lead generation form to capture contact information. The goal is for both partners to share the downloads from the offer, thus getting twice the leads that they normally would. 

But that's not the only way to carry out a co-marketing campaign. Straying from the approach above, two partners might agree to host an event together and split the costs. Or, on a smaller scale, partners could agree to a series of guest blog posts on each other’s sites. 

The most important thing when deciding to do co-marketing with a certain partner, is to make sure the purpose and goal of the project is similar for both parties. If one partner wants leads, but another is looking for ticket sales to their annual event, you will be hard pressed to find a project that satisfies both needs. 

When determining whether or not to do co-marketing with a partner, I look for the following things:

  1. Do they have a similar type of audience that my company has and wants to grow? If not, the value I would get out of promoting our content to their audience may not be worth it.
  2. How many new leads am I going to get from this partnership? Is it large enough to be worth my time? Only you can decide what is worth it. 
  3. Do they have some expertise that I don’t have? Let’s say my audience is dying to know more about how to optimize for local SEO, but my knowledge base is limited to general SEO knowledge. Maybe I partner with an expert on local SEO. 
  4. Does their brand and name have a good reputation? Don’t partner with people who will bring down your credibility.
  5. Are the people you are working with enjoyable to work with? This is a new one I added recently, but it is important. Sure, co-marketing is a job, but it should still be enjoyable. Look for partners that you actually look forward to working with.

How to Find the Right Co-Marketing Partners to Work With

In any co-marketing relationship, you want to make sure there is mutual benefit to working together. Check out tips in determining if a partner is a good fit here.

Once you determine that you'd like to work with a partner, it's time to come up with an idea pitch. When approaching this step, always do your homework first: Learn what you can about the company and their audience, tailor your ideas to what would be appealing to them, and show them the value you are going to provide.

Odds are, if you are the one pitching the idea, you are the small fish and they are the big fish. In other words, it's easy for them to say no. To combat this, go the extra mile to show them that they'd be crazy not to work with you. 

If you are on the other end being pitched to, remain open to ideas. Even if the person pitching you isn’t a pro at this, don’t completely disregard it. If it's totally unrealistic, be honest with them. 

And if the idea sounds interesting but it's just not a great time for you to take on the project, consider adding them to a backlog of people you want to work with in the future.

How to Plan a Co-Marketing Agreement

You've found a partner to work with -- that's great! -- but what's the next step? 

For things to run smoothly, it's important that you set expectations and a plan for your project. In the end, this process will help to ensure that both partners hold up their end of the bargain. Here's what we suggest:

  • Be very clear on your goals. If you want leads, make sure they know that, and that they also want leads. If you don’t, neither partner will get value out of the relationship. 
  • Agree on the topic and theme of the content. Decide on a topic that is going to be mutually beneficial and appeal to both audiences. 
  • Determine the timeline that makes sense for both partners. For a larger piece of content like an ebook or webinar, I suggest doubling however long it takes your team to write one on your own. This will allow for time for approvals and feedback.
  • Decide what your strong skills are. It is likely that between the two companies and teams, some people are better at certain tasks than others. If you assign tasks based on who is good at what, the process will be less painful, and much more efficient. 
  • Write up an agreement that covers the basics:
    • Topic you will be covering
    • Timeline for the project
    • Goals
    • Ownership of content and assets (who is creating what?)
    • Where the content will be hosted
    • Lead sharing agreements 
    • Timeframe for promotion
    • Promotional plan

With an agreement in place from the start, you have something to point back at if anything goes wrong or any miscommunications arise. This can be a legal document if your legal team wants to get involved, or a non-legal document of good faith.  

How to Handle Co-Marketing Content Creation 

Time to decide what type of co-marketing project you're going to work on. Below are a few common examples to help get the wheels turning. 

Choosing a Project Format

Ebooks 

An ebook is a very common form of co-marketing content because it is easy to split up the work -- someone lays out the design, someone else writes the content, etc. Below is an example of an ebook HubSpot created with the LinkedIn Sales Solutions team:

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Blog Posts

Co-creating a blog post is one of the lower effort ways to do a co-marketing project. Here is an example of a Q&A hosted by SEMRush featuring Buzzsumo's director Steve Rayson:

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Webinars

Webinars are often the go-to type of co-marketing content. Why? Well, it's pretty easy to find an expert who is willing to talk for an hour on the topic of their expertise. It is also a well-known format for educational materials.

Below is an example of a webinar we hosted with Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick on how to make amazing social media posts: 

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Videos

Co-creating a video with a partner is a great way to have your message heard. Below is an example of a video from MOZ and Wistia, on how to use video:

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Twitter Chats

A Twitter chat is a virtual event where people gather to discuss a common topic. For example, Google and Twitter partnered on a campaign about Small Business Saturday. In the week leading up to SBS, they dished out helpful advice on Twitter using a common hashtag, and then aggregated all Tweets on this webpage:

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Online and Offline Events

Co-marketing can also take form in larger events, both in person and online. Last year Unbounce hosted the first ever #CROday, including speakers from around the globe who hosted online events and webinars around the topic of CRO.

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Organizing the Project Execution

Before you get started ...

Once you have chosen your topic and form of co-marketing, start with a shared doc to do a brain dump and outline your plan. I use a Google Doc from the start that I share with the partner, allowing them to add content if they have something of value, or comment on what is there. In terms of timing, allow both teams about a week or so to hash out their ideas.

While you're creating the content ...

Once you have agreed on the outline, your writer can jump right in and start the content creation. Typically I split the creation of content between partners by having one partner write and another design, so that voice and design are consistent. The other option is to have each partner write up and design half the ebook, and then fuse the two together. Keep in mind that this will require a thorough consistency check once both parts are brought together. 

After the first draft is complete, send to the partner to give feedback or approve. Give ample time between a writing due date and a feedback due date. I like to give a week if I have planned far enough in advance to allow for this.  

While you're waiting to finalize the content ... 

During the content finalization period, have your promotional team begin creating the assets needed to promote the content, such as the landing page, emails, social media images, infographics, SlideShares, blog posts, etc. Since working with a partner will likely take longer than a normal content creation process, this will help to save you some time.  

Don't know how to approach landing page creation and promotion? Don't worry. We'll dive into that next. 

How to Create a Shared Landing Page 

Both your content and landing page should be co-branded -- and it should be obvious. This means using both partner's logos in the header, and mentioning both partners throughout the content.

Since you will likely be sharing the offer's downloads with your partner, you will need to consult with your legal team about the proper disclaimer to include at the bottom of the form. For example, ours simply states that we are authorized to share their information with the specific partner after they download this ebook:

To keep things organized within your marketing automation tool, we also suggest that you come up with a unique code for naming these co-branded pages to differentiate them from your existing ones. Not to mention, this will make it easy to locate them via internal search.

How to Promote Your Content

It's important to set an agreed upon launch date with the partner. On this date, both teams’ email, social campaigns, and blog promotion should start.

About two or three weeks prior to the launch date, have a brainstorm with all people involved from both teams to discuss what promotional tactics you will use and the timeframe for promotion. Will you both promote the same hashtag on Twitter? What audiences will you be promoting it to?

Below are a few examples of how you can promote your content across various inbound marketing channels:

Blog Posts

Blog posts are a great way to drive traffic to your upcoming co-marketing offers. At HubSpot, we promote our content on the blog in two ways. First, on the launch day, we create what we call a "launch post." These posts are different then our normal educational posts, as they run only a few hundred words, and their main purpose is to inform our audience that we have an exciting new offer.

To set the expectation, we allude to this in the title:  

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The second way we promote our content in a blog post is through the use of tweetable text and an eye-catching call-to-action:

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Social Media

Promoting your content on social media is a great way to drive awareness for your campaign and attract visitors to your site. For added value, don't forget to tag your co-marketing partner in the tweet. Below is an example of a tweet sent out by Twitter to promote a webinar we did with them on holiday marketing best practices:

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You can even include both partners' logos right on the image -- check out what HubSpot did to promote the same Twitter webinar above:

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Email

Email is still one of the best ways to get a large number of people to attend your co-marketing event, or download your piece of content. Keep emails visual, and be clear that this piece of content is co-marketing, meaning there are two companies involved. The last thing you want is for people to be surprised when they start hearing from both companies. Check out the email we sent out promoting a webinar with Unbounce:  

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To track your partner's promotions efforts vs. your own, be sure to create unique tracking URLs. This will help you determine which leads came from where. For more on how to do that using HubSpot, check out this resource. 

How to Measure Your Co-Marketing Efforts

Your campaign is live and being promoted -- good work! Now it's time to look back and see if your initial efforts were successful.

First and foremost, was the original goal hit? If so, good. If not, why? What happened? Did you fail to hit the mark, or was it the partner? Keep these things in mind when making decisions to work with them a second time. 

Next, look to see if the leads generated were as high of quality as the leads generated by your own, individual content. Things to consider here are: lead-to-customer conversion rate, quality rating within your automation tool and CRM, and whether or not your sales team felt the leads were up to par.

Finally, take a step back and measure in a more qualitative way: Was the partnership successful? Was it difficult to work with them, or smooth? Did you get high quality content that you may not have been able to make without them? What worked? What didn't? 

How to Follow Up With Your Co-Marketing Partner

Now that your project is well under way -- or maybe even completed -- it’s time to follow up with your partner.

If you hosted the landing page on your website, take the initiative to send over the leads generated from the form, as set up in your agreement. Often times, the easiest way to do this is to simply download the CSV file of leads from your database. If you are looking for a less manual process, I suggest using a tool like Zapier to send specific leads from your marketing automation platform to your partner’s. 

Once that's taken care of, be sure to keep in touch. While it typically doesn't make sense to do one project after another with the same partner, there may be an opportunity to work together again in the future.

What are your best tips for executing a co-marketing partnership? Share them below.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in March 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Topics: Branding Content Marketing

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